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There's more to Lyfe’s story than prison

Jennings would have been an English teacher if he hadn't become a singer
/ Source: The Associated Press

Lyfe doesn’t want this story to be all about prison. But it’s hard to ignore the man formerly known as Chester Jennings’ unusual road to success.

It started with 10 years in prison on an arson-related charge. Within weeks of his release, he enjoyed a victorious reign in the famed Apollo Theater amateur competition. Then came a record deal, and then a critically acclaimed debut CD that currently boasts the Top 10 R&B hit “Must Be Nice.”

Jennings spoke to The Associated Press about his new life, not owning a suit and what he would do without music.

AP: You say you don’t like to talk about being in prison, but in nearly all the stories written on you, jail time is the first thing mentioned. Does it bother you?

Lyfe: Nah, because I accept people for who they are. The majority of the time, I try to spin it back to the music. I just don’t want to be glorified or put in a negative light, because of what I was in jail for. It’s really about the music. I just wanna keep it there.

AP: Your first appearance at the Apollo came two weeks after being released from prison. And everyone started booing as soon as you walked on stage. Did you feel like running and locking yourself up?

Lyfe: Thinking back on it, I was confident. I always try to pride myself on knowing why people do what they do. And I felt in that situation they thought I was a rapper. I already knew they were real hard on rappers. And they didn’t accept me at that point. Now if they booed after I get on and do my thing, then that’s something different. But I was on a mission then. I was focused.

AP: You do look like a rapper, except you have a guitar. Have you ever gone through a time where you wanted to dress up and look R&B?

Lyfe: I had a lot of people from the label like, ‘You gotta do this and that and appeal to women.’ And I’m like, the truth is going to appeal to women more so than I’m gonna appeal to them. Because the truth will last longer.

AP: So you never dress up?

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AP: You taught yourself how to play guitar. Did you take tips from anywhere?

Lyfe: I like to think God taught me how to play. But I definitely got some tips from some guys that was in (prison). Like, I’d get a chord here, and a chord there, just write a whole song off that one chord (based on) the whole mood of the chord.

AP: If you hadn’t found music, what would you be doing right now?

Lyfe: Oh, I’d be teaching. Probably English on a high school level. Because I know, when you read stuff, little punctuations can change a whole meaning. A lot of people don’t understand the problem they’re having is because of their vocabulary. I’d be teaching them that, ’cause teaching is creative.

AP: You have a song on your album about crying and emotions. Do men ever come to you and talk about it?

Lyfe: Dudes never say anything in particular. I notice with dudes, they like to be cool. You might get a real rough dude that just wants to tell you they like it. But they’re just gonna go up, shake your hand real hard, look at me and say, ’That’s hot, man.’ And keep on movin’. They don’t really say they like this song or that. They really don’t want to tell me that. Women will name very song on the album.

AP: What are you working on for the future?

Lyfe: I got a children’s book series done, about four books. It’s called “The Adventures of Lyfe.” It’s four different situations and the whole thing is centered around a character in the book that’s life. But life never answers any questions, it just asks questions. Like in one book, life is a bird and the kid always befriends the bird and asks it questions. But the bird never answers back. That’s because life doesn’t answer any questions, it only asks you questions and you answer them yourself. It’s the whole premise of the series. I’m headlining my own tour in September, so I’ll have it done by then. I also have a script for a movie I’m shopping.

AP: Some people who get locked up tend to regret what they did. But for you, prison put you on a path to success. Do you regret anything in your past?

Lyfe: I used to be the type that was like, ‘Man!” and complaining about this and that. But now I try to stay away from that, and know something good is coming.