Since the release of his debut album True to Myself in 1996, R&B singer Eric Benet has been very open about raising his daughter India as a single parent. Benet’s heartwrenching song “While You Were Here” on the album paid homage to India’s mother Tami, who passed away in 1993, when India was just a few months old.
Over the years, Eric has included India in every facet of his life possible, even as he tried to protect her from the harshness of the spotlight on his personal troubles. Now a first-year college student, 18-year-old India is on her way to her own career in entertainment. Should Benet be worried about what will come her way with fame?
In this UrbLife.com exclusive, Eric Benet discusses the ins and outs of parenting when you can’t always be there, why censorship for young kids is so important, and the vital life advice his own daughter gave him.
Your daughter is 18 now – what would you say was the single biggest challenge in raising her?
Eric Benet: That’s a difficult question to answer… being a parent and raising a child is a multi-layered job with so many challenges and so many beautiful rewards. With the logistics of who I am and what I do, one of the hardest challenges was physically being there as much as I wanted to.
One of the most important things in a child’s life, other than love and protection, is stability. I was constantly trying to juggle all of the places I needed to be and things I needed to do so that I could provide a life for her while being there. That was my biggest challenge.
She actually sings with you now professionally. Was there any hesitation on your part when she let you know she wanted to be a performer?
EB: Absolutely. The only thing you want as a parent is a better life for your children. My music industry career has been wonderful in the sense that I’m still able to do what I love, however the road has not always been so wonderful. There have been many downs to the ups.
So my daughter’s been bitten by the entertainment bug, and when she comes to me saying, “This is what I want to do,” being a parent, the first thing I think about is the heartache I went through. [Instead of] going to school, getting in on the ground floor of a job and moving up the ladder, I’ve had these huge gaps of rejection and false starts.
Eric and India sing “You’re the Only One” a capella, 2008
There was a lot of fear when it came to my daughter saying she wanted to be a recording artist, and it’s still there, but she’s a lot more intelligent than I was as a kid. I dropped out of college after two years – she’s much more academically prepared and equipped not to do that. We just enrolled her in college and I’m very happy about that, I’m very much encouraging her to finish school before chasing that elusive dream.
Lil Wayne recently said your song “Sometimes I Cry” really touched him. Your daughter is old enough to listen to his music now and understand what he’s talking about. Were there points in her earlier years where you were sensitive about music she listened to?
EB: Absolutely. Children shouldn’t be listening to that kind of music. There are formative years of raising a child where it’s almost like it’s our job to create this bubble of love and protection, like a perfect little world for them until a certain age. Of course we can’t shield them from negative energy and words, but if you’re doing your job as a parent then the world that’s most important for them is the world that you’ve created for them.
Until my daughter was 13 or 14 there was music, certain movies and a great number of things on the internet that I wouldn’t allow her to see, and I think that’s every parent’s job.
How has it been for you dealing with India’s dating life?
EB: It’s interesting, because my parents were more strict than most. I think by easing back from how I was raised I’ve been a little more understanding. I’m a guy, and I wasn’t allowed to go on a date until I was 16 and my sister had to chaperone. My oldest sisters couldn’t go on dates until they were 18. I consider myself to be very liberal compared to how I was brought up.
By the time India was 16 I allowed her to go on a date, and by today’s standards I guess that’s conservative. So that was important for me and I’m very proud of who she is today. In retrospect, I think children feel love when they have those types of boundaries. Not only do they need them, but they want those types of boundaries. They feel protected and safe, they know at the end of the day they haven’t figured it all out… Until 16, then they think they have it all figured out! [laughs]
But up until that age, they know that their parent knows best and they’re glad they aren’t the ones making those choices. I think it’s important that kids feel you enforcing those boundaries.
What’s the best piece of advice your daughter has ever given you?
EB: From an early age I would go to her and ask advice on some of my songs. I would ask her advice on what single to pick, on a very professional level. But later on, when it came time for me to start dating and seeing people again – I’ve always been protective of who I would bring around her, making sure I’m not bringing anyone around who may not be around for long.
After my divorce [in 2005]I was very careful about who she saw or met. When she was 14 or 15, she wrote me a letter that said how much she loved me, how grateful she was for me and that she wanted me to know my happiness is very important for her. She wanted me to know that if there was someone I was really feeling, that I could bring them around her and that she’d want to meet them.
She’s an amazing individual. I’m very proud of her, because she’s gone through ups and downs that had nothing to do with her and she’s this beautiful, resilient, intelligent, strong woman now.
Tell us about the new album Lost in Time. What do you want people to know about where you are in life artistically?
EB: Lost In Time is the name of the new CD, it comes out in late November . When I listen to the radio today, specifically R&B music, there is a soul that’s missing. I think over the years the production techniques of records has become more about efficiency, with expeditious and financially cost effective ways of making records.
Instead of getting a real keyboard player for a song, they’ll sequence four chords and loop them through the whole song. Instead of a real drummer, they have drum machines, and when the singer comes in it’s cool if he doesn’t sing great live, because Autotune will make it sound great when it’s done. It will sound precise and great when it’s done, but a lot of the soul has been taken out.
It’s not just the singing that brings the soul to the music, it’s very much based off of the relationship between the bass player and the drummer, and how they play off of each other, and how the keyboard player plays off of them. There’s a lot of emotion that is compromised when you don’t allow that natural and beautiful process to happen, and today’s music has become too much of a soul vacuum. Somebody might be doing some soulful church runs over the track, they call it R&B but it really sounds like a combination of techno, pop and Hip Hop.
I just wanted to make a record that was made the way they used to, with the instruments they used to. It was an expensive record to make because there are string arrangements, orchestras and horns on a lot of the songs. But I really wanted to stay true to what R&B used to be, and try to remind people of what it’s supposed to feel like. If the response to the first single “Sometimes I Cry” is any indication, people are going to love this album.