The last time we saw R&B singer Eric Benet, he was defending himself against his divorce from Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry. For a while, people knew Benet as Mr. Halle.
"Take that as an occupational hazard," he said of his time with Berry. "I was with somebody who was internationally famous and successful. Had I been a recording artist who made the mistakes that I did with someone who wasn't famous, it definitely wouldn't have been quite as earth shattering to the press. But it overshadowed things for a while."
Those days are gone and with his latest CD, Love & Life, Benet has shown that he's moved on to better things and the focus is back where it belongs -- on his music.
"I'm at this really great place in my life right now where I like singing, dancing and laughing and making love and just experiencing the fruits of being a little wiser and a little older," Benet said. "It feels good. People have been listening to this record and they tell me first it sounds good and the songs just make me feel good."
If you want to be seduced lyrically, you want to be in the audience. So, just what is one of his favorite songs to sing on stage?
"My favorite song to perform is 'Chocolate Legs.' The reaction to 'Chocolate Legs' is incredible. It just touches people, specifically women with chocolate legs in a powerful way," Benet said. By the time he reaches the second verse of the sensual song, he said the crowd is whipped up in a frenzy.
How could they not be? Check out these lyrics:
"Your cocoa skin against mine, babe/ Is all I need to help revive me/ Just touch me and I feel pure, pure love/ You're the only thing I'm ever sure of (your love I'm sure of)/ I need some reminding/ That God is still, He's still behind me/ Baby, come take my soul and set me free/ When you come wrap your chocolate legs 'round me."
And when he's done crooning about "Chocolate Legs," Benet said the crowd wants to hear "Femininity," a single from his 1996 album True To Myself, "A Love of My Own" from 1999's A Day In the Life and "Spend My Life" the hit single he made with Tamia, who probably won't show up at the Neighborhood Theatre with Benet. "That would be nice but she just had another baby and she and Grant [Hill] are doing their thing and being a wonderful, happy, beautiful couple," he said.
Benet oozes sexuality without the overt crassness of some R&B artists (like R. Kelly). "When the idea of a sexy song comes to me, I just treat that with what I find sexy to me," he said. "I think when you're too overt and try to hit someone over the head, it's not as sexy as the subtleties and the creativeness of it. I think that's a lot more sexy and I come from the school of The Isley Brothers, making love 'Between the Sheets' and Marvin Gaye, 'Let's Get It On' and 'Sexual Healing.' Those songs were extremely sexy but not vulgar."
Take the lyrics to his song "The Hunger." While there's no doubt that he's talking about the newness of a sexual relationship, the lyrics are smooth as silk.
"Did you know that you smile when you're asleep?/ Is it there all the time?/ Or only when you're with me?/ When the morning sun shines on your face/ Let me be the first breath you take."
But sex isn't all Benet sings about on the new album. He also touches on the war in Iraq.
"The best music comes authentically from the heart and that's just been the best way for me to write," he said. "I've always been the kind of songwriter that whereever I am in my life, that's going to come through in the music."
And the other stuff that's happened in his life has taught Benet a few lessons as well. "Most of my life I feel like I've been the kind of person who looks for validation or wants people to like me to feel good about myself," he said. But after the media storm during his marriage to Berry, Benet said he doesn't rely on that anymore.
"For a while, I couldn't rely on that," he said. "I had to love me for me and keep it moving."
Eric Benet will perform at the Neighborhood Theatre on Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25, $35 and $45.