Many might argue Michael Keith was the least vocal of Bad Boy's disbanded R&B quartet 112. But when Keith (who founded the group in junior high school with fellow member Daron Jones) did sing, his gospel-infused, grown-man-sexy voice roused the ladies. Nowadays, the Atlanta native continues his musical endeavors as a solo artist, delivering rich vocals and thought-provoking lyrics on his self-titled solo debut. ESSENCE.com caught up with the soulster to discuss going solo, what really went down between Diddy and 112, and what reuniting with his father taught him.
ESSENCE.COM: So you're branching out on your own. You always have the grown and sexy voice. What can 112 fans expect from you as a solo artist?
MICHAEL KEITH: I've been really blessed to express my emotions and reach out to people through my music. Most people know that I'm the preacher and the one who gives that soulful, heart-wrenching singing and that's what I'm bringing to this album. I did a lot of soul-searching and dealt with a lot of things I've experienced throughout the years so people will get a lot of my soul and my personality. When it comes to music, I'm all over the place. I have different ways of looking at music so I'm proud of the direction that this album has taken.
ESSENCE.COM: You have some really heartfelt songs on this album including "No More Tears." Now, tell us, are you the heartbreaker or did some woman do you wrong?
KEITH: (Laughs.) The song is about letting the ladies know there's still some good dudes out here, and I'm one of those good guys. Everywoman I ever dated inspired that song, but for the record, I'm the one saying to that special lady, "Let me wipe your tears away."
ESSENCE.COM: Let me find out you're quite the ladies man! Well, you have a song entitled "Father," which addressed the absence of your dad. As a single father to 10-year-old and 4-year-old boys, have you made an attempt to reconcile with your dad not only for your sake, but your sons'?
KEITH: Well, I didn't grow up with my father and only met him a couple of years ago. My mother is really the one responsible for our reconciliation. She tried for years to get me to go meet him and I refused. My attitude was like, he hasn't been in my life all this time, so why should he be now? When I finally decided to go meet him, it was very emotional. He's a barber and I went to his shop and I told myself I was going to give him the business, but I looked at this man and said to myself, This is my pops. The Bible says to honor your mother and father regardless of whether they were in your life or not. Any harsh feelings I had I pushed them to the back burner. I'm not going to lie-I had to wipe a couple of tears away, but we were able to sit down with each other as grown men not as father and mp;nbsp;son and talk about life, and love and things my father knew about me and likewise. So we now have an understanding and working relationship. I didn't know how much I needed my father until he was in my life.
ESSENCE.COM: It's good to finally hear you solo. As a member of 112, we didn't get to hear you often because Slim usually sung lead. Was it difficult to take a backseat when you know you're equally as talented?
KEITH: I really do appreciate that there is a method to the madness. Diddy envisioned Slim singing the lead and we all understood the reasoning behind his choice. Slim's voice is very distinctive and when you're a new group you need a distinct sound to connect with an audience. It was a calculated and smart move. I would never change anything. We made a ton of good music, but now it's my time to shine.
ESSENCE.COM: There are discrepancies about whether 112 disbanded or if y'all are still together and that Q and Slim have reportedly been doing concerts as 112, the duo. Is there drama between you and the fellas?
KEITH: It is true that Q and Slim were going under the name 112 and performing. I wasn't aware of that until fans were hitting me up on my MySpace angry that i wasn't showing up. I want to apologize to the fans. Honestly, I haven't spoken to the guys in two years. I'm sure everyone has their reasons why they left the group. Personally, the bond we formed wasn't there anymore. I still love the guys, and I don't blame them for the direction they've chosen to take or the outside influences coming in that affected the group, because that's what happened. We were so used to doing everything as a unit, even finishing each other's sentences but when that stopped we had to say, "Well, maybe we should step back from the whole situation." It became so chaotic that we went our separate ways. I still love the guys and I wish the best for them. As far as any drama, there is none.
ESSENCE.COM: Have you tried reaching out to the guys?
KEITH: For me, I can only speak for me, there's no love lost. Daron was the first one to leave and I was the last. I've lived long enough to say we grew up and out grew one another. I never entered the music game for the sake of selling records I've always felt if I could help someone through my music then my job was well done. I don't have all the answers, but my purpose has always been to help someone through my music. 112 was all about substance and love for first three albums. We always presented a manual for love and that's what I plan to continue to do as a solo artist and I hope people will receive it. Do I have all the answers? Absolutely not, but I believe I might have a few.
ESSENCE.COM: What about the group's relationship with Diddy?
KEITH: We really were a family, we argued, we laughed with each other, we cried together when Big passed. Our relationship with Diddy was family-oriented. We didn't necessarily have a falling out but we had a disagreement, and leaving to go with Def Jam was a decision we made because there were things that financially we couldn't be a part of anymore under Bad Boy. This is a music business, but as young men new in the biz, we were quick to do anything to get signed and we signed really bad contracts. It's like your classic TLC situation [where we didn't know much about the business] and we helped found Bad Boy along with Faith, Big, Craig Mack and Total. We were all starting out and we wanted in by any means necessary. Of course we had our representative telling us we can work out a better situation, but we were inexperienced and wanted to be in the music industry no matter what. Honestly, I'd do it all the same again because if I changed it, who knows what the outcome would be. I know now looking back it made me a savvy business man. I want to make sure that every new artist coming in, regardless of what someone tells you or promises you, to always make sure your business is right, because at the end of the day, their business is going to be right, so make sure yours is too.
ESSENCE.COM: Perhaps, there will be a 112 reunion, but in the meantime we can enjoy your smooth vocals, and I understand each of the guys will also have solo projects as well. Are you concerned about the competition?
KEITH: As far as competition, there is none. Everybody in the group knew just how well of a performer I was and I'm going to show you with this project. Again, I wish them the best and I hope they are very successful, but those dudes don't want to see me on the stage. As respectful as I can be, I have to go out on that stage and destroy, I can't hold back.
ESSENCE.COM: What are your future hopes and dreams?
KEITH: I don't know if it will ever happen, but I want my music to live in infamy. I want 112 to be legendary. I'm going full steam ahead. I want to be the best. I want people to look back and say, Michael Keith, he was one of the baddest vocalists. I want my music to help people.