In hip-hop, everybody's a shooter. Robin Thicke has bangin' on the mind as well. But there's a twist to the Artist Formerly Known as Thicke's gun-totin' tale, "Shooter," from his latest release, The Evolution of Robin Thicke. In this true story, he's the victim, not the perp.
"I had a little savings account, a teenager's savings account and I was going in to take out some money so I could take this girl out on a date," the singer said by phone from his California home. Thicke was the only person in line at the bank when the robbery went down. "I heard, 'Get down on the floor,' and I turned around and there was a guy walking right at me with a gun in my face." Thicke dropped to the floor instinctively, but not before he got a good look at the robbers. "The thing that shocked me was they were my age and they looked just like my best friends, guys I hung out with, guys I played basketball with. They were young kids."
Thicke survived the experience unscathed and years later wrote a song about it: "Shooter," originally released in 2003 on his debut A Beautiful World. Lil' Wayne is featured on the song and video as well -- not as a robber, but as Thicke's trash-talking savior.
But Thicke doesn't need any big name saviors to boost his career. The big names in the business have been drawn to him since his early teens. He grew up a studio rat, going there every day after school. Thicke got his first break courtesy of jazz singer Al Jarreau; at 14, he was in a singing group with Jarreau's godson. When it came time to do a demo, Thicke asked his actor father Alan (Growing Pains) for $1,000 to work with some good producers. When Thicke Sr. turned his son down, saying it was too much money and too early, Jarreau gave Thicke's group the money. "Brian McKnight heard it, and got me in the studio. And then some other producers and I started writing songs and next thing I knew I had a record deal -- I was working with Brandy and people like that at a very young age."
Thicke had his first record contract at 15, with Interscope records, working with top-notch producers like McKnight and Raphael Saadiq. He produced Mya and Marc Anthony and wrote Christina Aguilera's "When You Put Your Hands on Me." Jordan Knight, Usher, Mary J. Blige and Michael Jackson also recorded Thicke's songs. "After a few years of getting my music through other artists, all of them were on MTV and I was still sitting at home in my studio. I realized I was wasting my voice and my gift. Before I ever learned how to write, I loved singing. I had to remind myself of what I really wanted to be in this life."
As some wannabe artists have discovered, hip-hop's a tough field for white guys. But Thicke never had a problem. "When I released my first album, I got such great response from people in the business. Usher called me, Lil' Wayne called me ... Pharrell, Mary J. Blige came to me after they heard my first album."
Thicke says his sound is difficult to pigeonhole. "Anything you name I could play you one of my songs and then you'd go, 'Oh, well, I guess that don't really fit into that category.'" But there's one comparison he doesn't mind. "If anybody wants to call me Marvin Gaye, I'll kiss 'em on the cheek and say thank you," he says. Gaye, along with Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and John Lennon make Thicke's list of the greatest inspirations as musicians and leaders in the community. "Those guys exemplify peace, love, hope, righteousness, equality, and those are the kinds of things that I try to put into my music and my life."
You can add unity to the list as well. Thicke sees hip-hop as the new rock & roll, changing the way musicians interact with each other. He likens it to what rock was in the 1960s: a community with everybody hanging out together, working and touring. "When I go to the studio, I see Mary J. Blige, then she comes across to see Gwen Stefani, then there's Pharrell hangin' with them, then in the other room is Justin Timberlake saying hi to Dr. Dre. Hip-hop has created a musical community that hasn't existed since the glory days of rock & roll."
Thicke sees his role as one many '60s rockers favored as well -- to change the world. "The Beatles, Elvis changed the world. If I'm writing great songs from the bottom of my heart, then connect with people and heal them, maybe I can change the world a little bit too."
Robin Thicke opens for John Legend at Amos' SouthEnd; Dec. 1; 8 p.m.; $32.50; www.amossouthend.com