It’s been seven years since singer-songwriter Lloyd released a full album, his last being 2011’s King of Hearts. Known since his 2004 debut on Murder Inc., Southside, for delivering silky vocals and steady R&B bops, Lloyd still makes bangers that ring off—think about when the Lil Wayne-assisted hit “You” comes on and people sing along and still debate whether the lyrics are “She’s fine, too” or “5’2.”

But the New Orleans-born, Georgia-reared artist needed to take a break from the gloss and grind of the business, a hiatus that involved an intentional focus on self-reflection and growth. When he checked back in to release the EP Tru in December 2016, the response to the titular single proved that fans were still down. “Tru” went platinum, and the music video has more than 82 million views. With lyrics that convey vulnerability, like “Disappeared from the scene and left my old team/Had to find a new approach to an old dream,” the single also signaled to listeners that Lloyd was at a different place in his journey, as a musician and as a man.

“Once you gain a bit of recognition and success, then you feel like maybe you’ve talked about everything, or you’re not delving deep enough,“ Lloyd tells Complex. “For me, I think the time was an experiment to see if maybe living a little bit would produce some better music.”

Nearly two years after the EP, Lloyd is now gearing up to drop the expanded Tru LP on Aug. 31. It’s a stunningly introspective album that contains the four EP songs plus five new ones, all of which he either co-wrote and/or produced. But he announced his return in head-turning fashion: The album cover art features him barefoot in the woods, completely nude, save for a strategically placed guitar. Complex caught up with the singer to talk about releasing Tru as an independent artist, why, exactly, he decided to bear it all for this project, and even a potential reunion with former labelmates Ashanti and Ja Rule.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

How would you describe the vibe of this project?

Well, if you did get a chance to hear the EP, you know it kind of took on a more personal aspect and a more live music aspect as well, so just continuing those things. Also, I wanted to put a lot of soul into it, you know? Kind of comparing music to food, I would say the goal was to stay as far away from fast food as possible and to focus on soul food. Definitely a lot of humanizing moments for me as an artist and as a man. Just talking about family, talking about the loss of loved ones, and now that I’m experiencing fatherhood, I’m kind of talking about that as well.

You’ve been on some major record labels—some, like The Inc., that had an identity that overshadowed the music at some times. Now being more in control and putting out music on your own terms, how does that feel?

Well, I wouldn’t even say I could even look at it that way because I’ve always been approaching my music independently since day one. Ever since I brought music to Irv [Gotti] the first time, I brought him a lot of the music that came out as singles, if not all the singles. And that was before even meeting any major labels. I would say now that I’m actually releasing music on an independent level—I said before that, all of my music influences at one point or another took an independent route. Especially recently, a lot of my influences musically and in business have gambled on themselves at some point. That’s really all it is, you know? You betting on yourself. You spend your own money for your own necessities instead of relying on advances and big budgets. I also think that it was a great way to be more creative. You have to substitute creativity for currency a lot of times as an independent artist, so I was enjoying it a lot.

So when you talk about being more creative, can we talk about this album artwork a little bit?

Sure. What you wanna know?

Was this recent picture that’s making waves shot at the same time as the EP artwork from 2016?

Yes, this was all done during the same era as the first art. Also, with the idea in mind that we were going to release a full-length LP after the EP at some point, so, definitely had these images in mind for a while.

Did you have any hesitation about the photos or that direction? How did you land upon that angle?

The idea is to be able to express myself emotionally, spiritually, and more cerebrally than physically a lot of the times. I think for me, it’s shedding the cloak I wear every day, which can be used to hide so many flaws. It was a big, big opportunity to overcome my own personal feelings. I wouldn’t say I was nervous about doing it because I’m comfortable, but I was more anxious about this moment right here—being able to explain why and hoping that it wouldn’t be misconstrued. The idea behind it was really more so inclusion of so many others than just myself, even though I stand there alone, butt naked. I was kind of considering these flaws of a lot of people and the insecurities that plague a lot of people’s minds. Hopefully, if maybe I could talk it like I walk it, if I could shed my own, then maybe I would encourage people to do the same.

if maybe I could talk it like I walk it, if I could shed my own [insecurities], then maybe I would encourage people to do the same.

You’ve talked about some of the things you’ve been going through that inspired this project. But was there a specific incident with the music industry itself that made you want to take a break?

With the music industry itself? Well, no, it can be very spending at times. Especially when you care about what you’re doing. I think any industry that requires a person to not only give them their time but their… how can I say this? Not only does music require me to give it my time, but it also requires me to give it a lot of my hopes and dreams and aspirations. And sometimes you have to learn to accept that every song isn’t going to be considered a hit. Every album may not be considered your best album, even though you approach it that way. So I think that in order to be able to continue to release music at a high level, as I would like to consider it—you know, something that was truly passionate and thoughtful on all sides—maybe it requires a break. Just some time off to gather your thoughts, live your life a little bit.

Also, considering the fact that the first album an artist releases is a combination of so many years and experiences in one. A lot times you don’t even think about it—it’s just happening. Then, once you gain a bit of recognition and success, then you feel like maybe you’ve talked about everything. Or you’re not delving deep enough. For me, I think the time was an experiment to see if maybe living a little bit would produce some better music. I think “Tru” recently going platinum is totally a validation of the time off.

Your last big hit, “Lay It Down,” was in 2010. What feels different about the music scene today? Do you feel any pressure to try to break through the clutter and stand out?

The only pressure I feel is self-inflicted. The pressure to do better than my last album is what I feel. But the music industry changes every day. How has it changed? In all the ways you mentioned and then some. The sound changes. The artists change. I also think that the business behind the music has changed a lot. A lot more singles than albums become successful. And there are a lot less people in the middle; it’s usually a direct expression from the artist to the fans. It’s changed in a lot of ways, but I think all great ways. No ways that inflict pressure.

Switching gears a bit, are you still close with some of your associates from The Inc., like Ja Rule or Ashanti?

Yeah, I still do shows with Ja and Ashanti. I’ve made appearances on their last tour and their current tour. I know that Inc. is having some kind of anniversary coming up, so maybe there will be something that will go along with that that could be exciting. I definitely try to keep at least in touch with everybody.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about Tru or you right now as an artist?

I think the music will speak for itself.

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