Aaron Hall is undoubtedly an R&B legend.
He's one the strongest vocalists of the last 20 years, and as the lead singer of the trio Guy — along with producer/multi-instrumentalist Teddy Riley and singer Timmy Gatling (who was later replaced by Hall's brother Damion) — he helped birth the New Jack Swing movement, which was the first to combine R&B with hip-hop beats. Their influence is still resounding today.
But the Aaron Hall we know is about to vanish — kaput, finito, he's getting stringer-belled, killed off. As he carries on with his career, Hall is adopting a new persona: E. Kane.
"My new album is called Adults Only," Hall, 41, said recently from his home in Los Angeles. "I said, 'That's Aaron Hall's final album.' Since people didn't respect Aaron Hall" — he claims he hasn't gotten his props from some peers and the media — "I decided to go the E. Kane route. So my next album is called E. Kane the O.G. I'm gonna take the respect. I'm gonna give them the hip-hop [beats] with me singing."
Although the singer will have a new look — with a full beard and head of hair replacing the bald head and goatee he's sported for the better part of 19 years — he's going to step onstage as the Aaron Hall his fans remember, for now anyway. Memories are bound to flow in plenty of cities soon, because Guy has reunited and are planning a major tour in the fall.
"We just trying to let everybody know we can still do it," Hall said of the reunion. "We're a tour group."
New Yorkers Hall and Riley had been friends since childhood. They formed Guy in 1987 and signed with Uptown Records, the original home of Jodeci, Mary J. Blige — and a hustling intern named Sean Combs. After two classic LPs, 1988's Guy and 1990's The Future, Guy split up. Hall had a hit with his first solo album, 1993's The Truth, while Riley enjoyed multiplatinum success with Blackstreet. Guy reunited toward the end of the decade and put out an album, III, in 2000, but broke up again shortly after.
"It was never a falling out," Hall said. "Me and Damion don't talk bad about [Riley]. The Hall brothers is focused. [Riley] just always tried to be in control of everything and it never happened. You can be in control of Blackstreet if you want, but you will not be in control of Guy."
Hall said despite the difference in philosophy of how the group should run, he reached out to his friend to tour. It was time. "I just told him, 'Teddy, we was raised up around each other, dog,' " Hall said. " 'We owe this to the fans.' He seen I changed, and I wasn't nuts."
Indeed, Hall has endured some tough times in his life. He's been shot and stabbed. Around 20 years ago, he witnessed his mother being hit and killed by a drunk driver on Christmas morning: His mom never got the chance to see her son become a star. In 1994, Hall's son, also named Aaron, died shortly after birth. In 1995, the singer caught an assault charge and was later sentenced to five years' probation.
At the end of the '90s, the courts ordered Hall to undergo two years of anger management. When he showed up late to one of the sessions, he was sentenced to 11 months in Rikers Island. (He says now that his tardiness was because he had to travel from New York to Virginia Beach for the birth of his second son named Aaron, and was delayed by bad weather.)
But neither Hall's musical career nor his run-ins with the law are what's gotten him into headlines in the last few years. He's the father of Gloria Velez's son, and the video vixen has been quite vocal about her relationship with Hall: From mixtapes and street DVDs, from radio interviews to magazines like King, she's held nothing back. The aspiring rapper/model, who has appeared in such videos as Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin' " and Ja Rule's "Holla, Holla," has described Hall as a "deadbeat dad" who was "abusive" to her and other women, whom she declined to name. She also has accused him of having a drug problem. The two hooked up when she was 16 and Aaron was in his 30s.
"I seen the DVDs and everything," said Hall, who denies abusing women or using any drug other than marijuana. The singer said he has tried desperately to contact Velez, to no avail. He said he wants to pay child support, but he can't find her. He also accuses her of keeping him away from their child. "I haven't seen my son in six years. Why would I not wanna see my son Aaron? My first son died. That's why I did the video 'I Miss You.' I haven't seen Aaron the fourth in six years. Let me see my son.
"I walked up to Jay-Z, Ja Rule — I'm the realest n---a you'll ever meet — and said, 'Why don't you tell Gloria to let me see my son?' " he added.
"Aaron was abusive toward me, and I'll be damned if I'll put my son through that," Velez said late last month. "There were days I couldn't go outside, I was so beat up." Velez denied that she is hard to find and said if Hall wants to see his son, "he can get lawyers involved."
But at the moment, Hall is focused on kick-starting his career. Adults Only was released in July and he's hoping to release the E. Kane album next year with production by Scott Storch, Dr. Dre associate Mel-Man and possibly Jazze Pha. Last week in Miami, he joined a tribute to one of his idols, Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band, at the BMI Urban Awards. He and Damion sang the Gap Band's 1981 hit "Yearning for Your Love."
And, of course, there's the Guy reunion. The group has already done one show (with New Edition, Jodeci and Blackstreet) since they reunited, and look likely to be joined by some of those acts, and SWV and Keith Sweat, during their forthcoming tour. However, Hall isn't certain whether the group will record a fourth album.
"It's all on Teddy," he said. "Me and Damion will do whatever. We don't have the control problem. Teddy is a genius in the studio, but you can't control something unless you're better. You can't tell the fans you're the leader of Guy and go onstage without me. See what they'll say. See what the reporters say. Sing all the songs yourself. I can sing all the songs by myself, but I don't. He can't sing 'Let's Chill,' 'Goodbye Love,' 'Piece of My Love,' nothing. I can sing 'I Like' a cappella, and the audience will go crazy."