Born in New York City; children: Keia (daughter). Education: Received degree in communications from City College of the City University of New York. Addresses: Record company--Elektra Entertainment, 345 North Maple Dr., Suite 123, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
As a child, Keith Sweat had a psychic intuition about his success as a singer. "I used to go to bed and dream I was on stage giving a concert," he told Ebony. "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 couldn't tell me it didn't happen.... I would get up in the morning and start looking in my pockets for all the money I'd made from my shows. I don't know how to explain it, but those dreams seemed so real, I knew they were really premonitions."
Sweat not only took those dreams to heart, he made sure they came true, becoming one of the founders of the 1990s musical genre known as "new jack swing," a hybrid of contemporary street music and the traditional elements of R&B and pop. Born and raised the third of five children in New York City's Harlem, Sweat began performing at the age of 14. His own style of smooth vocals developed when he played in a band called Jamilah.
After he graduated from City College of the City University of New York with a communications degree, Sweat worked his way up from the mailroom to a position as a brokerage assistant in a Wall Street firm. Every spare minute and dollar went toward writing and recording his music. He spent the rest of his time trying to sell his songs to record companies for other artists to sing. But, for a time, every door he knocked on seemed to slam right back in his face. Determined to continue his musical pursuits, Sweat decided to sing and record his own songs. He submitted a demo tape to Vincent Davis, president of Vintertainment Recordings, who signed him to the label immediately.
In 1987 Sweat recorded his debut album, Make It Last Forever--but kept his Wall Street job as a safety net. Although his professional life was heading in the right direction, Sweat was experiencing trauma in his personal life, following a painful split with his longtime girlfriend. The recording sessions provided the artist with an outlet for his emotions. "It was a heartbreak relationship for me--the kind where you are hurting so much, you have to find someone to talk to or go crazy," Sweat told Ebony. "I didn't really have anyone to talk to, so what I did was talk to my album.... I was writing about my life. And I really think that's why people responded to it so strongly. They knew it was real."
Sweat reached out and grabbed the hearts of millions of fans with Make It Last Forever. Co-produced by longtime friend Teddy Riley, the 1987 release sold more than three million copies and later won an American Music Award nomination for best R&B album.
Sweat and Riley collaborated on the single "I Want Her," which eventually reached Number One on Billboard's R&B chart and Number Three on their pop chart. Soul Train nominated the single for their "best song of the year" honors, and Sweat became the first artist in ten years to have the Number One R&B single and the Number One R&B album at the same time. Having accomplished that, he finally quit his day job and devoted all of his energy to making music. He went on tour with his own live band, playing in 6,000- to 20,000-seat arenas worldwide, with sold-out shows dominating the tour--including two at London's Hammersmith Odeon.
In 1990 Sweat returned with a vengeance on his second effort, I'll Give All My Love to You, featuring the hit single "Make You Sweat." He produced the album himself and wrote or co-wrote each one of its songs. I'll Give All My Love to You sold a million copies in less than two months and ultimately went multiplatinum. "On the first album, I felt completely relaxed," Sweat explained in his press biography. "Working on the I'll Give All My Love to You album felt like being in a pressure cooker. I felt pressure not only from the expectations of my fans, but also from myself to produce an album that was just as good or better than the first one."
Sweat kept on working without slowing down. In 1991 he split with Vintertainment to sign with their distributor, Elektra Records. Around the same time, he discovered Silk, a band from Atlanta, Georgia, that would later become the first act to sign on his own label, Keia Records--named after his daughter. Sweat first saw Silk at a picnic singing Boyz II Men songs and soon enlisted them to sing background vocals on his album.
That same year, Sweat released his third offering, Keep It Comin', with the title track as the first single. Both the album and the single quickly jumped to the Number One slots on the Billboard R&B charts. On the second single, "Why Me Baby?," Sweat collaborated with Teddy Riley and hit rap artist L.L. Cool J.
Sweat joined the "Triple Threat Tour" to support Keep It Comin', which featured New Edition spinoffs Bell Biv DeVoe and Johnny Gill in what Rolling Stone called the "New Jack all-star package." Then, he moved on to his own "For Ladies Only" tour. By 1992, Silk had recorded and released their debut album, Lose Control, produced by Sweat. The following year, they topped Billboard's R&B and Hot 100 charts with their hit "Freak Me." Sweat soon began working with other artists for Keia Records, including hardcor rappers Triflin' Pack and the female singing group About Face.
The singer released his next album, Get Up on It, with its first single, "How Do You Like It?," in 1994. Collaborating with Fitzgerald Scott and working with engineer Michael Ffrench, Sweat recorded the album in the "Sweat Shop," his own home basement studio in Atlanta, Georgia. Several critics have noted that on Get Up on It, the singer reached back to the style of his first release, Make It Last Forever. "My first album is like I was another person, and I [needed] to get back in touch with who that person was," Sweat told Vibe. "I didn't get tired. I'd work all night if I had to. That was the feeling that I had working with Silk.... I just had a vibe, and it felt good. It was like energy flowing that I wanted to get off my chest. It was like doing my first album again." Having made his childhood premonitions of a career as a singing sensation come true, Sweat now believes his job is to keep making music-lovers happy.
by Sonya Shelton
Keith Sweat's Career
Began performing in clubs in New York City when he was 14 years old. Signed with Vintertainment Recordings, 1987, and released first album, Make It Last Forever; signed with Elektra Records, 1991; formed his own record label, Keia Records, with distribution through Elektra.
- Selective Works
- Make It Last Forever (includes "I Want Her"), Vintertainment/Elektra, 1987.
- I'll Give All My Love to You (includes "Make You Sweat"), Vintertainment/Elektra, 1990.
- Keep It Comin' (includes title track and "Why Me Baby?"), Elektra, 1991.
- Get Up on It (includes "How Do You Like It?"), Elektra, 1994.
- Billboard, January 9, 1988; July 23, 1988; July 21, 1990; January 19, 1991; January 26, 1991; February 8, 1992; October 24, 1992; November 28, 1992; June 12, 1993.
- Ebony, September 1992.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 15, 1994.
- Keyboard, March 1992.
- Musician, May 1988; March 1992.
- New York Times, January 14, 1991; December 11, 1991.
- People, July 9, 1990; July 11, 1994.
- Rolling Stone, September 22, 1988; August 9, 1990; November 15, 1990; February 21, 1991.
- Variety, March 4, 1991.
- Vibe, May 1994.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Elektra Records press materials, 1994.