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Michael Keith (Mike from 112) Interview

Shouts to Donna Torrence and PyroRadio!

As one quarter of Atlanta’s R&B boy group 112, Mike, now known as Michael Keith, enjoyed much success including platinum selling albums, a Grammy award and many classic R&B hits. However, in 2007, Michael Keith left the group citing members Q and Daron were taking an unfair share of the royalty cheques.

To mark the release of his self-titled album ( to purchase), Marvin Sparks caught up with Michael Keith to discuss his feelings on R&B and Autotune, if he’d return to 112, auditioning for Making the Band and whether or not Notorious was an accurate depiction.
Marvin Sparks: What was the best thing about being in 112?
Michael Keith: One of the best things was the unity we had as a group. We were able to do a lot of special things as a unit. I honestly feel like we hadn’t reached our apex but at the same time I think we accomplished a lot and influenced a lot of artists who came after us. I would definitely say that was one of the best accomplishments that we did.

Marvin Sparks: We all know about the hysteria and dedicated female fans boy groups have. What would you say was the craziest or best thing you received from a fan?
Michael Keith: A record sale. The longevity of an R&B act nowadays, statistically, is about 2 to 3 years, which is about an album and maybe a second one. It was just by the grace of God that we didn’t suffer the sophomore jinx, so we were able to keep going. It will be 13 years this year since we first started out, so to me that’s the greatest gift I have got from the fans; the love and the support.

Marvin Sparks: 13 years is a long time. Even though you left because of unfair distribution of royalties, it must still have been a hard decision to leave.
Michael Keith: Like I said before, I felt that we had so much more left to accomplish. I really felt in my heart of hearts that 112 was this generations New Edition, this generations Boyz II Men, and this generations Jodeci. I really felt like we had the potential to be one of those super-groups, but I honestly feel like we didn’t reach that point. In my heart, I felt like we had some unfinished business to do, and if anybody knows me I’m never one who leaves business unfinished.

Marvin Sparks: Are there any plans to get back together for a follow up album to Pleasure and Pain?
Michael Keith: I’m going to be honest with you and say I’ve grown and lived long enough to never say never, so if that was to happen in the future I will welcome it under the right circumstances. I never felt like we had accomplished all that we could have, but right now I’m so focused on my solo project and everybody else, from what I know is focusing on theirs, so I don’t see it happening in the near future.

Marvin Sparks: Do you feel that the fact you weren’t a lead vocalist on singles helped or hindered you in becoming a solo artist?
Michael Keith: I think it did both. I think it helped because a lot of people will hear my voice relatively for the first time. Unless you are a die-hard fan and you’ve been to the concerts, you are a family member and heard me sing in church, or you were a member of 112, you just don’t how well I could sing. So when I do sing and take it to the next level, people always amazed like, ‘Damn, why haven’t you been singing [lead]’.

But the reason was we had a formula and a niché with Slim singing all the leads. Everybody knew that and understood that that was going to be the way that we were going to be distinct from the other groups that were out there at the time. It definitely helped because it saved my voice for 13 years. I definitely feel like I have the best [voice] left out of all the guys because I’ve had mine on reserve and just been singing when it was time to go onstage.

As far as hurt, well I wouldn’t say hurt, but it is causing somewhat of an issue coming out with newer people who are not aware of the music. To a lot of people I am a new artist, but its cool. I don’t mind a challenge. Baseball player Joe DiMaggio said ‘I play as if it is the last time I’m ever going to play baseball, because there maybe someone out there who never knew I played baseball’. In my mind that’s how I have to perform and sing in case they’ve never heard a 112 or Michael Keith record.

Marvin Sparks: Would you have auditioned for a program like Making The Band?
Michael Keith: Absolutely not! I couldn’t have done it. You got to understand that with Puff we never had that sort of relationship with Puff. We had a real working relationship with Puff; we were real cool and we were all starting from the beginning. Of course he had [Notorious] BIG and Craig Mack at the time that 112 came aboard but Bad Boy as a record label were still growing and developing. Puff is a multi-millionaire/billionaire now versus back then everyone was trying to get their grind on.

It’s kinda like you have a phase 1 and 2; [now] is like phase 2/ phase 3. I was in phase 1. The original 5. [Notorious] BIG, Craig Mack, Total, Faith [Evans] and 112. I couldn’t have done Making The Band. I would have tried, but I think it was more about the TV aspect than the music in my opinion.

Marvin Sparks: Are you feeling the direction RnB has gone in with emphasis being placed on Euro-dance sounding tracks and Autotune?
Michael Keith: These artists nowadays that are just limiting themselves to being in one scenario; being in the club, out the club, you’re about to go to the club. Those artists really get under my skin. Reason being is we are so much more artistically evolved than just doing one type of song. I can appreciate a Kanye West, a Timbaland, a Justin Timberlake and a Michael Keith, you know.

I’m going to be honest with you, I can actually sing. A lot of these cats now... it’s cool because its for the times now and its no diss to these artists or anything but the whole autotune thing, I feel is just a fad outside of T-Pain. Everyone is just trying to follow that dude, so its a sound that will fade out eventually with the exception of him because that‘s his thing.

Marvin Sparks: What separates you from what’s already out there?
Michael Keith: We are a copycat industry. If something’s hot everyone is going to gravitate towards that. What separates me is I don’t care about what’s going on with the industry. I’m going to do what I feel is best for me. My mood is having songs with substance. Songs that can be listened to 20 years from now. Not something that is hot right now and that‘s it. My whole thing is making songs that you can listen to, your grandkids can listen to, your grandkids grandkids can listen to.

Marvin Sparks: Your first single is ‘No More Tears’, tell us how that came about.
Michael Keith: When I write music I converse with a lot of people, and with ‘No More Tears’ I sat back and listened to how a lot of women don’t view men in the light that I think men should be viewed in. Someone that is a provider and someone who can take care of the home. Over here in the States, a lot of women don’t view black men as dependable dudes who can stay in a relationship and be a one woman man. I wrote that song so I could say there are some good dudes who appreciate one woman and what they do. It was just a song I wrote to say there are a lot of good dudes and I’m one of them.

Marvin Sparks: Do you have any advice for the guys struggling to maintain a good relationship with their female?
Michael Keith: Just listen. Women always tell you want by they do it in a way that you have to really be in tune with them. If she tells you for no apparent reason that she loves roses, duh, that’s her telling you ’Fool go out and buy me some roses‘! Or do I look good in this dress, obviously she wants you to say ‘Yes baby, you look good in that dress‘. She has it down in her head what she wants, she just wants you to reaffirm what she knows or wants to hear. A tip for everybody, just go along and say yes!

Marvin Sparks: What were your initial ambitions with this album?
Michael Keith: I’m gonna be honest, I want to be legendary. I know I have high hopes but I’ve done basically done the impossible with 112 and coming from the humble beginnings that we came from and able to be so successful. We won a Grammy, record sales, going around the world - being in the UK and seeing these different people, so I definitely feel like I can set the bar high fir the things I would like to accomplish in my solo career. I want to be known as this era’s Marvin Gaye, or this era’s Donny Hathaway, or Stevie Wonder. I don’t want to be one of those one-hit and go dudes.

I think this album epitomises that. I’m talking about what people have been speaking about for years; why is a situation like this, why is love like this, why does love hurt like this? I’m not afraid to talk about these situations because these are things I have questions about, and maybe through my music we can find the answer. I want to be like Kurt Cobain, or this generations Bono; one of those universal artists.

Marvin Sparks: As someone who knew Biggie, how did you find the film? Was it accurate?
Michael Keith: It was accurate, it was a very good movie. I’m going to be honest with you, towards the end I couldn’t look at it because it just took me back to when it all went down, so I had to leave the theatre because it was that heartbreaking for me. I honestly thought that I had got over that, with it being 11 years and all that, but it still hurts.

1st single: Michael Keith - No More Tears


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