Deborah Cox Talks Police Brutality, ‘Work of Art’ Album & Relationship Woes [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Take a look at Deborah Cox in 2015, and she's still radiating that same youthful energy she had when she first entered the music business 20 years ago.
In 1995, she joined Arista Records as Clive Davis' newest signee. Undoubtedly a unique and burgeoning voice, a then 21-year-old Cox entered the music scene as a solo artist ready for success. From any young woman's perspective, the Canadian native was well on her way to having it all. Her debut album, Deborah Cox, produced several singles -- "Where Do We Go From Here" and "Who Do U Love" -- but it was her 1998 sophomore project, One Wish, that catapulted Cox into a household name. The album singlehandedly produced the greatest track of her career, "Nobody's Supposed to be Here," and turned her into a crossover star.
Many believed Davis was creating a Whitney Houston-in training, but Cox was making her own mark. Fast forward 20 years and the alto-soprano vocalist sits with five studio albums in her catalog, a legendary colleague and mentor that will never be forgotten and a sixth LP, Work of Art, slated to hit stores Aug.14. To say Cox is nothing but proud of her career thus far would be an understatement.
"I had no idea that I would have been able to perform with one of my childhood idols and mentors: Whitney Houston," she tells The Boombox. "I never would have thought I would literally be in the same studio with [Whitney Houston], performing different things for the Grammy Awards, traveling with a Viennese orchestra, performing on Broadway [and] being able to recreate roles. and to still have my R&B and dance fans."
In her eyes, the singer has accomplished everything she ever set out to do when she signed her name on the dotted line of her Arista contract. And when all life's goals are met, it's time to make new ones. Cox doesn't know what her future holds, but she's more than eager to find out.
Check out what she has to say about her Work of Art album, how to make a romance last while working in the entertainment business and the ongoing battle with police brutality in America.
The Boombox: It’s been seven years since you’ve put out an album. Now you're back with a new single, "More Than I Knew," and an album on the way. Why is this the right time for you to put out a project?
Deborah Cox: Well, I think that this song [is] a reminder to me of why I got into this business, which is my love for soul music; my love for R&B; my love for all styles, really, but I love a good ballad. "More Than I Knew" is kind of a throwback -- a modern throwback of classic Deborah, which is singing and emoting a beautiful song that is intense emotionally.
The new album is called Work of Art. What makes this project a work of art?
The title of the album is really representative of what I feel needs to be out there. [The] song -- [also on the album] -- is about empowerment and self-love. If you’re feeling at your lowest low, it’s a song that you can put on and just be empowered. I kind of feel like that’s what’s missing. There’s a lot of mess out there, and you gotta balance it. A little bit of message music ain’t gonna hurt. I wanted this album to reflect something positive. The song ["Work of Art"] says, “You were made to shine just as bright as any other star in the sky; you are a work of art.” That’s what I want this album to reflect.
It doesn't seem like there's a real message out there in the music these days.
If we look at what's going on socially and what people are being fed … it’s just a lot of negativity. We all have our gifts and our talents, and we should all be able to celebrate what is uniquely ours. At this point and stage of my career, I want to put out stuff that is positive.
Listen to Deborah Cox's "More Than I Knew"
This year marks two decades in the music industry for you. Is there any particular album or message that's truly spoken to you thus far?
Every record has been recorded at different moments and different times in my life. The very first album -- that was huge -- I was put with Babyface and Dallas Austin and all these great, major producers who created so many hits for people. Then the second album, there I was, just gotten married and here was this song "Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here" that was presented and became the biggest song of my career. Every song congers up different memories and moments. Some are pleasant, and some are not so pleasant. But the not so pleasant ones are really more learning experiences.
You mentioned today's music doesn't have much of a message anymore. Does that mean future legends in music are gone as well?
Who’s really giving you class and elegance and style and voice? Who’s doing that? Who are gonna be our next icons? When my daughters grow up, who are they gonna have to look at besides mommy? I mean, all they know is me. As far as other artists, they listen to the radio and they listen to certain things and I try to school them on some stuff, but in the way that we all grew up we had so many different artists to choose from.
Do you think part of your return to the music scene has to do with helping R&B get back to its roots, or remind people how the genre is supposed to sound?
I think it’s a bit of both, but more leaning towards reminding people. I saw someone post on Twitter the most recent Grammy’s performances and the Grammy’s from the ’80s. The performances are totally different. Its all about celebrity now more than it is actual talent and artistry. I feel like the younger ones coming [up] are cheated, and they really don’t know any better because they’re not being [properly] fed [musically]. So look, if I’m the one that helps remind people that you can be fully clothed and still deliver a song then so be it because I know that I can do that and that’s where I feel most comfortable anyways. I know who I am as an artist and I’m cool with that.
Is there anyone out there that is doing the genre any justice in your opinion?
Jazmine Sullivan is one of those artists, and [has] one of those voices I love. I don’t get tired of her at all.
Aside from working on your new album and reviving R&B, you recently worked with Lifetime on the film, Whitney. You didn't play Whitney Houston, but you did provide vocals for the production. What was it like to vocally embody an icon?
I think it’s serendipity when things happen and you don’t even know the impact they’re going to have. When I was first approached about doing it I had mixed feelings for probably one minute, and then I was like, "Okay, yes!" I was scared, but I knew I had to rise to the challenge because I knew she had to be represented in a way for us to be reminded of what her gift was to the world.
Watch Deborah Cox's "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" Video
But Whitney was more than just a colleague to you, right?
I remember a conversation [between Whitney and I] in Miami when we were recording our duet [for "Same Script, Different Cast"]. She took me and my husband aside and was like, "When are ya’ll gonna have a family?" It was her bringing me to reality and everything. She was giving me tips ahead, you know.
It's no secret you're happily married now and have been for quite some time. With all the breakups and makeups that happen in entertainment, how has your marriage lasted so long?
I think being able to step away from it. When you’re outside of the industry and you get into the regular world, it’s not that deep. When you get yourself outside of it, I think that’s when you come back to reality. Once you keep that perspective, then you’ll be able to even deal with crises better because you have perspective.
Do you have any advice for newer, mainstream couples -- like Chris Brown and Karrueche Tran or Big Sean and Ariana Grande -- that are looking at the wrong things when it comes to making things last?
Communication is a big thing. Even if it’s stuff that hurts or stuff that’s awkward -- when another person understands your perspective and where you’re coming from then you have an understanding and you can move forward. A huge part of it [is] knowing where you stand in that person’s life. Be willing to work it out and get in the trenches because there’s gonna be times where you’re getting pulled in many different directions, especially like Chris and his [ex]-girlfriend.
He’s a guy, and these women are really off the chain now. Women will show up in his room, and she’s gotta understand that. If you wanna be with someone you both have to put the work in, and make the time to be together. The same way my schedule can be full of interviews, I have to remember I need this time to check in with my family and my kids. You gotta make that a priority.
Celebrity couples are always making headlines, but what's really plaguing the media these days is the number of senseless deaths of unarmed black men by police, with the most recent victim being Freddie Gray. How are you teaching your son to conduct himself outside of the home?
This topic just saddens me because I’m raising an 12-year-old son right now. I don’t know what kind of conduct he needs to have in public. How do you trust the people in authority when they abuse their authority? I try to raise my kids to be respectful of the law, and I’m just trying to raise good citizens. I can only hope that my son doesn’t ever encounter a situation like that -- you can’t even say at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s just random. I can only hope that these police find it in their heart to use more discretion. You don’t have to kill a person. There are other ways of getting people’s attention without abusing authority.
With everything going on from ISIS to Iran, do you think the government and President Obama need to spend more time focusing on police brutality here in the U.S. instead of other countries' problems?
America’s a part of a lot of things that are going on in the world. I would never want to be the president. I just give it to anybody that even wants to be in politics because it’s really crazy. I don’t know what the agenda is, and I don’t know what is on President Obama’s plate. There really needs to just be a code all across the board. It’s just civil rights [and] human rights that need to be respected. It’s an injustice all around. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it’s good that it’s a discussion now.
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