Aretha Franklin Dies
Lloyd on His New Album 'Tru,' Finding Liberation in Music & The Song That Made His Mother Cry
"The moment that you start to try and manipulate the feeling is the moment you can lose. I learned that valuable lesson."
The truth will set you free -- well, at least it did for 32-year-old Lloyd Polite Jr.
On his 2016 platinum single “Tru,” Lloyd not only cracked open his skeleton-filled closet for his ardent supporters, he willingly extended an invitation to skeptics who panned him for his abrupt departure from the music biz. Fueled by a gamut of emotions, Lloyd provided candid takes on his strained relationship with Murder Inc., his family woes, and his hiatus from recording. Rather than pen the same run-of-the mill records about love and heartbreak, Lloyd shredded his insecurities by attacking his demons head-on.
“I injected a positive frequency to the world in my own small way, and maybe that will have a domino effect even after I’m gone,” says Lloyd. “I care about who I damage. I care about who I hurt. I care about what I leave behind. Instead of me leaving any sort of destruction behind, it’s really about leaving behind a lot of love."
Lloyd had listeners entranced with his silky, R&B-inflected records like “Southside” and “You” in the early 2000s, but the singer began losing touch with himself shortly after the release of his titillating sophomore album Street Love. First, his relationship with his then-label Murder Inc. went awry, his last official studio album -- which was his 2008 release Lessons in Love -- tanked, and then, his mental health slowly deteriorated. In hopes of recharging, Lloyd pressed pause on his burgeoning career to make alterations to his lifestyle. Now, with a reinvigorated spirit, the southern crooner is ready to resume his career.
"[On my new album Tru,] I talk about where I’m at right now,” he says. “I talk about the birth of my son, my firstborn. I talk about the loss of my baby sister. I talk about overcoming depression and insecurities and anxiety. I also talk about why I’m so happy. Really, truly happy. I think that’s truest to life."
Billboard spoke with Lloyd about his comeback album Tru, the meaning behind his album cover, feeling liberated, what his hometowns of New Orleans and Atlanta taught him during his hiatus, and the 10-year anniversary of Lessons of Love. Check out the interview below.
I thought it was so dope when you came back with the “Tru” record, man. You highlighted so many struggles in your life. At what point do you remember hitting rock bottom, and at what point do you remember digging yourself out of that hole that you were in?
I don’t think I’ve ever hit rock bottom, to be quite honest with you. I hope to never find rock bottom. I’m usually in a good place. However, with so much news about murder, hate crimes, close relatives suffering through depression, that leads me to assess my own mental health. That, multiplied with the fact that I changed my diet years ago and I just started to gain a new appreciation for every day that I was given. Also, the fact that I had been away for so long, the only right move that I can imagine is to become completely introspective and have a conversation with the fans. Let them know why I was gone, what I’ve been going through, why I felt this was important to talk about now.
I realized there’s so much in life that I can’t change and I don’t really have control over. I just really wanted to encourage my loved ones and people I’ve never met to have a conversation with themselves about, “Are you happy?” and “What is happiness?” and “Does it involve the validation of an outside party or is it something that’s truly inside of you at all times?” I’m happy I did it because I got a really great response and not just success in sales and stuff like that but more importantly, in the people who were listening to it.
I can truly appreciate your introspective side because a lot of artists today lack that kind of foresight. I read your FADER interview and there was a line that really caught me: “Greatness doesn’t always live in the club.”
I don't believe that every artist lacks that insight. I think maybe there's a part of us that wants to escape from our chains and our troubles, from our worries and depression. And that’s fine because sometimes they can be overwhelming but the only way to get through things is to move to things. Move towards things instead of running away from them. It’s easy for someone to tell you, “This is what you should do,” or “This is the way.” It’s another thing for a person to actually live that first. That’s just the journey that I had to go on personally and I was able to express that to others. I don’t think it was preachy, so much. I didn’t want to make a gospel record. I wanted to make something that was from the soul of a person and also celebrate a human experience no matter if it’s grand or if it’s not so grand.
I like to go to the club just like everybody else. I listen to everything and I’m a fan of pretty much everyone. But the music that really resonates with me over time is music that’s honest and soulful and human and real.
How liberating has it been for you to perform a record like “Tru” onstage? I could imagine that writing and recording it in the studio was one thing, but performing it is just a different beast.
It truly feels like a sporting event that you’ve trained for your whole life. It’s that type of liberation that, “I’ve overcome so much to be here and now this is my reward.” I truly perform it for new people every time thus far and it’s reconnecting and people are living vicariously. I also feel like I’ve done a good deed. I injected a positive frequency to the world in my own small way and maybe that will have a domino effect even after I’m gone. I care about who I damage. I care about who I hurt. I care about what I leave behind. Instead of me leaving any sort of destruction behind, it’s really about leaving behind a lot of love. Liberation is definitely the word that best describes it. Look at the album cover. Liberation is exactly the word that comes to mind.
What’s so crazy about the album cover is, when I first saw it, I compared it to the EP. Liberation was on my mind and I got the feeling when I saw it. I was like, “All right, this is going to be the one where he really bares it all.” Was that the mind-set going into this cover?
The mind-set wasn’t to “bare it all.” The mind-set was to be as true to myself and who I really am as possible. I don’t have a moniker when I record and I record under my real name. When I’m out, people greet me by my real name. In a lot of ways, the things that I do in my music life truly affects my personal life and my family. It was about living in the most natural way possible. To be honest, I kind of wish everyone could move around like that in the world. Just no clothes, no make-up, nothing to hide behind. I think that alone can speak so much. So much insecurity is hidden behind clothes. It’s kind of like I’ve always wanted to be on VH1’s Dating Naked without having to figure it out or having to hold back. That was really the point for me.
I know Alicia Keys had the whole “no makeup” thing going on, and I think she still does it.
It’s almost like a disarming tactic. People have their guards up. It also prevents them from loving themselves sometimes. Maybe in this particular case, to be approached completely bare naked like that, might actually help disarm someone else’s premonitions about you and also realizing that I don’t come to hurt you and I’m not hiding and I don’t have something up my sleeve.
I feel like you won for the classiest clapback of the year when a fan displayed homophobia toward the album art. You handled it very tastefully instead of attacking. When you made the cover, were you at all worried about the reception?
At that point, I think I was my most fearless. I didn’t have any worry. That’s probably how I was able to shoot it and let alone, actually release it. I did have reservations about it ahead of time because I didn’t know if it would find its way into mainstream at all. It was so personal that it was hard to imagine someone rejecting it because it took a lot for me to be able to get through those recordings. But after I got through that and did that, it really just eliminated any premonitions left. By the time it came to release that album cover, I was like fearless.
But I do understand the reservations people had about seeing a man naked like that. It could have so many negative connotations.
Deed of the day: Love someone who feels different. Reflect the love you want to feel. Accept that there are differences in others, often difficult to overcome. Understand the source of the difference. Examine the why instead of the what. Though Ignorance exists in all of us in one form or another, education is superior to instigation. Believe that Love can lighten the weight of hate. If The air is thick with racism, homophobia, degradation, neglagance, and resistance, then Like hydrogen in its raw state, it is not helpful. But by adding a little oxygen, or love, as a counter, creating the water necessary to cleanse ones soul of it is a #TRU possibility... #TRU 8/31
You said earlier that you found yourself so comfortable with pulling the layers back. I’m curious as far as this LP, which track were you able to just pull that layer back and dig deep?
Probably “Lil Sis.” It’s a letter that I wrote to my baby sister who passed away when she was less than a year [old]. This was back in like 1993 and it was something that I never talked about or thought I would talk about. I just remember when we went into labor with my son, one of the first things I thought about on the way to the hospital, was of my baby sister. I thought of her for a few reasons. Here I was having my own child and this was one of the fondest memories I could remember.
Also the fact that maybe I could lose my own child. You never know. It made me think about her and what my mom went through and all the pain she must be living with on a day-to-day basis. It really made me want to find the way to talk to her and say, “Hey look, these are the things that have been happening since you’ve been gone.” When I pray, we talk, and I believe--she’d be in her twenties now--that she’s still present. I just wrote a letter to her and was telling her things that have been going. Does she know she’s an auntie now? Do you know your mom is in recovery?
I talk about how I thought it would be forever and it wasn’t and having to learn how to deal with God’s plan. I had my cousin, Tia, sing at the end of it with the Spelman Women’s choir, which she is a part of. It has this real spiritual energy for me. I can’t really recall too many other songs that have that kind of spirit.
Were you able to play the record for your family and your mom?
Of course. The first person I played it for was my mom and she cried. She really, really cried. She just said it’s beautiful and that sometimes people forget about Kristen, her name was Kristen. We call her Krissy. It just really meant a lot to her. I played it for her and my other family and everyone fell in love with the song. I really hope to release that song pretty soon.
I know New Orleans and Atlanta played an integral role in your life. With you being older now, what are your views of those cities now as opposed to when you were 21?
I carry the culture of both of those cities with me with so much pride. I believe it’s even more special now than ever before to be able to say I come from these places. When I was 21, there were so many places I wanted to be. There were so many places that I thought might have been better than home. The more I’ve seen, the more I’ve appreciated what I have. People come down and reach for that sound and that style in their own music that’s from different places. It’s definitely something to cherish. I love it. No matter what happens, I will always call these two places home.
It’s been 10 years since Lessons in Love, so congrats on that. Do you have any special memories or moments during that time you were making the album?
My favorite moment was when I thought I figured it out. [Laughs] Southside came out and I had some hits. Street Love came out and I really had some hits. I’m thinking like, “Oh shit. I got this. It’s a no-brainer. I got it.” Then, I released probably my worst charted song ever. I paid a lot of money on the song and the video. I just thought it was going to be so big and I was instantly humbled. That was my favorite moment, because “Girls Around the World” ended up becoming a product of that “failure,” if you will. It also taught me a valuable lesson, which is don’t allow the brain to block the heart. With music, there’s so much predicated on the feeling that there’s no amount of logic or manipulation that can ever create a hit. It’s got to be the feeling. The moment that you start to try and manipulate the feeling is the moment you can lose. I learned that valuable lesson.
If you can pick one song or album to serve as the soundtrack to your life right now, what would you choose and why?
It would have to be Tru coming out Aug. 31. I talk about where I’m at right now. I talk about the birth of my son, my first born. I talk about the loss of my baby sister. I talk about overcoming depression and insecurities and anxiety. I also talk about why I’m so happy. Really, truly happy. I think that’s truest to life.
If you could pick one word to title this chapter in your life, what word would it be and why?
Because right now. I know the value of each life and each task. They’re so tied together because what we do affects who we are. I move with humility now. I care about people around me and the effect I have.
Before I let you go, I have a fun question I wanted to ask because I found myself listening to “Southside” the other day. If you could pick two new artists to remake it, who would be the Lloyd and who would be the Ashanti for the song?
I would pick the same people to re-do it. I don’t think I would I’d be as scared in the video now as I was before. [Laughs]