Avant Wants To Make Relationships Equal

Singer's 'Separated,' at #5 on Billboard R&B chart, recalls failed love affair.

In his first single, "Separated," Avant sings the tortured thoughts of a jealous lover: "Thinkin' of someone else in between your thighs."

The song, off his debut album, My Thoughts, due Tuesday, came out of a broken relationship he had a few years back, the R&B singer said.

"It's like, you truly love someone, but you know that the situation is not working," Avant said last month. "At the same time, you just want to be with her so bad, you know?

"I want to get it back to [the way it was] when I was young," the 22-year-old singer continued. "My father, if he came home from working very hard, my mom didn't have a problem cooking for him or washing his clothes. I don't want it to be 60/40, I just want it to be 50/50."

He says as much in "Let's Make a Deal" (RealAudio excerpt) another song from the album. Avant knows some might bristle at the song's emphasis on women cooking and cleaning. But he says he just wants a relationship that's fair, no matter who does what.

"If you want something from me, I'll give it to you," he said, "but if I want something from you, please give it to me, you know?"

Singer Considers Himself 'Blessed'

The slow-jam "Separated" (RealAudio excerpt) is at #5 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart, and Avant can't stop talking about how lucky he is. "I'm blessed," he said. "I've got so many people working hard for me."

Chris Lee, program director of WKPO, an urban format radio station near Madison, Wis., said his listeners are responding strongly to the song. "You can take that one to the bank," he said. "It's a definite hit. It's just a mellow groove and people are connecting with the lyrics."

The singer was born and raised in Cleveland, where he watched his uncle sing in local groups and hung out with other singers, such as Gerald Levert. Like many of his R&B peers, he got his start singing in church, which he said was as demanding as it was fun.

"You have serious band directors who want their church to be the biggest thing happening," he said. "They were all competing. If you weren't good, it's not that they wouldn't let you in, but they'd turn your mic down."

He attended high school at the Cleveland School for the Arts, and he started performing on regional concert tours when he was in his late teens. Eventually, his manager sent a demo tape to Magic Johnson Music, the label founded by the ex–L.A. Lakers star. Avant became the first performer signed to the label, and Avant gives Johnson thanks and props.

"[Magic is] a real big brother figure to me," Avant said. "When I first met him, he treated me like I was the star."

The singer — whose easygoing tone conveys not youthful cockiness, but wide-eyed surprise and thrill that he's made it this far with his music — said he's not in the music business for the glamour. "I don't really club," he said. "I like to sit back and write about other people's situations."

He wrote one song, "Sorry," that doesn't appear on My Thoughts. It's about the experiences of three of his friends, who didn't realize it was about them until he told them. "I try to disguise it as much as I can, because people will want their credit after a while," he said.

Avant also pays homage to what he, as a 22-year-old, considers old-school R&B, with his cover of Rene & Angela's 1983 song "My Love." "I asked Angela [Winbush] if I could do it, and she said, 'Please do,' " he said. "I sent it to her before I sent it to anybody else, and she loved it."

Other Songs Delve Into Societal Problems

Though most of the ballad-heavy My Thoughts focuses on relationships, the gospel-tinged "Why" looks at such societal problems as poverty and child abuse, problems Avant thinks can be solved by some very simple solutions.

"We have to start respecting each other again," Avant said. "I gotta open my people up, not just black people, but everybody, to know that this world is going down. The family is not tight, and we've got to tighten that up."

Avant hasn't strayed completely from his church roots, listening to as much gospel as R&B and hip-hop. "You've got to glorify the Lord," he says. "He's the best."