EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW//Carl Thomas Talks ‘Conquer,’ Male Sensitivity, and The Bad Boy CursePublished by on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm.
When Carl Thomas‘ debut single “I Wish” hit the radio in 1999, it’s release brought on both excitement and fear. Excitement among fans who were hungry for R&B that was lacking in a musical landscape dominated by pop, and fear among industry insiders who were nervous about the trajectory of his career—he was signed to Sean “Diddy” Comb’s Bad Boy Records, notorious for its reputation of artists finding great success only to fall into relative obscurity, financial instability, or running off to another label—Craig Mack, Total, Cheri Dennis, Yung Joc, Loon, B5, 112, Faith Evans, and The Lox among them.
While his first album, Emotional, was a critical and commercial success in 2000, selling nearly two million copies; his follow-up releases—2004’s Let’s Talk About It and 2007’s So Much Better—failed to make a huge impact, and consequently he got lost in the shuffle of changing musical taste and the new wave of R&B artists who crept up on the scene in the mid noughties. While lack of promotion is to blame for the lackluster returns, his grief over the 2004 drive-by shooting death of this step-brother Duranthony Evans, greatly affected his focus on music.
But after being away for six years—of which included a move to Texas—the Grammy Award nominated singer is back and ready to regain—if not surpass—his former glory with Conquer, his recently released fourth studio album. Fans will be pleasantly surprised that Carl is still the same artist they fell in love with—only stronger.
How has your music evolved from your days on Bad Boy?
I didn’t really feel a need to change my style or anything. I felt the need to let the music breathe and let it broaden. [I want] to expose myself to brand new fans that have never heard of Carl Thomas. I think that’s where the music has grown—there’s broadness and an acceptance of a certain audience that I have ignored. The [new] album consists of songs that for some reason have eluded me in my career because maybe producers thought I wasn’t good enough to sing (laughs).
So you survived the Bad Boy curse?
I think that’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t be sitting here doing this interview with you if there was no Bad Boy. How deep is that curse, really?
So it seems you didn’t have the same issues with Diddy that other artists have had, right?
I didn’t have a problem working with Puff. The problems that we had were never business [or] personal problems. They were always creative run-ins and those are not necessarily negative. Harmony creates a good product, but nothing creates a better product that fiction in my opinion. [I mean] I like a little hot sauce on my greens (laughs).
That’s quite the metaphor. So what have you learned in your time off?
I learned to relax a little more. I learned not to take myself so seriously.
Would you label yourself as sensitive?
You are either sensitive or savage. You cannot exist between [the two]. Either you have the ability to feel or you don’t. That’s just the way it is.
So, as a man, you’re able to tap into your emotional side. That’s interesting. Most men usually aren’t able to…
I don’t believe that. I believe that [it’s] immaturity that spawns that attitude. If you want to look into the sensitivity of a man, it’s very easy. You can see it in the eyes of his children. You can see it in the way he treats his mother or the way he holds his wife’s hand.
Do you feel that if you weren’t sensitive, you couldn’t make the music that you make?
I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things if I didn’t have the ability to feel. I wouldn’t be able to feel compassion, show empathy and I would never be able to walk in [another person's] shoes. [At the time of] my first album, Emotional, [I remember] there was this hood joke of, ‘Oh, you’re being real Carl Thomas right now and being emotional.’ I laughed at it myself.
So with the new album being named Conquer, what have you been able to conquer?
I’ve been able to conquer certain aspects of my personality.
Wow, it’s that much of a beast that you have to conquer it? So the album is about conquering just that?
(Laughs) [It’s] basically about allowing love to do what it naturally does. It’s to encourage people to sit back, relax and not to fight in areas they need not do it.
What are you trying achieve with this album?
It would be the greatest compliment for somebody to look back at my body of work and then look at their lives and say, “I know exactly what I was doing and exactly where I was when this Carl Thomas record was out.” [That’s] the greatest form of flattery. I’m actually in the process of putting together a tour so that I can get back out on the road and give my fans a hug. I don’t plan on taking [a long hiatus again].
—Danielle Young/Justin Dwayne Joseph