A Long Convo With... Jaheim: 'My Legacy Started The Day I Stepped Out'

After two platinum albums (Ghetto Love and 2002’s Still Ghetto) and two gold (2006’s Ghetto Classics, 2007’s The Makings of a Man), Jaheim is still delivering sucker punches. His latest single “Finding My Way Back,” a dusty, heartfelt track that sounds like it was plucked off an early ‘70s soul compilation, is becoming an omnipresent radio fixture. Even after some very public stumbles (he has dealt with some legal issues—2004 and 2010 arrests for drug possession) on his new album Another Round, Jaheim proves that there are more surprises to come.—Keith Murphy

VIBE: You worked with Regina King on the video for your latest single “Finding My Way Back.” What did she bring to the clip as the director?

Regina is the best director that I’ve ever worked with. She took my suggestions and situations that happened during my past relationships and made it dialogue. It’s a true love story. It wasn’t particularly in LA like in the video, but the out of town relationship was something I’ve been through. But if you are strong within your relationship you have nothing to worry about. My ex-girl, she didn’t trust me. I was not only an R&B singer, but I was high profile. So, she thought when I was going out on the road for two months that I was hitting this one and that one. We ended going our separate ways, but it’s natural for a woman to feel that way. She was really beautiful, so I felt the same way about her [laughs]. She could have had any brother she wanted. I never mess with a bum. If I have a woman on my side you better believe Halle Berry would have some trouble.


You have a grown man’s, soulful throwback voice, which seems to be sorely lacking in R&B today. Do you feel pressure from the industry to switch it up in this dance-first-ask-questions-later Auto-Tune era?


At this point in my career, it’s not about what the music industry wants. It’s about what I want. My legacy started the day I stepped out. I stand strong in my positioning. I’ve been in it over 10 years. Not to be conceited, but while I love a lot of stuff out there, I feel as though my style is unique. It’s a technique to it. It’s a pinch of this and a pinch of that that makes my sound.


Your first album 2001’s Ghetto Love was a success right out-the-box. Because of the ‘hood feel of your lyrics, people started to refer to you as the male Mary J. Blige. Did you see any similarities?


I can honestly say that early on I marketed myself off of Mary J. Blige. When I sat with her, I told her that. I told her, “You can utilize my ideas, my riffs and flip it. Because I’m going to do the same with you [laughs].” From that conversation, we became great friends. We recorded a few records together. I just wanted to let her know that she did something for me that meant a lot to my career starting off. Mary has the ghetto. But her music is more classy than just ghetto. She doesn’t make the “Nigga, fuck you…” kind of records. I wanted to be hard hitting, but for the brothers. I have a lot of different things going on in my music: Marvin Gaye mixed with a little David Ruffin with 20 percent Luther Vandross. And then there’s Aretha Franklin, who is my favorite female singer in the world.


There’s also the ‘hood, ghetto element that you spoke of with Mary that has become a huge part of your image and sound.

Right, and a lot of cats today are following that formula. I’m not mad at that. My ghetto music and R. Kelly’s ghetto music are too different things. I enhanced the ghetto and brought it to the frontier for the last decade. I’m not asking for awards or titles. I just brought the ‘hood to real soul music. Everyone thought it couldn’t be done. You had to be a Luther or a Whitney Houston or a Chaka Kahn. But here comes a guy out of nowhere selling 1.6 million. I get mentioned with the veteran singers. But as younger artists we get lost with the older veterans. It’s hard for the new generation to do their thing when people always say, “You remind me of this person or that person.” They don’t want to accept you for who you are. But I’ve been very blessed.


One artist who you were compared to early on is Teddy Pendergrass. In fact, there was some talk that you were jacking his style. Was such talk deserving?


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