R&B singer Keith Sweat's reputation as a master crooner was established early in his career, when his 1987 debut album, Make It Last Forever, sold more than 3 million copies.
The album spawned a string of top-10 hits, including "I Want Her," "Something Just Ain't Right," "Don't Stop Your Love," and the title track.
He followed that with a procession of successful chart-topping albums and singles that held their own in the face of evolving musical trends.
Didn't See Me Coming, Sweat's eighth album, due Tuesday, continues the singer's tradition of addressing matters sensual and emotional.
"I guess you can say I picked up where I left off and [did] whatever else came to mind," the 39-year-old, Harlem, New York-born singer, songwriter and producer said recently. "When I'm creating, it's about whatever I'm feeling."
Like Sweat's previous recordings, the album deals with the ups and downs of love, and he said some of the
songs are based on true stories.
"Some of them are from other people's experiences, like 'Caught Up' people being caught up in a relationship, and no matter how much you get dogged out, you stay in the relationship, because you're all caught up, for whatever reason, whether it be sexually, financially, whatever. That's true for a lot of people out there. 'Games' is about people playing games. I don't want to play no games. If you don't want me, go ahead out the door. Leave, stop playing with me."
Sweat attributed his success over the past 13 years to making music that his fans can relate to. "I think the reason people can relate to my album and relate to the stuff I do is because I'm hitting home with a lot of stuff," he said. "I'm not trying to sing about things that people don't actually go through. I've got maybe one or two songs that talk about the Bentleys and the diamonds and stuff, and a lot of people can't relate to that, because a lot of people don't
have that, but they do have the relationships, and that's why I try to keep it there."
The album's first single, "I'll Trade (A Million Bucks)," with Lil' Mo, is one of six tracks that feature guest appearances. Checking in are Busta Rhymes and Rah Digga on "Things," TLC's Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins on "He Say She Say," David Hollister on "Don't Have Me," and Lil' Wayne on "Why U Treat Me So Cold." Rodney "Dark Child" Jerkins produced "I Put U On," a song originally featured on the "Blue Streak" soundtrack.
Sweat said he selected artists with whom he'd never worked and found he was able to blend with them vocally.
"A lot of people wouldn't think I would blend with a lot of people, but I can adjust the way I sing to anybody. Like Levert. Sweat. Gill., (a 1997 album he recorded with Gerald Levert and Johnny Gill). People didn't think that was gonna work. But it's not hard for me to adjust. I'm a street singer. I wasn't trained by anyone. I'm more of a vibe
singer, if you want to call it that. So I really just feel where somebody is going, and I just go with them. That's why I can do uptempo as well as slow. I have a real street edge about the way I sing, and I think that's what's made me last in the business and has made people very receptive of me."
In true Keith Sweat fashion, Didn't See Me Coming balances steamy ballads and thumping uptempos. Having recorded hits that heat up the dance floor as well as the bedroom, Sweat said he has no preferences.
"I prefer whatever is hot. Sometimes I'm in an uptempo mood. Sometimes I'm in a ballad mood, and it really depends on what I'm talking about in a song and how fly the beat is. So it really doesn't matter to me, because it's not hard for me to do an uptempo song."
Known for mentoring and launching the careers of other artists such as Silk, Ol' Skool, Kut Klose and most recently, female rapper Strings Sweat said he's now focusing solely on his
"Basically, I've been concentrating on me. That's because if I'm not hot, I can't do nothing for nobody else really. I can piggyback them off me if I'm doing well. Right now, my whole focus is making this a successful album." And though he's focused, Sweat said he is not nervous about how the album will be received. "I have a following, and I believe God's gonna take care of me, regardless."
Paul Penrose, urban sales specialist for Valley Distributors in Woodland, California, said the guest appearances on Didn't See Me Coming neither add to nor detract from the album.
"[Sweat] is the talent, so he doesn't need to hide behind guest appearances, so I don't really look at them very seriously," Penrose said. "He's a strong enough artist that it's nice to have [other artists] on, but the Keith Sweat fans are the ones that are gonna buy it, and I think this will get some new fans for him."
Penrose was complimentary of the album. "I definitely
think it's a lot stronger than the last album, and it's definitely more radio-friendly," he said. "The only problem that I can see is just making sure that they release the right single."