Kenny Lattimore talks return to Gospel roots, keepin’ it 100 & his God evolution. | @kennylattimore
One of the awe-inspiring albums of 2016 that flew largely under the radar and deserved a heap of accolades was the carefully crafted, holiday delight called, A Kenny Lattimore Christmas, featuring the vocally-captivating, visually-mesmerizing Soul man, Mr. Kenny Lattimore.
This timeless treasure of songs spanning multiple genres delivered on a number of fronts, with old favorites juxtaposed alongside new ballads. The result is a project that performs well into the new year. As an authentic soul singer, Kenny sings and writes from the heart.
As an authentic Christian, Lattimore lives the life he sings about. It’s all part of his effort to be true to himself, his audience and his Lord and Savior. BlackGospel.com spoke with Kenny Lattimore about his return to his Gospel roots, keepin’ it 100 and evolving into the man God ordained for him to be.
Christopher Heron: What’s your favorite Christmas album of all times, excluding the release of A Kenny Lattimore Christmas?
Kenny Lattimore: You know what? It’s actually Merry Christmas by Mariah Carey. It was a surprise to me when I first heard it. That’s also my mother’s favorite. When I first heard that album I was like, ‘’Oh my God. This is incredible!” From its production to the performances, to the message, everything works. She also has the Gospel message. So when I started to work on A Kenny Lattimore Christmas I was like, ‘’Okay, I want a little of that.’’ Although I think my Gospel messages are stronger, I always felt unrestricted after listening to her album.
Christopher Heron: I know you’re a product of the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia). Do you have a favorite late-night food spot in DC you would recommend for its food, ambiance and good service?
Kenny Lattimore: You know what’s a really great spot? The Hamilton. I’m going to do a Valentine’s Day concert there because I like it so much. They have this amazing downstairs area for concerts and I said, ‘’I want to do something here.’’ The food is impeccable, it’s a spot that stays open fairly late, and you can get a great meal. Great atmosphere.
Christopher Heron: Did you make any New Year’s resolutions for 2017? And how’s it going so far?
Kenny Lattimore: Everything is going really well. I’m in a state of self-examination. 2016 was a great year for me. There were three things that I focused on, wisdom, discernment, and decision-making. I had to embrace it because I’m a man of faith and I understand God’s will for my life. I have free will to make all kinds of decisions, it’s not as though God is saying, ‘’Turn left here, turn right.’’ So, I wanted to grow in those areas. Sometimes, I can move fast because I’m kind of fearless, but I realize that I could also slow down a bit and show wisdom, discernment, and decision-making as well. That’s something I’m sowing into my son. I said, ‘’This is what we’re going to pray about this year.’’
I looked back and realized I accomplished a lot of my goals so now it’s time to pray for new vision and courage to authentically walk in who I am, and understand everybody is not always going to like you, but that’s okay.
That’s something my aunt told me years ago before I became a recording artist. I’m revisiting those principles so that I can walk in the courage to spread the Gospel. Something I’ve always done that the world might not know is that I get to lead praise & worship all the time. I minister in many places. So, I just want the courage to walk in my faith.
Christopher Heron: Let’s talk about your album. Why did Motown make sense to you for A Kenny Lattimore Christmas?
Kenny Lattimore: It’s funny the way that the album really came together. It’s probably not as spectacular as people may think. I wanted to go on tour with Dave Koz who’s a great friend of mine. And I said, “Dave, you do this Christmas thing every year.’ ’I want to be on this tour with you for one year and see what it’s like.’’ He came back to me and said, ‘’Where’s your Christmas album?’’ and I was like, ‘’I don’t have a Christmas album.’’ So he was like, ‘’You should have a Christmas album.’’ Now, I’ve only recorded two albums at a single label meaning every album that you’ve heard me do was at different labels. I need to say that because I should not have a career. There’s probably no one that has recorded at as many major labels as me, at my age. Artists usually record a Christmas album as a legacy piece because they’ve been at a label for maybe 4 or 5 albums.
One of my friends, John Murray, who’s a great pop culture expert and knows a lot of people, he was like, ‘’You know this person at Motown?’’ And I was like, ‘’Yeah, I know her.’’ And he was like, ‘’Well, you should go there and do it.’’ I had to stop and receive it. That’s where the wisdom and discernment and decision making came in. I knew this partnership would be amazing because it would allow me to be authentically Kenny Lattimore. I can sing the gospel for real, and I could sing Christmas also.
And when I started talking to Motown they were very supportive. Not only did they want to do the Christmas album but at the same time, they wanted to talk about other projects and promote the Christmas album outside of the holiday season. ‘’And I said, ‘’that’s the winner right there.’’ It’s bigger than a Christmas album, it’s really a statement that I felt we were making and putting my name on it. It’s authentically me, including various genres of music that I’ve recorded.
So I was able to start the album out, sounding like a regular RnB artist. Then it morphed into many genres. When you come to see a Kenny Lattimore show, you will see about 3 or 4 different genres of music. I thought it was just perfect having this platform with Motown Gospel, to actually do all of these styles of music on one album. Christmas is the only time I feel like I could really do that without the critics saying, ‘’Well, the album is not consistent.’’ I’m having fun with this project and it just turned out so great.’’
Christopher Heron: You’ve always proudly displayed your faith, both in your music and in interviews. I recently heard your conversation on Heart & Soul on SiriusXM, where you openly confessed your faith before a secular audience. Do you get a lot of pushback from the R&B world to tone down your faith and increase your sex appeal?
Kenny Lattimore: Now I don’t. When I first came out as an artist, I did. It was very difficult because I came from a Gospel background. What a lot of people just didn’t know because it wasn’t even a part of my story. When you’re first coming out as an artist in the industry, there’s a story that designed for you. For instance, I may have started my career out with a particular producer, but that person may not be as well-known as another producer, so part of my story would be to mention only the biggest names that you worked with, that kind of thing. ‘They didn’t get me,’ is what they would say.
Then you have me being a Christian, at the same time you have me being a Black man, and what people thought Black men were back in ’96, ’97, the thug, hip-hop thing was really popular. I was none of that. So walking in the authenticity of my faith and being this kind of clean-cut, all-American didn’t fit into much of the music industry’s agenda. It was by the grace of God that I even had a music career. I’m not going to say that they like me because that goes up and down but they liked the music, and they embraced what I was saying, and that was a big deal.
I had a lot of pressure to be sexier. As a matter of fact, by the third album I was told that I needed to be a sophisticated R Kelly. I respected R Kelly, I still do respect him creatively, I think he’s a genius, but in terms of his message and what he is about it was such a contradiction that the idea hurt. It was painful because it was like, ‘’So you really don’t want me to be as respectful to women, and you want people to question my integrity as a man and whether I would take their women from them because that to you is an interesting image of a Black man.’’
When I first came out, I wanted to be like BeBe & CeCe Winans. I was just coming off a #1 Gospel album for 10 weeks. I don’t think that I began telling my full story until the last 3 to 4 years. Now, I say, ‘’This is how I came out. I wanted to be like BeBe & CeCe, and this is what happened, and this is what they told me, and these were my challenges.’’ And then people go, ‘’Oh my God, I understand now.’’ They did not really understand why I was the reluctant sex symbol. I didn’t grow up with a whole lot of women telling me how fine I was. I was never the player guy. I was very quiet, shy, fairly introverted as a child growing up. So all of a sudden I became this guy, I was on these videos and the women were like, ‘’Wow.’’ And it was almost like a joke to me because I was like, ‘’Are you kidding me?’’ I never took any of that seriously. I just knew who I really was.
Christopher Heron: So how do you maintain your brand as a modern-day soul man, a father, an eligible bachelor, while maintaining an authentic relationship with God?
Kenny Lattimore: You’ve got to spend time. I spend time in service, I spend time around people who remind me of who I am and remind me of the importance of God. I have pastors and friends who really check on me and that I can be transparent with. I don’t read a lot of the hype. I’m not googling myself to find out what everybody thinks. I’m living my life authentically. I’m good and grown now where my 13-year-old son is a huge focus. I’m not absorbed with me as much. I’ve learned to make moments with my son because this is it, this is all the time that I’m going to have. So what I have to do is create moments and begin to live my life in a way that is healthy.
A lot of artists get overwhelmed with the attention and their lives become unhealthy. There’s something about being rested, some people would also say centered, but for me it’s just about rested and centered in God and purpose. When I can remember my purpose, I think I’m able to deal with all situations better. There was a time when I had to reexamine what that purpose was, even musically. I’ve fallen out of love with the music industry altogether at different times in my life and didn’t record as much. In between my divorce, I spent 5 to 6 years on hiatus before I released anything. I had to rediscover what my purpose was, and God gave me something. He said, ‘’You’ve always sang to the hearts of women and to the minds of men encouraging them in love.’’
Christopher Heron: It’s clear you do love God. Is this Christmas album a foretaste of things to come? Do you have more Gospel music on your mind?
Kenny Lattimore: There’s definitely more Gospel coming. I will probably continue to walk that line that is considered gray. I don’t consider it gray; I consider it red, and yellow, and green, and purple because we are body, soul, and spirit. And in music the things that I can speak about I want to be able to sing about, so I want to authentically be who I am. If I’m going to talk about sexuality or talk about love, which I do as a Christian man, I want to be creative as a Christian man. If I’m going to talk about or sing about politics or whatever, I have to authentically be me.
One of my greatest ministries is mentoring. When you’re mentoring someone you have to have conversations that are elevated and on various levels. You have to be able to talk about finance and money and about all kinds of things. But what I realize in music and the platform that God has given me is that the message of love is the draw. It’s classy, and it never goes out of style, but it also is God because God is love.
So if you listen to the body of work that I’ve done, I was apprehensive about singing and expressing anything about sexuality because I didn’t want people to confuse that message with love. Two different things. They should exist together but they really are two different things, and it’s okay to talk about all of that even among Christians. Because I think sometimes as Christians, we raise our kids to be social misfits because we told them to not do this and abstain from that, which is great but when it’s time for them to move into relationships they don’t know how.
They really don’t know what love is, they don’t know how to make a good choice, they don’t know how to maneuver and have conversations with people about real things in life because they’re afraid. For my son, I don’t want that, and I didn’t live that way. So as I continue to do music, I just want it to be music that’s authentic to who I am in my totality and not just one aspect of who I am.