Alex, Alex Baby! Whatz up wit cha? That what I planned to say but once I heard that sexy, seductive voice on the other end of the phone, it quickly changed to May I speak with Mr. O'Neal please? I got nervous as hell because I realized just who I was talking to. On the other end of the phone was an All True Man whose songs have occupied my cassette deck and cd player for more than a decade. To no surprised, he was a very sweet, personable man who was more than willing to talk to me about yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Another milestone was crossed by Alex on August 24, 2004 when Tabu/EMI Records dropped Greatest Hits, a compilation with 15 of Alex's songs. Cuts like Fake, Criticize and What's Missing are included as well as the huge duet songs he made with Cherelle.
I began by asking Alex what this "Greatest Hits" compilation meant to him in terms of accomplishments. It's a great thing! He replied. It's great to be working with a major record company as well was with Clarence [Avant]. Clarence, the history making innovator who made Tabu Records a household name. He was very influential on the careers of Alex, Cherelle, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and the SOS Band just to name a few. Mentor, was the word which Alex used to describe Avant. He's a mentor.
Being so much more than a vocalist and performer, Alex was very smart about surrounding himself with individuals who could enhance his gift. I didn't use to like my voice. He said modestly. I felt it was too nasally but soon I learned to appreciate its uniqueness. After a brief stint a lead singer for (believe it or not), The Time, Alex embarked upon a solo career, never cutting his friendship and ties with fellow band members Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. We all know how those Brotha's can write their asses off but what I was most curious to know was if the duo wrote all of those hits to fit his style or was his style predominately developed out of their writing? My style was created from a combination of a few things. He replied. At the time, the Minneapolis music scene was huge and Jam & Lewis had the same feelings about the music which made it easier for them to write. There were songs that they wrote especially for me because they understood my style and what I was about musically.
Now don't get it twisted. Even Alex said that a lies not the truth unless you believe it so don't believe the hype that he's not still doing the damn thang. He's been touring overseas and domestically, he's stared in the hit gospel play Guilty Until Proven Innocent, he's been raising his 8 children, and working on a new project. I have a new deal with EMI and I'll be working again with Clarence, Jam and Terry. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for that. With so many attributes under his belt, I asked him if there were any plans for a biography. Maybe at some point, but not just yet. There's so many more things that I'd like to do before I write a book.
Reflecting upon all of the changes in music within the last 10 years or so, I asked him his feelings about R&B music today. The young generation is doing a great job of keeping the tradition going. He answered. Hip hop adds excitement to the music. Usher is bad and his album is one of the best albums that I've ever heard. Every song is good. I like other artists like Beyonce & Joe as well. I interjected with my two-cents at this point of the interview with the comment that if Alex and all of the other mature R&B artists that we love so much had the avenues like the internet, videos and cable music channels to rely upon like Usher, Beyonce and Joe there's no telling where their careers would be to date? Michael Jackson was one of the only artists lucky enough to jump on that band wagon. You're right! he agreed. The support is there for them. We weren't allowed to cross over. They wouldn't allow us to sell our music like that and cross over. We had barriers.
Finally, I played a little game of word association with Alex. I told him that I would call out a name and I wanted him to give me one word to describe the person and here is how he responded:
And he replied
And he replied
And he replied
And he replied
What makes our word association exercise so unique is that most of the words that he used to describe others, we his fans use to describe him. Alexander O'Neal is a genuine Brotha with an adorable talent who consistently makes hits with many more to come.