For a group who first made waves in the 1950s, the energy for The Isley Brothers inside Harbor New York City’s Rooftop surpasses palpable. With close to 70 years of experience under the group’s belts, fans zealously received the electricity commanded by the legendary R&B outfit, who were on hand to celebrate the release of their new album, Make Me Say It Again, Girl, this past Friday (Sept. 30).
“It’s God’s blessing, and we’re trying to take advantage of being able to do what we do and love what we do, and we know what we’re doing by now,” Ronald Isley tells Billboard.
The self-proclaimed “Love Kings” veered in a different direction on their latest outing, as they sought after rappers to fulfill their romantic quest. According to Ronald, the group has been sampled over 900 times, with most lifts coming from the hip-hop side. Make Me Say It Again, Girl is the group’s way of appreciating a genre that showed them constant love and adoration.
“It’s very important to work with the new generation,” says Ronald. “That’s what keeps you up with the music and what’s going on and what they’re feeling, and you’re writing about feelings, people, and actual things that are happening. It keeps us young and in the business and know where we are going with the business. We’re here to show them the room. Follow the yellow brick road or The Isley Brothers road.”
And though they enlisted a sturdy crew of rap all-stars, including 2 Chainz, Quavo, Takeoff, Snoop Dogg, and Rick Ross, the Isleys didn’t totally change course. They recruited surefire hall of famers in Earth, Wind, and Fire and the venerable Beyoncé to add a pinch of R&B flavor to complete their journey.
“I called Tina Knowles and said, ‘Hey, you think Beyoncé would do this song with us?'” recalls Ernie Isley. “She called back in five minutes, and she said ‘Yes.’ She don’t do a song with just nobody. She was remembering when we did BET one time, and I predicted that [her and her husband] would be the next group — and when I say next group, [I meant] her and Jay-Z would make history. And that’s what they did.”
The pairing of Beyoncé and The Isleys proved fruitful, as they reimagined the group’s 1975 slow-burning single “Make Me Say It Again, Girl.” Last month, the collaboration rocketed to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Adult R&B Airplay chart, becoming their first chart-topper since the group’s 2001 “Contagious.” The song also silenced skeptics, like Puff Daddy, who admonished the genre when he recently called it “dead.”
“I think Puffy was sleepy when he woke up and said that,” he said. “That’s crazy. Music is music, man, and it will always be here… That type of statement doesn’t mean anything. That’s like me saying rap is dead. It’s always going to be there.”
With a career spanning back to 1959’s seminal hit “Shout,” The Isley Brothers’ latest feat is the proverbial cherry on top for their decorated career. Along with celebrating their newly-minted No. 1 single and freshly released album, the RIAA was on-hand at Harbor’s Rooftop to gift the group lifetime achievement awards.
“A lot of artists, especially when you start out, it’s doing that first record, and that’s the breakthrough — but the trick is, what are you going to do the second time or the third time and so on?” offers Ernie Isley. “Some people run out of gas. But fortunately for us, we’ve been able to go the next rounds.”
Adds chairman and CEO of RIAA Mitch Glazier, who presented the group the awards at their album release party: “The Isley Brothers started making music in 1959 when the Gold & Platinum Awards were launched… They’ve been making music for 65 years and still making music. It’s not like their latest album is some sort of swan song. Their latest album is an incredible [one], and features Beyoncé on a remake that is remaking R&B. They’re just as relevant today as they were with Shout in 1959.”
He continued: “They keep punching through barriers and reaching new audiences, and they’re intergenerational, and they just don’t stop. I can’t think of another group that keeps innovating as much as they do, especially after 65 years. It’s incredible when you think about it. For me to be there and present them personally with a lifetime achievement award was unreal. It was incredible.”
As for The Isleys, all praise goes to their parents, who inspired them to tap into every musical genre they could, as there were no limits to creativity.
“We have to give credit to our family. Our mother and father taught us in the beginning to sing everything,” says Ronald. “Gospel, country, rhythm and blues, pop, sing, everything that the people want to hear, and that’s how you last this long. We’re the Kings of Love Songs. We don’t want to brag, but you can check us out.”