Keith Sweat | Encyclopedia.com (2023)

Vocalist

An Early Gift for Music

Received His Big Break

Continued Success

Sources

Keith Sweat is one of the earliest practitioners, and some would say the inventor, of New Jack Swing music, a style of rhythm and blues that fuses soul singing and hip-hop beats. It should come as no surprise that New Jack Swing music became extremely popular, or that Sweat has enjoyed considerable success. Financial success has always been one of the keystones in Sweat's life, from his days working at the New York Stock Exchange to his career in music.

Sweat was born in the early 1960s in Harlem, New York. His father Charles, a factory worker, died in 1973. His mother Juanita, a hairdresser, was forced to raise their five children alone. Sweat would later credit Juanita for his strong sense of values, telling People Weekly, She pushed me hard. I knew I didn't want to be on the street selling drugsor using them.

An Early Gift for Music

Sweat learned early in life that he had a gift for music, and for affecting women with his voice. When he was four years old, he'd go outside and sing to the girls, Juanita told People Weekly I'd say, Stop that noise. Keith would later remark that he had dreams of performing in concert that often seemed like premonitions. He told Ebony, People might think I'm lying about them, but as a kid I used to go to bed and dream I was onstage giving a concert. I could see myself singing and the people were screaming and the whole thing was so real to me I used to wake up and really believe I had done a show. You couldnt tell me it didnt happen. I would get up in the morning and start looking in my pockets for all the money Id made from my shows.

Following his graduation from high school, Sweat enrolled in City College of New York to study communications. He worked as a stock boy at Macys on weeknights and sang with a band called Jamilah on weekends. After graduating from City College of New York, he went to work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, starting in the mailroom at Paine Webber, and working his way up to a lucrative brokerage assistant job in only four years. Although he had advanced quickly in his new career, he still wanted to become a musician.

At a Glance

Born Keith Sweat circa 1961 in Harlem, New York; son of Charles (a factory worker) and Juanita (a hairdresser) Sweat; three children: Keisha, Keia, and Jordan. Education: City College of New York, bachelors degree in communications.

Career: Paine Webber, mailroom, brokerage assistant; singer for band Jamilah; solo albums, Make It Last Forever (1988), Ill Give All My Love To You (1990), Keep It Comin (1991), Get Up On It (1994), Keith Sweat (1996); singles, I Want Her, Make You Sweat, Merry Go Round, Just One of Them Thangs.

Awards: Double platinum album, Make it Last Forever; No. 1 New Male Artist, Black Radio Exclusive, 1988.

Addresses: Singer, c/o Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, New York, 10019.

Near the end of his tenure on Wall Street, Sweat became convinced that he was destined to become a songwriter, not a performer. He spent most of his salary recording demos of his songs, but no one wanted to buy them. All of the recording companies turned me down flat, he told Ebony. Everybody said the same thing: Thanks but no thanks. Your songs just arent hot enough for our artists to sing, he continued.

Received His Big Break

Abandoning his plans to become a major songwriter, Sweat started performing his own material. He finally attracted the attention of Vincent Davis. Davis owned a record label, Vintertainment, and had recently signed a distribution deal with Elektra Records. Sweat soon signed with Vintertainment and recorded his debut album, Make It Last Forever, which was a commercial success. It featured the hit single, I Want Her, and was heavily influenced by a style Sweat called go-go music, a percussion-based sound which was popular on the East Coast. Much of the material on the album was contributed by the well-known New Jack Swing producer, Teddy Riley. Although the albums credits listed Sweat as a producer, many listeners believed that the album was solely produced by Riley.

Sweat would later tell Ebony that the success of the first album could be attributed to his break-up with a longtime girlfriend. That was a very tough time in my life, he declared. I was coming out of a relationship where I was hurt and I mean really hurt bad. It was a heartbreaking relationship for methe kind where you are hurting so much you have to find someone to talk to or go crazy. I didnt really have anyone to talk to so what I did was talk to my album. Sweat also credits Vintertainment with the opportunity to release his debut album. If I had taken my demo tape directly to Elektra I would have been turned down, I know it, he told the Los Angeles Times. Frankly, a lot of A&R guys cant hear the music. They go home to their big houses in upstate New York and lose touch with what the folks on the street want to hear. Sweat took a leave of absence from his Wall Street job while his debut album climbed the charts. When the album reached No. 1 on the charts, he quit his job on Wall Street. Thats when I knew I could do this for a living, he told Rolling Stone.

Continued Success

Sweats second album, produced without the assistance of Teddy Riley, established more of his individual style. Ill Give All My Love to You featured a simpler, more traditional rhythm and blues sound. The album climbed the charts quickly, selling one million copies in less than two months. It produced two more hit singles, including the signature song Make You Sweat. Although Sweat was pleased that his albums were performing well on the R&B charts, he was disappointed that they were not successful on the pop charts. He told the Los Angeles Times, I want pop fans to know who Keith Sweat is. Its not about ego. Its about selling recordswhich is what this business is all about. Ive hit a stone wall in the black community. Theres only so much money there.

Sweats third album, Keep It Comin, offered more of the same style of music expected by his fans. He marked the success of this album by moving to Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, and building his dream home. He also concentrated on improving his abilities as a producer by working with other acts, most notably the R&B group Silk. Sweat produced their album, Lose Control, which climbed to the top of the R&B charts. That same year, Sweats music was also featured on the New Jack City movie soundtrack.

Sweat returned to the charts in 1994 with his fourth album, Get Up On It. This album resembled the musical style of Sweats other albums and produced another hit single, How Do You Like It? In addition to performing, he also pursued other business interests. He began his own record label, Keia Records, and opened a state-of-the-art recording studio called the Sweat Shop. He also produced a hit album for the group Kut Klose. In 1996 Sweat opened a new nightclub, Industry, in Atlantas Buckhead district. He explained the nightclubs name to People Weekly, This is a spot for people in the industry. Theres no other place in Atlanta where celebrities can come and just be themselves. Were people, too.

A few months after opening his nightclub, Sweat released his fifth album entitled Keith Sweat. Two songs on the album, Twisted and Nobody, climbed into the top five on the pop charts. The following year, Sweat formed the musical group LSG with Gerald Levert and Johnny Gill. Their debut album produced the hit single My Body. In 1997 Sweat discovered the group 01 Skool, which he considered a throwback to the 1960s and 1970s heyday of soul music. He told Jet that searching for talent for Keia Records was a full-time occupation, adding that he seeks people who can sing and people who can put certain things together in terms of performance, stage presence and all of that, overall talent. Im a hands-on person, so I still pay attention to whats going on. I get demos; I listen to all kinds of music. Atlanta has certainly become a very important place within the music industry, but I search for talent from everywhere.

Sweat believes that simplicity and honesty are the keys to his popularity. He remarked to People Weekly in 1997, If I cant feel it, I dont want to write it. My music is true-to-life relationship music. The consistency of Keith Sweats success suggests that he will continue to produce and sell hit records for many years to come.

Sources

Billboard, September 30, 1995, p. 22; October 25, 1997, p. 38-39.

Chicago Tribune, January 17, 1991, p. 3, section 5.

Ebony, September 1992, p. 82.

Jet, September 16, 1996, p. 30.

Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1988, p. C70; February 17, 1991, p. C64.

People Weekly, September 26, 1988, p. 115; January 27, 1997, p. 69.

Rolling Stone, November 15, 1990.

Mike Eggert

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