Interviewing two brothers while “SportsCenter” is on is probably not the best idea, but a mutual passion for music has a way of working things out. With the subject of sports already present, the question was posed, “What team best mirrors you as a recording artist?”
After a little deliberation, singer Carl Thomas offered, “I’d have to say the 1985 Chicago Bears. They were an incredibly talented, well-rounded team. They moved as a unit, they moved as a family and they had a certain consistency.” In 1985, that team ran roughshod on the NFL to the tune of a near-perfect record, culminating with a Super Bowl championship-very similar to the year Thomas had in 2000 with the release of his debut CD, “Emotional.”
The album was critically acclaimed, and with a No. 2 debut on the Billboard R&B Album chart and selling nearly 2 million copies, it was a commercial success as well. What made the CD more impactful was that while strong songs like “Cold World,” “Summer Rain” and “Emotional” were prominently placed, they were overshadowed by a career-defining song that artists search for throughout their careers in “I Wish.”
“I came out of the box and entered the Great American Songbook with ‘I Wish.’ That’s what made it so special. There was no working up to it,” said Thomas. “I remember being in the studio with Jay-Z [who interloped ‘I Wish’ for his smash ‘I Just Wanna Love You’ featuring Pharrell] and he told me, ‘Whatever happens, remember that your debut album is one of the best foundations an R&B artist could ever ask for.’ I know now that when people talk about the album, they are really referring to their personal connection to it.”
This week, “Conquer,” CD No. 4 by Thomas, found its way onto shelves. Four years after his last project, armed with a newfound focus and vitality, Thomas is ready for the rigors of the music industry after a few tumultuous years. Unbeknownst to many, in 2004 on the eve of the release of his sophomore album, “Let’s Talk About It,” a devastated Thomas put writing and recording on pause and went abroad to escape the pain from the shocking loss of his brother, who was a victim of the callous streets. While making frequent international travels and keeping a low profile in the States, Thomas embarked on a personal journey of recovery.
Still grieving, Thomas was invited to the studio to record for “fun,” resulting in 2007’s “So Much Better.” “That not only gave me legs to stand on again,” Thomas recalls, “but it showed me that I was supposed to be standing.”
Instrumental in getting Thomas back into the creative zone for that project was friend and producer Mike City, responsible for “I Wish,” who returned to work on this project. “Mike and I have a very unique chemistry. He knows what it is that I’m trying to convey to people. Even when you’re trying new things with your music, you always need that person who understands what you’re trying to say,” he said. Rounding out the production duties are the Internz, Andre Harris, Blac Elvis, Mario Winans and one of the hottest men behind the boards at the moment, Rico Love, who has the production on the lead track, “Don’t Kiss Me.” “I was looking for a modern-day throwback and I feel like we delivered just that,” said Thomas. “We added Snoop Dogg to the remix, and his style of rap fit the bill perfectly.”
With “Conquer,” Thomas makes the distinction of not just coming back, but than coming back for reasons more then fame. This disc is also his debut project on the label Verve Forecast, and he feels honored and anxious for the opportunity.
“I appreciate my new situation because they are responsible for so many legendary artists, so I have a certain integrity and standard that I have to live up to. They also allowed me the opportunity to stretch the music as far as I felt it needed to go and as far as I felt it needed to grow. I never felt the need to change my style; I just needed to adjust to what was going on right now. Even with that, I think I still stand out like a sore thumb. I’m proud to travel in my own lane and I just look forward to moving further in that direction,” said Thomas.
“The whole concept of what I’m trying to accomplish is bigger than myself,” he says. “I’m trying my best to be the musical backdrop to people’s lives. People monitor special times in their lives to music, and I love it when people live with my music long enough to be able to look and say, ‘Wow, when this song came out, I was at this point in my life.’ It’s something important to be conscious of as musicians.”
I’m out. Hope you’re able to take in the first headline set of Anthony Hamilton at the Apollo. Holla next week. Until then, enjoy the nightlife.