When you hear the name Michael Winans Jr., these days, the first thought likely isn’t that he’s a member of Detroit’s gospel music dynasty.
In September 2012, he was charged in federal court for operating an $8-million Ponzi scheme; it’s alleged that he bilked more than 1,000 investors after they bought phony Saudi Arabian crude oil bonds between October 2007 and September 2008.
In a U.S. district court in Detroit, his hometown-the place his aunt and uncle, BeBe and CeCe Winans and his dad and uncles, The Winans, first started making music-he was charged with wire fraud.
And in February 2013, in that same U.S. district court, Winans was sentenced to 13 years and 9 months in prison.
His lawyer, William Hatchett, says Winans planned to plead guilty and will do his best to make things right. “He’s trying to get this behind him,” Hatchett told B.L.A.C. Magazine. “He recognizes the seriousness of what happened. It’s a tragic occurrence for him and his family. He in some way will try to repay these people. He has the potential.”
Winans spoke with BLAC just days before he was charged about his new R&B project, his family and his hope for the future.
Surprisingly, this new album isn’t gospel. Formerly a member of the Grammy-nominated group Winans Phase 2 (a group made up of himself and his first cousins, whose dad’s were all in the original gospel group), Mike Winans has branched out and has spent the last few years away from the microphone.
In 2006, he inked a deal with hip-hop impresario Sean (Diddy) Combs to write and produce for some of the biggest artists in the world, including Chris Brown, New Edition, Michelle Williams, Danity Kane, and Diddy himself.
His new solo project, My Own Genre, is out on iTunes now.
Every time someone with your last name comes out with a music project, there’s going to be some added pressure, right?
It’s a lot of pressure if you feel like you don’t have the talent to pull it off! But if you’ve got a little bit of skills, it’s not too much pressure. It’s actually more of an exciting time whenever anybody puts anything out. Of course, because my family is extremely competitive and everybody talks a little bit of trash, but I think it’s all good, especially when you’re driving to become better.
How does your last name hinder you?
I don’t know if I would use the word hindrance. I think sometimes people may type cast you or pigeonhole you as being someone who only can do music. We have a few actors and actresses in our family, starting to make their way onto the screen. When you hear about a Winans, the first thing and the only thing that people may associate you with is music. And then sometimes you’re not taken seriously in other forums where you can showcase your talent. But I would take being a Winans over being anything, because there are so many blessings and there’s favor that comes along with being born in this family.
But you actually do excel at music. Tell me about your solo project.
I have produced so many different artists over the years. After Phase 2-and I totally enjoyed Phase 2. We were blessed to have a Grammy nomination and travel the world, have some number one songs. But personally, I was more of a behind-the-scenes guy. I learned how to engineer and to song write and produce and that’s really where I wanted to focus was in publishing. I teamed up with Diddy and he ended up signing me to a publishing deal, so I worked with artists like Chris Brown.
I really, really enjoyed that, but as time went on I had so many songs that I had not placed on any artist’s album, and I felt that these were songs that were my personal experiences, would be best served if I actually performed them and put those songs out. So I was talking with Jive Records about a project and one of the A&Rs there said, ‘Man, you need to put out a project.’ Even though I’m more of a behind-the-scenes guy, these songs won’t ever get heard unless it’s put out and I don’t want to wait on someone to say, ‘Yeah, I want to put this song out.’
And I love the title, My Own Genre. It almost sounds like you’re making up your own lane to play in.
Absolutely! I wanted to fuse different vibes because, of course, I come from a gospel family, but I’ve had incredible experiences. I’ve seen different cultures around the world, I’ve heard different music and even here in the states working with hip hop and pop producers and artists and jazz artists and so I’ve received so many influences from various areas I felt that it would be best suited if I produced a project that had a touch of all of the different genres.
And the song Progress Report simply says, ‘if you were given a grade up until this point in your life, what type of grade do you think you would get on your progress report?’ And I think that’s a social question that anybody could answer as opposed to tailor making it just for one type of audience. I wanted to be able to touch on issues that we all may need to consider and that we can all gravitate to and it doesn’t has to be censored to where young kids can’t listen to it, but that it will still have that appeal in subject matter to where those that are adults and mature age can enjoy.
Is there any trepidation or fear for you to do something that’s not strictly in a gospel box?
No fear, no trepidation. I think the main thing was that I wanted to do was make sure that I was being respectful to my family and then also to God. I wanted to make sure that the songs that I produced and performed were songs that I actually wanted to perform.
You’ve written and produced for a lot of top sellers. Why is 2012 your moment to step outside of the booth and from behind and desk and back in front of a microphone?
I think that artists today have a responsibility not only to create music but also to speak about different situations because they’re instantly role models because of what they do. Our society has an affinity for those who have creative ability and so many times they’ll listen to you even when they’re not even supposed to. So I think a lot of my experiences is things that I’ve, you know, encountered both good and bad can be of assistance to people who like my music. I do feel like I create great music, but I feel like what goes even further than that is someone being able to see my lifestyle and occasionally hear me speak.
So what’s your own progress report like?
I’ve been blessed to experience so many different things, and of course I’ve had my ups and I’ve had my downs. I hope that my report card is better than my progress report up until this point! But I felt I’ve done good. The mistakes that I have made, I won’t make ‘em again. I think that that’s the whole goal, if you’re going to make mistakes, you won’t repeat it. And I want to improve. I just want to make sure that my life is a light and that it doesn’t cause someone to walk the wrong way.
KELLEY L. CARTER IS AN EMMY AWARD-WINNING ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST.