Phone interview conducted on January 11, 2011
Elgin Baylor Lumpkin exploded on the R&B scene in 1996 with a new name and a new sound. He adopted the stage name Ginuwine and his debut album GINUWINE…THE BACHELOR introduced the world to the production talents of Timbaland, most notably through the smash single “Pony”. That artist/producer association changed the sound of R&B music in the ‘90s. On the eve of his seventh album, ELGIN, Ginuwine shared with Darnell Meyers-Johnson his experience being part of a pioneering sound. He also spoke freely about his estrangement from Timbaland, his sex symbol image, rumors about his marriage and the advice he offered another performer during an infamous online dispute...
Darnell Meyers-Johnson: Good day, this is Darnell Meyers-Johnson for SoulMusic.com. Ladies, today I think I have one especially for you. I’m speaking with someone you all have been feeling since he dropped his first CD in ’96: he’s a multi-platinum-selling recording artist; you know him from his many hits, like “In Those Jeans”, “Stingy”, “Differences”, “So Anxious”, “Hell, Yeah” and of course, the joint that put him on the map: “Pony”. Of course I’m talking about none other than Ginuwine. How are you, sir?
Ginuwine: I’m good, brother. How are you, man?
DMJ: I’m good, man. I’m glad that we’re connecting the right way and finally getting this interview on the road, here.
DMJ: As I said in the intro, you came out in ’96. But as I was doing some preparations for this interview, I discovered that you actually were in school for something totally unrelated to music. So what were you in school for before your first CD came out?
G: I was in school for law. I went to a paralegal studies law school called the Washington Institute of Paralegal Studies. And I just wanted to get into the music business in some way, shape, form or fashion. I pretty much wanted to use that as a vehicle for me to get in and do what I am doing now. And fortunately, I was discovered before I had to actually put that education to use. So I’m happy about that because that’s something I really didn’t want to do, but… if I was going to get into the business and not succeed, I still wanted to be able to make a great living and make money. So that was the vehicle that I wanted to use, and I knew that was something that I could fall back on and still live the way that I’m living now. So it was a great situation for me. And fortunately, like I said, I was able to be discovered before I had to put that to use. So I’m happy. And I don’t remember nothing that I learned, it was so long ago—and law is just what it says: you practice law. If you don’t practice it, you lose it. So again, it was something that I just wanted to use to get into the music business. But I’m great now.
DMJ: So tell me how that transition happened—like from when you were in school—and how that whole thing happened that builded up to your coming out with your first CD?
G: Well, I was in school for two years. They crammed four years into two years, basically. And really, I just continued to do what I loved to do, which was sing and get into talent shows and get noticed and meet people. So I pretty much went to a show that MC Hammer and Jodeci and Boyz II Men was having, and just followed the crew back to the hotel. And all of them were down in the lobby, so I just was sitting there and said I could sing too. And DeVante asked me did I do something and I said, “Yeah, I sing.” So once he asked me that and I started singing for him, you know, girls were screaming, and all that kind of stuff. He grabbed me and was like, “Okay, let’s go. I think I got something for you.” And the rest is pretty much history. I spent time up in New York for like five years. Nothing actually became of me getting discovered by DeVante, other than me meeting other people through him—and that was the way that I actually got signed to Sony. And the rest is history.
DMJ: All right. So I wanted to ask you about two people that kind of played pivotal roles in the earlier part of your career, and one of them is Missy Elliott. What can you tell me about Missy and how she contributed to your beginning?
G: Missy is still a great friend of mine: she’s a beautiful person, I love her. And she inspired me by just her talent alone. Missy is so talented, and I have always been inspired by that talent and her aggression and her love for music—her wanting to be number one. And I’ve always found energy from her. And she’s just been an inspiration in my life, even to this day. I just talked to her about a week ago—we still stay in touch, just to say hello or whatever, because when you grow up with somebody in the business like that, and you go through a lot of the hardships together, you tend to never forget that. And I just always remembered what we went through, and she does too. So we always have that bond, and I’m glad that forever we will have that bond.
DMJ: All right. And the other one I wanted to ask you about that was really on the scene in the beginning of your career was Timbaland. What can you tell me about working with him and what he contributed, especially in your earlier days?
G: Well, Timbaland is the reason pretty much why I’m here, actually—or why I got as far as I did in the beginning, at least. He’s been a big inspiration and still is, too. He is, to me, the best producer in the world; even though people say other producers, I still believe it’s Timbaland. And he’s just been the biggest influence because he’s the one that actually got me started as far as with hits. And with Tim, me and him work so good together. Only thing, he used to do the beats and then he used to hum the melody that I might want to go to it, and I used to put the words to it, and it worked like magic. So he truly is somebody that I still look up to, and hopefully we’ll work together again in the near future.
DMJ: I was going to ask you about where you guys stand today, because I understand there was, I don’t know if it was a true falling-out, but there was some sort of thing between you and Tim.
G: I think every family has its quarrels, and I think every family will go through certain situations, but it’s how you come out of them is what’s important. And truly I forgave him and was like, just forget it. Let’s just be friends. If we can’t work together, let’s still not forget what we created and let’s just at least be friends and we move on. I’ve been successful without Tim and he’s been successful without me, so we’ve both proven that we don’t need each other like that. But you still can’t duplicate the magic that once was made when we were in the studio. So hopefully in the near future we’ll be able to work together. But if we don’t, I still love that dude, and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in the music business—I can’t say I wouldn’t be where I am, because I’ve done a lot without him. But maybe I wouldn’t be in the music business, so I give much respect to him—much respect is due to him—and I make sure that I do that. I never hold grudges because I can’t give that much power to someone over me. So I must forgive them and move forward.
DMJ: So it sounds like the whole thing isn’t quite resolved, but you’re working on it, at least, in your own mind.
G: Absolutely. I think that’s the only way to move forward. You can’t be stagnant on one situation; you have to move forward. No one should have that much power over you, and no one does me. So I just want to move forward and be more successful as the days go.
DMJ: All right. I feel you. So let me ask you, how would you describe yourself as an artist to somebody who never heard of you before? Let’s say that somebody is not familiar with your music. Describe it.
G: Very, very, very passionate; I’m motivated by hate. I try to now be more of an example in my music, versus me just being whatever people want to hear. I think the best way to be successful—and once you are successful—is to be proud of the way that you’ve done it. And when you’re successful you can turn back and say, “Good, I did it my way. I didn’t compromise myself; I didn’t do what others wanted me to do, and I did it the way that I wanted to do it. And my kids can be proud of their dad.” As an entertainer, I want to be the best I can be. And when I’m gone, I want people to say, “He was a great entertainer.” I’m not the best singer in the world; I’m not the best dancer in the world; but I put it together so well, you know what I mean?
G: So that’s what I want people to realize and recognize.
DMJ: So what is it that makes you different from all of the other R&B dudes that are out right now?
G: Me. I think what’s different with me is, I’m first. I’m a little older now, but my history speaks for itself. I came in the game when the game was born, and I came in the game with a new sound with the best producer in the world, and we were a crew. And I believe, once we came on the R&B scene, we gave the R&B scene and the hip-hop scene a jolt and gave it life again. Because it was very boring, as I can remember. With Timbaland’s new sound, it kind of changed music as a whole.
G: Everybody likes the new, so ain’t nothing better than new but newer, you know what I’m saying? So with us being new artists with a new sound, we changed music. And I’m a part of that history. I think that’s the best way to describe me, or what makes me different, is that I try to give people a great show. I mix music, modeling, dancing, acting, singing—all kind of things in my show, and I think that’s what separates me from a lot of the artists out now. A lot of artists take the mic and walk back and forth and I don’t do that, you know what I’m saying?
DMJ: I don’t think anybody—if they’re being truthful about who you are as an artist I don’t think they can avoid this subject, and that’s the fact that, at this point, you’re pretty much a sex symbol to many of your fans. There are lots of good-looking people out there, but you seem to have elevated it and put it on another level where you’re like an official sex symbol. So even if you’re suited up and fully clothed, you still put off that vibe. How do you think that image—that sex symbol image—has affected your music?
G: I think that when you’re looked at as a sex symbol it only can help, because my biggest audience is women. I attract women, so if they say I’m sexy that’s just a plus. I don’t get up in the morning saying, “Oh, I’m so sexy,” you know what I’m saying? But if they say it, I’m gonna take that. So it affects it tremendously, because that’s who’s buying my records. And if you are a product, which I am in this music business, and if your product is attractive and your product works, people are gonna go buy.
G: So I’m a product and they buy me. As long as they feel like I’m attractive or I’m sexy or I’m relevant or whatever, they’re going to buy into me, and that’s what’s most important. I think people misunderstand what this actual business is: you’re nothing more than a product. And once your product dies down or dies out, people will no longer buy into you. So it’s my duty as an artist to continue to keep that product sexy, to keep that product attractive, to keep that product wanted. And that’s the only thing that I’m trying to do as an artist, is to keep that thing—whatever it is—to keep it going.
DMJ: Do you ever feel like maybe there’s too much attention paid to the visual, the image, and not enough to the talent behind it?
G: In some cases. I believe when people come out to see me they know that it’s more than just whatever they’re perceiving me to be. I prove myself day in and day out when it comes to my show. Because when people come to a show that’s what they want to see—they want to see a show. And once they see, okay, you’re more than just whatever they think: If you’re sexy, okay—you’re more than just sexy. If you’re handsome, okay—you’re more than just handsome, or more than whatever it is that they perceive you to be. When they come to see you, they then know that it’s more than that. And that’s what my job is, is to prove to you that it’s more than what you perceive it to be. And I think I do a great job of that.
DMJ: As you already said, large part of your fan base is female. So all of that attention from the ladies, does that ever get to be too much? Does it ever filter over into your personal life in any way?
G: It has. I’m a man and that kind of thing happens. And it’s only when you grow and learn and get wisdom that you learn how to separate the two. It is hard, but you have to realize after the screams and after the lights and all that is gone, you have your home to go home to and that’s what truly matters. Once you are able to differentiate those two simple situations, you should have no problem in knowing what outweighs what and what is more important. You really pay more attention to home than you do the lights and the screaming and all that kind of stuff because that’s what’s most important. And once you get a little older, you learn that. And sometimes it’s been hectic, but as I’m getting a little older I’m able to separate the two.
DMJ: So speaking of home—and I don’t really go into people’s personal things too much when I interview them—but, are you still married? There was some rumor…
DMJ: That’s why I’m glad that I’m speaking with you, because I can ask you directly as opposed to just going by what people are saying. So everything is good there?
G: Everything is peachy-creamy, dog. We had a great Christmas and a great New Year’s; it’s been like that. That’s what wrong today—it’s too many interviewers and too many news broadcasters and with YouTube and everything. People love misery and misery loves company, so once someone says something, people buy into that. I just read something today about my wife, and I was like, “Wow, my wife don’t even live in L.A. What are they talking about? My wife lives in Washington, D.C.” It’s funny how one person can say something and then have other people believe it. That’s why I’m like, “Nah, it ain’t nothing. We good—we real good.”
DMJ: So how does she handle that? You’re pretty much out there in the forefront and now she isn’t as much. How does she handle the rumors?
G: Well, I make it easy for her, because I make sure that home is taken care of. So she handles it like a true woman and a mom supposed to handle it. She’s a mom, she stays home; and she’s my better half. She gives me a great advice. I’ve been through a lot in my life, and if it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t be here. So I always listen to her. Your wife is always your better half. I try to incorporate her in everything that I do and it works out great. We handle it both together, that’s how we handle it.
DMJ: As I was also doing research, I read that you were originally cast in the movie “You Got Served”, which was directed by Chris Stokes. You can comment as comfortably as you feel like you want to, or if you don’t then we can go on to the next thing: but what is your take on this whole thing with Raz B? For the past three years he has been posting things on YouTube and Twitter about these allegations of sexual misconduct against him by Chris Stokes and other people. I imagine since you were nearly cast in the movie that you have some connection with Chris Stokes.
G: Actually, I don’t. I mean, I do know him, but I have no connection to him. I actually talked to Raz B, though. I talk to him periodically, and I always tell him, “You’re looking like a mad woman, a vindictive woman.” I said, “There’s no statute of limitations on what you’re saying that these guys have done to you, so if they truly have done that to you, you know what to do.”
G: “So stop going out here trying to get attention unless you have a motive; unless you have a hell of a plan.” Some people think way ahead of us, you understand? And then once it happens people say, “Oh, now I see why they did it.” Some people do it to get shows, some people do it to get attention, some people do it to lower somebody to somewhere they need them to be, or whatever. But I just told him that “If you’re truly feeling this way, the way that you’re saying, and you don’t have no alternative motives, you need to go to the cops and let them deal with it. Stop putting it all out on the Web, because people making fun of you. And it’s not nothing to make fun of you about, but the way that you’re going about doing it is not cool. And if it’s true, make that happen.” So that’s what I told him. And he always called me his big brother, and I’m always calling periodically, like, “Yo, you good?” He’s like, “Yeah, man, I’m just going through this,” and blah-blah-blah. I might pray with him or something, and then I won’t talk to him again for another month or something. But I always tell him that I’m watching from a distance and to do the right thing. Don’t be out here making a fool of yourself, you understand? Do the right thing.
DMJ: I was confused with that whole Chris Brown Twitter beef.
G: Yeah, I told him that too. I was like, “Don’t do that no more, man.” I was like, “Stop doing that. Again, unless you have a super-proof plan that you trying to get a show. And even still, you don’t throw no one else up under the bus. You say whatever you need to say, because you’re saying it. Don’t try to throw nobody else up under the bus. That man went through a lot of stuff in trying to get his career back. Don’t throw him up under the bus by saying what you said.” And so when I talked to him, he went on Twitter the next day and said, “I just talked to my big brother and he told me to apologize.” And he apologized. But I can only imagine what a guy like that is going through, that ain’t gay, but has had that done to him, and now he’s getting older and he’s dealing with all that. I can only imagine something like that—that’s crazy. So he’s going through a lot of stuff and people don’t know how people react to that: that’s how suicide is done; that’s how people killing other people is done; that’s how what he’s doing right now is done. You don’t know what that person is going through unless you go through it.
DMJ: Let’s go into the album. Talk about the album a little bit, and when it’s coming out and what it’s called, and what people can expect from it.
G: Okay. The new CD is called ELGIN, it consists of twelve songs. We got production on there by Brian Michael Cox; Saint Nick, who happened to do the new single “What Could Have Been”. And we got Dianne Warren, who I actually worked with on the 100% GINUWINE CD back in ’99—she did a song called “Superhuman” on that CD. On this CD, she did a song called “Break”. And it comes out February 15th. It’s the number seven CD and it’s called ELGIN. So I’m looking forward to success this year for it.
DMJ: Any collabs on there?
G: A collab with Tank and Trina. Tank did this song on there called “Heaven”. It’s not a collaboration, but he did produce it, and he is an artist, so I say collaboration. And Trina did a rap on one of the songs called “Batteries”. It’s sort of like a club anthem so it’s pretty cool, man. And again, I’m looking forward to the success from it.
DMJ: Since you mentioned Tank, I wanted to ask you real quick about that project: you, Tank and Tyrese were all going to get together and do your own group thing. Where does that stand right now? I heard it was on then I heard it was off—are you guys going to do that?
G: We’re still going to do it, probably in the near future, but right now it’s all about what I’m doing and that’s ELGIN. They’re doing movies; Tank came out with a new CD—he’s got to promote his. So right now we’re focused on our own solo things, and then we’re going to do that later.
DMJ: Lastly, tell me real quick what’s coming up for you: any touring, anything like that? And let the people know how they can holler at you online—if you’re on Facebook, Twitter, anything like that?
G: All right. Facebook is Elgin Ginuwine, but I’m also on Twitter, so you can go to Ginuwine09—that’s Ginuwine zero nine. And we’re also giving away a Range Rover sometime in the near future: that’s my personal Range Rover on Twitter, Ginuwine09. And far as touring right now, we’re just doing a lot of promotional stuff and trying to get this song out there and get everybody ready for the new CD. So right now we don’t have nothing scheduled as far as a big tour, but hopefully we will soon.
DMJ: All right, man. I appreciate your time, I really do.
G: Thank you, brother. I appreciate it, man. God bless you.
DMJ: All right, take care.
About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.