It’s been over two years since Kevin Ross blessed us with his debut album The Awakening, and while fans were “awakened” by its arrival, many were left wondering just when a follow-up would be delivered. Although replays of songs like 2016’s “Long Song Away” and “Don’t Go” were enough to continuously fill the void of true R&B, the absence of the artist’s sultry and unforgettable vocals on new material was something that fans rightfully longed for.
Now, two years wiser and recently departed from his previous label home of Motown Records, the multi-talented singer-songwriter is here to make good on his promise to deliver fresh, new music for fans to consume. Gearing up to release his aptly-titled sophomore album, Audacity, Vol. 1 via his own label Art Society Music Group, the young artist is renewed and re-inspired to claim his stake in the industry. From talks of his new album to letting us in on his budding business venture, Kevin Ross recently chatted with ThisIsRnB to give us the details on what he’s been up to and everything we can look forward to from him this year.
Check out the audacious interview below.
TIRNB: How would you describe the growth between your debut album, The Awakening, and your upcoming album, Audacity?
Kevin: I feel a lot freer than my first album. A lot less chefs in the kitchen. [Laughs] It allowed for me to dig deeper to try different things that go a lot of different ways as far as experimenting. I’m really proud of the outcome. I’m proud of the product; the vast array of stuff on there dedicated to the genre. And, I was audacious enough to put it out on my own company and partnering with Empire.
TIRNB: After listening to your new album, my top three favorite songs are “Let It Out,” “Forsaken,” and “Honest.” Each one has a different flavor. What was the inspiration behind those songs in particular?
Kevin: “Let It Out,” I wanted to express myself sensually. I wanted to do it in a way that was authentic to me: gentle, but yet still art. I wanted to express it in a way where it was unpredictable in a sense where when you first hear the track, you wouldn’t think that I would be talking as sensual that I am on it. When people think of sensual records, they think of records that are more guitar driven, that are slower, that drag. So, I wanted to do something a little different and I thought it would be a cool way to open the project unorthodox, very sensual, very off the cuff. It was something I was excited to share with the people. It’s funny because I think women do get that sensual vibe and it makes them feel a certain kind of way. For guys, they view as it as something completely different — which is great — where they’re like it’s just a hard record. I think it’s cool that people get two different takeaways from it.
“Forsaken” is kind of like that record that shows my pop versatility in a sense where it gives a broader spectrum of what R&B can be, what it has been and what it can shape up to be as it pertains the genre. I think I’ve said this on social media, what I’ve always wanted to do is pay homage to my predecessors. I wanted to live in the present and I also wanted to pave a way for the future. “Forsaken” opens up the genre to the possibility that it’s ok to be a full-fledge R&B artist but to still have a possibility. For it to still be soulful; to still be able to sing on it and to not compromise. And, to still get those rhythmic feels. “Forsaken” feels good.
“Honest” is another record that we did a quality control thing [for] in Atlanta a couple months ago and this was one that was the people’s favorites. I think what people liked about it was the vulnerability. [There’s] not a lot of production, it’s very stripped away — so it highlighted my voice — but it also brought more attention to the lyrics as well. I always took pride in “Honest” as a conversational piece. If you hear “Honest” and you ran to Twitter, what would you say about it and what conversation could be had amongst the culture and amongst our generation? Where is there a certain threshold for honesty?
People believe that there’s only a certain amount of honesty that people can take and what is your threshold. If you believe that you do have one. I know for me I have one. I know that there’s a certain level especially with dealing with people that I love — that I don’t want to know everything. If I’m intimate with a woman, I don’t really want to know how about your bodies. [Laughs] I don’t know about what happened before me. That level of honesty creates a certain threshold for me. So I just wanted to put that out there. “I lie ’cause I love you / You lie ’cause you love me / And the truth is a mirror / This s*** could get ugly /And that’s honest / If we’re being honest.” Sometimes those conversations can be ugly, sometimes they are not pretty. I want to speak bare and I want to put forth how I feel about it.
TIRNB: I love how your music is true love music. It’s not overly sexualized, it’s more so sensual. Is that intentional?
Kevin: Very much so. [Laughs] I think my peers and those that have come before me have done a great job of making R&B sexy. I don’t think that on the sexy side of things I need to contribute too much to it. I think that sensuality has evolved in translation. Songs are a lot more overt now. So, music is either too hard or too soft. Too little or too much. And so, for me, I want to kind of play with that lining until I get it right. I tried that on The Awakening with “Don’t Go” and that resonated well with people and I wanted to see how much more I could teeter the line as far as still make women feel sexy and sensual without being crass and aggressive because ya’ know, there’s different kind of men out there. So, I wanted to show what kind of man that I am. I don’t have to put on a front for anybody else to make my point that I’m more of a man than the next person or the next R&B singer. I wanted to express my sensuality and show that side of me in my unique way.
TIRNB: Where did the title of this album come from?
Kevin: [Laughs] My life! When 2018 hit, the theme of audacity started. I had already started playing with different album titles and started gearing up for the second album as soon as I finished my EP Drive. Honestly, I created “Let It Out” for Drive and then I decided to save it. As soon as 2018 hit, I decided I wanted to leave my label and I asked for my release. They weren’t happy about that, but they did let me go. It took a year, but they did decide to let me go and I think that was the first step of being audacious. The audacity to grab hold of my life. To grab hold of the things I believed in the most. And honestly, in my whole heart of hearts, I feel like I wasn’t ready. Truthfully, I wanted to complete the three-album deal. Learn everything that I needed to learn as far as infrastructure for my label because that was the intention always. And God was like I’m going to push a little bit. He pushed me out of the airplane into the point where I had to decide — to make a choice to say “Kevin you can either complete this and you most likely will never get your second album opportunity because all the champions in the building had left.” I’ve seen that story play out too many times with my predecessors.
I watched too many Unsung and Uncensored [episodes] and [saw] the writing on the wall. Like “nah, this isn’t looking too good. So, let me go ahead and ask for my release now.” It was now or never. It was also intentional. For people on the outside looking in, I look crazy! I look crazy to say “you just came off all these nominations; NAACP award, Soul Train Awards…yadda yadda yadda…now you want to leave?” And it’s like nah, this is an intentional, intuitive thing. I’ve seen this before and no matter how it looks, I know that the feeling, it didn’t feel right. So, for me I had to make that leap, I had to make that jump.
God was really putting something in my spirit to say, “Kevin you can’t stay here. Either you do this, or you get stuck.”So, they released me because I asked to be released and then from there, I then cultivated Art Society Music Group (ASMG). From there I pretty much got finished with the album and then I started to look for distribution. Like every business, when you have a product, that’s the main goal to let them know the product has value, the brand has value, and this is what I’m asking for in return and do you have the things to meet my expectation. So that was audacious of me getting in, going to these companies asking for distribution as a budding business man. As a budding entrepreneur, these are my expectations, this is what I want, and this is how I’m going to get there. And this is the product that is going to take it there.
TIRNB: Did you expect the business side of starting a new label to be overwhelming?
Kevin: I got a lot of no’s because when people only look at you as an artist, they don’t understand it. It took a lot of time for me to say “OK, cool. I’m going to continue to be relentless.” I’m went to each and every distribution company and finally I found a home at Empire. Even at Empire, I played hardball with them. I let them know what was more important to me was ownership. Ownership of my masters and understanding how to play the game. And I’ve been blessed to have great people on my team to mentor me, to show me the ropes of being a budding business man and an entrepreneur, know how to set the brand and to secure the bag, and make sure the project had what it needed to be successful.
All these things of 2018 until now has been a constant theme: audacity. The audacity that I left, the audacity to start a company. I had the audacity to put out a record and say “I want to go to radio” and they’re like “OK well, we don’t think that you should go to radio.” I’m like OK, to each its own. I already had a game plan where if they didn’t want to go to radio, I was going to get to radio – one way or the other. God had other plans and shout out to Satellite XM for starting to play the record without any permission, without any say so, without any money, without any budget. They had belief in the song, and they supported the brand and the movement and that really put a spark under the team and everyone at the distribution company. Being audacious to come out with something two years after not putting out any music and still having a high expectation.
TIRNB: What genre would you say your music falls under? Contemporary, Soul or Urban R&B?
Kevin: Aw man, that’s a tough one. Honestly, I like to call myself a bridge artist. I do contemporary R&B records, I do things that are alternative, and I do records that are classic and timeless. So, I dabble in it all; it’s an all-encompassing thing. I’m a bridge artist in that I want to continue to build and grow so I’m not limited to things that I can and cannot do in and outside of the genre. I have a vast curiosity with learning and acquiring different things. Being human is constantly evolving.
TIRNB: Which moment in your career solidified it for you that you “made it?”
Kevin: Success is viewed differently. My view of success is establishing a career. I think 2014 — 2015 was the year — is when I realized I have made this thing that I love into a career. And now it pays all my bills, and it has allotted me a lot of opportunities to travel the world, view the world, meet some of my heroes, and inspire my generation, the next generation and those that came before. Five years ago, I realized this became my career. Of course, there are different levels to success. I want to reach higher levels of it, but I’m just grateful that this is what I do to provide for myself and what’s going to provide for my future family.
TIRNB: In the past you’ve worked with huge artists such as Toni Braxton, Trey Songs, BJ The Chicago Kid and Jamie Foxx. This album, however, is a bit different as I noticed there aren’t any features on it. Any reason behind that?
Kevin: I don’t believe features are necessary unless they are truly organic. So, for me as I was regrouping, you see the industry, you see how its changing, how they look at you, how they look at your circumstances. Sometimes, they can be a lot more standoffish because you’ve molded into a different you. Shout out to BJ the Chicago Kid because we’ve been working, we’ve been in the lab. Not on Audacity and not on his last album, but he’s definitely been one to be consistent, to be real, to be true and I will always be appreciative of that. As far as music is concerned, I’m down to do some. It’s just for Audacity, I didn’t want for the process to be held up to say “Oh, we’re waiting for this feature because so and so can make this song bigger.” I’ve been there before, I’ve had features on previous EPs and projects that were supposed to be big names, but I knew that if people aren’t digging the song, it’s not going to matter who the feature is with. Features are a representation of a relationship that you’ve built with that person on record. So, for Audacity to be two years off, I didn’t need anyone to speak for me. I wanted to speak very loud and clear and to speak my peace on this album. Throughout the album, there’s a constant theme. It’s like there’s an energy going on throughout the album. First track is a woman asking me a question of what took me so long to release the record. It allows me to have control over my energy.
TIRNB: What awards or accolades are you looking to receive in the near future?
Kevin: Aside from working with Stevie Wonder, I would love to win a Grammy! That’s the highest level of accomplishment in my opinion. I want it so bad and I’mma get it! Everything is so much sweeter now because it’s done with less man power. And it’s done by the terms of Art Society Music Group and the mantra of ASMG is “God Engineered, Vision Driven.” Anything that we get, anything that we acquired is by those terms. It’s by those terms. I see it, I visualize it. When I workout, I see it. When I listen to music, I see it. I don’t know what song or what project, but I know that when it’s all said it done, that I will get some sort of Grammy in some sort of way because this is what we work for. As a creative and as musicians. But also, I want my future children to understand that I did it my way. I’m still able to play the game and I’m still able to acquire the things within the music social scene as the highest thing to get by doing it my way. Right now, I’m still trying to figure out how to win. Once I figure out how to win, it’s much easier to win again and again.
Audacity, Vol 1. will be available on all platforms on Friday, January 31.
-Interview by Kea Bryant with additional inserts by Ni’Kesia Pannell