NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Don’t ask Brian McKnight where he’s been. That question is really telling, he says, because his true fans know where to find him.
“That question tells me you don’t really follow me on Instagram and you’re not really in tune with where R&B is today,” McKnight said. “If you’re listening to where they play music today, you’d know I have a Top 10 single on that chart. If you’re an avid concertgoer, you’d know I do 150 shows every year. I’m here. You just have to know where to look.”
During a recent tour stop in New Orleans, the 17-time Grammy nominated artist sat down with The Associated Press to discuss his latest project, “Bedtime Story,” which dropped last month, and his thoughts about music today.
“It’s 60 minutes of love-making music,” the crooner said, with a smile, about the new release. “I don’t know what anybody else’s situation is, you might just need 7 minutes or 12 minutes or 20 minutes, but I’m giving you 60 so that you can just press play and let it flow, let it happen.”
McKnight, now 50, has been serenading fans for nearly 30 years and in that time, he said he’s been asked over and over to make an entire record dedicated to love — and all that that entails.
“We’ll see if those people, who think they’re genius and know what I should be doing, know what they’re talking about,” he said laughing. “It’s been fun and a challenge to make because all the songs are about the same tempo, and how do you make a whole record this way and not repeat the same idea without being redundant?”
“Bedtime Story,” featuring the hit single “When I’m Gone,” follows his 2017 release “Genesis,” which had three Top 15 singles, including “I Want You.”
“I feel very fortunate after all this time that there are people in this world who still want to pay to hear me sing songs that I’ve created, some more than 20 years ago,” McKnight said. “My joy comes from seeing their faces when I sing a song or I’m about to play a song I wrote and they recognize it.”
That was evidenced during his July 4 show at New Orleans’ legendary music hall Tipitina’s, where he closed out an appearance broadcast live on Sirius XM’s “Heart and Soul” channel that included sets by singers V. Bozeman, Raheem DeVaughn and Avant.
McKnight went through songs like “Never Felt This Way,” ”Crazy Love,” ”Back at One,” and “Anytime,” bringing familiar screams from the women in the audience.
“When someone is paying to see me, I want them to think when they leave that they didn’t pay enough,” he said. “I want them to leave knowing I played everything they wanted to hear, that I sang as well or better than they thought I would, that I was funnier than they thought I would be and that they leave saying ‘When he comes back, I’m definitely coming back to see him again.'”
Anita Brown, a fan from New Orleans, said there’s no doubt about that.
Brown said his performance was “brilliant” and she’d definitely “invest in a ticket or two” if he returns to the Big Easy.
“He was amazing,” she said. “His voice was on point and, oh my God, he’s looks better now than he did back then!”
McKnight’s career began at 19 when he signed his first recording deal with Mercury Records subsidiary, Wing Records. His self-titled debut album dropped in 1992 and featured the Top 20 hit “One Last Cry.” In 1999, he released his most successful album to date, “Back At One,” which went on to sell over 3 million copies.
McKnight, who also plays eight instruments, shared his thoughts on the music genre that is R&B.
“I’m not sure what I do or have ever done has been R&B,” McKnight said. “When I think of rhythm and blues music, I’m thinking of the Temptations or James Brown, and I’ve never created music that looks like that. I think we as a people get caught up in labels and have to name something, something. And, if the artist is black and they’re singing, it’s R&B.
“But what we should do, is say ‘This is this music, I don’t know what it’s called, and let’s see if we can listen to it without having to make a label for it.'”
In regards to current music popular to young audiences, McKnight says he’s glad young people have found a voice.
“It’s really just these kids expressing themselves through the lives they’re leading with the tech that’s been given to them. As parents, we may not understand the music they’re creating or like it or dislike it, whatever the case may be, but this is the way they’re expressing themselves,” he said. “I love that they’ve found a way to be creative and found a way for their voice to be heard and a way to make it so mainstream. I would say to the old heads out there, ‘Let these kids be kids. It’s their time now.'”