Everyone’s heard the jokes — “Nick Cannon needs to be neutered, Nick Cannon has impregnated the whole world, Nick Cannon has a new baby every six months.” But what about Nick Cannon the artist? Nick Cannon the singer? Nick Cannon the human?

Born in San Diego, the 41-year-old was raised primarily by his paternal grandfather whom he called “Dad.” Affiliated with the Lincoln Park Bloods as a teenager, he ultimately left those affiliations behind after the death of a close friend.

Thankfully, music had always been a part of his life. Growing up in church, he’d watch his maternal grandfather, who was the Minister of Music, fill the room with glorious sounds as the patrons would gather for service. When he died, Cannon’s grandfather bequeathed all of his musical instruments to the budding 8-year-old musician.

Over the years, Cannon became associated with rap as a member of Da G4 Dope Bomb Squad before forging his own solo career as a rapper. But now, Cannon is going back to his roots with his first R&B mixtape. Titled Raw N B: The Explicit Tape, the 12-track effort features contributions from Chris Brown, Brandy, K. Michelle, Jacquees, TraeTwoThree and Hitman Holla.

Speaking to HipHopDX, Cannon admitted people might be surprised by his singing voice and the fact he describes it as the “gospel of his broken soul,” suggesting there’s some atypically dark content on the project.

“Music has always been an outlet for me,” he says. “And that’s something I’ve always really, honestly, kept private. Because my public persona was always the nice, happy-go-lucky, always positive guy. So music has always been a place of therapy for me. And people don’t even know I was a trained musician and been playing instruments since I was kid. And really, I come from the church. So that’s where music began for me and where music is always laid.

“So even my rap career was … I was young and a little bubblegum-y and all of that. But the true musician in me was always somebody I’d be singing gospel music and singing my pain and singing. For now, just to be able to have the ability to display that and open that up, has really been a vision.”

Nick Cannon’s father, James Cannon, was also a preacher and played an integral role in his son’s musical education.

“I taught myself how to play when my grandfather died,” he continues. “And when you’re a preacher’s kid, too, when you’re in church seven days a week, you find yourself playing instruments and teaching yourself how to do stuff. That was always the vibe of where it began for me.”

As the host of The Masked Singer, the hugely successful MTV show Wild ‘N Out (which he developed in 2005), his own Power 106 show and The Nick Cannon Show, Cannon isn’t surprised his persona outshines his music career — even his personal life is public fodder. But he’s hoping to change that with his subsequent projects.

“It’s been an interesting music journey,” he says. “Music has been tough for me because my persona is so much bigger than my music career has ever been. People knew me for being a comedian or an actor or a television host or my personal life. Even when I started music, I was more of a producer. I had a label [Can-I-Ball Records] and I had artists.

“I always envied the Pharrells and the Kanyes because they got to be producer/artists, where I was more of an artist/producer. I always wanted to be a producer first. That was always my dream. Even as a kid, I started DJing and stuff at parties and making beats. I never really wanted to be the front man in music. My dream was to be the next Jermaine Dupri or the next P. Diddy when I was a kid.”

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But presumably even Nick Cannon couldn’t have dreamt up the kind of life he’s built for himself. Kid jokes aside, Cannon has built a lucrative entertainment empire that he plans to continue with his music, beginning with Raw N B: The Explicit Tape — but he knows it might take some time.

“Because of other things, like television and comedy, I ended up getting opportunities to do movies and act and be funny,” he adds. “So when you’re a funny guy first, my music career was set up like it was going to be an uphill battle, and people like Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy can tell you that.

“No matter how many fans you have, if you start making people laugh, it’s hard for them to take you seriously in the space of music. So I struggle with that for a long time, until recently, when people are like, ‘Man, you sing so beautifully and you always singing gospel music. You always playing the piano. Why don’t you just give that a shot?'”

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He continues,” As I’m starting to mature, that’s the direction I’ve been going in. Because I came out of the time where, even though I knew how to sing and do all that stuff, my goal was to be a rapper. And rappers didn’t sing when I first came out — there were no Drakes back then.”

The Raw N B: The Explicit Tape singles “Weekend Girl” and “I Do” featuring Chris Brown are expected to arrive on Friday (February 4) while the full project will drop on February 18. Check out the tracklist below and circle back with HipHopDX soon for Part II of the Nick Cannon interview.

  1. A Player’s Prayer Intro (Midnight Service) f. K. Michelle
  2. Weekend Girl
  3. I Do f. Chris Brown
  4. F*#k Me So Ncredible (Part 1 & 2)
  5. Good D f. Hitman Holla
  6. Lil Bro f. Jacquees
  7. 7 o’clock
  8. The Provider (Twerk)
  9. Got Hoes f. TraeTwoThree
  10. F*#k You Better
  11. F.A.I.T.H.F.U.L. f. Brandy
  12. Alone