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Exclusive: Anita Baker on Drake, Divorce, Janet's Hair

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In celebration of Black Music Month, ESSENCE.com chatted with the incomparable Anita Baker, who is working on a new album and wanted to give us a sneak peek. She had just landed in Los Angeles, where she was in the studio recording when we spoke with her about her passion in life: making music. As for the rumors of her canceled dates, she says, "You know, typically, I'd be out on the road with our audience, but I've canceled my summer dates to deliver the record." Check out our exclusive interview with a living legend as she talks about new and established artists, her creative process and all the young celebrities rocking her famous hairstyle. You'll see why we are caught up in the rapture of Anita Baker. ESSENCE.COM: So, I hear that you're working on a new album. You know our audience loves you, can you tell us a little bit about the record? ANITA BAKER: I've just been so blessed to have a second generation of fans. I mean, you got a kid like Drake who decides to [rhyme] over 'Sweet Love.' You know, folks are up in arms about that, but we're not mad at him. You know the business has been taken care of, so that's okay. And just all of these young men and young women are giving us so much lovely attention that I'm trying to give some of it back. So, Tyrese is gonna come on, and we're gonna do some music with him, and Mr. Snoop has always expressed a desire to come aboard, so he's coming aboard, so it'll be a departure, in the sense that [there will be] just a few guests, which we've never done before. ESSENCE.COM: What is your process when you're recording an album? BAKER: The main thing is trying to decide what I want to do. Because we fortunately have a lot of options -- you know we can go jazz, we can go gospel, we can go contemporary. I'm always at a label where they leave that to me to decide where I want to go. So, you know deciding what genre we want to proceed in [during] pre-production. Once I get through pre-production -- which is basically gathering all my songs, deciding who I want to choose as producers, deciding where I want to record -- once I've made those decisions in pre-production, it's pretty easy after that. But, the music typically comes first, and the music will tell me where the lyric is gonna go, and this is a very grown-up record so far. You know, I've been divorced for two years, so a lot of these things are showing up in this music, but there are still love songs, there's still positive songs, I never sing negative things. But there's a lot of life having been lived in the lyrics that are showing up. ESSENCE.COM: So, from your divorce, is it almost therapeutic for you to sing? BAKER: Oh, listen, it has saved my life. It is my sanctuary. Matter of fact, one of the lyric lines in one of the songs goes: 'Sometimes I reach out, I can touch the fear, my search for sanctuary finds me here, far away from my tears.' And, it's talking about my music; it's such a blessing. ESSENCE.COM: And that's something I think a lot of women will be able to relate to and feel. BAKER: I hope so. I edit myself a lot. I look at artists like Rachelle Ferrell, like Miss Jill [Scott], and you know these ladies, I get the feeling that they don't edit themselves so much and that there's a stream of consciousness, that there's this outpouring of their life experiences. I don't know that that's true, but it's just the sense that I get. And, I've been talking to Rachelle a lot, and she's urging me to just let it come out. ESSENCE.COM: What do you need to make your music when you're in the studio? BAKER: Solitude. Solitude. It's a very solitary process for me. Because, you know I want to hear the inspiration. And before it's solitary, I need a live rhythm section. I cannot just go in and sing to a track that's already been produced when I wasn't there. I go in with my rhythm section, and it's a custom-made rhythm track for me. I'm singing while we're cutting, if I don't have lyrics yet, I'm just scatting through it, and you know I'll go, 'I need a four bar intro instead of maybe a two bar intro, I need the bridge to come here, or I need the hook to go for maybe eight more bars' -- it's like making a dress, a custom-made dress. So, I need that custom fit and then after that's done, I need solitude. ESSENCE.COM: So, how do you feel seeing all these young artists, 'they're all wearing Anita Baker's hairstyle.' BAKER: Isn't that lovely? Oh my goodness, they are rocking so many variations of my high-top fade. I mean Rihanna has taken it to a very angular 21st Century thing. Miss Fantasia has it in a very seductive you know up-flip, and it's just lovely, right? Oh, I think it's wonderful. Well, you know it's just out of necessity for me. Because, I just need it for things to be easy and simple, and you know I even saw Janet Jackson rocking the short hair which was so refreshing. And, I mean, she looked liberated. ESSENCE.COM: So, is there anything that you would like to say to the ESSENCE audience? BAKER: Oh, listen I just want to say that we're coming, and that we're trying to give you a heads up because we know that everybody has options for where they wanna put their revenue and we just want you to know we're coming, so you'll set aside some attention for us. There are luxurious love songs, there's fun music, there's also some very introspective grown-up things, and you know we're just trying to bring you some quality. ESSENCE.COM: Do you have a title yet? BAKER: Oh god no. That pretty much comes after everything is done and it's on the table, and you know it will speak for itself. Yeah, but I just think it's a very exciting time; there's so much traffic out here, there's so many projects to choose from, I like the energy that's out here. Although, you know, I waited until everybody in the world is putting out a record. You know, I'm looking at Sade's record ['Soldier of Love'], I mean this record -- man, that thing has just got me, just by the neck you know. I look at this, and it's a complete thought, you know from the artwork on the cover to the inside, to the outside, and a complete thought is what we're going to bring as well. But, she has been an inspiration really, to see her claim her spot. What is your favorite Anita Baker song?
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