Before Jamie Foxx even started his new album, he had an album title. “I’ve always lived my life trying to understand what women are all about, from the hood to the White House,” he says. “So with the album ’Intuition,’ I tried to sing about what women really want—they want to have fun, they want to drink the right drink, eat the right food, be talked to a certain way. In thinking like that over the whole album, hopefully we captured what women want to hear.”
Foxx doesn’t seem to have trouble giving people what they want. When his last album, Unpredictable, reached the top spot on the US pop charts in 2006, he became only the fourth person in history to win an Academy Award for acting (for his masterful performance as Ray Charles in 2004’s Ray) and release a Number One album. The other three? No less than the incomparable entertainment legends Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Barbra Streisand.
But with Intuition, Foxx is striving to go even farther—to create a state-of-the-art R&B album that will solidify his place among music’s elite. Work on the new album started almost immediately after finishing Unpredictable. “We stayed diligent and just kept harvesting records,” says Foxx. “I have a studio at my house, so I could work any time, and I would descend on people’s sessions. I’d get a call—‘T-Pain’s in the studio, come down now!’ That Ne-Yo remix of ‘She Got Her Own,’ we really just gangstered that session. That’s been the fun part of it.”
The album features an astonishing list of guest stars, truly the biggest names in urban music—Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West, T-Pain, T.I. (who spices up the album’s first single, “Just Like Me”), plus production by such hit machines as Tricky and The Dream, Timbaland, and Just Blaze. “We were trying to be like the Yankees, trying to get the best,” says Foxx.
Unifying all those different flavors is Foxx’s full, supple voice, which he pushes into new territory. His primary personal goal for Intuition, he says, was attaining a new level of vocal diversity.
“On a lot of albums, after four or five songs with the same voice you start to feel like it’s the same old thing,” he says. “But when Timbaland brought me ‘I Don’t Need It,’ he said, ‘You gotta sing this like a character.’ When Rico Love brought ‘Weekend Lover,’ he said, ‘You gotta have the right swagger on this.’ That sort of freshens up the record. I wanted to sing every song its own way, so it doesn’t get mundane.”
Finding the right way into a song, of course, is what got Jamie Foxx’s music into the spotlight. The one-time music student at San Diego’s United States International University released his debut album, Peep This, in 1994. But it was his 2004 guest spot alongside Kanye West on Twista’s “Slow Jamz” that took him to the top of the charts. His follow-up collaboration with West, the unforgettable (and inescapable) “Gold Digger,” held the Number One spot on the Billboard Top 100 for ten weeks.
Those singles built up the anticipation for Unpredictable, which went double-platinum and earned Foxx an American Music Awards for Favorite R&B/Soul Male Artist, as well as four Grammy nominations. Foxx also turned up on records by Ludacris, Plies, The Game—even country superstars Rascal Flatts.
Despite this success, though, Jamie Foxx knows that making hits never gets easy. Asked what changed in music since the release of his last album, Foxx immediately says, “Everything changed! The tempo changed—you sit at the piano trying to croon and you get blasted out right now. I’m a Tank dude, Babyface, Brian McKnight baby, I can listen to that soft voice thing all day. But for me to do a record like ‘Number One’ with Lil Wayne, I’m taking a chance on that. People could say it’s wack or it’s something brilliant—but at least we took a chance to stretch out.”
“You’ve got to be courageous and reinvent,” he adds, and points out that his acting experience, rather than being a distraction, actually offers him a creative advantage. “I’m able to get away with certain things that other guys can’t. The Timbaland record is like a comical church record, where I play the preacher with the sideburns and he plays the gospel choir leader and we’re hitting on all the girls in the choir. But you’ve got to do each record like it’s supposed to be done—when it’s a ballad, change it up. Whatever you do, you need to give it its credence.”
Foxx says that his approach in the studio is to stay humble, ask questions, and listen to advice, especially from the new generation. “You have to let the young heads, the young girls and guys, lead you in the direction you need to go. I try to go in like a starving artist.”
The last time Foxx released an album, he was coming off of one of the most acclaimed performances in recent years, connecting him to both a musical genius and a whole new audience. “When we went on tour,” he says, “there were people out in the audience 60, 70 years old, who came just so they could hear the Ray Charles performance. But with this record, the music has to stand by itself. I don’t have any props, any outside influences, it’s just the music and we have to get out and do it.”
Though his focus is on Intuition right now, of course 2009 will also see Foxx returning to movie screens—The Soloist, in which he co-stars with Robert Downey, Jr., will be out in April, and in January, he begins filming the thriller Law-Abiding Citizen. Watching him bounce back and forth between two kinds of stardom, you can’t help but think of the great multiple-threat entertainers of the past.
“When you look at the Rat Pack, they were doing music and movies together, so this is really a throwback to people like Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr,” says Jamie Foxx. “Not comparing myself to them, but you look at those greats and try to make the new version of that.
“It’s tough to be successful in the music business,” he concludes, “but as long as I’ve got the piano and I can sit down and get my point across, it’s worth doing. I don’t think I’ll ever stop having the passion for it.”