You have a new sense of wisdom, confidence and maturity on your new album, BLACKsummers'night. What changed?
Sandra Appiah, TORONTO
Being 36 years old changes you a lot, and so does eight years away from career, fame, needing attention, needing to be loved by strangers on some level. I was loving anonymity. I was loving the fact that I could meet a girl who didn't know who I was. I enjoyed it very much, I have to say.
Why did you decide to cut your hair?
Philisa LeGrier, AUGUSTA, GA.
I needed a change. I didn't want to be a caricature. There's nothing worse than that guy who's still rocking his whatever it was 20 years after his heyday. The world's moved on, and you're stuck.
When did you know that being a musician was something you wanted to pursue?
You never know it. It picks you. Coming from a West Indian background, wanting a career in a creative field is almost like a death wish. But I was compelled. Once music got me, it got me good. I used to work at this movie theater in New York, and I would save my pennies and would do layaway plans on keyboards and musical gadgets. They were astronomically expensive for someone who was, like, 17 years old.
How do you know when a song is finished?
Wenylla Reid, UNION, N.J.
A song is never finished. I listen to songs that I recorded more than 10 years ago, and I can still hear something I could do differently, something that I could've played better, something that could've been produced better. That's just how it is.
If you were to write a song meant for a woman to sing, what message would you want her to convey?
Letitia H. Beatty, ROANOKE, VA.
I've sung a song that a woman has written from a man's perspective--Kate Bush wrote "This Woman's Work"--but I've never thought what I would want to say for a woman. But it's one of those things. It's like childbirth. A man will never know. We'll never understand what it takes for a woman to go through all that they go through. I can't say that I know what I would need to say for a woman, but I know that I've learned from women, and I've learned what not to say: "Baby, you look good in them jeans. They don't make you look fat at all." Things like that.
What do you want your body of music to represent 50 years from now?
Jacqueline Greer, WASHINGTON
I hope it just represents. I just hope that it stays.
How has your heritage influenced your music?
Ella Turenne, NEW YORK CITY
I'm really multicultural. My mom is from Haiti. My dad's from Puerto Rico. I was born in Brooklyn. I read Proust. Your heritage is your heritage, but your soul is truly who you are.
What do you like to do when you are not recording or performing?
I love scary movies. Paranormal Activity is the most recent thing I've seen, and I'm scared out of my mind. You have to see how scary this is.
Has a fan ever crossed a boundary that should not have been crossed?
Michelle D. Anderson, DETROIT