Before Keke Wyatt became synonymous with drama for allegedly assaulting her then husband/manager on Christmas Day, 2001, the vocal powerhouse emerged from obscurity on Avant’s chart-topping 2000 duet, “My First Love.” Six years later, the Kentucky native has returned to bless her loyalists with what they’ve been missing. Essence.com caught up with Wyatt to find out how she deals with being labeled a stabber, what she’s learned about the industry, and why she isn’t affected by the N-word.
Essence.com: You’ve been gone too long. Why has it been six years since your debut album?
Keke Wyatt: Honestly, I was ready to give up. My attitude was, Screw music, the whole industry, people suck; they’re wack, they scheme, they’re snakes.And then Randy (Jackson of American Idol, who is one of the people responsible for my career) was like, “Hol’ on dawg.”
Essence.com: Well, thankfully he talked you out of giving up singing. What turned you off about the industry?
K.W.: I sold more than half a million records on my first album and I wasn’t even supposed to have an album out, so I was like a guinea pig.
Essence.com: In what sense do you feel you were a guinea pig?
K.W.: I was 16 years old when I recorded “My First Love” with Avant, and 18 when the single was released. It wasn’t even supposed to be a single, but when the record industry heard it, everybody went ballistic and it stayed in the Top 10 on several leading R&B charts. Afterward, they thought, If she helped Avant sell records, then let’s see what she can do on her own. They gave me two weeks to record an entire album. That ain’t no guinea pig to you? I was a pimp dummy.
Essence.com: So you had no time to prepare as a new artist?
K.W.: Well, giving me two weeks to record an entire album was nothing new for me because I’ve been recording since I was 10 years old. I used to do a bunch of gospel stuff when I was a lil’ girl. When I was like 14 and 15 I was getting paid $1,500 to demo songs for labels and they were getting placed. I wrote the majority of one hit song. Of course, I didn’t get the credit for it because I was a little girl, but it’s cool.
Essence.com: Did you ever try to take legal action?
K.W.: No. The people who stole it from me know who they are. I’m not one for putting people’s business out on Front Street like, “I” did that.
At the end of the day that person knows and I know, so it’s going to eat them not me. What I will say is, the artist isn’t the one that did it, but the people who were in charge of me demoing the song are responsible.
Essence.com: So you weren’t disappointed at all?
K.W.: Yeah, I cried to my mother and my daddy. I was just a lil’ kid. Things happen in your life for a reason; they make you grow up. My mother was like, “Don’t worry about that honey. It ain’t that deep because at the end of the day you are going to be a star.” And I’ll be daggone if my mom wasn’t right, so I don’t care about that anymore. Because I’m not the little girl that they stole from, I’m Keke Wyatt and I have people wanting to talk to me and know about my life and that’s hot. I feel that everyone has his or her time to shine. Just look at Usher, he put out four albums before he became a big star. This is only my second album. It isn’t like I’ve had four or five albums and now I’m washed up and I can’t really do nothing.
Essence.com: Do you think that your success is largely based on your collaborations with Avant?
K.W.: Well, like I said, my first album sold more than half a million copies, so people were listening to more than just “My First Love,” which wasn’t even on my album. Sometimes I regret starting off my career with someone else, but at the same time, things happen for a reason. My time is coming and I love Avant and I’ll never change the way I feel about our musical chemistry, but sometimes it gets annoying to be “the girl who sang with Avant.” But I’m good because this new album is going to tell everyone who the hell Keke Wyatt is.
Essence.com: What can we expect from Ghetto Rose?
K.W.: I hate when people say, “Oh, my album is dope girl, it’s ‘da bomb’” and you hear it and you’re thinking, Oh, okay, that was a lie. But, no, seriously, this album is really hot! It has so much of me in it and so many things I’ve gone through in my life that I’m trying to tell girls and guys about. I’m like, I’ve been through a lot in my life and before I let you make the same stupid mistakes I did, let me tell you how not to do that because there’s a right way to handle certain situations. [BR][BR]
Essence.com: What are some of the topics you broach?
K.W.: Well, there’s a lot of love, a lot of make up, a lot of break up, because you do that a lot in relationships. In the beginning of a relationship it’s all fly and fresh and then you find out something and you’re thinking, Aw hell. I swear, every single relationship I’ve been in, after a year I find out something that surprises me.
Essence.com: Well, the first six months of any union is known as the honeymoon, it’s afterward that you have to keep your eyes open.
K.W.: Yes, you literally go into the relationship so dumb and blind. Once you find out the real stuff you’re like, Do I really love him enough to want to go through that?
Essence.com: Would you say that’s what happened between you and your husband when you were arraigned for stabbing him?
K.W.: I started my life as a woman at 18. I got married, had a family, and things didn’t quite work out the way I thought they would. You have a fight and crap happens. It made Keke Wyatt really big; my album was in the Top 5. And, of course, it got broadcast to the world, not just in the States but also in Japan, Korea and Europe. Man, everywhere I — I’ve been touring over all those countries — people approach me and say, “You stabbed your husband?” I’m like, “Wow, so you guys heard it all the way over here in London, huh?” And women would tell me, “Ohmigod we prayed for you.” I’m like, Ohmigod (laughs). But I mean, I think it’s cool. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bad thing to know about me, but at least you know me. Obviously, I was something to somebody, because, they ain’t gonna put your business all over the world if they don’t care.
Essence.com: Do you ever feel awkward when people ask you about the incident?
K.W.: No because I feel like I chose this lifestyle and people are going to be in your business. I did something stupid and it got broadcast all over the world and I have to take it. Some people come up to me and say, “Girl I would have done the same thing, so I don’t blame you!” But I don’t promote violence so don’t do what I did.
Essence.com: How did the community receive you after the incident?
K.W.: Where I live now, a lot of people in my community don’t know my business. They know who I am, but they don’t dig deep. My old neighborhood, I don’t even really go there anymore. When everything happened, I moved immediately. There were helicopters over my house, people stealing stuff out of the yard….
Essence.com: What? What were they looking for — mementos or the knife?
K.W.: (Laughs) For flags, whatever they could find. You know, it’s a country town. I was like, Time to go! I had people coming up to me in the grocery store, and people still do, asking me questions, and I’m like, “What magazine or TV show are you with?” But like I said you have to be built for this industry. Personally, I can’t see myself with a nine-to-five job and stay-at-home life.
Essence.com: Well, they say no publicity is bad publicity.
K.W.: I don’t believe or promote violence, but I do believe if you need to stand up for yourself, then do it by any means possible. Of course, don’t catch a case like I did. For the record, I caught a case, but I wasn’t charged. Sh– happens to everybody.
Essence.com: Are you and your husband still together?
K.W.: I’m with Jesus — that’s my man.
Essence.com: You’re with Jesus?
K.W.: I tell you what. I know God ain’t gonna lie to me, I know He ain’t gonna cheat on me, I know He’s not going to abandon me, I know He’s going to take care of me and make sure that I have everything I could possibly need and want. So who needs another man if you got that? So I’m cool just raising my family and doing my thang.
Essence.com: There’s nothing wrong with that. Are you divorced?
K.W.: When it’s time to put my business out there, I will. I don’t think it’s anybody’s business if I’m still divorced or married to him. All that matters is that, yes, there was an altercation; yes, I did some things; yes, he did some things; and you can come to your own conclusion on it. If I’m saying yes, then think what you want to think. I’m not going to say, “Yes, I stabbed the n—–; I tried to kill ’im!” I’m not gonna say that because I’m a lady, I’m going to die a lady, and I have respect for myself and others.
Essence.com: Do you have advice for women who might be in an unhealthy relationship?
K.W.: All I have to say to all the women who might be in a bad situation, whether it be domestic violence or him cheating on you or beating your children or strung out on drugs or abandoning you, just get on your knees and pray. If you don’t know who Christ is, just talk to Him for a minute and see if He don’t open your eyes and clear up some stuff. ‘Cause I tell you what, He sure helped me. He really, really did.
Essence.com: Well, you’ve been through a lot at a young age and I remember looking at you and thinking, 18 is her “industry”age?“
K.W.: (Laughs) No, no. You can ask my mama. I was born March 10,1982. If you hang around me you’ll say, [ITALIC “Okay, she’s 25.”] Don’t get me wrong, I’m mature. I know what I want in life[MDASH]I’m a go-getter and I’m not afraid to get what I want.[BR][BR]
Essence.com: And you’ve done well for yourself even as a child. Weren’t you in Destiny’s Child when they were known as Girls’ Tyme?
K.W.: I was never with Girls’ Tyme. We were called The Dolls. They probably switched the name over to Girls’ Tyme after I was there, but I know the group before them was called The Dolls. I’m not going to say I was a part of the group, and I wasn’t in the group with Beyoncé or Kelly. Honestly, I don’t remember who was in the group, because I was like 10 years old. I decided early in life that I can’t do the group thing. I want all the money for me, I want to take all the pictures, I want to do all the interviews, I don’t want to share it (laughs).
Essence.com: So do you come from a musical family?
K.W.: Yes, between my mother, father and two brothers we can all sing and write equally as well. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from my brothers soon. One is working on a deal and the other is a writer in the Christian music industry and they both fine, honey. ’Cause if y’all think I’m pretty, we all look alike.
Essence.com: What is the biggest misconception you think people have about you?
K.W.: People always say I look really different in person and ask, “What are you mixed with?” Then when I tell them they say, “I thought you were all Black!” I get that a lot because my mother is Caucasian and my father is Native American and Black.
Essence.com: Do you identify as a Black woman?”
K.W.: I am a woman. I ain’t like Tiger Woods. The truth is I’m 25 percent Black. I claim to be Black, Native American and White. I’m all of it. If you ask me, “What are you?” I’m going to say, “I’m a woman.” I stand up for all women. I don’t care if you’re Black, White, Chinese, whatever. But I don’t know what my mama put on my birth certificate…. (Laughs)
Essence.com: So did your mom ever discuss race with you?
K.W.: I know when I was a little girl she would never let me and my brother watch movies that criticized Black people or where White people treated Black people really disgusting, like Roots. She didn’t want us to see how White people treated Black people because she probably thought we might start hating White people.
Essence.com: Was she afraid of how you and your brothers might perceive her?
K.W.: I used to tell her we’re not blind to the fact because we’re sitting there listening to people call her a “n—er lover” or accusing my daddy of being a “sell out” because he’s with a White chick. I told her she didn’t have to hide that stuff from us because we did see and hear about it, and kids did treat us differently.
Essence.com: Did she ever talk to you about the N-word?
K.W.: My mom was raised around African-American people all her life. She can cornrow and everything. All she knows is the African-American way of living, because her stepfather was Black and she was raised by his family. She will use the N-word like it’s going out of style. I say, “Mama you can’t just go around using the N-word,” and she’s like, “I don’t give a damn. I say what I want to say. N—a ain’t no color, it’s an ignorant person.”
Essence.com: But that word is still synonymous with Black folk. So you couldn’t watch Roots, but she used the N-word around you and your siblings?
K.W.: No, she doesn’t say “n—er,” she says “n—a” and says it in front of everybody, every day. She has always said it since I was a little girl. Hell, I thought my name was “n—er” for a long time (laughs). We never thought about it being a bad word.
Essence.com: Wow. So she didn’t want you to watch Roots, but she referred to you and your brother with the N-word? Do you think it’s time for her to stop using it?
K.W.: People should feel free to say what they want to say as long as they don’t use it to hurt other people. I don’t think “n—a” is a bad word. I don’t think it’s directed toward people of color. Now, the word “n—er,” if you call me that, I will kick your a– because now you’re trying to be nasty and hurt my feelings. It depends on how you’re using it.
Essence.com: But do you really think there’s enough of a distinction between the two to make exceptions?
K.W.: Yes, because back in the day they were saying it with the “er” on the end. I think it’s just like saying Negro, because the word in the dictionary it means “ignorant person.”
Essence.com: Yes, and many people still believe that “ignorant people” equals “Black people.”
K.W.: At the end of the day, you’re the one who is ignorant. I don’t think people should use the word so much. I hate how everyone thinks that Black people are beneath them, even Asians, Whites and …Mexicans. No, I’m not all Black, but I definitely stand up for the Black people. They’ve had it rough, they can’t help the fact that they’re skin is dark, or that their nose is a lil’ wider or that the curls in their hair might be tighter. I don’t think that it’s fair for people who look like me — the light skin, pointy nose and pretty hair — to think that dark-complected people are any less than them. Who am I? I’m not better than you. I breathe the same air and I bleed the same blood. Nobody is better than anybody else. We are all in this struggle called life. I think brown skin is beautiful because people like me have to lay out in the sun to try and look like you. My best friends are Black—I mean, Black-Black—and I think that’s so beautiful. I think that’s why I decided to make my children Black…I could have married a White dude and my kids probably would have looked completely White. That’s not what I wanted. Now, they can go outside and get a for-real tan (laughs). I think Black is beautiful. I stand for the African-American people until the day I die.
Essence.com: What do you hope your legacy will be?
K.W.: My mission in life is to help all these little girls that come from nothing. I want them to know that they are a rose. It doesn’t matter if you came from nothing, you are still something. It don’t really matter because you are still God’s child. I want people to remember me as a real R&B singer. You don’t have to like me personally or my life as long as you love what I’m going to give you and that’s real music.