Rahsaan Patterson Reflects on “Kids Incorporated”, Coming Out and Achieving Career Longevity (Exclusive)

Patterson opens up to PEOPLE about feeling gratitude for fans' continued support "after 40 years of growing up with me" on the popular children's show

<p>RAH VISUAL</p> Rahsaan Patterson


Rahsaan Patterson
  • Rahsaan Patterson starred as The Kid on Kids Incorporated from 1984-1987

  • The musician has since released seven albums of his own, scored R&B chart hits and written songs for the likes of Brandy and Tevin Campbell

  • As he tours the world and works on new music, he's reflecting on 40 years in the entertainment industry

Decades removed from his time on Kids Incorporated, Rahsaan Patterson is still making an impact on audiences.

The 50-year-old singer-songwriter got his start on the popular kids television show in 1984 and swiftly rose to fame alongside castmates including Fergie and Mario Lopez. Since then, he’s written for acts like Brandy and Tevin Campbell, released seven studio albums of his own and consistently performed live concerts all over the world.

“It's a very humbling thing for me every time I walk out on stage, because I'm not somebody who always expects that the amount of people that show up will,” Patterson tells PEOPLE. “But it's very gratifying to know that people are still so supportive of me and my work, my artistry and what I do after 40 years of growing up with me, essentially.”

Related: See a Young Fergie and the Cast of Kids Incorporated, Then and Now

The continued success is a direct result of a lifetime of passion, hard work and talent. Growing up in New York City’s Bronx borough, Patterson was surrounded by music both at home and in church choir as a child and got scouted to join Kids Inc. after performing at a talent show in fourth grade. From there, “it was literally an overnight kind of thing,” he says.

“I never had aspirations to [perform professionally] as a kid. I was just somebody who sang,” recalls Patterson. “Coming from a family of musicians and singers, it wasn’t uncommon for us to explore our talents and be supported in that way. But when that phone call came, my whole life changed.”

He only had a “matter of days” to learn the ropes before singing, dancing and acting as The Kid for three whirlwind years on the series, which taught him “literally everything” he still utilizes as an artist today, from working in an ensemble to holding his own on stage. “I don’t think I would have the career I’ve had for so long had I not had that training, been conscientious of what was happening and taking it all in,” notes the entertainer.

Related: R&B Star Tevin Campbell Opens Up About His Life — and Sexuality: 'I've Embraced Me'

<p>Scott Legato/Getty</p> Rahsaan Patterson performs in Detroit in January 2013

Scott Legato/Getty

Rahsaan Patterson performs in Detroit in January 2013

About a year into his time on Kids Inc., Patterson started to realize he’d become famous — but that wasn’t fulfilling for very long. “I learned that lesson, and I got it, so everything after that was just about my work,” he explains. “It wasn’t about fame, and it’s never really been about that for me. That was a very valuable lesson I learned early.”

He dove full-force into music after exiting the series in 1987, first singing background vocals on his Kids Inc. castmate Martika’s debut album, before returning for her follow-up project and touring with the R&B star. “I really had a bird's-eye view behind the scenes of the record industry,” says Patterson. “It was a valuable lesson for me and gave me everything that I needed to prepare me for my own transition into making records as a solo artist.”

In the ‘90s, Patterson co-wrote multiple smash hits including Brandy’s “Baby” and Campbell’s “Back to the World,” which preceded his own debut self-titled album in 1997. The project spawned an R&B chart hit with the song “Where You Are,” the first of many throughout his career.

Related: Brandy Reveals Which of Her Albums She 'Didn't Appreciate at First': 'I Didn't Understand What It Was' (Exclusive)

Two more albums later, in the midst of making 2007’s Wines & Spirits, he was confronted with a necessary “inner working process” regarding unprocessed elements of his past as well as his sexuality.

“I had to do the internal work to go and rescue the boy I had left in New York City before I went to California and this whole new life became what it is,” he says. “I rescued the boy who had been abused, apologized to him and was able to make amends with myself, with God, with the abuser and make everything OK for myself, so that I could continue my life's journey and work.”

In an act of “fairness” to himself and future romantic partners, Patterson — who identifies as gay — then came out to his loved ones. “I come from a family where since we were little, we were able to be ourselves,” he says. "We were free to be ourselves, and that was definitely a factor in my comfortability with myself and my lack of concern about what everybody else thought in the world, because that didn't matter to me.”

<p>RAH VISUAL</p> Rahsaan Patterson


Rahsaan Patterson

He’s since released three more albums, 2008’s The Ultimate Gift, 2011’s Bleuphoria and 2019’s Heroes & Gods, collaborated with artists including Faith Evans and Shanice and performed around the globe. To this day, he keeps in touch with several former Kids Inc. costars and looks back at his time on the show with “gratitude.”

“We established ourselves as friends, of course, when we were younger. But over time, the memories of that period mean so much more than they did even then,” says Patterson. “We're family in a lot of ways, regardless of whether we keep in contact regularly.”

Recently, he found himself reflecting heavily on his Kids Inc. stint after watching the Investigation Discovery docuseries Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV that largely focused on the negative experiences of several former Nickelodeon child stars. Hearing their stories, including allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of adult network staffers, left him feeling disheartened.

Related: The Biggest Bombshells from 'Quiet on Set,' the Docuseries Alleging Toxic Culture on Nickelodeon Shows

<p>Arnold Turner/Getty</p> Rahsaan Patterson in Beverly Hills in December 2019

Arnold Turner/Getty

Rahsaan Patterson in Beverly Hills in December 2019

“I felt really bad and sorry for the victims. Having survived sexual abuse myself, I know how traumatic it is, and I know that it's a lifelong issue that you deal with,” says Patterson. “It never goes away, and it impacts your entire existence, and you can do all the things to better yourself and keep yourself in alignment with spirit and light and all the things, but the triggers can come from out of nowhere and really affect you.”

Fortunately, Quiet on Set was not representative of Patterson’s time on Kids Inc. He recalls strong “rules and regulations” behind the scenes, including mandatory breaks, and cast members’ parents were present at all times. One change that would’ve helped him through young fame, however, is the implementation of on-set therapists for child actors — an idea that’s been widely discussed following the docuseries.

“There's a lot of pressure to perform, period, and as easily as it may come for some children, there's still a fine line of having to show up as an adult while you're a kid,” says Patterson. “It's not always an easy thing to navigate. So I think having therapists there would surely help.”

Looking forward, the musician plans to continue focusing on projects that fulfill him personally and creatively. He’s currently on tour, with both headlining shows and a set at Chaka Khan’s Meltdown Festival in London ahead, and working on a forthcoming release.

He’s also finding more ways to expand his repertoire after 40 years in entertainment. “I had picked up a camera back in 2005 and began my journey into another facet of artistry and discovered that there was a passion for it,” says Patterson, who’s “really looking forward to” exploring more photography and creative direction.

With an impressive resume of experience, Patterson’s advice for young entertainers — particularly queer individuals and people of color — is to look inward. “Believe in yourself. Believe in your capability. Trust in your intuition, creatively speaking, spiritually speaking and emotionally speaking,” he says, “and stay strong.”

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