Jon B R&B singer Jon B is back with another hot album, “Helpless Romantic” that you must get! After having collabed with some of today’s biggest artists, Jon B talks about his relationship with Tupac and producer Johnny J, his past history with Yab Yum and Epic, Paul Wall, and the future of Jack Herrera. Check out this exclusive interview with Jon B.
By William Hernandez
WHO?MAG: Talk to me about your new album? Jon B: It’s a pleasure to be back. This album is definitely that grown and sexy. 2009 is definitely the refined Jon B. I just had a little girl this past year. She’s 15 months old. She’s the center of my world. She’s my first child. My albums in the past have been mostly about growing and getting stronger. From “Cool Relax” to the first album “Bonafide” or “Pleasures U Like”, this has been a whole journey to where I am right now. This album, “Helpless Romantic”, which comes out Oct 28th; at this point in my life I’m really grounded. It’s like I’m a grown man now. Now everything that I’m expecting comes from a grown man’s perspective. My game ain’t too shabby. I’m alright. I’m definitely necessary in the game right now. I penned a lot of certain energies in music that exist right now, from melodic to mixing hip hop and R&B. I did a lot of that. I had a lot of features in the past on my albums. This album I kind of wanted to simply it. Keep it a little more about the roots of R&B, taking it back to the days of “Cool Relax”, stuff like that. There’s a lot of feel good music on there. The first joint is “Oh So Sexy” featuring Paul Wall. It was a pleasure working with him. He’s a good dude. I feel like we definitely completed each other on the record. More importantly, I’m about complimenting the ladies for holding us down all these years really making it much more meaningful in terms of why we do our music. Who do we make our music for? Being true you know? It ain’t just ourselves (laughs). We have fun doing it, but it’s for the ladies. This is a definite dedication to the ladies joint.
WHO?MAG: Who do you have on the album as far as producers and cameos? Jon B: I have my artist Jonesy. She’s signed to my label Vibe Zelect. This is the label this whole thing is coming out through; my independent label Vibe Zelect distributed through Fontana. It’s really simple as far as production. I have my man Mr. Lee from Swishahouse/Paul Wall’s camp. He got down with for the single. As far as other producers, I got Insomniac and J Bidem. That’s pretty it as far as guest production. All the rest of the joints I did myself.
WHO?MAG: What are your thoughts on the tragic suicide of 2pac’s producer and close friend Johnny J who produced both songs that you did with 2pac? Jon B: My thoughts are rest in peace to that brother, both those brothers [2pac]. We’re going to miss Johnny J a lot. Just like we miss Pac. One thing I know for sure was an emotion I always got from Johnny was that he really missed Pac. I miss Pac too, but I didn’t have the history that he had with him. I think that was a point of understanding that Johnny and I had. We had this common denominator of both having the experience with Pac, but I experienced Pac for a couple of months as opposed to him who experienced Pac for years and albums. You’re talking about the producer of “All Eyez On Me” and “How Do You Want It”? So many classic joints. The last project that Johnny J and I actually did together, we were working on Charlie Wilson’s album. We were co-producing it together. I was writing the lyrics and melodies, he was doing all the music. My heart goes out to his family, his kids, and his wife. We hold him up in our heart. We ride on for our homie. The question is are you still down to this day? I got a lot of love for my homie Pac. I got a lot of love for my man Johnny J. We got to keep on grinding strong and perseverance through this industry.
WHO?MAG: How did you hook up with 2pac? Jon B: Basically through a mutual friend. He told me Pac was shouting me out and that he had bought and liked my album, the first album “Bonafide”. He wanted me to go out to the video shoot to meet him. I came out to the video shoot of “How Do U Want It”. Matter of fact, that’s where I met both him and Johnny J, both there in the trailer. KC and JoJo were there, Sway and Tech were there too. 2pac was telling me how much he loved my music and Johnny J the same. We hit it off from the first day. I knew it was going to be something good with this collaboration going on and making some classics.
WHO?MAG: What do you remember most about working with 2pac and Johnny J? How was the production process behind the making of R U Still Down? Jon B: I remember that he was a warm spirit as far as a very good dude. A very caring dude. He wasn’t mean-hearted. He had very powerful sign, an aura of power that he had about him. You definitely listened to him. He was the type of person that when he spoke to you, you would definitely look at him in the eyes. Even though he was an authoritative type of cat, he showed me a lot of respect and love. He looked for me. There were a lot of people in the session when we did “R U Still Down”? He made sure everybody knew who I was and gave me the respect he felt that I deserved. I felt that was some brotherly type of energy as well as Johnny J. He was definitely caring dude. He always called me his brother. We’re brothers and that’s how it’s supposed to be on this earth I believe. I got in the studio with him. The first day I remember getting there before him and having my CD ready with all my beats for him because he was vibing to my stuff. Actually, he freestyled right away to an R&B beat I played at first for him. I’ll never forget that. Matter of fact, I ran into Sway not too long ago in the MTV building and we were talking about that. “Remember when Pac was freestyling to my beat and we were laughing about that”. Getting back to the collaboration, I watched Pac for the first day. I saw him go from our session to the other studio. They had studio A and studio B in Can Am studios in Van Nuys where all the Death Row records were pressed. It was a big West Coast hip-hop recording studio. I was in there watching them make “To Live and Die in LA”. I saw Valerie come through and sing her part in “To Live and Die in LA”. I actually saw 2pac lay his verses down on that, then we went back in the room and started working on “R U Still Down”? It was more like I showed him tracks and he was like “yeah, that’s dope!” Then he would play me a track and he played me Johnny J’s “R U Still Down”? Right away I was like that’s the one right there. The track had so much magic to it. To make a long story short, it was like me and 2pac putting our brains together on some whatever you want to talk about as far as how you want to approach it. I definitely want to ask my ex-girl and the girls in general are you still down? I want to ask them do you still think about me still? Before I could say are you still down, 2pac was like “you just came up with that? Are you still down?”. 2pac had a real melodic sensibility about himself. He didn’t have any problem with singing melodies and are you still down with your feelings. A lot of that song was penned by my man 2pac. He was definitely a talented soul.
WHO?MAG: Do you have anymore material in the vaults that you did with 2pac? Jon B: We just did those songs.
WHO?MAG: How did you hook up with Paul Wall for his album last year? Jon B: It was through mutual respect. We shouted each other out and we wanted to work with one another. It was a matter of just linking up. He shouted me out and I got back and made it happen in the studio. We made both records happen. It’s a beautiful thing to have cats support me as well as getting the chance to support good artists. He’s been doing his thing entrepreneurial-wise for the longest. Even though my man is underrated right now, I believe it’s a good look for both of us to be able to shine together.
WHO?MAG: How did you get your first deal with Yab Yum, Babyface’s label back in the mid 90s? Jon B: I shopped my deal. I was recording demos of my songs since I was 17. I had about 40 songs on a CD or 50 songs by time I was 18. In my senior year of high school, I was able to write myself out of class and go do business if I wanted to. As far as shopping my CD was concerned, I was looking for a publishing deal, production deal, artist deal whatever I could get. I wanted to write for people, whatever I could do. I was up in Motown, MCA, Warner Bros, Paramount, anywhere I could go just getting my grind on man. Once I got to Tracy Edmonds and Babyface. They were called Yab Yum at the time. That turned into the whole situation.
WHO?MAG: What happened to your deal with Yam Yum after the first album; because on the second one you were on Epic? Jon B: I was never directly on Yab Yum. I was just an affiliate with the production deal due to my affiliation with Babyface. We collaborated heavily on the first album. On the second album, I was able to branch out and do my own thing. On the first album, they still gave me a tremendous amount of creativity and freedom. It was definitely an Epic situation where I was signed to Epic. I was actually signed to them as well [Sony/Epic]. I’ve been in the game 10 years like that. Now, it’s first independent album and probably the most lucrative album I’ve had out as far as the first one of this kind. I really admire artists like Prince who set the tone with the internet and to have your own record company. If you’re a self-sustained person like I am who writes and produces, it makes more sense to the independent thing than it does to be signed to a major. I’m learning the game. It took me 10 years to get here, but that’s what’s up.
WHO?MAG: Did it surprise you that “Cool Relax” took a couple of months to go platinum when it first came out? Jon B: I was surprised when it went platinum period! I was excited. I can remember where I found it when it went platinum because I had three tour buses that pulled up outside of my sold out show in Chicago. “They Don’t Know” was a number one hit on the radio. It was good feeling when all those things are happening and it’s all right there in front of you. You can’t help but feel blessed and that everything is happening at the right time. It feels good.
WHO?MAG: What happened to the Jack Herrera album? Will it ever come out? Jon B: It was a project that I had basically which I produced and wrote all the music for. I had two background singers, which started with me during my tour. They were Philip White and Domini Quinn. Philip White was from Dallas and Domini Quinn was from Philadelphia. It was mixture of an LA cat, Philly cat, and a Dallas cat. It was more of a hip hop/jazz trio, almost like The Roots, but more R&Bish. It was definitely more underground. We didn’t have an official release. I intend to bring it back and re-master the album and get that released within 2009.
WHO?MAG: What happened with your deal with Epic after the “Pleasures U Like” release in 2001? Jon B: I had a gold album with Pleasures U Like. We sold like 100,000 in one week or something like that. We had a tremendous success. We had the single, video, and Nas was on the album, Cuban Link, Faith Evans on the album. That was a stellar album for me. I had no knowledge as far as the label. The executives were getting switched around, people were getting fired, and they had their jobs on the line. They had a high quota to fill. The expectations were really high for Epic as far as what you had to sell your first week out. Even though what I sold was really good for me, it wasn’t what Epic expected from “Pleasures U Like” in terms of the single. It didn’t match their expectations. I guess the powers that be they wanted to let me go or least before they wanted to let me go, they didn’t want to do another video for that album. I told them now that if they didn’t want to do another video to promote that album, I didn’t want to be on the label. At that point, I had a little negotiation power with the label. I sat down with the powers that be and let them know I didn’t want to be on the label anymore. It took sometime to get myself back on my feet, but obviously I had albums in the meantime to help me sustain and support my art.
WHO?MAG: Of all your albums which is your favorite and why? Jon B: I don’t really have favorite, but if I have to pick it’ll be “Helpless Romantic” because that’s where I’m at right now. It’s my personal life and I’m showing my life the best I can to the world in the sense of giving you a nice a picturesque idea of what it’s like to be in love. I think a lot of people can relate to that. The feelings and emotions of what it’s like is to have your child for your first time. What’s it’s like to meet the girl of your dreams and want to give her the world. That’s something that’s never going to get old. It’s really a tradition of R&B music.
WHO?MAG: Your last album came out through Matthew Knowles label Sanctuary. How did that come about? Jon B: After the deal with Epic, Sanctuary picked me up. That basically didn’t work out. Now we’re at the present moment.
WHO?MAG: How is your writing process? Do you base your songs off your personal experiences or friends, people close to you, or both? Jon B: I deal with all experiences, because this is my life. They’re all my personal experiences.
WHO?MAG: Who are your influences as an R&B singer? Jon B: Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Donny Hathaway, Hall and Oates. I like modern cats like Raphael Saadiq and D’Angelo. People like J Holiday, Donnell Jones, Dream, and Maxwell. At the same time I’m really influenced by artists like Sade and John Mayer. A lot of more musical kind of cats. I loved Herb Alpert growing up. Also Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Babyface’s production styles. I was a musical cat growing up and I still am.
WHO?MAG: How would describe for those out there who haven’t been able to see perform you live yet? Jon B: You’ll definitely see me performing behind the keyboards, moving the crowd in the terms of a crooner, which I am. I put my all into this music. I sing with my heart and with my soul. It is what it is. People feel my music and it’s more about the songs than it is about me. They’re there to celebrate the music with every show; the history of the music.
WHO?MAG: You’ve worked with a lot of emcees. How does it feel? Jon B: I’m probably one of the artists who have worked with the most rappers of any R&B artist next to probably like Mary J Blige. I was one of the first to really make it happen. I want to make it kind of like a theme you get from my albums. On “Cool Relax” I had 2pac on there, but on my first album “Bonafide”, I worked with Bootsy Collins. On the third album I worked with NAS, AZ, Cuban Link, and Faith Evans was on that album as well. After that, I worked with ODB before he passed away. I worked with Jay Z and I worked with Scarface, as well as Beanie Man on that album. I got my foot in the door as far as cat that’s worked with a lot of emcees as far as the greatest emcees that we have in the game. I’ve worked with Guru, WC, Snoop Dogg. Kurupt as well on his Spaceboogie Odyssey album.
WHO?MAG: Any thought of spitting some hot 16s [bars]? Jon B: Nah, that’s not my calling. I’m a beat person. I make beats and I play keys. I make rhythms and play bass lines. I arrange vocals. I can produce a rap record. I’m actually producing hip-hop records right now. I got my man Swag single about to drop and my man Caprice single is about to drop. Kurupt and I are actually getting back together to do something for his new album. I just finished doing a track with DJ Battlecat for Kurupt’s new album. It’s a crazy song. I just finished working with David Banner for Keith Robinson’s from the “Dream Girls” album. I’m coming thick this year for a lack of a better word.