Ask soul crooner Keith Sweat for the secret behind longevity in the fickle music business, and he boils it down to one sentence: Stay true to what you do.
“That’s the secret to anything,” Sweat explains to Billboard. “It’s what’s kept me in the game so that I’m able to still tour, create music that’s still relevant and still be in people’s faces.”
Indeed, Sweat is celebrating not one but two career milestones in 2017. In November, the singer/songwriter/producer will formally mark the 30th anniversary of his breakthrough debut album, 1987’s prophetically titled Make It Last Forever. And on Feb. 26, he ushered in the 10th anniversary of his top-ranked, syndicated urban AC radio show The Sweat Hotel.
“Years ago, I would have never thought of doing radio,” says Sweat. “But the situation fell into my lap. I’ve always been a person willing to take on unforeseen opportunities. Otherwise, you can get locked into a place that you’ll never be able to get out of.”
Presented by Premiere Networks, The Sweat Hotel is heard every Sunday through Friday from 7 p.m.-midnight and currently boasts more than 60 affiliates nationwide including iHeartRadio.
Broadcasting live from Atlanta, Sweat has welcomed a diverse range of guests and in-studio performers from Senator Hillary Clinton and Maxwell to Tyrese, Monica and his former LSG group mate Johnny Gill. In addition to spinning slow jams, Sweat takes listener phone calls/dedications and frequently dispenses relationship advice.
“My songs have relationship-driven storylines,” says the onetime commodities broker who listens to such R&B newcomers as Ro James. “So I just try to give honest advice, namely that there are always going to be ups and downs in a relationship. So you just have to be mindful.”
As is Sweat of a jam-packed schedule that squeezes in at least 70 concert dates a year plus new recording projects. Back out on the road March 4 in Albany, Georgia, the singer has bookings through October, including radio/TV host Steve Harvey’s inaugural Sand & Soul Festival in Paradise Island, Bahamas (Oct. 6-9) with New Edition, Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue and others.
Sweat’s latest single, “Tonight” featuring Silk, is featured on his 2016 album Dress to Impress. Sitting at No. 4 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, the album is his 14th top 10 on that tally (also No. 34 on the Billboard 200). And “Tonight,” No. 17 so far on Adult R&B songs, is his 27th hit on that chart. At work on a new album that he plans to release this summer, the artist says it’s difficult to believe that 30 years have elapsed since his triple-platinum debut album, Make It Last Forever.
Produced by Sweat and new jack swing progenitor Teddy Riley, the set spent three weeks at No. 1 on Top R&B Albums and spun off the hits “I Want Her,” the title track featuring Jacci McGhee, “Don’t Stop Your Love” and “Something Just Ain’t Right.” Over the course of his career, Sweat has scored six R&B No. 1s and four top 10s on the pop chart.
“In the beginning, it was more about just wanting to make a record and have all my friends say yeah, I’m listening to you on the radio,” says Sweat. “I never imagined that years later younger artists would be calling me an OG in respect for what I’ve done.”
Sweat also notes that it was his mother who inspired the “Make It Last Forever” title track. “I wanted the best for her in this life and I was able to give her that with this song.”
Having found the secret to career longevity, Sweat seems to have discovered another secret: how to look as good as he did 30 years ago.
“For me to be singing the songs I sing, I need to try and look the same as I always have,” explains the singer/songwriter who touts a red meat-free diet and consistent workouts. “Once you start to look totally different, it affects how people perceive you. Like, ‘OK, you’re singing all these love songs but you don’t look like you can do anything.’ And I can’t go out like that,” he declares with a laugh.