In the land of R&B music, love is an ever-constant theme. From heartbreak to first loves, singing about the wonders and perils of romance comes second nature for soul singers. For nearly two decades, Keke Wyatt has made a name for not just singing about love, but SANGING about it, with a range so powerful it stops anyone fortunate enough to hear her voice dead in their tracks.
Wyatt isn’t shy about showing off that voice of gold while sitting in a conference room at Centric’s headquarters on the 27th floor, overlooking Times Square in New York City. She belts out falsetto notes of Jeremih’s "Oui (You and I)"--a song she covered as a part of her #KekeCovers online series--with incredible ease. You can’t help but feel Keke. Not just her voice, but her relatable sister girl, personality. Though the chart-topping singer-songwriter has been in the spotlight for more than half her life, she carries no air of diva behavior.
Dressed in a toned-down, black Atlanta Braves cap, distressed jeans and modest black pumps, the 34-year-old beauty doesn’t try to bring attention to herself like many of her fame-hungry industry peers. Even when she should be plugging her new album, Rated Love--which dropped April 22-- Keke would much rather talk about her family. Before the start of her interview, the singer takes immense joy in sharing stories about her eight children and their zodiac signs. It’s that very carefree charisma and openness that makes Keke feel like the big sister you never had.
You don’t have to look far to see how loved Keke is either. She’s literally surrounded by it. With her in the room is her husband and business partner, Michael Jamar, her publicist, as well as her “Gusband” (gay husband). And in a stroller just inches away from Keke is her one-year-old daughter, Bella, who was born on the singer’s birthday last year.
Rated Love, the singer’s fifth project in 15 years, and first album released from her own record label, Aratek Entertainment, is influenced by the very love she’s experienced through her children and husband of six years.
“If we have love we have everything. It gives me the inspiration to write,” Keke says. “I wrote on all of the songs on the album. It’s truly my story and things that I’ve gone through.”
Listeners were first introduced to Keke in 2000 on the duet “My First Love” with R&B singer Avant. Though she was only 16 at the time, her voice was and still is as powerful as they come. The success of the song led to a solo record deal, followed by yet another hit duet with Avant, “Nothing in This World,” off her debut album Soul Sista in 2001, which she recorded in just two weeks. Though the album achieved platinum status, Keke’s career was quickly marred by label issues and a highly publicized domestic violence incident involving her now ex-husband, in which she stabbed him in the back with a steak knife in self-defense. Keke would later release other projects--Who Knew? (2010) and Unbelieveable (2011)--but she never quite seemed to bounce back musically.
Now Keke says she’s in “survival mode,” with Rated Love serving as her musical saving grace.
“I just want to help save relationships. Everyone around me is getting divorced. Everybody around me is breaking up. I’m just like 'I gotta save this thing!’” she says, as her diamond wedding ring glistens as bright as a summer's day.
As experienced as she is in the love the department, Keke also knows a thing or two about failed relationships judging from her previous marriage. These days, however, she couldn't be happier with her husband, Michael, who is admittedly her rock.
"When I lay down at night I thank God for him. As much as I can’t stand him sometimes, I would rather be with him and can’t stand him than to not be with him," the singer shares. "Not only is he a dad to our children together, he’s also a great dad to my children before him, and to his daughter before me. That is so freaking sexy to me, because there are so many deadbeat trash bags out here. I want to display a good man, a good father."
Michael is a great source of inspiration on Rated Love, Keke says. Her single "Love Me," perfectly captures the ups and downs of marriage and relationships, particularly when you're faced with conflict but yet can't help but be with the one you love. Another standout record on the album, "If It Ain't You"--among many others--is a beautiful ballad that showcases Keke's natural ability to breathe life into a love song like no other.
Keke and Michael's love story is an unconventional one at best. Of all places to meet they met inside of a nightclub. The singer was pregnant and in the middle of a separation from her then husband at the time. While at home breastfeeding, Keke says her mother convinced her to get up and get out to have some fun. Little did she know that she would meet the love of her life.
"What’s so funny is that Michael had no idea that I was Keke Wyatt at the time...which was so odd. I loved the fact that he didn’t know. He had no clue," Keke said with a gigantic smile.
But it wasn't exactly love at first sight she says. She thought Michael was cute but kind of "weird." She changed her tune, however, when she soon discovered that he wouldn't take no for an answer.
"I didn’t talk to him for over a month, and he texted me every single day and told me how beautiful I was. At the time I really needed that. I had been in a trashy marriage...it was horrible," she recalled.
"As a woman who already had four children, I just didn’t feel very lucky. I had been mistreated, abused physically, sexually, emotionally in every way. I’m glad that I went through it because I can help other people, and other women that are going through this situation of being with someone who doesn’t love you and they just use you. You truly know the difference when somebody does love you and really wants to be with you."
Though you can very clearly see how much Michael loves Keke, the singer admits she still struggles with loving herself. The biracial songstress begins to go through the laundry list of things she doesn't always like about herself, from her "big butt" to her fair skin. Thankfully, Michael has played a major part in Keke seeing herself the way other people see her.
"He’s helped me a lot with self-hate," she admits.
"I used to tan and would burn my meat all up, and Michael looked at me one day and said ‘Baby, why do you do that? You’re beautiful. You’re exotic. You’re you."
Keke's fans seem to love her, too, just the way she is, evidenced by the public's reception to her three-year stint on reality television. Though the singer admits she kind of "hated" her experience on "R&B Divas," she appreciated the platform.
"You live and you learn, and you get an understanding of how things really work. It’s all for entertainment, so sometimes it can be devastating and damaging to your brand as an artist," Keke says. Her "brand" wavered over the years as the singer tried her best to distance herself from being known simply as the girl with the big voice who sang alongside Avant.
"People want to say ‘Oh, I love you with Avant!’ That’s fine, but that was never my sound to begin with," Keke says, "That was Avant and Keke Wyatt’s sound together. With my new project I’m able to give you who I am as Keke Wyatt and I’m very proud of that because it’s been a journey."
Keke's journey has been one of self-discovery as a woman, an artist and an entreprenuer. But more than anything, she's learned just how loved she is. Even the likes of Mary J. Blige has expressed her love for Keke's undeniable talent. Though she admits it's still hard for her to believe others when they say how much they adore her, it's something she's determined to work on.
"I’m surrounded by love. I got it made, and I’m just starting to realize it," Keke admits.
"I have the anointing of God and many are called but few are chosen, and I believe I’m one of the chosen. I’m just so ready for God’s will to be done, and ready for his anointing to bleed off onto everybody that buys my album."
Keke Wyatt's Rated Love is available now on iTunes.