RAII and Whitney Detail the Importance of Being “Free to Love” [Exclusive Interview]

RAII and Whitney - Free to LovePhotos Provided by RAIIWK

On February 25, RAII and Whitney, also known as the Smiths, wrapped up their “Free to Love” Live Recording at (Le) Poisson Rouge in NYC where they debuted original music from their upcoming album and a few covers – all based around the love theme of the night. It was their first major production in New York presented by their companies, His & Her Entertainment and Milk & Honey Productions, showcasing a mix of inspirational and soulful sounds infused with R&B, jazz, doo-wop and island genres.

“It’s always a lot when putting on a show you’re doing yourself. When you are the company and you are the artist at the same time… but we’re really excited,” Whitney said. “It’s our biggest project since the wedding. I feel like every production we’ve done since the wedding has been leading up to this. It’s really exciting to be able to write out our vision and see how things kind of manifest in their own timing,” RAII added.

The husband and wife songwriting and performance team first met back in 2002 when they both participated in a local gospel music ensemble in their native state of Illinois. Their time together started as a friendship, though, as RAII claims, Whitney wasn’t so friendly at first. She says she was just used to keeping to herself. Once they got used to being around each other for a while, they began to vibe off music and similar interests and their friendship grew. They didn’t start dating until 2006. That was around the same time RAII also took a leap of faith and moved to New York City to see what the city had to offer his creativity.

The money and extra food wasn’t there for RAII when he moved to the City, but God took care of his needs. “He showed me early on in my journey in New York, that as long as I put my trust and faith in Him, it may not be always easy, but I can get through whatever the situation is,” RAII said.

Whitney later ventured off to NYC in between the process of transferring colleges. She was ready to complete her last two years of school when she received an invitation (per the referral of RAII) to take part in a music group a pastor was looking to start. She didn’t have a job when she moved, but found one at a social service agency around seven months in. RAII & Whitney camped out on the hardwood floor of a friend’s apartment, using a cardboard box as a door in a common room. It wasn’t always easy, but their diligence led them both to many surprises along their music journey.

RAII & Whitney are living as examples of faith and work.

Having performed with artists like Alicia Keys, Estelle and Chrisette Michele, they’re becoming more “intentional” about an inspirational idea of their own that has been brewing for a while now. Below, RAII & Whitney explain how they went from sleeping on the floor and barely eating to singing background for some of the most renowned artists of this generation, why “Free to Love” was significant for them, and how their faith in God played a role in it all.

ALIYA FAUST: Let’s talk about this “Free to Love” live recording! Who, what, when, where, why?
WHITNEY: It’s awesome how God works because this has been a vision of ours for a while now. Towards the end of last year, we were getting into this space where God was telling us that we have to be more intentional in every aspect of our lives. With our marriage, personally, spiritually, with our careers, every relationship that we’re in, just being intentional. And us being so busy supporting other artists… touring with Alicia Keys, supporting Chrisette Michele, supporting John Legend, supporting Estelle, last year was extremely busy working with several artists simultaneously and God was like, ‘You gotta be intentional. If you want the show to happen, you have to plan for the show to happen. You have to really take your time to really be intentional for this to manifest. If you know this is a vision I’ve given you, I’m going to provide everything that you need to make it happen.’ A lot of us get so caught up in, ‘Oh, just speak it into existence and God is going to bless it,’ but there’s work to be done. We prayed over it and we just started looking for venues. (Le) Poisson Rouge was kind of intimidating because a lot of artists that seem to be bigger than us or more established performed there. It just seemed like way beyond where we were but God reminded us, ‘Cast your cares on me, write the vision, make it plain, let me know what your heart’s desires are and if it’s meant to happen, it’s definitely going to happen.’

Was this a live recording for an album?
WHITNEY: We’re not releasing an album right now, but we [debuted] some of the singles that’s on the upcoming album [and] songs that [weren’t] even on the album but [went] with the theme of the night.

Tell me about the ‘Free to Love’ theme.
RAII: The ‘Free to Love’ night [was] really about us learning how to be authentically open. To be loved, to give love, to receive love, to show love. And it sounds simple in nature, but the reality is, it’s easier said than done. It requires self-examination, it requires self-reflection, forgiveness, acceptance. The great things about ourselves and the things we don’t even want to admit. We’ve been in a place where we’ve realized that love is the greatest gift. Even as a married couple, there’s a difference between agreeing to be married because you think that marriage is going to make you fulfilled, versus getting into the marriage and understanding that this marriage is going to require a lot more out of me, not just what I can get from it, but what I can give to it. It goes beyond just intimate relationships. The concept really expands the human experience

Can you guys walk me through the turnaround point of your careers? How you began singing professionally and touring…
WHITNEY: A coworker told me Alicia Keys was having auditions. It was over 300 people outside. It was like an American Idol situation.

RAII: We were the next group of people to walk into the building…

WHITNEY: Right at the front…

RAII: We could touch the doorknob to walk into the building and this lady comes outside and says, ‘Thank you all for coming out, I’m sorry… we will not be able to hear you audition today. The building code has certain stipulations and we have to shut down the building for now. You can come back tomorrow.’ We made the decision to be obedient to the lady’s instructions and we left the line, and of course, people behind us…

WHITNEY: Bum-rushed the door! And was like, we have work tomorrow. We can’t come back. Can we please see her. So then they started letting people in, but they were coming right back out after like a second. I’m like, how long were these people singing if they’re coming right back out? It frustrated us because we were really next.

RAII: We were able to come back the next day. We were one of the first 30 people to arrive. We auditioned and my wife got called back. She was one of the 10 ladies to get called back.

WHITNEY: And my husband got called back. He was one of the top four guys. They actually didn’t even choose any new guys. I was one of the girls that was chosen. There were several callbacks but in that last audition, it was with the band and it was so intense. They called [late the next day] and was like ‘We want you to come to rehearsal at 1 o’clock.’ I started working with Alicia and have been with her since. And then my husband actually started working with Estelle. Once Alicia was pregnant, the same year we got married, which was 2010, the tour was cut short. She got married, we got married, and Estelle brought me on to work with him because the female singer that was working with him actually got a job with Lady Gaga. So that was our first gig together. The international gig as supporting vocalists with just us two, a week before we got married.

Once we were done working with [Estelle] at the top of 2012, which is the same year we wrote our single “No Worries (Step Clap)” because we were unemployed for seven months, we [were contacted by] Alicia’s people. They were like, ‘Alicia wants to work with you again. She trusts your judgment, if it’s cool with you and you want to bring your husband along, he can come and tour with you.’ We were just unemployed for seven months, now you’re about to give us a job again with the both of us touring a worldwide tour? With Estelle we didn’t go on an official tour. We just did a few shows here and there. It was just back to back blessings and since 2012, we’ve been supporting Alicia Keys [together] and other artists in between.

How does your faith keep you grounded in all this?
WHITNEY: It’s our foundation. We are Christ followers. We believe God has given us a gift to sing, to write, to produce, to speak, and what you do for Christ, will last. Because he honors it when you put Him first and put Him in control of all of your plans. It’s a lifestyle. We’re constantly praying over all of our plans. Everything we do, we pray on it. We want God to truly lead us and guide us because when we’re outside of His will, we’re not protected. So with this live recording, and even supporting non gospel artists, that’s a part of our route He chose us to be on. We got a lot of slack in the beginning for growing up in the church [to going on to] sing with Alicia, but we’re taught to be the light wherever we go. It’s not for us to save the saved and lose the lost. It’s not for me to be in church 24/7. It’s for me to go out and be who God has called me to be in any atmosphere He puts me in.

RAII: Yeah, faith is [super] important because I have to know that even with the obstacles and challenges that I face, even as a man and husband, I have to know that there’s a purpose for it. I have to know that God has chosen me to be Whitney’s husband and eventually to father our kids and eventually to run our businesses as they continue to progress. So I gotta believe that God has put something in me, which means I gotta trust Him to work it out and bring it forth in all the different hats I wear. There’s so much happening, even [beyond me] in this world, it forces me to remember that my power is not enough. As long as I acknowledge God, He will strengthen me, and that’s where I can be empowered. But it’s not just because RAII is just so great.

Even though we’ve done shows before, this has been an undertaking like no other. And we’ve had to truly rely on Him for every single thing. People have a high expectation of what they expect from us in our performances, but even beyond having a stellar performance, we realize there is a purpose and a mandate for us to empower and strengthen and inspire people. He allows us to remember the very message that we want to sing about and share…

WHITNEY: Being free to love? My Lord…

RAII: It’s almost like He forces us to endure situations so that we can truly walk in it.

For more info on RAII & Whitney visit RAIIWK.com and follow the married duo on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram at @RAIIWK.