Mint Condition’s current standing as R&B’s last great band looks to go unchallenged for some time (unless you count Robert Glasper in the mix) as the band celebrates over two decades in the music business. But as we see in the latest “Unsung” episode there have been some tough times along the way. The seven-member band who hail from the Twin Cities is comprised of Ricky Kinchen, Stokley Williams, Larry Waddell, Jef Allen, Homer O’Dell and for most of it’s heyday, Keri Lewis, until his marriage to Toni Braxton. Though they may be on their way the kind of decades of popularity independent of chart status that Maze now enjoys, Mint Condition has had its share of ups and downs on the way to creating timeless music. We caught up with Kinchen, the band’s bass player who gave us a look at a few things we won’t see on “Unsung.”
So many groups featured on “Unsung” have gone through so many changes including deaths, shootings, drug abuse, etc., but you guys didn’t seem to have those kinds of issues.
We definitely didn’t have those problems to that extent. But when you’ve got 7 different people from all different walks of life, it’s like the Cosbys, the Jefferson and “Good Times” all in one band. We definitely get into it and there are people who get their way a little bit more than others. There’s a ton of things that we could have brought to the party, but there’s not as much as there is in other bands. If I’m the bad boy in the group, we’re really not that bad. (laughs).There’s no drugs, I don’t beat women. We’ve never pulled a gun out on each other or anything like that. It’s never gotten to that point.
Even with any petty bickering that has gone on, what has kept the group intact over all these years?
Whenever we get together and make music, the magic is still there. The magic is not going anywhere. On stage, at soundcheck, we love playing with each other. It’s a group of a lot of great dudes – two of the guys Larry and Jef, went back to school and got their bachelor’s. Larry flies planes. There are great fathers and just some great men. We come from an era where we weren’t allowed to talk back to our parents. It was a respect thing. You have to talk to certain people certain ways in this group. Some people you have to pull them off to the side.
We’ve learned how to deal with each other.
What was the biggest threat to the group’s existence in the last two decades?
We were always a group that dealt with challenges. When we first signed our first deal, the whole department got shut down right in the middle of our record, or we lost a vice-president of the company. Everytime we would release a song, something would happen. And then we would release the next album and the whole Black department would get fired. Then the next record, the whole A&M decided to part ways with Perspective Records. Then when we decided to leave A&M, it was a good decision because the entire label was shut down months later. Then there was a time for about four or five years when we didn’t have a deal at all.
Is there still an audience for the kind of music that Mint Condition makes?
Everybody’s switching to streaming music now and there’s companies out there making sure the artists get paid from all of that. It’s challenging but you have to diversify. You have to think about doing a radio show or endorsing a set of headphones. You have to do other things to make money. If you’re a touring artist and you should be, if you go out and tour one or two days a week, depending on how much money you get paid, that’s still 10, 20, 30 G’s a week. I’m sure any regular person would love to get that.
Watching the “Unsung” episode it was pretty amazing how seven guys have managed to be mostly scandal-free after all these years. So many groups have had drug issues and women issues and competitive issues but you have don’t seem to have gone through that.
That’s really this group. I’ve seen Stoke have a few drinks. I’ve seen Stoke get mad maybe twice in 20 years. I get mad every week. Nobody’s on drugs. I have bottles of alcohol in my crib that I’ve had 6-8 months. There’s guys that have gotten bottles on the road that they’ve had for like, ten years. That’s why we look great. We take care of ourselves. When we’re out on the road, it’s about the business. We’ve never been about how many chicks we can get. Some of the guys may have had some wild streaks at one point, but some of us have been in faithful situations 14 years at one time. We’ve never been that group that put out the hotel and the afterparty sign. We’ve never been those cats.
Do you think that the fact that you split the money equally has helped the group get along? That’s not always the case.
The three or four things is our fans showing up every time we tour, radio supporting us every time we put out a record, us splitting up the money and we do like working with each other when we come together.
So is Keri back in the group now? The “Unsung” shows you guys playing together last year although he left the group over a decade ago when he married Toni Braxton.
It was funny the way everybody explained why they didn’t go to the wedding. That was like, awesome. (laughs) It just seemed so fake. It sounded like we were lying. [With Keri] when he was asking for things that I didn’t think were fair and he probably thought it was fair and that he had the leverage to ask for, I didn’t like that. That’s why I didn’t go to the wedding. Stoke was the only one who went. He did the right thing. Stoke is that dude that does the right thing. I’m that dude that has to listen to Joel Osteen and do the right thing. Keri is my brother and we cool and it’s always good to have him back. It would be great to invite him out to do some things coming up like Essence [Festival] to make it more special.
In “Unsung,” Jam and Lewis make it clear that they nudged Stokley to do a solo project even if they didn’t want him to leave the group.
Stoke has the kind of talent that God only gives out maybe once a year. He can go play with Stevie Wonder, Prince, whatever. He’s an incredible talent. But what makes this group is all of us. They really give Stoke his props but when you listen to those songs, you hear Larry, you hear Stoke, you hear Keri…what makes this band is this band. What makes this group is every member of this group.