Kevin Lyttle walked through the door wearing a charming grin and his signature fedura hat. I greeted his publicist, Clarence, who had the pleasure of scheduling this sit down with me and the Caribbean legend.
For a few moments we discussed how crazy New York City traffic is in the middle of rush hour and the expensive parking. Before jumping into the interview, Lyttle asked his publicist to grab him something to eat because they’ve reached the end of their press run for the day, and the next event isn’t until the next couple hours.
I told him about the food options nearby but he simply ordered a fish filet from McDonald’s. After he placed his order and handed over his money, we sat down to discuss his new music and the impact of his timeless breakthrough single, “Turn Me On.”
“Turn Me On” became a worldwide hit in 2003, peaking within top 10 in fifteen countries. It landed him a deal with Atlantic Records which was later dissolved due to creative differences. But that didn’t taint the song’s legacy. It was later remixed by Chris Brown and still receives thousands of downloads til this day.
Tell me about your new song
It’s called close to you. It was produced by a producer from St. Vincent and the Grenadines who resides in Trinidad. His name is Static. The song is actually Kevin Lyttle featuring Static. He had it there waiting for me and I didn’t change anything to it. All I did was write the second verse. It was a really beautiful song. I sent it to my management and they said ‘yeah let’s go’
I read on the Internet, I don’t know how true this is, that you invested your savings to produce your breakout single, “Turn Me On” because you had so much confidence in it. Is that true?
Well it’s not that I had so much confidence in it. See what happened was that in St. Vincent, and in the soca market, because I’m not a Reggae artist or a Dancehall artist. I’m just a Caribbean artist. International.
Please explain the difference because I’m a youngin’
I’m a soca artist. “Turn Me On” is a carnival song. It’s not a reggae song. So what it is is that I put out “Turn Me On” with the intentions to make Soca music crossover like Dancehall. So that’s why there’s a Dancehall influence on the record because that was intentional so that the Dancehall people will like it, then the international market will like it because it was affiliated with reggae. Now I put the R&B singing on it. The song is actually an interpolation of 112’s “All My Love.” So 112 has a little bit of the publishing on the song … The whole intention when I started in the soca market was just to do something. Every year we will try to get a record done and all the artists will walk around the place and go to all the banks and businesses in the capital, because Carnival is major over there. I went around got some sponsors and raised about $300-400 in Eastern Caribbean dollars, which is roughly about $150 USD. Then I took $500 of my own money, which is another 2 something USD. I was working as a Customs officer. My salary was basically about $350-$400 USD a month. Mind you, that’s a big salary in my country. That’s like $1,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars. I was working there for nearly like two years and only managed to save $2,500 or something like that in my currency. So I had to be very careful of what I spent. So I took $500 and put it with the sponsors I got and I started showing people a demo for the song so that got me a little more money. I managed to raise a full $1,000 to pay the producer for the production and everything and ended up owning the song.
So that means Chris Brown had to reach out to you to get rights to sample “Turn Me On” for his song, “Questions.”
Yes I own the publishing on Questions. I also own the publishing for the Cheat Codes’ version, “Let Me Hold You”, which is bigger than the Chris Brown version.
I read in your press kit that you’ve launched or you’re launching your own streaming service.
Well I’m working on something like that. I think it’s an area in Caribbean music that can be filled. I’m looking at it and researching it, and trying with different developers to develop something, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. But I’m working on it though.
The Caribbean influence isn’t respected enough in mainstream. The pioneer of Hip Hop is a Jamaican immigrant so there’s no reason why there’s not more of a crossover.
You know it’s a weird thing, I’ve noticed this amongst our culture and I’m talking generally, the Black music culture, because you know in Europe they call our music ‘Black music.’ Whether it’s Hip Hop, Reggae, Dancehall, Soca, it’s all Black music. And they don’t prefer Hip Hop, R&B, Soul over Reggae or Soca or nothing like that. They play it all as Black music. But in America and the Caribbean there’s a bit of a disconnect. In the Caribbean there’s a disconnect between the Haitians and Martinique and the English speaking. Then you come to America and there’s a disconnect between the Black American culture and Black Caribbean culture which I find is so weird because it shouldn’t be. We’ve all been feeding off each other and it should be fixed. It’s not like the Caribbean artists are taking anything from the Hip Hop artists. There’s enough room for everyone to make the same money. People are still going to buy what they prefer. I, Kevin Lyttle, can’t even stop Sean Paul. Sean Paul can’t stop Drake. Drake can’t take from Davido.
And we love when they collab.
I think the universe is guiding the way. That is probably a major part of the solution. There needs to be more collaboration between the Black American market and the Caribbean market. One thing with the Caribbean, we view America as a place of opportunity and our surroundings are so harsh and we have to work hard because we want to be where the opportunities are. We have to get on a plane and get a visa, and have to have enough money. So we have to really grind to see what you see. We have to respect each other because you guys come to our country and we show you love.
Speaking of more collaborations do you have any Hip Hop/R&B collabs in the works?
No Hip Hop/R&B, I’m working on other things because I’m not circulating in those genres. So I’m working on that right now.
What do you mean? You’re Kevin Lyttle!
Everyone says that, ‘you’re Kevin Lyttle, you’re a legend.’ What happens is where Kevin Lyttle is concern is like I’m so big but a lot of people think I’m unattainable and I’m now realizing that. They think they can’t reach out to me.
I feel like Caribbean artists are more tangible. That hierarchy is only established in the States.
Yeah but they don’t think that about me. They think I’m not easy to reach out to, or don’t want to work with them. You know the thing is I’m so humble. Every interview everyone says ‘the legend Kevin Lyttle’ and I’m like really? I realized it’s what is thought about me. Everyone thinks this about me and I’m just like ‘yo I’m just this cool guy that you can reach out to and talk to.’ Which is why I need to go and make connects because people may think ‘oh he’s big’ or ‘he’s stand off-ish.’
Your party still gets played until this day, that’s why. I was a little girl when it first came out.
I did Saturday Night Live’s after party the other day and my publicist went to the DJ and told him ‘Kevin Lyttle’ is here, but he didn’t realize. So the DJ draws for “Turn Me On,” every DJ has “Turn Me On” in their line up so he did that and Clarence went back and said ‘Yo this is what I’m telling you. Kevin Lyttle is right here.’ Then the place starts going even more crazy now. It’s different. It’s like people don’t even expect to see me like that.
I read that you’re also a business savvy man. You keep yourself busy by investing in different businesses and launched a foundation in honor of your late mother. Can you tell me more about that and the work that has been done?
It was actually my wife, Jackie’s, idea. She thought it’ll be a good idea. She took lead and helped me put it together. She’s basically the business brain behind everything. I’m just driven. I’ll do it when I understand what I’m doing. Before when I was with different management, I would say let’s take some of this money and invest into real estate and houses and all these kinds of stuff and everyone will be so timid. But then when I met my wife and my eyes got opened and I moved away from that past management, me and her started building together. She’s a phD of architecture and civil engineering. So she makes her own six figure salary with her own company. She’s definitely a plus to the Kevin Lyttle brand. With the foundation we donated over half a million dollars worth of medical supplies to the hospital in my country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And we’ve been working with the Caribbean Village Festival that happens in Miami every year and we’re part owners of it. That raises funds for St. Vincent and other islands, Jamaica included, to help with schools and books.
Let’s backtrack. I see you were signed to Atlantic Records when your breakout single came out. How did that contract end?
“Turn Me On” was so big and sold a million records the first week. But they didn’t want to listen to my team. These major labels get caught up in what the media and their friends are saying, and they weren’t looking at how my music was built. My music was built from the grassroots. And I already had another song with Spragga Benz that was going. It was No. 1 in Jamaica already, we had a video shot and it was ready to go. We sent the video over and they kept saying they didn’t get it. They had their minds hell bent on this song “Drive Me Crazy” with me and Mr. Eazy that they forced on me to put on the album. They felt like it was the second single because it was charting around the world. But it’s a difference between taking the easy way out and doing things the right way. Like they say in the Caribbean, “shortcut does break mon neck.” That’s what basically happened. It messed up the project because I don’t know what went down between them and my management with the single but there was all kinds of issues. Mr. Eazy wasn’t happy. He thought Kevin Lyttle was trying to take his song. And then I wasn’t happy because I didn’t want to be singing somebody else’s record when I have such good records already. So it ended up being a situation where they took the fault and offered to pay me off for my second album and we went our separate ways. But I still have to give it to them because they saw the vision. But they didn’t know what to do with the genre. They could’ve still have the “Turn Me On” record which is still streaming.
Are you going to release a full blown project? What’s next for Kevin Lyttle?
That’s going to happen but I’m trying to hit that Lil Wayne model where he kept hitting them with singles and collaborations. So that’s what I’m working on. I have this new single that’s all me because what happened in 2017, I had this beautiful single called, “Slow Motion.” You wouldn’t believe that I got that single on my own, with my own company to 300 spins a week on mainstream radio.
I feel like its been so long since there has been a major crossover artist from the Caribbean. Who do you think will be the next big star?
Well I’m trying to do it again. But not yet. I haven’t seen anybody else. It’s not about being the next Sean Paul or the next Kevin Lyttle. It’s about being the next you. I have artists signed to my label, but if they do my style, it needs to be more infusion of what’s going on now in terms of being relevant, from a Caribbean artist. An American artist can’t add the twang that a Caribbean artist can. Even the intro for “Turn Me On,” that came from Sisqo. When I was doing the “Turn Me On” thing I was thinking we need a nice intro and was practicing a bunch of high pitches then that came about. The song originally didn’t have an intro. It just went straight to the first verse. But then I went back in after a few weeks and added ‘Ooh yeah.’ But I could be remembering it wrong because it was such a long time.
You said you’re going to do more singles and collaborations. When can your fans expect the next single?
I have a song coming up with bad gal Cecile from Jamaica, and I have a Jab Jab song for Vincy carnival coming up.