The Game of Lyfe: How this Soulful Singer is Playing to Win
-- by Allissa Hosten, August 2006  

  Most platinum R& B stars might spend their downtime popping bottles in the club; artfully dodging paparazzi and trying to accumulate more groupies than an Ottoman harem. But not Lyfe.

It’s a few days before the 26-year-old Toledo, Ohio native will appear on Good Morning America. And rather than run the streets, Chester “Lyfe” Jennings is squeezing in quality time with his one-year-old son, Phoenix.

“Now, why would you knock down all those hats?” Lyfe gently chides the youngster. He laughs a bit, like a Dad who’s more amused than angry, but Phoenix lets out a frustrated wail anyway, which pierces through the phone. Lyfe pauses a minute, then says, “I’m sorry. What was the question?”

It’s already been answered, but we inquire again: “Where did you get the inspiration for this album?”

“My son,” he says simply, adding, “I named him Phoenix because I like the whole mythology behind the character. It just made sense to name my second album the same thing.”

In ancient Egyptian, Greek and Chinese lore, the Phoenix was a bird that died a fiery death, only to rise triumphantly from the ashes with new life. It could be said that Lyfe has achieved that same rebirth.

His life was stalled as a teen, after he was incarcerated for arson-related charges. He spent 10 years in prison, where upon hearing an Erykah Badu CD, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. And so the grind began.

Just one month after his December 2002 release from prison, he drove to New York City to appear on “Showtime at the Apollo.” The mostly urban audience booed him when he walked onstage with Nicole (his acoustic guitar) but they would rise to their feet five times in a row as he reigned over the amateur competition.

Months after rubbing that Apollo tree stump for good luck, he inked a record deal with Columbia. The rest, as they say, is history. His platinum debut album, “Lyfe 268-192” was released in 2004. The Phoenix picks up where his poetic narrative left off.

“I wanted every song on the album to be positive. I never want to put anything negative out there,” he says, adding, “[My son Phoenix] makes me write from a responsible place.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in Lyfe’s first release off “Phoenix” titled “S-E-X.” He explains, “This is the song I would want someone to sing my daughter, if I had one. Let’s be honest, women go through it.

“From when they are a young girl who’s just developed, to a grown woman, men try get at them for one reason primarily.”

S-E-X is a cautionary tale, belted out in Lyfe’s characteristic soulful rasp. He sings: “Heard you just turned 17 and finally got some hips/Hustlers on the block go crazy when you lick ya lips/But they just want relation/They don’t want relationship (welcome to the real world).”

The world Lyfe captures on “Phoenix” also speaks on the many other aspects of love. “Goodbye” chronicles the realization of a love expired. “Let’s Stay Together” speaks to the many reasons a troubled couple should try to work it out. And “The River” is a gospel-infused track that sings praises to spiritual rejuvenation. To give away the rest of the album would spoil the surprise, Lyfe says.

“I want people to get their own meaning from the album,” he says as his son lets out another impatient wail.

Before ending the interview to read Phoenix a story, Lyfe marvels about what it means to be a Dad in the music business.

“I am on the road so often, but it’s all to make a better life for him,” he says. “My favorite thing to do for him is buy him shoes.”

Phoenix is already the owner of 40 pairs of shoes, in which he only recently learned to walk. “It’s symbolic for me,” Lyfe explains. “It’s like I am patterning his footsteps. I just want him to be his own man. And I want him to be proud of me.”

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