R&B survivor Lloyd on life after Lil Wayne and learning how to stay ‘Tru’

After nearly two decades in the industry, R&B singer Lloyd has been quiet recently. That’s about to change – this year he released comeback single ‘Tru’ and is set to drop an EP and album soon. Claire Lobenfeld meets up with the Lil Wayne collaborator in LA to talk about his career and future plans.

“I wanted to make a reservation at a fancy vegan restaurant,” says Lloyd as he settles into his seat at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Hollywood, “but I’m from the South and sometimes I need some grease.”

The Atlanta-via-New Orleans R&B singer has been explaining that he’s “fake healthy”: a Whole Foods shopper who doesn’t eat meat but needs an occasional helping of grits instead of quinoa. So he heads to one of LA’s most famous restaurants in a city renowned for both its obsession with kale juice and its untouchable hole-in-the-wall taco spots, where a plate with three fried chicken wings and a waffle was renamed the Obama Special because, indeed, the President has eaten there. It is that good.

Lloyd is in town to film Verses-and-Flow, a poetry show on BET’s rival network TV One. It won’t air until later in the fall, but it’s the first time he’s performed his latest single ‘Tru’ for television. This isn’t a routine press run, however. It’s been nearly four years since Lloyd’s put out a proper release – 2012’s DJ Scream-assisted mixtape The Playboy Diaries Vol. 1 – and his life has changed quite a bit since. Those shifts are reflected in his new lyrics, which serve to recap what’s happened to him for his fans and, he admits, answer questions from journalists before they even have to ask.

“Hey world, I know it’s been a while, just thought I’d come around and let you know what’s up now.”

It’s so personal that Lloyd saw writing and recording the track more like therapy than making a comeback record – so much so that he didn’t even want to release it. “Most of the time when I make music, it comes from conversations I have,” he says. “Out of those conversations came the idea to tell people who I am. ‘Hey world, I know it’s been a while, just thought I’d come around and let you know what’s up now. No album lately so my money’s kind of up-down, but I’ve still been taking care of my mama and them, somehow.’” He’s methodical when he recites his lyrics, smiling proudly at his work, although it took time to feel confident about putting it into the world.

“For a long time, I would not listen to the song. If someone came by and they were playing it, I’d leave the room,” he says. “I couldn’t be in there because I didn’t want someone to look at me and start to analyze me in front of me, and I definitely couldn’t take somebody saying, ‘Well, this is okay, but I got this other thing we’re working on, this that turn-up shit.’ I couldn’t even bear to actually experience that.” It’s a new kind of vulnerability for someone who is nearly 30 but has been in the music industry for almost two decades.

Lloyd started his career as a member of the tween boy band N-Toon. The group formed in the late mid-90s and released an album in 2000, Toon Time, featuring production by legend Dallas Austin and a pre-‘Umbrella’ Tricky Stewart, before disbanding the next year. Lloyd was just 15 years old. It wasn’t long before he embarked on a solo career, however, signing with Murder Inc. in 2003 right as the label and its marquee artist Ja Rule were beginning to descend from their peak. His first solo single, the title track from his debut album Southside featuring The Inc.’s other superstar, Ashanti, was a hit. The track reached no. 24 on the Billboard Top 100 and topped BET’s 106 & Park, but the album failed to capture critical attention.

His sophomore album Street Love changed the dialogue. Lead single ‘You’ boasted big production, a smooth and breathless hook that interpolated Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’ (and is still talked about almost a decade later) and a verse from Lil Wayne, who in 2007 was on the brink of becoming one of the biggest rap stars in the world. The album debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard 200, and its second single, ‘Get It Shawty’, peaked at no. 16 but generated a litany of remixes from rappers like Big Boi, Missy Elliott and Yung Joc.

The Inc. wasted no time getting out a third record, and Lessons in Love was released the following year. The album is perfectly described by its opening track ‘Sex Education’ and the promise to “start with your heart and go deeper inside”. It didn’t achieve the same success as Street Love, but is Lloyd’s best work to-date – hardly coy, but still about romantic love at its core.

What Lloyd may be most famous for is singing the hook on Young Money posse cut ‘BedRock’, and while love and sex have always been intertwined in his music, the song ushered in an era of releases more concerned with carnal pursuits. His last full-length, King of Hearts, released via Polow Da Don’s Zone 4 in 2011, rolled out with the Lil Wayne and Andre 3000-assisted single ‘Dedication to My Ex (Miss That)’ – the titular “that” very explicitly being the unnamed ex’s pussy. By 2012, he was flipping Kendrick Lamar’s introspective alcoholism anthem ‘Swimming Pools’ into a song about diving headfirst into model trysts. And then, save for a few guest vocal features, Lloyd was gone.

“A lot of times men don’t understand what [sex] can mean to a person, how it can be so connected and how love can be so much greater than sex.”

In his absence, radio R&B has turned almost completely toward raunch. Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih and more took the blueprint DeVante Swing built for Jodeci – R&B flush with rap’s influence and hardly ever understated about fucking – and constructed its final form: monogamy is for suckers; bury your feelings under a haze of booze, weed and pills; only show vulnerability when the pussy is that good. It may be time for pop-R&B to pull back toward the romantic – although Lloyd sees that it can be both ways.

“A lot of times men don’t understand what [sex] can mean to a person, how it can be so connected and how love can be so much greater than sex. I’ve had to learn about that,” he says. “I also think it’s 2000-and-fucking-16, and men and women alike are way more liberated than they’ve ever been. Not only in their music and expression, but in their personal lives and how they can carry their lives. I don’t think they have to live inside those stereotypical boxes of housewives and pimps and thugs.”

He describes Lil Kim as someone who was fearless to be so upfront about her sexuality over two decades ago – so does he feel that singing about your feelings is an act of fearlessness now? “I think that it is always difficult for a man to be vulnerable because men are raised to be that way,” he says. “I realized that I became more of a man when I was able to be vulnerable and just be honest and just be truthful and, I don’t wanna say not give a fuck, but really give a fuck so much.”

That kind of care has informed the next few steps he’ll be taking musically. While he’s keeping the details of his next releases – likely an EP and then an album – close to his chest, the music is there and his people, both friends and industry, are hearing it. In his time off he learned how to play guitar, so live instrumentation is a must. (He picked the beat for ‘Tru’ because it had a guitar line he’d eventually be able to play live.)

“Before I was really consumed with 808s. I was consumed with the track so much, it was almost like the track began to overwhelm the song,” he says. “I think [now] if I can strip down my music to the most simplest form of an instrument, a dope lyric and a vocal to match, then I can always win as a songwriter and a vocalist. I wanted to try and at least play my hand at storytelling like a Bob Dylan or any other great songwriter would.” If Lloyd’s goals is to tell stories, then ‘Tru’ is the perfect preamble for an affecting volume of them. There is music industry drama, lawsuits and a foregone shot at fatherhood.

But right now, it isn’t about the music, it’s about the meal. And once everything arrives – wings, thighs, grits, fried chicken gizzards, eggs scrambled with cheese and onions and, of course, waffles – the of table of six is rendered silent. The only sound is silverware hitting plates and the faint hint of ‘All Eyes on You’, Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill’s love confessional, playing in the background. “It’s pretty good, huh, everybody? It got quiet real quick,” Lloyd chuckles to the table. No one responds, too busy eating.

“This is the part of the evening where you start questioning your decisions,” Lloyd says, trying to pick the conversation at the table back up. But when asked who he’s collaborating with for the upcoming EP and album, he doesn’t want to say. “Why? Are there people you’re expecting?” The table erupts in laughter when Lil Wayne is brought up. “Yeah, I guess I’ve only worked with Wayne on every album I’ve ever put out. I’ll try to survive without Wayne this time… I think.”

No matter what, we should expect something more holistic – live instruments, vulnerability, the healthy part of Lloyd that isn’t so fake. And just maybe there will be a guest appearance from Wayne. Lloyd is from the South after all, and sometimes he needs a little grease.

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