Music Article

Life Imitating Art

Jamie Foxx reinvents himself -- The Oscar-winning star of ''Ray'' is launching a bona fide R&B career

To get a record deal for his forthcoming album, tentatively titled Southern Gentleman (due Nov. 1), Jamie Foxx had to finagle his way into a very public audition.

It was February 2004, eight months before the release of Ray, the highly acclaimed Ray Charles biopic that won Foxx his shiny new Oscar. The actor had tagged along with his buddies Kanye West and Twista (on whose smash 2004 single ''Slow Jamz'' he appeared) to Clive Davis' famed Grammy party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The actor's secret agenda: to wow the pants off Davis.

''I didn't want to embarrass myself by saying to him 'Hey, man, I sing,''' says Foxx. ''So we hooked something else up.'' Since West and Twista were scheduled to perform, Foxx arranged to go on first and warm up the crowd. ''I performed 'Slow Jamz,' but I peeled it back to just piano and voice,'' says the 37-year-old Texas native, who delivered a wholly reinvented version of the song that drew a rapturous response from the crowd. To top that off, he says, ''later on, Alicia Keys and Angie Stone came out and I joined them on stage singing.''

By the evening's end, Davis was convinced that Foxx was a contender. ''When we started to negotiate the album deal, Clive said, 'I just hope you don't punish me [financially] for how well tonight went,''' laughs Foxx.

It seems likely the punishment will wind up being of the hurts-so-good variety for the mogul. With Ray's light still shining — not to mention Foxx's collaboration with West on the latter's current single, ''Gold Digger'' — the time is clearly ripe for a Foxx CD. And Southern Gentleman promises to be a very different animal from his previous R&B album, 1994's Peep This, which he all but dismisses today. ''[That] was for limited money and for a small label,'' he says. ''But we've got the heavy hitters on this one.''

He's not just whistling ''Georgia.'' In addition to West and Twista, Southern Gentleman includes tracks produced by Pharrell Williams (''I'm Still Here''), Timbaland (''Can I Take You Home''), and Babyface (''Heaven''), with guest shots by Ludacris (''Unpredictable'') and Mary J. Blige (''Love Changes''). Foxx plays piano and sings throughout.

''Kanye and me did a record called 'Extravaganza,''' says Foxx, ''which is kind of about all the things that have happened in the last couple of years. It's about the day after a big party and I'm trying to explain what went on the night before. It'll be the first track, then we slowly get into the real album.''

Foxx promises that listeners will find a healthy diversity of sounds on the disc — as well as the unmistakable influence of Ray Charles in places. ''A lot of it is kind of naked, just the words with some music behind it to support it,'' he says. ''I have people that want to hear me sit down at the piano and just play, so there's that. Then there are young kids who want to dance, so I've got some up-tempo cuts. Then there's stuff with an international, universal feel. And there's a lot of me speaking to the ladies about love. Everybody's not a thug, you know.''

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