Life can be beautiful. Life can be painful. Life can be a challenge and life can be a breeze.
Singer/songwriter Lyfe, a record-breaking five time winner on "Showtime At the Apollo," knows life's highs and lows from direct experience. Graced with a poet's heart and a hustler's instincts, Lyfe has navigated his way through darkness and emerged with Lyfe 268-192, his starkly soulful debut from Sony Urban Music/Columbia Records.
Written, produced, sung and lived by Lyfe, Lyfe 268-192 (the title refers to his former prison number) is an R&B album that doesn't derive its inspiration from glossy magazines or strip clubs. Instead, Lyfe 268-192 is a song cycle of raw urban turbulence and ultimate redemption, an achingly honest set of narratives that strike close to the bone and come straight from Lyfe's heart and soul. The album signals the arrival of a fresh unvarnished talent, a startling new voice on the musical landscape that demands to be heard.
The message in Lyfe's music? "You can talk about something real and relevant and still get some record spins," he explains. "You don't have to be talking about ass shaking and diamonds. That's fine but not everybody has to talk about that. I want people to know that they ain't the only one going through something. Sure we all might know that but a lot of times you need to have it confirmed."
Although only in his 20's, Lyfe has created a group of songs that convey lived-in truths learned first-hand from relationships, betrayal and the streets. When you combine that soulful honesty with a voice that's both subtle and persuasive in its intensity, you have an artist who's forging his own brand of R&B.
Listen to his swaying first single, "Must Be Nice," and you'll dig what Lyfe is all about. "Must Be Nice" is a song with a simple moral - be thankful for what you have. "You've got somebody good and you just hold on to them," Lyfe said. Folks' situations can change and they can get a little more money or if you're hustling you can be exposed to different things that you might think is better. But it's not necessarily better, it's just different. I'm saying that when all those things are gone that girl, or that friend, is still gonna be there."
Throughout Lyfe 268-192, Lyfe takes on a variety of unlikely subjects. Witness the stirring "Cry," which, according to Lyfe, is "a lot about me." It is also a song he sang to win "Showtime at the Apollo." Co-produced by Rhemario "Rio" Webber," "Cry" is about emotional truth. "They say men don't cry but this song is to tell them that I've been trough the same things ya'll been through and believe me, sometimes you need a release," Lyfe confesses. "It might not be actual tears. It might be just shouting or admitting you was wrong, but that release is important."
Born in Toledo Ohio, Lyfe grew up in a working class family, the middle of five kids. He first began singing in church and, by the time he was a teen, he'd joined 'The Dotsons,' a small family vocal act consisting of his older brother and two cousins. With a sound similar to New Edition's, the Dotsons won local talent shows and recorded a demo, which Lyfe laughs, "went nowhere." Yet despite the lack of success, Lyfe was getting offers from local producers to go solo. Those dreams came to an abrupt halt when at 16, Lyfe, who'd fallen in with bad company, was sentenced to a jail sentence that resulted in him serving 10 years, 8 months and 13 days hard time. It was while inside the joint that Lyfe discovered that music was more than a hobby. It would be his salvation.
While serving time, Lyfe learned how to play guitar, wrote songs and set up music programs for other inmates. He also performed his songs and was allowed to entertain at prison-sanctioned functions and charity events. As Lyfe grew from boyhood to manhood, his material got deeper and more introspective and music became his main focus. "We'd only get out for 2 hours a day and I 'd be sitting at a table next to the recreation yard," Lyfe remembers. "It's sunny as hell and I'd see folks doing fun stuff and I'd be like, 'Damn! I wanna be out there just kicking it!' But I'm doing this music and I knew it was gonna pay off. So I'd tell myself, 'When I get out, I'm gonna have a lot of time to play ball, but I'm only gonna have this time to concentrate, so I'd rather do this. Which I did."
The prison administration was supportive, hooking Lyfe up with equipment and video to tape his "gigs." As Lyfe's sentence was drawing to a close, he asked the authorities if they could compile a reel of his shows so that he could submit it to "Showtime In Harlem" formerly "Showtime At the Apollo." Making an exception to strict policy, the warden agreed and soon Lyfe's performances reached executives on the show. As fate would have it, two days before Lyfe was to go home, he heard back from Apollo powers-that-be, who told him they were willing to overlook the formal audition process and booked him for the show.
The day Lyfe was released from prison, he headed to the studio, recorded a demo and prepared for a trip to New York City, where his destiny awaited him. "I'm not the kind of guy who is excitable," he says, "but here I was, starting out doing what I wanted to do straight outta the gate."
In January 2003, about two weeks after his release, Lyfe was on-stage at the legendary Apollo. It was his first time in New York city. Despite his wealth of talent, Lyfe admits to being a bit 'shook' by the experience. "When you first get out after doing that kind of time you're kind of uncomfortable around a lot of people," Lyfe admits. That being said, Lyfe found himself humbled performing "in a place where a lot of greatness started off."
Lyfe joined that roster of greats when he performed "Cry" and was greeted by a standing ovation. He won the competition, was invited back, received another standing ovation, won again and repeated that pattern a total of five times culminating with his last win in February 2004. Not surprisingly, the industry started to pay attention and soon Lyfe was performing at showcases and fielding various offers. The commute from Toledo became wearing so Lyfe relocated to New York, signed with Columbia Records, and began work on Lyfe 268-192. While recording Lyfe continued to gig, touring with Floetry, Angie Stone, Musiq Soulchild and Alicia Keys, ratcheting up the anticipation even higher for what he was about to present.
The concluding track on Lyfe 268-192 is "Let's Do This Right," another song drawn from Lyfe's personal space. A message of hope for those in lockdown, "Let's Do This Right" lets other prisoners know that they too can reach the level of success. Yet despite his achievements, Lyfe remains pragmatic, allowing his soulful explorations to do much of his talking for him. When asked what he learned while making his album, he replies, "There's no happy ending? My stuff is not like that and that's so you can see that you ain't the only one having a regular ending. The point is to continue to strive so that you have that happy ending. That's what I do."
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