1999 was a good year for Carl Thomas. His first single, "I Wish," held the top spot on the U.S. R&B chart for six weeks straight, a success that would be further solidified the following year when Jay-Z and Pharrell Williams sampled the track on their hit "I Just Wanna Love U."
Good years come and go, however. And by 2004, Thomas was over it.
"I kind of made up in my mind that music wasn't important to me," he says. "I closed the door on it and I was absolutely fine with [that]."
Thomas points to a series of incidents that contributed to his disillusionment and his subsequent seclusion far away from the U.S. music scene.
First was the murder of his oldest brother, Duranthony Evans, which Thomas says occurred just a few months after the release of his second album, "Let's Talk About It."
"He was someone who frequently traveled with me. I put a special importance on family, and after that incident, I was somewhat overtaken by my grief," Thomas says. "It made me reprioritize things in my life that I was thinking were important to me. All of a sudden, after that incident, music was the first thing that I said [was] not on the level of importance that I thought it was."
Secondly, Thomas says, the music industry machine dissipated his initial drive to be an artist. "I had literally become a spoke in the machine of the music business, as opposed to the rose growing out of the concrete that I wanted to represent," he says.
And with that, Thomas fled to Europe, crashing with friends and exploring the R&B scene in places like Tuscany and London.
Once he returned home, it was a call from producer Mike City that Thomas says put him back on the music-making track. "He says, 'We don't have to be on anybody's clock. We don't have to waste anybody's money. We don't have to live up to anybody's expectations. Let's just get in the studio and do it the way that we used to do it and make some really really good music,'" Thomas recalls.
"Somewhere in between ordering out and drinking wine -- and people like Lalah Hathaway and Brandy and E-40 stopping by the studio -- we managed to come up with 'So Much Better,'" Thomas says.
It was a project that required no money to make, but that would end up being an invaluable point of reckoning for Thomas, a realization that he belonged -- as a musician -- with his fans.
"I'm good at the music business and I'm comfortable. I feel a sense of purpose. Even if my contribution is minute, it is still a fingerprint nonetheless," he says.
Regaining his creative foothold wasn't a complicated feat, Thomas insists. It was simply a matter of going back to the musical roots and sounds that inspired him the most, the '70s and '80s.
"I don't want you to mistake me for someone who is getting caught up in an era. I'm just expressing the era of music that had the greatest influence over me, and that era for me was the MTV revolution, the world's introduction to the Moon Man," Thomas says.
"[It] was a special time in music for me. When you look back at ... groups like Duran Duran, Mike and the Mechanics, The Police, one thing that they all have in common are unforgettable, driving melodies and earnest rhythm," he says. It was the exchange of melodies for rhythm that he says made for less talented producers and, presumably, less inspired music.
That's where Thomas hopes his new album, "Conquer," will fill in. "If you listen to 'It Ain't Fair' and 'It's Not The Same,' you can tell I snatched those records right out of the '80s," he says.
Also inspiring his return are his relationships with other musicians, like the one he had with the late Heavy D.
It was the Heavy D, in fact, who produced Thomas' hit "Summer Rain." "Heavy was the type of person to where you could call him at four in the morning, and he would clear his throat and get on the phone and listen to what you had to say. That's a quality not a lot of people have, and I just hope that people celebrate those things about him. I loved him a lot and I'm going to miss him dearly."
One of the last songs the duo created together, a track coincidentally called "Still Missing You," was featured on Heavy D's final album, "Love Opus."
WHAT ABOUT DIDDY?
As one of the most recognized artists on Diddy's Bad Boy label, the question is inevitable.
"A lot of people seem to be interested in if me and Puff are friends or not," Thomas says. "Yes, we're still very much brothers. I love him dearly and I support everything that he's doing. Don't think that you won't see a Dirty Money concert with a Bad Boy section, and you see Carl Thomas and Faith Evans creep up in the building."
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