Eleven years ago, Canadian-born soul singer Glenn Lewis released his American debut World Outside My Window (featuring the stellar single, “Don’t You Forget It”). With a laidback voice strongly influenced by Motown men Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, the brother seemed to be on his way to becoming R&B royalty. But in the manic industry of music, things sometimes have a way of falling apart in the blink of an eye.
While Lewis didn’t totally disappear—occasionally releasing new singles like “Fall Again” and “Good One”—for more than a minute it seemed as though the best days of his career might’ve been over before they started. Refusing to be seen as a footnote in the canon of post-millennial new jacks, the 38-year-old daddy of two has stepped out from the sidelines to deliver his latest single “Can’t Say Love,” and his mature new sophomore disc, Moment of Truth.
“I know it has been a while since people have heard my music, so I wanted this project to be something that deepened the connection between me and my fans,” Lewis says via telephone from Toronto. “For me, each song reveals something truthful, something that people can relate to.”
Coming of age in the late 1980s/early ’90s, Lewis can clearly remember when he was a high schooler bopping his dome to music blaring from the radio. “I was into groups like Boyz II Men and Jodeci,” he says, chuckling. “But Guy was my very favorite group. I couldn’t get enough of hearing Aaron Hall sing.”
Although Lewis went “round and round” grooving to the Teddy Riley-produced trio, it wasn’t until he discovered soulful forefathers in the Jackson 5, Earth, Wind & Fire and— perhaps most importantly—Stevie Wonder that something clicked in his bones.
“I discovered that these were the artists that had influenced my favorite artists,” Lewis says. “I knew these were the singers I should be studying.” Meaning much more for him than mere entertainment, Lewis began using the music to fill the giant hole in his soul that happened when his father was deported to Jamaica when Lewis was 14.
“My mom and dad divorced when I was 7,” Lewis says sorrowfully. “I went to live with my dad for the next seven years, but then he got into trouble and was sent away. I wouldn’t see him again for eighteen years.
“With dad gone, music became my mentor, and Stevie’s songs helped shaped my world. I learned a lot about how to be a Black man in this world from listening to Wonder.” Digging in the crates, Lewis cites Stevie’s 1971 joint Where I’m Coming From as his favorite.
“I locked in on this record, because it was the first one he produced himself,” Lewis explains. During that era, with Wonder developing as both an aural wiz in the studio and a more in-depth songwriter, Where I’m Coming From was the foundation from which his ’70s classics were built. “I don’t listen to a lot of what’s new, because I’m still listening to this stuff. I like Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean. But back in the ’70s seems like such a great time to be a recording artist, because you were allowed to stretch out creatively. The fans wanted to take a journey with the artists, and it was not driven by the same level of being a commercial success as it is today.”
Currently signed to the Philadelphia-based Ruffhouse Entertainment (the same label that introduced the world to the Fugees and Cypress Hill), Lewis has also reconnected with production duo Dre and Vidal, who constructed his 2002 debut.
While recording in the city of brotherly love, Glenn ran into an old homie, songwriter Cory Latif Williams. After Latif introduced him to producers CertiFYD, they all went to the music studio, where the conversation eventually became about women. “They had already started working on ‘Can’t Say Love,’ but when we started chopping it up about relationships, it all came together. Latif is an amazing songwriter.”
Returning to Toronto after a few weeks, Lewis recorded the reggae-tinged duet “All My Love” with stunning songstress Melanie Fiona sharing the mic. “We come from the same town and have often spoken about working together,” Lewis says of the Grammy-winning Canadian beauty. “She’s just amazing on so many levels. We were in the studio throwing scales around, it was great.”
In addition to the various Motown catalogues Glenn Lewis has memorized, he also gives props to soul contemporary D’Angelo.
“I have certain friends who are stuck playing late’ 80s hip-hop, but for me it’s all about the Voodoo album. There are certain records that just resonate with you, and for me it’s D’Angelo’s Voodoo. It’s just pure expression.” But is it better than D’s debut Brown Sugar? “That’s like asking if I prefer ice cream to fruit. I love them both, but for different reasons.”
With Moment of Truth, Glenn Lewis has crafted a grown-up record that’s also fun to listen to, a cool-out album that’s also soulful. “For me, soul music is about honesty, about letting go and not being afraid. That’s what I’m trying to express.”
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He's also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.