Lionel Richie: Soul Invictus, Pt 1

To some in the pubescent world, Lionel Richie might simply be the retired father of tabloid favorite Nicole Richie, but his legacy couldn’t be more understated. An iconic figure with an impeccable track record that is rooted deeply in the 1970’s, Richie was initially the lead singer of the Commodores. His acclaim and fame rose […]

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To some in the pubescent world, Lionel Richie might simply be the retired father of tabloid favorite Nicole Richie, but his legacy couldn’t be more understated. An iconic figure with an impeccable track record that is rooted deeply in the 1970’s, Richie was initially the lead singer of the Commodores. His acclaim and fame rose to mythic levels with songs like “Easy,” “Three Times A Lady” and “Brick House.”

When it appeared that it could only get better with the Commodores, he went solo. He moved four million units of his self-titled solo debut in 1982, and his star rose with the release of Can’t Slow Down and Dancing on the Ceiling, both of which yielded timeless hits like “Say You, Say Me” and “Hello.” He and his then-wife, Brenda, also adopted a 3-year-old toddler named Nicole.

The Richie light did dim somewhat in the ‘90s, which is expected after selling 18 million albums, performing at the Olympics and co-writing “We Are The World,” an enormous relief effort for Africa.

Now, the versatile and wildly talented crooner returns with a new collection of songs called Coming Home. The opus has the legend collaborating with new school legends like Jermaine Dupri, Raphael Saadiq, Dallas Austin, and Chuckii Booker. Read all things Richie, and how he feels about the nation’s infatuation with that daughter of his. Alternatives: Mr. Richie, how are you?

Lionel Richie: I’m fantastic. I got to get used to that name – Mr. Richie.

AHHA: It’s good to speak to you; I’m long time fan of yours.

Lionel Richie: Well I had to laugh. Your opening phrase is Mr. Richie. That’s the only thing I had to get used to working with Jermaine Dupri and Sean [Garrett]. They kept saying you know Mr. Richie, I said guys just say, “Yo Rich” or something for a minute.

AHHA: Yeah, it’s a sign of respect.

Lionel Richie: It was total respect, I must tell you. I was totally respected on this album.

AHHA: Okay, well now that you mention those guys, you know I heard the single. I really liked it. It has, it’s very mature, but at the same time it doesn’t sound old or anything.

Lionel Richie: No, it sounds real. The only thing I told these guys throughout the entire process, I said it’s got to sound believable. If it doesn’t sound believable we are definitely going down the wrong road. When I knew we were down the right road is when a guy came into the room while we were mixing and he said, “Is that one of your songs?” And that was the compliment because it sounded that comfortable. To me, you nailed it when you said what you just said. That’s the selling point to me – how do you pull off Lionel Richie, contemporary in 2006? Got to be real.

AHHA: Right, you have a lot of young guys [involved with the project] Are we gonna get a mixture of things? Jermaine Dupri is best known for his Hip-Hop. Obviously he’s done other things with people like Mariah.

Lionel Richie: You’re gonna be so shocked because you haven’t heard the rest of it, huh?


Lionel Richie: That’s good. Okay, then this is gonna be good. It was a mutual admiration society, because I actually gave them permission to mess me up. What I said to them was, “What does Lionel Richie sound like in 2006?” Right, take all I’ve done, take “Sail On,” “Brick House,” take “Zoom,” take all this stuff – what do I sound like? And the joke was we discovered that the old sound is the new sound. We didn’t have to go that far in left field. We discovered that actually they know more about the old school than I can remember.

AHHA: Right, students.

Lionel Richie: Students, that’s what I’m talking about. I know [Jermaine’s] father. It was one of those situations where we almost had a family reunion on one hand and with half of the, with the kid now and of course Jermaine came and he just said, “Get out the way y’all, I know exactly what I’m doing” and bam, here’s the record.

AHHA: Well it sounds great.

Lionel Richie: To me, to me it’s really the best marriage between old school and new school. I told them, “I’m going to bring Lionel Richie to the table, that’s my job. I’m going to make it sound like me.” There were only two questions we asked throughout this entire process. The question I asked was, What do I sound like in 2006?” And all they wanted to know was, “How do you keep a record on the radio for 30 years?”

AHHA: Right.

Lionel Richie: They say, “We can get hit records all day long, how do you keep it on the radio?”

AHHA: You know that’s one of the criticisms of contemporary music is it doesn’t have that, those legs.

Lionel Richie: No legs. And so what came to me was the fact that what’s happened now, we removed R&B radio as we used to know it off the radio. Hip-Hop and rap became such a strong medium that when you saw record companies actually taking their R&B department and saying, “We don’t have one anymore.” Because radio had adopted Hip-Hop as the, that’s the bible. What we’re doing right now is bringing actually melody back to beat. And it’s believable – it sounds so familiar because it represents R&B.

AHHA: You sound really excited. What was your last project out?

Lionel Richie: In America [domestically], four years ago, five years ago. Outside of America we put out four albums since then but because we had so many company changes and because the company has actually been through so many different personnel that when L.A. Reid got onboard, and the joke with L.A. Reid was I gave him advice about 22 years ago as to how to get in the business. And he’s now Chairman of the Board of the record company, now how you like that one?

AHHA: Right. Now he can pay you back a little.

Lionel Richie: But he’s been there for me in bucket loads because you mentioned the excitement in my voice. To me the only reason I’m in this business is because I still love the excitement of something new. It’s always going to be changing. I keep telling my artist friends all day long, because they kept saying, “Man I hate what it’s changed into,” and I said “It’s always gonna change. What we have to do is be able to change with it and or at least be believable in it.” Understand right now I’m just enjoying the run.

AHHA: You also worked with Chuckii Booker. I haven’t heard that name in ages.

Lionel Richie: Chuckii Booker is the baddest brother on the planet. And what I love about him is he’s my music director, has been my music director for five years. Before that he did the Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation tour, and then he did the Tina Turner tour… All of a sudden I realize, here I am in the studio, I’ve got the best, and I actually have another artist with me as my advice and counsel.

Half of the tracks that we did were Chuckii Booker’s. All the Sean Garrett stuff, that’s Chuckii Booker, you know. [He] has played on Dre’s stuff, has played on Snoop’s stuff – name it. He’s been the best barometer for me on how to bridge the gap between the old school and the new school, so having him on board was the true service.

AHHA: We know you from the Commodores, as well as being a solo artist. What’s the major difference between the two – performing with a group as opposed to performing solo, and what did you like or dislike about each?

Lionel Richie: Well I am forever [indebted]. I like being in the group – I love it. The only thing that makes you angry about a group is you have to have a group vote, everybody has to feel the same way if you’re gonna get something done. Now if you’re solo, you just do it the way you feel it and that’s it. If I had my choice, I like a group any day of the week, because when you’re in a group you can blame somebody for doing something wrong.

When you’re solo it’s all your fault. The rest of it is just pure elementary camaraderie – in other words, it’s not so much that the Commodores were a great band and a great group, but they were also a family, they were brothers. You know we were that close. You lived together. You hang out together. You know you spend your life together. Those are things, just priceless, you know.