You know you’re an R&B legend when you’re still getting name-dropped on hip-hop songs. Twenty-six years after his debut album, Make It Last Forever, and 18 years after Big L rapped, “I never beg for p—- like Keith Sweat,” Drake gave him a look with “All Me”: “I’m the light skinned Keith Sweat, I’ma make it last forever.” It’s because Sweat was the man back in the day — so much so that he’s still the model of how to be the man today. Sweat turns 54 years old today (July 22).
The singer, along with Teddy Riley and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, is known as one of the leaders of the wave of New Jack Swing that took over in the late ’80s and early ’90s. After breaking up with Harlem, N.Y.-bred group Jamilah, Sweat sang in nightclubs around the city before signing with a little known label named Vintertainment Records in 1987.
Sweat quickly became the biggest artist in the label’s history. Off the strength of singles “I Want Her” and his debut LP’s title track, Make It Last Forever debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard charts and eventually became triple platinum. He was on par with Bobby Brown (who’d release his biggest-selling album, Don’t Be Cruel, a year later) in being New Jack Swing’s top-flight solo artist.
While Brown would become enveloped in tabloid issues, Sweat would continue to age well as an R&B artist when New Jack Swing fell out of style. The five albums Sweat released in the ’90s went platinum. These days, he’s still releasing projects on a fairly consistent basis. No sweat for an artist with more than 25 years in the game.
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