Keith Sweat debuted his sensuous, nasally baritone 30 years ago with Make It Last Forever. The album catapulted him into the spotlight, scoring crossover hits on R&B and pop charts with songs such as “I Want Her” and the title single. Over the next three decades, the “Twisted” singer dropped 11 follow-up albums (including last year’s Dress to Impress) and cemented himself as one of his genre’s greats. Despite his many accolades, he still has a couple notches left to make on his belt. Sweat’s first limited-engagement Strip residency kicked off January 17 at Flamingo Las Vegas. We caught up with the crooner to discuss the secrets to his success.
What’s been the cause of your longevity?
I try to stay relevant, honestly. I try to do what people want to hear. I try to give people great lyrics and great music. When people see me live, they see that I can sing exactly the way they hear me on record. That has actually helped me—the ability to do live performances. I’m not just a studio musician.
How’ve you kept your voice so crisp and polished after all these years? Is there anything special that you do?
I don’t smoke. I don’t do a lot of the things that would mess up someone’s voice. If you want something to last a long time, you have to take care of it. I don’t do anything to my vocal cords that I feel would damage them. I don’t do anything that would risk my ability to continue to make music and perform.
You’ve been hosting The Sweat Hotel radio show for about 10 years, too. What are three go-to songs that you know your listeners are always going to enjoy?
“Nobody” from me is one; “In My Bed” from Dru Hill and “My, My, My” by Johnny Gill. I don’t want to say that they’re the top three, but those [are off] the top of my head.
A lot of contemporary R&B is club music. Is the slow jam dying?
It’s not really dying. You got audiences for different music. You got an audience for what I do, you got a different audience for what’s in the club. I wouldn’t say it’s dying because if that was the case, R&B concerts wouldn’t be doing well.
You’re embarking on your first residency. Why do this now after 30 years?
I was asked to do it by Caesars Entertainment and I felt it was a good look. It shows the longevity of my brand, and I think they needed a little more R&B out [here] in Vegas. I’m from that new jack swing era, and there’s no one out there representing that.
How will the residency performances differ from your touring shows?
I’m adding a few things. I don’t take my dancers everywhere, so they’ll be a part of my show. [I’ll] add different types of songs. I can engage with the audience a little more because it’s more of a Keith Sweat show. I can do things that I would not normally do in a concert when there’s three or four people on the lineup and I have a limited amount of time. I can expand on the music a little more in that arena.
What else can we expect from you in 2017?
I’m just gonna see what this residency is going to do. I’m gonna take it one step at a time. I’m already doing radio. I dropped an album in July. Basically, I’m looking forward to the residency and seeing how far it takes me. I’ll play it by ear after that.
You’re a veteran musician, you have a radio show, you’ve written a book, Make It Last Forever: The Dos and Don’ts. What’s left to accomplish?
That’s why I’m taking on the residency, because it’s one thing I hadn’t done in my career. In 2017, this is something new that I’m conquering … If it goes well, I’ll do it again or do it for a longer period of time.
When you’re not onstage, what else will you be doing in Vegas?
I’m gonna be sleeping. I mean, I gotta kill Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I’ve been to Vegas quite a few times, so I know exactly what’s going on. Right now it’s time to work and put on a great show. I can come back another time when I’m not working five to six days a week. I need to preserve my voice. Because I don’t lip sync, I can’t be hanging out like that. I got to be very careful and take my time and do what I need to do to make sure I’m putting on a great show.