Ladies Love G, But Gerald Levert's Looking Forward

Son of O'Jays great wants to make classic album like those of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.

R&B singer Gerald Levert didn't expect people to take him seriously when he sang about taking applications for a new lover in the song "Application," from his latest album, G.

But his female fans took him up on the request.

"I've got women coming to my Web site, sending me emails with their names, jobs, all sorts of stuff," Levert said from a hotel in New York, where he was rehearsing for his appearance at last week's Essence Awards 2000.

"Some of these ladies sound serious, too!"

"Application" (RealAudio excerpt) is just one of many romantic tunes on his fourth solo album, which has held steady in the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart's top 10 for five weeks. The first single, the lover's promise "Mr. Too Damn Good," is receiving heavy airplay on urban radio stations.

Like Father, Like Son

The son of O'Jays' lead singer Eddie Levert, the 33-year-old Ohio native began singing with his father at home. With his brother, Sean Levert, and Marc Gordon, he formed the group Levert in 1986. The group released seven albums, including Bloodline (1986), which contained their first hit single, "(Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind."

Levert said he used to feel that having a famous dad made it hard to establish his own identity — especially since their voices are similar. But now he sees it as a blessing.

"I'm just an extension of him," he said. "When you're young, you're selfish, but now I see that what I'm doing isn't just about me."

"Misery" (RealAudio excerpt), from the new album, is a song that Levert said is especially close to his heart because it sounds more like classic soul than current R&B. It's also a song in which Levert takes to task friends who've let him down. "I've had a lot of friends who turn out to be enemies," Levert said. "I found out they were after the wrong things, and they had to go."

"Baby U Are" (RealAudio excerpt) also has that retro vibe, and Levert said the song marks the first time he's really experimented with his falsetto.

A Means To An End

Levert said he is glad that G is selling so well but it's not the album he really wants to do. He said he's been writing songs for years in anticipation of putting out an album that would be the modern equivalent of spiritually and politically charged soul classics such as Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On (1971) or Stevie Wonder's Innervisions (1973).

He said he loves artists such as D'Angelo and Macy Gray, who are working in retro R&B styles. But he said he's waiting for the album that really reaches out to bring people together, the way O'Jays songs such as "Love Train" (1973) and "For the Love of Money" (1974) did.

"I'm feeling all of these artists, but there ain't no Curtis Mayfield–type album out there, except for Lauryn Hill's," he said, referring to 1998's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. "There's definitely nothing like that from a male perspective."

He'd like to be the one to record it, too, and he sees albums like G as a way to help him get there. "The record label has their opinions," Levert said, "and you have to give and take to get to do what you want to do." If he sells enough copies of G, he said, he can tell the record company to "kiss my butt. This is what I want to do. Take it or leave it."

Rapper Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) said he hopes Levert gets that chance but that he knows how difficult it is for artists to convince labels to let them express their respective visions. "Soul has been replaced by beat, and style over the essence of expression," he said. "[Levert's album] might be expressive of himself, but you've still got to turn it into a record company that's got to sell units."

Levert said he hopes to get to a place in his career where he can take two years to work on an album, because he's got "a long story to tell."

"I haven't made my stellar album yet," he said.