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Jon B: The Original Whiteboy Declares War

jonb

Jon B has had some classic hits over the years. When he popped up on the scene in 1997, he caught a lot of R&B and Hip-Hop fans off guard. His single “They Don’t Know” was a banger that gave him the steam to land at the top of the charts and establish a solid fan base. Then Jon B dropped his second single and most people wondered, “Who was this white guy with all this Soul who had a song with one of the biggest Hip-Hop stars at the time?” Yeah, we all remember, “Are You Still Down” that featured Tupac. It was at that moment that Jon B was completely embraced by an Urban audience who no longer looked at his color, but what he could contribute vocally; creatively, a soulful sound, and the ability to hang with the best.It comes as no surprise that his new single, “Ooh So Sexy” featuring Paul Wall has the same effect. Over the years, Jon B has given us five albums and his new joint Helpless Romantic, set to drop October 28, will mark number six. In the midst of managing his own label and production company, being a family man to his wife and daughter, and promoting his new album, Jon B took some time out talk about what he’s been up to, a new artist that he’s working with, and how Robin Thicke owes him his props for helping pave the way for him to be in the position he is in today. Jon even goes on to challenge Robin Thicke to an R&B battle. It gets interesting folks, so make sure you take the time to check this one out in its entirety.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: What’s been going on?Jon B: I have a new album coming out on October 28th. I’m really excited. I’ve been gone for about four years. In the between time, I have been recording and producing for different people. I also have a little girl now who’s 14 months.AHHA: Congratulations! Jon B: Thank you so much. AHHA: You’ve been doing some producing. Who have you worked with? Jon B: Keith Robinson. He’s been doing his thing in music for a long time, especially as a writer. He’s actually about to come out with a solo album. I’ve actually produced most of the album. It’s been a pleasure working with Keith. I have my own artist, Jonesy, who’s coming out. She’s definitely really talented. She’s also on my album. Besides that, I’ve worked with David Banner on a record for Keith Robinson’s album that’s going to be a real hot club banner. I’ve produced most of my album [Helpless Romantic] by myself.

“I’ve never been on the cover of VIBE, but I don’t think

that that is a good thing to really point out. It’s like damn, who are

you to say that you deserve the cover? That’s kind of pompous to me.

Just fall back and do what you do and don’t complain. You’ve been

blessed.” – Jon B on Robin Thicke’s complaint for not making the VIBE cover.

AHHA: You have your own record company called Vibe Zelect? Jon B: Vibe Zelect has always been mine. It’s the name that I put on all my writings. Vibe Zelect Publishing, Vibe Zelect Prodction. When you hear a Jon B record, I think that’s my signature to do something different than most artists; I make my own beats. From the drums being laid, to the beats, to the baselines, to the arrangement of the vocals to any nuance that needs to be there I’ve done. Musically, I am not limited. I can play enough of an instrument to make it happen. Unless it’s a guitar; I like to have a true guitarist come in and take what I’ve done and turn into magic. I’m primarily a keyboard player.AHHA: What do you think about today’s R&B compared to when you first started? A lot of people say today’s R&B sucks, it’s not the same, and it’s different. Jon B: I tell you what – I have got to respect it because I love where R&B is right now. It’s been so categorized for so long. I feel like we finally are able to use it. We have Hip-Hop merged with R&B, then you have Hip-Hop/R&B which is like a style of its own. It’s not just about R&B now. It’s like the two have merged two together. I feel like artists today have much more of a Hip-Hop style than artists did back then when Hip-Hop was still new. Back then it was either you listened to Hip-Hop or R&B. They didn’t listen to both. But now everybody is on that same page. Music is more collective now. It’s more blended now. You can hear the house coming through the R&B. You can hear the Rocky ‘80s edge, euro-transic, electronic vibe coming back into the music, which is really great. As a producer I love it because it lets me flex and push the envelope.

“Listen man, you have your career and I have mine. If it came

down to a battle situation, where we were piano to piano, vocals to

vocals, and he really wanted to test skills on some wild competitive

type of stuff we could make it happen.” – Jon B on a battle with Thicke.

AHHA: Who are some of the artists today that you listen to?Jon B: I love listening to and respect Lloyd and where he’s coming from. I love Ne-Yo, Donnell Jones; I love writers. I love artists who remind me of what I’m doing, as well as Raphael Saadiq and Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake; the whole spectrum of music and Hip-Hop. I also appreciate others such as [the late] J Dilla, Hi-Tek, Pete Rock and the N.E.R.D. camp. I am a fan of music, so I stay up and get charged up about everything that comes to me.AHHA: How do you feel about rappers who want to do R&B? What do you think about Kanye West who just completely flipped it on everybody with “Lock Lockdown” and T-Pain, who’s turned on this whole Auto-Tune phase. Jon B: I think we have to live our dreams and not let our minds get in the way of our hearts. You have to be creative. I’m working on a rock album and I do house on the side. I also had a Hip-Hop Funk Jazz band at one point in time called Jack Herrera that was underground. Some people know about it and others don’t. The thing is when people hear this stuff I wonder will they respect it or wonder why I change my style because it doesn’t sound like “Are You Still Down.” We have to allow people the ability to change because we are artists and won’t always be so cookie cut.Jon B ft. Tupac – Are You Still DownReally, we have to allow people to be individuals, although R&B has always been going with the flow thing, and we’ve been influenced by each and go through phases like New Jack Swing and then there was the Southern Crunk phase for a while. Then, Kanye brought a really tasteful experience to music, because he’s been very eclectic with everything he does. He’s someone that I’d like to say I’m really keeping my eye on and respecting as a producer. AHHA: What do you think about the whole Auto-Tune thing?Jon B: Honestly, it’s kind of fly if used in the right way. I like to use it as a nuance rather than an effect. Some people turn it all the way up like a robot voice, but I need it to be little bit more subtle so it doesn’t get in the way of my natural singing, so when I sing a live show I sound like Jon B. AHHA: Let’s just talk about your career as a whole. You being a white artist in a predominately Black field, what has been some of the hardships you’ve endured? I know it hasn’t been all roses since you’ve been doing your thing. I know recently Robin Thicke talked about how he was overlooked for the cover of VIBE because he was white.  What’s been some of the experiences you’ve had?Jon B: I’ve never been on the cover of VIBE, but I don’t think that that is a good thing to really point out. It’s like damn, who are you to say that you deserve the cover? That’s kind of pompous to me. Just fall back and do what you do and don’t complain. You’ve been blessed. Honestly to me, my man came up real real fast and real real quick without any hostility or without any type of standoffishness. All the artists embraced him really quick, and he had a lot of collaborations really really fast.  That’s two things really good management and pace on his part in terms of being able to do things like that. Who did that first? Straight up, who did that first? That was me. The thing is that I just want a little bit of, of – I think it’s really healthy since we’re R&B artists to talk about love and passionate subjects. I think it’s really important to admit our influences. It’s like oh yeah, I give it up to such and such because they helped me as far as this and so on. I paved the way for a lot of white artists now that don’t have to deal with the stigma of being a white artist. I don’t think that people would be as open for non-African American artists like that if it I didn’t take a lot of the slack for them. In the beginning, all people wanted to do was compare me to Babyface for one record. I did two records that were produced by him. In the beginning, it was just insane how people wanted to throw that in my face as a negative connotation.  I had to admit my influences and admit that I could sound like Babyface if I wanted to… but I didn’t want to; I wanted to do my own thing. People want to throw things at you when you’re shining. There is darkness and then there is the star. That’s why the star shines. If everything was the same around then it wouldn’t shine. If it was all light then the stars wouldn’t shine. My thing is let things shine and don’t take too much to heart because you’ve been blessed. We’ve been blessed.AHHA: Are you insinuating that Robin Thicke should say that he appreciates artists such as Jon B? Are you saying that he hasn’t done that yet and because he hasn’t it rubs you the wrong way?Jon B: Exactly. It does. I’ve been in this business for more than 15 years as a producer, more than just Jon B. I know [Thicke’s] been doing his thing for a long time because I remember hearing about him from the very beginning. But the thing about it is he didn’t come out right away as an artist for a long time. He had a long time to watch a cat do his thing.I’m not trying to say that he bit my style or anything. But the one thing I get everywhere I go, on every radio interview people say, “Man you’ve been gone four years. What do you think of Robin Thicke?” Pshhhh it’s like…Listen man, you have your career and I have mine. If it came down to a battle situation, where we were piano to piano, vocals to vocals, and he really wanted to test skills on some wild competitive type of stuff we could make it happen.That’s where people’s hearts are these days. That’s why they ask questions like that. I’ve been asked, “What do you think of Justin Timberlake? Can you dance better than him?” Hell no, I can’t dance better than him. I’m not trying to. That’s some real immature stuff, to me that’s some real competitive and athletic mentality. I’m not like that. I’m a lover, I’m a musician. I don’t even think like that; I’m an artist. But if you get me thinking that was, I can go there. Tupac didn’t bless no punk. I’ma put it like that.

“I paved the way for a lot of white artists now that don’t have to deal

with the stigma of being a white artist. I don’t think that people

would be as open for non-African American artists like that if it I

didn’t take a lot of the slack for them.” – Jon B on originally holding it down for white Soul artists.

AHHA: I don’t always like to compare artists to other artists. I think that some people are just trying to find their own niche. You can tell who people’s influences are. But now that you mention it when I look at his [Robin Thicke] career as opposed to yours. It is kind of similar.Jon B: The vintage sound that he is going for right now is really nice. I love everything that he’s doing. Even though what I am saying sounds really negative, the bottom line is and to answer your question as to what have been my negative experiences; my whole point was people want to throw stuff in my face and test where my heart is at. I am a hopeless romantic. I just do what I do hopelessly. I cannot control if I go up to someone and we have a conversation and it’s good then I’m writing a song on a napkin. Then I have a melody in my head and I take that back to the studio and it turns into a hit record. I can’t help but to do what I naturally do what I do. And I think that Robin Thicke can say that same thing. Every artist who is very passionate about what they do, they can understand that. We need to let that whole color thing go and really practice what we preach in terms of how we want to be respected and how we want to be viewed, we need to respect others the same way.AHHA: Well I do see some similarities in both of your careers. You worked with Tupac and he’s worked with Lil Wayne. Jon B: Yeah and he’s worked with 50 Cent too. He did a video with 50 Cent. To me it was redundant for him to say, I just don’t want somebody to jump on my album at the last minute and look good next to me singing. That’s so corny to me, bro. That’s not the right. He couldn’t have meant that. That’s like the stardom talking. Honestly, what the hell?I’m trying to get a video together with me and Paul Wall for our single [“Ooh So Sexy”]. That’s the way people capture a song, with the video. Why not represent it with the person who blessed you with the verse? I’m not going to put too much on it…but put me in that position to work with Lil Wayne and them cats, watch what happens. I don’t necessarily want to follow in that same genre. I’ve work with somebody like Kurupt, who’s been gone for a while. We could put out a wild crazy banger for 2009 people are really going to feel and just catch people out in left field like me and Paul Wall did. We do our thing.AHHA: How did you and Paul Wall hook up initially?Jon B: We both have a mutual respect, similarities, and experiences that we share. What makes us similar is that we are both are successful entrepreneurs with our own companies. We both have children. I have my little girl, he has a little girl and boy; we both are married. We both have our values and don’t forget where we come from and that’s what makes us good people. I respect his swagger and people gave him his time to shine. We have a thorough chemistry though. We are two grown men complimenting one another and putting it down for the ladies.AHHA: Since you’ve worked with Paul Wall, would you eventually want to work with Eminem or is that stereotypical to ask? Jon B: Oh, definitely! I’m open to and want to work with Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke. When you touch on the cats, the white brothers in the same lanes as me…we’re just soulful people. I really want to work with everyone, and it has nothing to do with their color. In terms of the comparison and so many years of having to answer the questions about what do I think about this person and that person, I almost feel like I’m connected to those cats, and I don’t even know them yet.AHHA: I can understand that. That’s with anyone you have similarities to. You just feel a natural connection to them whether it’s race or gender or what city you’re from. You explained how being compared to other people has been a hardship for you. What other type of hardships have you experienced being that you’re a white guy in this African-American dominated field? What other things have you come across that have thrown you through a loop?Jon B: Since I’ve been so open with my music and other subject matter in my interviews, I think I’ve been kind a little naïve in a sense. I don’t have the paparazzi following me and people writing articles on me. Certain things I’m starting to keep to myself. I’ve been really open all my life because I was really young when I got married. And another thing that I kind of open myself up for was people asking me about my divorce and the fire I had at my house. It was a constant reflection in having to go back and remember the past and those really hard hard times. Ultimately what makes me stronger is being able to go back with people and reminisce and put them in my situation emotionally so that they can relate to it. It’s not something I enjoy doing, talking about the past, but it’s part of what I do.AHHA: What can we expect with this new album? What’s different from all the other albums you’ve done?Jon B: With this album, I’m the most grown I’ve ever been in terms of my swagger. This album is a refining process where less is more. I have one feature with an MC and one with my new artist Jonesy, who’s ridiculous with her vocals and writing. She actually wrote Faith’s verse on a song called “Overjoyed” on my Pleasures You Like album and every since then, I wanted to get her on an album.One of the things I did different was a cover tune by Jeff Buckley. It’s like a tribute to him because he died young like Tupac did. He was a very soulful white dude. The album is mature. It’s kind of different for me. It’s a tribute kind of record. It’s just deep because it was such a challenging thing for me. It’s like a soulful rock. AHHA: Tell me how you’re balancing your family life and career?Jon B: What’s really exciting right now is that I have my own label. I have a lot more control and the range to go in the directions that I want to go. So when it comes to traveling, I like to travel as much as I can with my family. Just being able to balance my lifestyle and engulf myself in everything is great. My wife helps me out with the business a lot. It’s just an enjoyable thing to be able to have so much control.  Jon B. ft Paul Wall – “Ooh So Sexy”

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