There’s no denying Case had a ubiquitous presence in the baby-making music department during R&B's golden era from the late '90s to early 2000s. Who could forget his 1996 smash hit "Touch Me, Tease Me" alongside Mary J Blige and Foxy Brown or his stroll through the sandy desert for 2001's "Missing You"?
Now, Case is back. Since his last LP Here, My Love , which dropped in 2010, the Brooklyn-bred singer has released his new album called Heaven’s Door. For Case, making music has always been about soundtracking emotions versus the turn-up.
“It’s okay to sing about the club 'cause we like to go to the club. It’s ok to sing about sex—we all like sex—but there’s more going on in life that can be talked about, [sung] about, rapped about,” he told VIBE. “Perfect example is Kendrick Lamar's [To Pimp A Butterfly]. It’s about more than just that—it’s about the world around him. Music is supposed to express you, what you’re going through, and your surroundings. You can’t tell me that what’s going on in everybody’s life is just the club, popping bottles and sex.”
As he embarks on his 20th year in the music business, the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter also gave his two cents on the current state of R&B, what inspired his new album and that time he almost had a kissing scene with Beyoncé.—Richy Rosario
VIBE: How did it feel when you first came onto the scene with Mary J. Blige and Foxy Brown in 1996?
Case: I was just happy. It was something that I worked for my whole life and I was just seeing it happen. I was just having fun. It was like a dream come true.
In 2001, you did “Livin’ It Up” with Ja Rule. Would you want to make more hip-hop collaborations like that?
It’s not something that I’ve ever tried to do consciously. If it fits then I’ll do it. It has to make sense. I like it to happen organically for it to make sense rather than try to force it. There is actually a couple of things that have come along recently that I may do.
How do you think R&B has changed?
In my opinion, I think it was cool when hip-hop and R&B started to merge together but somewhere along the line, R&B lost its identity. I think that’s where we are at now. There are a few people that are still making real R&B, but all of us that are doing it have to continue to do our part in order to establish our identity again, the same way hip-hop has.
What do you think about new-age R&B artists like Trey Songz, Miguel, and Ne-Yo?
I like Trey and Miguel. Miguel is dope. Ne-Yo is dope, but he kind of went away from R&B [on his] last few projects, but I think he’s capable of doing [R&B again]. He’s just doing something else right now. I mean that’s cool if that’s what you want to do. And Miguel, I don’t really consider Miguel as R&B. His stuff is more pop to me, but I like [him].
You’ve said before you can relate to Trey Songz a lot. Why is that?
Well, that’s just from conversations that we’ve had. There’s a lot of obscure music that I listen to that I’ve never met anybody else who even knew about it. Then me and him was talking about it and he knew about it. He had it. So we just sit around, go through that stuff, and bounce that type of stuff from each other. Just in that respect, I could understand where he is going musically and it’s dope.
What were you doing during your brief hiatus from music?
That was the great adventure. First, I started recording The Rose Experience. Then I was having problems with Def Jam so I decided I wanted to get off of [the label], but I’m the last artist Russell Simmons signed to Def Jam so they didn’t want to let me go. That took a couple of years to get off there, and then I had to finish recording. Then I look up and it was 2008-2009.
Why do prefer going the independent route over being signed to a major record label?
I did it at that time because I wanted to see how it worked to put out a project like that. At that time, I was starting to get fed up with the whole politics and the B.S. So I’m like, ‘Let me try it this way, and maybe I won’t have to deal with that so much.’
Since you’ve transitioned to your own imprint Indigo Blue, what are your thoughts on Jay Z’s new music streaming service, TIDAL?
I don’t know because I’m not finished researching it. I’ve read up on it a little bit and it sounds like it’s going to be more money so I’m all for that.
Speaking of Hov, the world saw how Beyoncé played your leading lady in "Happily Ever After." You both shared an intimate hug at the end of the video.
That part was supposed to be a kiss but [her father and manager-at-the-time] Mathew was like, "No, she’s 17." We had fun, 'cause I think Kelly [Rowland] and Solange came, too. It was like a three-day shoot and we would just hang out in the trailers and just talk.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
Every time I write a song, it's either about something I am going through, have gone through or somebody really close to me has gone through. For me, inspiration is everywhere. I just try to draw from real life and put some substance into the music, as supposed to singing about popping bottles all the time or the strip club because most of people’s life happens outside of the club. Those are things that you need to address and sing about.
What are your plans for appealing to a younger audience?
Well, as far as appeal, my plan is to just make real music and I think that stands the test of time. I heard Berry Gordy say it and Smokey Robinson actually said it to me, 'Melody is king.' And so no matter how old you are, melody will always last, which is why that stuff that they did at Motown 50 years ago, people still listen to it to this day. I think that it gets to a point where you listen to the catchy tunes that may be talking about nothing, but there [also] comes a point where you do want to hear something you can relate to. It’s the soundtrack of your life. I could think back on songs that, as soon as I hear them, I immediately know what I was doing or how I was feeling or what I was going through at the time. That’s the type of music I’ve always tried to make.
Can you give examples of that?
There’s an old Stevie Wonder song, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” From the time I was a little kid, I could be having the worst day and [hearing that song] makes my day better. It just makes me feel good. When I was a little kid, I remember hearing The Brothers Johnson “Stomp!” on the radio in New York, and I remember everything—we were living in Brooklyn in Atlantic Towers. My mom still had an afro. I’ve had people come up to me like, ‘Yo when I hear the song ‘Missing You,’ I think about when I was locked up. Or I think about when me and my girl [did] this. Or when my husband got deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.’ That’s what I think music should do for people.
Who were some of your inspirations?
The first one was Michael Jackson, hands down. Then it was Marvin Gaye, David Ruffin, Stevie Wonder and The Gap Band. To this day, that’s the stuff that I listen to. When I was working on this album, I didn’t listen to the radio—I just listened to them.
What has been the reaction to your latest album, Heaven's Door?
Everybody has loved it. I’ve been hearing it’s real R&B and it’s what [fans have] been waiting on. It’s kind of overwhelming actually, but it’s been a really good response.
What are your thoughts on Jodeci’s comeback?
It's cool. I’m friends with them. Actually I’ve been telling them to do it for a long time. I’m glad they put aside whatever they had going on to do it.
What do you hope to do in the future?
I'm going to try and put an album out in June. In order for us to get R&B back on track, everybody is going to have to do their part, and it doesn’t mean that you make an album, sit around and get mad because you didn’t sell five million albums. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I’m going to always make sure I do my part and stay true to myself, and make what I consider to be good music.
So for you it’s all about the music, but the business is still a big part of it.
It’s a big part of it but it all ends and begins with the music. Because the business can be whatever it is but if the music sucks, it's not going to matter. Like you can have the best promotion ever but if the music sucks, it’s not going to stand the test of time. You can even sell an asshole full of records, but it’s not going to last. Vanilla Ice sold $20 million, but no one gives a shit now. That’s my thing: to make quality music and then everything else will take care of itself.