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Keith Sweat

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Keith Sweat

Didn’t See Me Coming. For Keith Sweat, the title of his seventh solo album may be more revealing than you think. For a man who has delivered five straight #1 albums, selling a worldwide total of almost 14 million discs, you could argue that Mr. Sweat also stands as one of the pop world’s most underrated superstars.

But be assured that Keith wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s been two years since his last acclaimed effort, the aptly tilted Still In The Game, and the soft-spoken writer/producer/vocalist once again goes against the grain of pop hyperbole by letting the music do the talking. “I don’t have to flex. It’s two years later and I’m two years better,” he says matter of factly. With the urban music world already feeling the scintillating effects of the smash first single “I’ll Trade (A Million Bucks)” featuring a mesmerizing vocal from label mate Lil’ Mo, Keith credits his amazing longevity to knowing when to get in and out of the ring. “I believe in creating a mystique,” he says. “When you preserve that air of mystery around you — when you’re selective about what you do and how you do it — it increases your value a little more.”

For Keith Sweat, he’s created precisely the kind of value that only a handful of artists have attained. From his groundbreaking launch as the genius behind New Jack Swing phenomenon in 1987 with the now classic album Make It Last Forever, (“people tell me they still listen to it” Keith says proudly) to the quadruple platinum 1996 effort Keith Sweat, to his critically acclaimed collaboration with fellow superstars Gerald Levert and Johnny Gill on the double platinum LSG, Keith has dominated the pop and R&B worlds with an indefinable presence. He’s also thrived as one of Atlanta’s first record industry moguls, building his own recording studio – discovering new artists such as Silk and Kut Klose — as he became one of Atlanta’s leading mentors for young talent, its principle purveyor of R&B music. The unflappable Sweat points to his consistency as the key to his success.

“When people come up to me and say they like my music, they’re saying that I continue to earn their trust,” he says. “They might not know what I’m going to come back with — will it be uptempo, will it be a ballad — but they like my style. They expect that style from Keith Sweat. It’s almost an unwritten thing between us. The respect between my audience and me is part of that mystique I’m talking about. They know I’m not going to change just to follow some trend.”

Perhaps the most amazing fact is he’s been able to stay one step ahead of the game by being true to himself. When he talks about some of the songs on Didn’t See Me Coming, you realize the passion for music still moves him. “I liked working with Lil’ Mo on ‘I’ll Trade (A Million Bucks).’ She has that confidence — a little bit of arrogance. I have it when I’m in the studio. You have to be a little arrogant to be successful, to go out there and attack it.”

And attack it he does with the 17-track opus utilizing a host of producers, including Rodney Jerkins, Dee Dee and Andrew “DL” Lane, Barry Salter, Steve “Stone” Huff, Bobby Crawford, and more. Keith also invited a few stars to join him on the new album, including Busta Rhymes and Rah Digga on “Things,” T-Boz on “He Say She Say,” David Hollister on “Don’t Have Me,” and Lil’ Wayne on “Why U Treat Me So Cold.”

The Harlem born singer has also been busy these days putting the finishing touches on a film script. “It’s about three college girls,” he says. Keith doesn’t want to give more away about the plot than that, but the multi-talented artist says it’s the variety of his interests that also keep him fresh in the public’s eye. In the past, he’s appeared on both the Martin show and the Wayans Brothers show, among others, and has starred in a handful of independent movies.

But when you get back to the more familiar stats of Keith’s music career — five straight #1 R&B albums, a dozen top ten R&B singles including seven #1’s and four top five pop singles — the singer becomes wistful. He muses about what advice he’s given to younger talent searching for that elusive longevity. “I give advice when asked — but I never preach. To be doing this successfully for 12 years, I realize I’ve been blessed. I think I’ve been through what every young artist is going to go through at one time or another, so I try to help any way I can.”

When asked what extra special memories from the new album he can add to such a legacy, he just smiles. “I didn’t get my heart broken on this one. That’s news in itself.”