For nearly six decades, Ron Isley has woven himself into the fabric of soul music. The Cincinnati’s native son got his start recording with his brothers as The Isley Brothers in 1959. From then on, Isley has enjoyed the highs and lows of being a legendary entertainer. From being the only artist to have a hit single in every decade since the 50s to spending 37 months in prison for tax evasion, Ron Isley has been through it all. Recently, I (@JaySpeakEasy) spoke to the man whose music most likely had a hand in my conception. Mr. Isley discussed the misfortunes surrounding his last album, how he stays current, his plans for his next album. This is Mr. Biggs.
Your last project, and first solo album, was Mr. I. What was the reception like to that project?
It was great until the record company, Def Soul/Island/Def Jam Records, was dismantled. The company was dismantled right at the beginning of the release. L.A. Reid was no longer there and everybody in the company was either laid off or fired. Some of our albums got caught up in that tangle there. L.A is going to Sony Records. Myself, I’ll probably wind up doing my next record with him. All our plans for the record were caught up in the changes. All of the sudden, L.A. Reid didn’t work at my label anymore.
One question about the album is why didn’t your cover of The Carpenters “(They Long To Be) Close To You” with Lauryn Hill make the cut?
We tried to get that approved from everybody involved because that’s definitely a hit record. It got leaked and once it leaked, everyone loved it. The leak showed everybody wanted that record. At the time, I don’t know what she was doing. She was having a kid and raising her other children. Everything was just a lot of confusion. It was just confusion everywhere.
You said things with that album didn’t go as planned? What was the strategy in its promotion?
Our first release of that album was supposed to be “Take It How You Want It” with T.I. and he got sent to jail. Aretha Franklin and I did a duet for it and she got sick. Everybody was praying for her. In the midst of all that, the label fired all of the people working on my project.
What was it like working with T.I.?
It was great, man. Really great. I couldn’t wait for the record to come out and we were ready to do a video and everything. The weekend we were to shoot the video, he was arrested. I was just shocked over that.
What music are you listening to now?
Well, I listen to the Steve Harvey and Tom Joyner radio shows to keep up with everything. As for artists, I listen to Chris Brown and Trey Songz. I like to see what they’re doing and how it makes the fans move and feel.
Speaking of Chris Brown, what do you think about the Chris Browns, Trey Songz, and Anthony Hamiltons? What are your thoughts on the new crop of R&B singers coming up?
I like that Anthony Hamilton record with Jill Scott. I really like that. Chris Brown and Trey Songz have great songs. I like the way their records are produced. They have a lot to learn, but they are young enough to fix and change things. If they stay close to the business, they will get all of those things worked out. Maxwell has got his thing together and I love his last album.
What new singers would you like to work with in the future?
I want to do something with Beyonce and Alicia Keys. I’ve got to do a record with them, but I guess those would be the people I will work with in the future. Also, I’ve always wanted to do a record with Al Green. That would be something magical if we ever get together to do it.
Will you be collaborating with R. Kelly again?
Yes, I’m working with R. Kelly on the next album right now!
Is it a collaborative album or just a solo record?
Uh, I don’t want to tell you all of that. I kind of want to keep it a secret. We don’t want to give anything out. I can tell you it is going to be dynamite. You can tell the world that.
Earlier we talked a little bit about R&B’s new crop of singers. Would you rather be revered as a legend in the game or respected as a competitor?
They know I’m a competitor and they also know I’m a legend! I’ve been making records since before many of their parents were born, so in that aspect, I’m a legend. However, I still am out there delivering great records.
You’ve had hits in every decade since the fifties. Do you ever think you’ll slow down and just relax on an island somewhere?
No, I picture myself just staying at it and going forward and things. I want to be at a place where everything I’ve done is at the top. I love all of my records. I can’t say that I have a favorite because they all mean something to me. They mean something to my fans and I love all my records. So stopping is not an option.