Carl Thomas on the Hard Side of R&B

The artist discusses how he balances life and music and why he refuses to judge Brian McKnight.

Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

CT: In any age, the most challenging thing is your perception of the world versus the world’s perception of you. You lose a facet of normality in your life, and you’ve just got to fight for the things you really want. You have to fight for the friendships and relationships that are really valuable to you. You have to decide which things you are going to allow dictate your life.

TR: Has the music industry changed since your first album came out, and how?

CT: It went viral, that’s about it. There really isn’t a middleman anymore between the artist and the fans because of the Internet. Those are really the only real changes. But the music business going viral is enough of a change.

TR: Speaking of connecting directly to fans through the Internet, I’m sure you heard Brian McKnight’s “If You’re Ready to Learn” and the resulting backlash. As one of his contemporaries, do you have any idea what that was all about? 

CT: I have seen it. I think it was way out there. Brian is a really good friend of mind, and he’s a very good person. I mean, would I do something like that? No, because that’s really not my bag as a songwriter. I feel like you can relay the same message in a poetic fashion, and that’s the challenge of being a songwriter.

But do I stand in judgment? No, not at all. We’re just spotlighting him because what he said is outside of the box. We don’t question hip-hop artists for saying the same thing. At the end of the day, when we’re around our friends, realistically, we talk like guys do. But do I think it was a wise career move? No.

Now, if it was a parody, then I think it’s funny. If he was being serious about it, then it’s like, “Hey, hold your horses!” But if it was a joke, I can definitely take a joke. Everybody took it well when Justin Timberlake was singing about “D–k in a Box,” and I thought that was hilarious. Now, if I were the father of a 14-year-old girl, I would feel differently.

TR: The whole fiasco made me think, it must be really tough to balance giving fans the music they expect from you, being provocative and keeping up with changing tastes. Do you relate to that at all?

CT: For me, personally, I really don’t care. I don’t dig that deep into pleasing the fans to the point where I make myself miserable. I just so happen to see eye to eye with my fans. But I’m not the kind of person to lay down for what someone else wants. I’m just fortunate enough to see things the same way my fans do.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s staff writer.

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