Didnât 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 worldâs most underrated superstars.
But be assured that Keith wouldnât have it any other way. Itâs 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 donât have to flex. Itâs two years later and Iâm two years better,” he says matter of factly. With the urban music world already feeling the scintillating effects of the smash first single “Iâll Trade (A Million Bucks)” featuring a mesmerizing vocal from label mate Lilâ 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 â when youâre selective about what you do and how you do it â it increases your value a little more.”
For Keith Sweat, heâs 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. Heâs also thrived as one of Atlantaâs first record industry moguls, building his own recording studio – discovering new artists such as Silk and Kut Klose â as he became one of Atlantaâs 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, theyâre saying that I continue to earn their trust,” he says. “They might not know what Iâm going to come back with â will it be uptempo, will it be a ballad â but they like my style. They expect that style from Keith Sweat. Itâs almost an unwritten thing between us. The respect between my audience and me is part of that mystique Iâm talking about. They know Iâm not going to change just to follow some trend.”
Perhaps the most amazing fact is heâs been able to stay one step ahead of the game by being true to himself. When he talks about some of the songs on Didnât See Me Coming, you realize the passion for music still moves him. “I liked working with Lilâ Mo on âIâll Trade (A Million Bucks).â She has that confidence â a little bit of arrogance. I have it when Iâm 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 “Donât Have Me,” and Lilâ 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. “Itâs about three college girls,” he says. Keith doesnât want to give more away about the plot than that, but the multi-talented artist says itâs the variety of his interests that also keep him fresh in the publicâs eye. In the past, heâs 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 Keithâs music career â five straight #1 R&B albums, a dozen top ten R&B singles including seven #1âs and four top five pop singles â the singer becomes wistful. He muses about what advice heâs given to younger talent searching for that elusive longevity. “I give advice when asked â but I never preach. To be doing this successfully for 12 years, I realize Iâve been blessed. I think Iâve 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 didnât get my heart broken on this one. Thatâs news in itself.”