How would you, in your own words, define the phrase "R&B Soul Music Icon"?
I’m flabbergasted, you know? Being honored by your peers is everything. I’m just thankful that they have chosen me to receive this award, and I know my family is appreciative of me receiving this award. We are just happy.
For sure. Now, 2018 marks your 40th year in music.
I know, huh!
Which is wild.
[Laughs] It’s really crazy. I’m still young. I still got a lot to do.
In four decades of music, what would you say is your greatest achievement thus far?
Thus far, um, my greatest achievement... my children. I mean, my children are everything to me. Nothing else matters but my children. I can perform every night or at least four times a week, but my children are everything. They’re my inspiration, they’re my backbone. They’re my everything. Without my children I wouldn’t be the man that I am right now. And my wife.
What would you say is your greatest lesson learned in four decades of music?
My greatest lesson learned in four decades of music: to keep giving good music. It’s not a business anymore. It’s about who does the best music, so I like to go in the studio and make the best music I can possibly make. And if it’s not good enough, then I won’t put it out.
You’ve always been on the front lines of the evolution of music. Every time I think about an artist who sang and rapped, I always think of you -- from New Edition to “Roni,” “Every Little Step.” Now that intersection of rapping and singing is what everyone tries to do. I credit you as the person who really popularized it. Would you agree?
I thank you for that. Yes, I would agree, because sometimes I’m conceited, but at the same time, I think it was supposed to go together. I think rapping and singing was supposed to be a part of what music has become, and rap has been around for many many years. There has been a lot of old soul singers that did rap within their songs, and I guess we just made it...public? We brought it to the masses, which was something that we’re thankful for them for giving us the tools to be able to be able to do what we do. Rhyming and singing are supposed to go together.
Are you pleased with the state of R&B and hip-hop right now?
I’m getting pleased, because I got a new song coming out called “Like Bobby,” which will bring it back to right where we need to be. We got people like Usher, we got people like [Justin] Timberlake, we got a lot of people out there that are making R&B music what it’s supposed to be. And it’s about love, you know? It’s not about all of these other things. People talking about sex, drugs and drinking. It’s about love. So we gotta bring it back there.
What’s the song about?
The song is about who Bobby is, and what life is. You go through things throughout life that may be difficult for you, but you have to stand up on your two feet and keep moving, keep pushing. And that’s being like Bobby.
How have you managed to persevere? You’ve been through a lot, and you’ve seen some amazing success, but you’ve also been through hard times. How do you keep it all together?
I keep it all together through my family. Through my friends, through my wife. Most importantly, God. There is nothing like having the strength from someone you don’t know, but there is more having the strength from the people that you do know. The people that I do know give me support, and they back me up with whatever I want to do with my life. I’m not scared.
Do you see yourself in any of these newer artists?
I think I see myself in everybody. I see myself in all of the new artists: the Chris Browns, the Ushers, the Justin Timberlakes. I don’t know, I see myself in James Brown, and he’s not even here! I’m not here for no reason. God has a plan for me, He’s not done with me, so I’m gonna keep on going until the lights fall out…and then I’m gonna keep going longer than that.
Keyshia Cole, Raheem DeVaughn, Yo-Yo, Ruben Studdard and more to perform at the Black Music Honors Thursday, Aug. 16 at 7PM in Nashville, Tenn.