Isaac Carree is back. It’s been seven years since the Dove and Stellar Award-winning gospel artist has released a new album, but his self-imposed hiatus ends with No Risk No Reward, out Friday via Shanachie Entertainment. Billboard is offering an exclusive preview of the new collection below.
Though he may not have been in the studio recording new music, Carree has been anything but idle. He published his first book, Service: My Words. My Life. My Truth. He traveled with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on the Soul II Soul World Tour and spent time on the road with Diddy. He also launched The Plug, an Atlanta-based industry conference for gospel music professionals.
But what prompted him to take a break from recording? “I’ll be honest. I got a little complacent, a little disgruntled,” he admits. “I didn’t feel myself evolving within my genre. I felt like I was doing the work. I just felt like I was laterally moving versus vertically moving. I started getting a little disappointed and feeling a little anxiety and a little fear.”
Carree says the time away was time well spent. “I wanted to take a break and recalibrate, fix some things,” the Atlanta-based artist says. “I’d been traveling for 30 years. I wanted to spend more time with my wife and daughter and then God opened up some doors. I went on tour with Diddy and the Bad Boy Reunion tour. I toured with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill for two years, so I was still working, but just kind of took a few steps back.”
Touring with Diddy, Hill and McGraw had a major impact on Carree. “It changed my life forever,” he says of singing background vocals on those tours. “I’ve been doing gospel for 30 years. All my life I’ve invested in gospel music. I’ve never worked outside of gospel music, so when these opportunities presented themselves, I was very intrigued, and I wanted to see what my place was. I always ask God, ‘Why do things happen?’ He revealed it to me. He wanted me to see something that I’d never seen before so I could experience some things I’ve never experienced before.
One habit he picked up on the McGraw tour that has stuck with Carree is working out. “It was mandatory. I lost 30 lbs. on tour with them,” he says. “It’s become a part of my lifestyle. Tim taught me this: ‘When you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you perform better and you become better.’ So I took it to heart and took pride in it.”
The break from writing and recording was just the respite Carree needed to re-charge his creative juices. “God really showed me who I am and what my purpose was and the meaning of what I’m doing is really about,” he says. “I found myself and got rooted and grounded and then seven years later I’m back with fresh music, a fresh sound, something different. I’m excited about being back.”
No Risk No Reward is a 14-track collection that features special guests Kirk Franklin, Lisa Knowles, Zicardi Cortez, Mr. TalkBox, and Jazze Pha. Members of Tim McGraw’s band that he became friends with on tour are featured on the country-flavored ballad “Woman First.”
Several of the songs on the project salute women, including the first single “Her,” penned for his wife of 16 years Dietra. “That is actually my wife in the video. We had a miscarriage about a month and a half before the video shoot, so we wanted to help women who are dealing with that,” he says of including that part of their story in the video. “I talked to my wife about it and she was very adamant about letting women know that you can bounce back … We just wanted to express that in the video and a lot of people were blessed by it.”
Another of the album’s many highlights is “What Kind of Man” that features Knowles and the Browns. “That’s an old Ray Charles remake,” Carree says. “Ray was notorious for taking church songs and making them blues songs and juke joint songs and back in the day. Christians used to get on rant and say he was taking God’s music and making it the devil’s music. I was like, ‘What if I took the song that Ray turned into a juke joint and bring it back to church and flipped it a little bit?’ So I took the hook of what he did, and I just changed the verses and gave it a little different sound.”
The new album covers a lot of diverse territory musically and emotionally. “I was literally intentional about every single song because I’ve had a chance to listen to where gospel has evolved over the last seven years and I wanted to make sure I filled the void that was not there,” he says. “It’s losing its diversity. We have some amazing praise and worship artists, but I think we sometimes become a cookie cutter industry. We want to do what everybody else is doing.”
Though promoting the new album is his major focus right now, Carree is hoping to set his conference, the Plug, for later this year or early next. He launched the conference to serve as a learning tool for young artists. “I really wanted to focus on all the things behind the music business like health insurance, life insurance, paying your taxes, understanding how to read a contract so you won’t put yourself in bad situations. Those are things that we don’t learn,” he says.
Carree says his new deal with Shanachie has been a positive experience. “They believed in me,” he says, and admits other labels were hesitant to sign him because he had been out of the gospel spotlight for seven years. “I got a lot of push back because I’d been gone so long, and the industry has drastically changed over the past seven years. I think people were afraid: ‘Would people still want to hear from him?’ Shanachie stepped up to the plate and said, ‘We’ll take the risk,’ and that’s one of the reasons I named this album No Risk, No Reward because I believed that the title of the album was so befitting for me.”
Listen to No Risk, No Reward below.