'BLAME' GAME

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Jamie Foxx is no stranger to great music.

The actor and singer won an Academy Award for his portrayal of soul legend Ray Charles in "Ray," and critics loved Foxx's performance as tortured cello prodigy Nathaniel Ayers in "The Soloist."

Though Foxx's own albums have become club staples and sold millions of copies, he knows that artistically, they might pale in comparison to Charles' or Ayers' music. Foxx is fine with that. Right now, he just wants to make music that will appeal to as many people as possible and fill large venues like Merriweather Post Pavilion, where he performs Saturday.

"Sometimes you've got to turn your back on what you know to be good music, and you have to do what is good music for today," Foxx said.

"There's no such thing as saying, 'OK, I'm going to do it from my heart.' The art of it now is being able to create something and have people understand it and like it and sneak your integrity in as much as you can."

Take "Blame It," the hit single from Foxx's third and latest album, "Intuition." On it, Foxx croons - as much as anyone can croon with such a heavily Auto-tuned voice - about picking up tipsy women at a club. It's not poetry, but the beat and the sharp, stuttering keyboards are irresistible. That single has sold 1 million copies and moved countless bodies on countless dance floors across the country.

Deeper into "Intuition," listeners can find "I Don't Know," a seductive, organic song reminiscent of a more classic era of R&B.; It's hard to believe "I Don't Know" and "Blame It" share the same album.

"You have to figure out how to use the gimmick, like with 'Blame It on the Alcohol,' and sneak the music in there, sneak the real music in," Foxx said.

A CD full of songs like "I Don't Know" might be more appreciated by critics but probably wouldn't go double platinum, like Foxx's sophomore album, "Unpredictable," which came out in 2005.

"You can put albums out for the sake of art and listen to them in your living room all day," he said. "But you won't be competitive. Nobody will buy it."

At least for the next three albums, Foxx said, he needs to stay in the game of making R&B;/pop with broad appeal. After that, he can make music for the sake of art. Ever the comedian, Foxx said his artistic vision involves retiring to the Las Vegas strip, where he pictures himself warbling through a fictional song called "Snow Bird."

"Hey let me try this one out," he jokes. "Snooow Biiird. Why must you melt on me? Snow Biiiird."

Until then, Foxx is stuck making sweet but artistically unsatisfying hits like "Blame It." That's more challenging than it sounds, considering Foxx is 41 and a big chunk of his fan base is about half his age, give or take a few years.

"If I would have started doing music when I wanted to, which is about 20 years ago, I would probably be singing 'Snow Bird' by now," he said.

A Texas native whose birth name is Eric Marlon Bishop, Foxx has long had a close relationship with music. He took piano lessons as a kid, played in church and studied classical music through a scholarship to United States International University. With a recurring role on the TV show "In Living Color," he found fame through comedy and acting before music.

Foxx's first album, "Peep This," came out in 1994. Though it went on to sell more than half a million copies, Foxx soon found himself focusing on his own sitcom and acting in such movies as "Any Given Sunday" and "Collateral" instead of recording music. After he'd established himself as an A-list star with the Oscar for "Ray," Foxx revisited his music career with "Unpredictable" and "Intuition." He even did the moonwalk in tribute to Michael Jackson at this year's BET Awards.

"My biggest strength as a musician is the fact I've had a chance to touch all the bases," Foxx said.

Playing Ray Charles changed the way Foxx approaches his own music, he said.

"When you look at what Ray Charles did and how deep it was, and when you find out how he wrote those songs and how they came about, you start to open up more in your life and let different emotions creep in," Foxx said. "It enhances your writing and your music."

Even with a pair of platinum albums, Foxx hasn't taken much of a break from acting. "The Soloist" came out in April, and earlier this week he was headed to the set of "Valentine's Day," a romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts, Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba.

Foxx tries to get out to comedy clubs and nightspots as often as possible to keep up on the latest slang, he said. It helps him stay current with his young fans. And when he pens a new set of lyrics, he makes sure to run them by his biggest critic: his 15-year-old daughter, Corinne. Corinne, Foxx said, lets him know when he's showing his age, and she can be brutal.

"I'm all grooving, thinking I'm hot, and she says, 'Whew, Dad, how old are you? 45? 46?'," he said. "Then you finally do a song, and she says, 'That's a keeper, Dad, you sound young - you sound like you know what we're talking about."

As long as he keeps getting out and he's got Corinne, Foxx said he'll still be in the game - even if the game means he has to work the gimmicks and slip art in now and again.

"The minute you start asking, 'What are these kids listening to nowadays,' that's when you fall on your head," he said.

If you go

Jamie Foxx performs Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets are $42.75-$89.75. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.

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