Jaheim: Leaving the Ghetto Behind

The voice might sound the same, but Jaheim admits he has done some serious maturing. Ever since being hailed Generation Next’s Teddy Pendegrass, the velvet-voiced balladeer has given voice to those tongue-tied men who need a good song to express their deep feelings. However, after three albums exalting the joys and perils of ghetto life, Jaheim has abandoned his “balladeer of the hood” title to expand his musical horizons with his fourth release, The Makings of a Man. Here, Jaheim reveals why he’s put the streets behind him, his chance encounter with the late great Luther Vandross and why no one should dare call him a teddy bear.

Essence.com: We are all excited for this new album, The Makings of a Man. Your last three CDs—Ghetto Love, Still Ghetto and Ghetto Classic—all pay homage to the hood in title and content. Was the omission of “ghetto” this time around deliberate?

Jaheim:
That’s exactly what it is. I have been claiming the ghetto for almost eight years. When you claim the ghetto, people treat you that way and it’s time for a change. This album is sexy, grown and very intimate. Now it’s about infidelity too because cheating is real. From top to bottom this is a classic. It;s my best one yet.

Essence.com: You sing with so much conviction. Is this first single “Never” straight from your

heart? Jaheim:
Yeah, it’s me. I heard the record and I went crazy. I can see myself singing this at many weddings this year.

Essence.com: You probably get requests all the time. You have this R&B teddy bear image...

Jaheim:
Whoa! I don’t know where they get that from. I don’t call myself a teddy bear because that is Teddy Pendergrass. When I first met Teddy, he had his claws out thinking I was trying to be him. I said, ‘Hold on there Teddy!’ People wrote things out of context and he was a little upset. Teddy Pendergrass is one of the greatest vocalists in the world, so I didn’t get upset. Now we are great friends.

Essence.com: So is it a struggle to live up to this image that people have imposed upon you?

Jaheim:
It’s a hell of a job, and it ain’t easy to satisfy the world with your blood, sweat and tears. I’ll be frank: I don’t get paid a lot of money to do these records. I do it out of love. I get paid maybe .17 cents a record. Some people do it for the money and I do it because I have loyal fans. If it was up to me, I would have been retired.

Essence.com: So you owe it all to your loyalists, huh?

Jaheim:
Music is depreciating so much right now, so I have to stick around. We lost Luther, Barry, my good friend Gerald Levert. We are losing the great entertainers to stress: Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Luther Vandross—all of them.

Essence.com: Well, your fans love you, so keep putting it down. Speaking of which, what has been your craziest fan encounter?

Jaheim:
Wow, I’ve got so many of them. But I’ll tell you about when I was a crazy fan. I was at a studio practicing for a production I was in and one of my friends said, ‘Jaheim, Luther is downstairs.’ I thought he was playing but he wasn’t. I got downstairs as soon as I could and he was right there. I said, ‘Luther!’ But he ignored me, so I called him again, I said, ‘Luther’ And he ignored me again. My heart was crushed.

Essence.com: He was looking right at you and didn’t say anything?

Jaheim:
No, he was leaning on the wall facing the door and I called him one more time, and he was in his own little world. I was going through so much and when Luther ignored me, it just took everything away. I was like a little kid that lost his puppy. I was walking away and this girl looked at me and screamed, ‘Jaheim!’ like she was so happy to see me. Then Luther turned and said, ‘Jaheim?’ and started singing my song. Right then and there I knew I was somebody. I said, ‘I am somebody now, cause Luther knows me.’ That was the greatest moment I ever had inside of this business so far.

Essence.com: So did you and he talk afterwards—you know smooth voice to smooth voice?

Jaheim:
(laughs) Yeah, we shook hands and we talked for a minute. I said, ‘Man you just don’t know what you did for me.’ I actually had an opportunity to see his mother last night. His estate is having an auction. I’m going to get me something and cherish my moment with Luther. And even if I don’t, I’ll have the greatest gift that no man or woman can possess, the voice.

Essence.com: So you practiced to sound like Luther?

Jaheim:
I use to get mad when I couldn’t sound like Luther. If people say, ‘You remind me of Luther,’ I say, ‘Thank you,’ because I studied him. When I first heard Luther, I said, Man, I need this. No more stealing cars and hanging with the wrong folks. It was the Luther voice that hit me and brought me to success.

Essence.com: It’s a good thing you were able to meet him. So what crazy rumors have you heard about yourself?

Jaheim:
Well, once I heard Ginuwine’s wife [Sole’] was supposedly pregnant by me.

Essence.com: Wow, that’s wild! Do you even know his wife?

Jaheim:
I know him, but I don’t know her.

Essence.com: So let’s talk relationships: how do you keep a woman happy?

Jaheim:
Whatever she wants, that’s what you have to do. Whatever you do in the beginning is what you have to do in the end. It’s hard to please a woman though, it’s very hard. Some women like the simple things in life and I’m a simple kind of guy who doesn’t ask for too much. I’ll probably cook for her.

Essence.com: Some of us would argue with you on women being hard to please. But a man who can cook and sing? That’s a no-brainer. Where did you learn how to cook?

Jaheim:
Yep it’s in the genes. My grandfather was a singer in The Drifters, then went solo. My grandmother was a chef and my mother was one of the best cooks in our family. Every year for the holidays what I like is turkey, mac and cheese—real macaroni, not the one out the box, red velvet cake, pineapple crust made from scratch. That’s what I cook.

Essence.com: So this holiday you are giving the gift with this new cd. Are you excited about releasing your latest and greatest?

Jaheim:
(Laughs) Yeah, I can’t wait. I’m like an [expectant ]father right now who’s pacing back and forth in the emergency room.

Essence.com: And what’d you like to tell your fans?

Jaheim:
Get this album for all your people and I promise they will appreciate you for it. I’m the voice of R&B. I’m the one who’s gonna hold it down for you guys for the next 10 to 20 years, giving you nothing but just solid albums.

Jaheim's latest album, The Makings of a Man will be released December 18th.

Credit: Christian Lantry

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