Singer-songwriter J. Long broke out in 2006 with his single “Berry Love,” and three years later he released his debut album Girl Listen. Since that time, a two-year stint with the R&B/Hip Hop group Pretty Ricky further expanded Long’s reach with music fans before he went on a hiatus as a performer
The La Marque, Texas native has now made his return from a behind-the-scenes executive to a recording artist with a series of songs running up to his next LP EVOL’ED. Long is following in the tradition of his uncle Huey Long of The Ink Spots and his grandfather B.B. King guitarist Curtis Long by presenting Soul-based tunes with live instrumentation.
AllHipHop.com spoke with J. Long about his forthcoming project. In this exclusive interview, the head of the independent J. Fam Music label also covers his Christian faith, working with New Orleans rapper Juvenile, and being a fan of R&B legend D’Angelo.
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You have a pretty well established musical family. What was it like growing up in a family like that?
It was loud all the time. Live instruments playing all the time. By the time I was 2 years old, I was in love with the drums. My mother had seven sisters, so I grew up with eight women. Everybody in our family played instruments or sang. My grandfather is also a musician, so we just grew up around it. I loved it.
At what point did you realize this was something you wanted to do for your career?
Probably when I was able to start talking. I knew this was something I was going to do. I didn’t see college in my future. People would try to feed that into my head. I’m not telling nobody to not go to college, because that may be the way you need to go. I just always knew in my heart that wasn’t the route I would take.
Since that time, you’ve been able to establish yourself as a solo artist, but you’ve also spent time as a member of Pretty Ricky. What is the status of the group now?
Shout out to the boys. They just reunited with Pleasure P. I came after Pleasure left, but they just reunited. I did my farewell with Pretty Ricky. We did a tour overseas last year in April. I got to perform with my boys one more time. Those are like my brothers. Shout out to Slick, Spec, and Diamond. They’ve got a new single out, and they’re doing their thing.
You took a break. What sparked your decision to first fallback as an artist and then return to releasing music?
I really got my first regional hit with “Berry Long.” Before that, I just had my son. He’s 7 years old now. I was struggling. I didn’t have much. I just had a dollar and a dream.
Then all of a sudden my life started to change. Coming from La Marque, Texas, I didn’t have that much. All I grew up with was love from my family. I strayed away from that and from what I was taught as a kid.
I’m a firm believer in Jesus Christ. I take that very serious. So I had to step back, because you can lose yourself in this business. That ain’t what I’m about, so I had to step back and get my mind correct. I give all glory to God for giving me a second chance to do what I love to do.
Do you feel like it's difficult balancing being a follower of Christ and at the same time creating music that’s secular?
Not really. It’s all about your lifestyle. R&B artists mostly sing about making love. Sex and making love ain’t bad things. For married couples, that’s something that was designed by God to enjoy. As long as you ain’t calling women out their names, it’s cool with me.
I love to sing about love. I’m not into degrading our women. We need to uplift our women and let them know they’re beautiful. Shout out to all the artists that still have standards in their music.
Another thing, people think when you’re a Christian you can’t have fun or you can’t sing genres other than Gospel. That’s not true. I hold myself to a certain standard. I’m not perfect, but I try to set an example every day. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day. But as a Christian, you can have fun.
You’re new album is called EVOL’ED. What does that title represent for you?
I spelled it E-V-O-L, and then E-D. That’s love spelled backward, and then “E-D” is education. Also, I’m evolving as a person. I’m learning every day. It’s love plus education.
On your single “Hit Girl,” there’s a line about not needing Auto-Tune. It was in relation to singing to a woman. But do you think the software has become too much of a crutch?
Yeah, it has, but to each his own. If you know how to use it right, it is what it is. But yeah, a lot of music is getting watered down by it.
There are a lot of changes happening in music. Over the last few years, there has been this melding of R&B and rap, almost to the point where the genres have almost become inseparable. What are your thoughts on that development?
With the music business - just like with any other business - it’s always changing, so you have to get with the times. If you’re making hits, you’re making hits. Nowadays, you kind of have to be able to rap. You got to be able to bring something else to the table. You just got to get with the times.
You just dropped a song with Juvenile. How did that track come together?
It was the day after Christmas. I just did this record. I was literally sitting in the studio, and I was messing around on the keyboard. The track started to sound like “Back That Thang Up” without me trying to make it sound like that.
I was just playing around with the vocals. I said, “It would be dope if I actually got Juvenile on this record.” I reached out to him, and he was with it. He sent me back a verse. Since I kind of remade “Back That Thang Up,” it only made it right to get him on it. Shout out to Juve. Shout out to Cash Money. Shout out to Aubrey Francis for making that connection.
I read that you’re a really big fan of D’Angelo. Have you ever had the chance to meet him?
I didn’t, but I did get to see him perform at the BET Awards in 2012. That was on my bucket list - to meet him or see him perform. I was like a student in class. I was just watching him. It was a great experience.
Did you happen to hear BJ The Chicago Kid’s cover EP of D’Angelo songs?
I haven’t heard it. I like that kid. I'm definitely going to check it out, because that’s a talented kid.
If you could do a full cover album or duet album with any artist - besides D’Angelo - who would you pick?
Besides D’Angelo? I would probably redo Aaliyah’s One In A Million album. I’d just give it from a male perspective.
Finally, what’s next for you and the J. Fam Music brand?
I wake up everyday and I say, “What’s going to happen is already written.” So we just take things one day at a time. God’s will will be done. We’ll see what happens. I’m just thankful to be here.
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Purchase J. Long’s music on iTunes.