One of the more charismatic, flashy, and commercially successful R&B acts of the 2000s and 2010s, Robin Thicke didn't have the toughest row to hoe to achieve stardom, but he was one of the least likely artists to acquire street credibility. He worked for over a decade as a modestly successful songwriter and fledgling solo artist prior to breaking through -- assisted by the Neptunes -- with 2006's The Evolution of Robin Thicke. On that album, his inspirations, ranging from '70s Marvin Gaye to Philly soul to classic Brazilian music, vividly coalesced with his somewhat brash personality and remarkable vocal skill. It was the first of several Top Ten R&B albums in a career that involved symbiotic collaborations with long-term associate Pro-Jay, Pharrell and Chad Hugo, Mark Ronson, and Polow da Don, as well as credibility-enhancing appearances from (or with) Lil Wayne, Faith Evans, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and T.I.
Show biz is in Thicke's Canadian-American genes. The son of vocalist and actor Gloria Loring and theme song composer and actor Alan Thicke, he grew up in suburban Los Angeles, surrounded by the entertainment industry. A demo he recorded at the age of 14 was heard by Brian McKnight, who helped the youngster -- subsequently nicknamed Brian McWhite -- get a recording deal with the Interscope label. However, Thicke experienced his earliest success as a songwriter. Before the end of 2000, he either wrote or co-wrote songs for Brandy ("Love Is on My Side"), McKnight ("Anyway"), Color Me Badd ("Sexual Capacity"), Brownstone ("Around You"), Christina Aguilera ("When You Put Your Hands on Me"), and Marc Anthony ("When I Dream at Night"). He was also involved with several songs on Mya's Fear of Flying, as well as the majority of Jordan Knight's self-titled 1999 album, including the Top Ten Billboard Hot 100 hit "Give It to You."
Despite all the work as a composer, he was still finding his footing as a solo artist. Advances of his debut album, Cherry Blue Skies, surfaced in 2002, but the album was shelved, adjusted, and given a different title. The revamped version, titled A Beautiful World and featuring Thicke's future wife Paula Patton on the cover, was released in April 2003. It did not leave much of an impression and peaked at only number 152 on the Billboard 200, but the brash lead single "When I Get You Alone" -- which sampled Walter Murphy's 1976 disco hit "A Fifth of Beethoven" -- reached the Top Ten in Belgium, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. Thicke's follow-up, The Evolution of Robin Thicke, didn't arrive until October 2006, but it benefited from a new alliance with the Neptunes. Signed to the duo's Star Trak label, though still technically an Interscope artist, Thicke scored a number one R&B single with the ballad "Lost Without U," and the album eventually went platinum.
Thicke then settled into a lengthy career as a widely respected artist -- with occasional diversions into humorous, self-aware showboating -- who remained true to his root influences while occasionally departing from '70s-indebted stylistic comfort zone. The focused and refined Something Else, a September 2008 release, peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts, highlighted by the disco-soul throwback single "Magic." December 2009's Sex Therapy, led by its Polow da Don-produced title track, narrowly missed the top of the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Thicke's fifth studio album, Love After War, was his most swashbuckling release to date, issued in December 2011. He made a surprising crossover move in March 2013 with the lighthearted, off-the-cuff "Blurred Lines," a Pharrell production with instrumental cues taken from Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." Assisted by its explicit video, it topped the Hot 100, a rare feat in 2013 for an R&B single. At the same time, it generated a huge controversy when feminists decried its lyrics as derogatory and offensive, which instigated a public debate over issues of sexual consent and censorship. Thicke also gained notoriety for his explicit performance with Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV VMAs. However, the publicity only drove sales of the attendant album, also titled Blurred Lines; it topped the Billboard 200 and sold over 700,000 copies in the U.S. alone.
In February 2014, Thicke and Patton separated after eight years of marriage, allegedly due to his misbehavior. Thicke then began a very public campaign to win her back, declaring his love for her at concerts and even going so far as to title his next album Paula. Preceded by the desperate ballad "Get Her Back," the album was released in July 2014 and peaked within the Top 10 on the Billboard 200. Finished with his very public post-breakup processing, he went on a short hiatus to allow press rumblings to die down, appearing on the BET Awards for a Smokey Robinson tribute before returning to the studio to record new music. Although he issued singles "Morning Sun" and "Back Together" with Nicki Minaj in 2015, and "Deep" with Nas and "One Shot" with Juicy J in 2016, a full-length follow-up was still years away. He returned in 2018 with "Testify," and again in 2019 with "That's What Love Can Do" and "When you Love Somebody." ~ Andy Kellman
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