Nick Cannon‘s a long way from the witty rhymer that appeared on his 2003 debut single “Your Pops Don’t Like Me” off his self-titled album and his breakthrough drummer boy role in 2002’s Drumline. From hosting America’s Got Talent and Wild N Out, pocketing multiple acting roles and his growing business endeavors, Cannon’s career in the entertainment industry proves he’s the Jack of all trades. Despite his venturing off into different realms, he tends to find himself back at his true passion: music.
Just two years removed from his 2014 studio effort White People Party Music, the multi-faceted artist is back with a throwback R&B aptly titled mixtape The Gospel of Ike Turn Up, My Side of the Story, out today (Nov. 16), and salutes the ’90s era that inspired him to pick up the mic while uncovering the truth behind the media’s scrutiny that “villainized” him for years.
Stepping out of the studio where he was laying down the final touches for the upcoming mixtape, Nick Cannon hopped on the phone with Billboard to discuss his decision to put out a new project, his admiration for Tupac and and how his love life influenced his work.
Billboard: Was the mixtape title The Gospel of Ike Turn Up, My Side of the Story inspired by Ike Turner?
Nick Cannon: [Laughs] Honestly, it was inspired mostly by What’s Love Got to Do With It, one of my favorite films. Laurence Fishburne was amazing as Ike Turner in that film but even as I watched that film, I always looked at like Ike’s character like, “Man, that dude was villainized for the rest of his life.” At one point, Ike and Tina [Turner] made some good music but people just always came at Ike so bad. There’s stories that say one of the main things he died from was a broken heart because he never really got to explain his side of the story.
So you see your story having bits and pieces of Ike in it?
Yeah, to me, this is that opportunity for the villain or the person who’s been villainized to actually say, ‘Alright I may have messed up, I may have done several things wrong but I’m still human. let me explain myself.’ So this is me giving all the villainized individuals a voice.
Your last full-length album, White People Party Music, came out in 2014. What pushed you to get back into the studio to release this new mixtape?
A lot of it was my personal life. I have so many other jobs and responsibilities but being an artist, specifically a music artist, is truly therapeutic for me. It’s my passion, it’s the way I get to express myself so I’ve always been in the studio. That’s kind of like going to therapy for me. I decided based off of everything that was going on currently in music, what I’m doing with my record label Ncrecible Records, I was like I might as well just put this stuff out instead of letting all of the gossip sites dictate public opinion on me.
Oh, absolutely, those are just the surface. On the Tupac interlude, I at least got to do spoken word, I got to get a little deep but you know every song there’s an element of me expressing myself and going to another level with the messages.
“If I Was Your Man” samples TLC and “One Night” references Tupac. Why did you choose those two tracks?
I mean I felt like the whole project really is nostalgic to ’90s music specifically R&B. It’s funny, even in this generation, a lot of people didn’t even know that I made music because they see me on so many other levels whether it’s being a host or businessman or even a comedian or an actor but a lot of people didn’t know I started making music in the ’90s so I kind of wanted to pay homage to all of the music that inspired me coming up and you know specifically Tupac. He is and continues to be one of the most influential artists to me and that I’m constantly inspired by — him as an artist, an activist and somebody who is vulnerable on the microphone.
You also recruited TLC’s Chili for the “If I Was Your Man” video. How did that collaboration come about?
When I made the song, I was in the booth kind of freestyling and I just was going off, hat to the back, swagged out looking like Chilli and I just said, ‘Yo how crazy would it be if she was in the video?’ and so I just reached out. I think she always knew how much of a fan I was of TLC and her specifically and then you know we sat down, had a few meetings, I told her the concept, I told her what I was doing and the rest was history.
Listening to “Other N—-s,” it seems like you’re enjoying the single life and all that it comes with it. How has your love life influenced your music?
All the way. I mean obviously if I wasn’t single, I wouldn’t be able to be so blunt with a lot of my statements and The Gospel of Ike Turn Up is very unapologetic. It’s very forthcoming. I think because I’m single I get to be this open.
For “Baby On The Way,” you connected with K. Michelle. How’d that come about?
Her voice is incredible. I just played her a rough idea of the record and she was like, “I got it from here.” She was like, “I’m bouta turn this record all the way up.” Then literally the next day she took the song to a whole new stratosphere.
Describe the vibe of the song.
“Can You Handle the Truth” is actually like the title track called “My Side of the Story.” It’s my truth to its core and I was like, look, this is my side to the story. Some people gon’ like it, some people not gon’ like it but at least I can be like I got it all out. My doctor actually said that I hold too much stuff in. He’s like, “You gotta let some of that stuff out” if you want to keep living a prosperous life.
On Wild N Out, a lot of your cast mates are always roasting you about your past musical projects so what was their reaction to your latest project and your decision to put out new music?
A lot of the cast members were like, ‘Well I guess we can’t make fun of your music no more.” That’s what Emmanuel Hudson said and he’s always been the main one [to criticize me] so that was a compliment I was really able to embrace. Some of the worst jokes that you hear about me and my music on Wild N Out, I wrote myself. [Laughs] I let people say it because I don’t take myself that seriously.
Have you had any more rappers or singers that aren’t featured on the project come through the studio and give you their feedback on the mixtape?
I mean obviously the people who have been involved with it but people like Zaytoven, who I truly really respect, did a lot of the work on the ‘tape and then you know even my own artists that I have signed. I was inspired by Kehlani. She’s grown so much since I first discovered her and I always get nervous to play music [for her] now because I have so much respect for her.
Is she on the mixtape?
I worked with a lot of the people who put a lot of her projects together, like a young composer/producer Jahaan Sweet who did a lot of Kehlani’s stuff. Her vibe is on there but I made a conscious effort not to put any of the songs we worked on together because she’ll definitely be on [my forthcoming album] Words but I ain’t wanna put her on this project because I felt like that’d be like showing my card.
Anybody else you’re working with on the mixtape?
Yeah, it’s an R&B project but it’s Keke Palmer on there — we got a duet. Gucci Mane got a record — he’s not R&B but he’s definitely one of the hottest artists out right now and Christina Milian is actually on it.
That’s like a Love Don’t Cost A Thing reunion right there. What do you hope listeners take away from this project?
Just that I’m an artist. I think people do respect me as an entertainer and as an entrepreneur — someone that they see as multi-faceted but really tapping into myself as an artist. I’ve been producing, been a musician and a writer since I came in the game and sometimes that gets overshadowed, so I would love to just be respected as an artist. You don’t even have to like my art, just respect me as an artist.
Although you’re already really busy, are you looking to take your music further?
Yeah, it’s some hit records on this project and really this is just first of many like there’s so many bodies of work that I’ve been working on, compiling, putting together. This is the first and it’s all gonna eventually lead up to an album. The album is gonna be called Words and it’s also the name of a poetry book I’ve been writing as well as a documentary that I’ll be making about poetry and the power of words over the last couple of years. I feel like being able to put out something like this as a first offering, as an R&B mixtape and then probably do some more hip-hop driven mixtapes, some EPs, all leading up to this album that I’ve been working on for so long.