Jon B: Soulful Awakening

Respect goes a long way in this world, and having it breeds success in its own right - even if the accolades are minimal. R&B veteran Jon B definitely has respect, and with nearly ten years in the game he has created an impressive trail of hits and a legion of loyal fans. Having collaborated with the likes of Tupac, Nas, Bootsy Collins, Faith Evans, and long-time mentor and friend Babyface, his career reaches past the creative limits of most popular R&B acts.

In 1995, he earned him platinum status with his debut Bonafide album, and his 1999 album Love Hurts contained the platinum single “They Don’t Know”. His third project, Pleasures I Like, enjoyed modest success in 2001, however the singer has been relatively silent since. With his new album, Stronger Everyday, he has unleashed three years worth of recording that was released by Matthew Knowles’ Sanctuary label. Largely self-produced and written by Jon himself, Stronger Everyday features additional production from Just Blaze and Babyface, as well as guest appearances from Scarface, the recently deceased Old Dirty Bastard aka Dirt McGirt, Tank, Beenie Man, and a posthumous verse from Tupac.

Jon B spent some time with Alternatives on his birthday earlier this month to discuss his underdog status, his hiatus, and his artistic growth. Alternatives: Pleasures I Like came out back in 2001, so why has it taken three years to get this new album out?

Jon B: Between the politics of the industry and my personal life, there was a lot to facilitate and put together. It got real good and I was in a place that I thought was my best, which is where I felt I was for my last album. I had worked with all of my favorite people, like Nas, AZ, Faith Evans, Cuban Link, and the production was crazy. The label didn’t feel the need to give it that extra push it needed though - that extra push it takes to be able to sell platinum records. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a great record; they put one single out and expected that to fuel an entire album. We sold 97,000 copies our first week out, and it was a really good week, but once they stopped playing the single things died down. I’ve never been the one to bang people over the head, you know - I just do my own thing and hope people can realize the potential. If not, then I just do it independently. That’s what I’ve been doing, like putting this album together for Sanctuary over the last three years, to producing for other artists. That’s what I’ve been basically doing.

AHHA: With this new album, what approach did you take to the songwriting process that may have been different than your previous records?

Jon B: I basically tried to just expose more of my life and open up a little bit more. There are definitely the club joints on there, and the sexy vibe is still there. It’s not just that normal scenario throughout the whole album, though. There is some depth on it, as far as speaking on relationships. Like, when you first get involved in a relationship, the song ‘Patience’ talks about feeling the new person out and take your time enough to have some subtlety to your game. There is a song called ‘Thru The Fire’ that reflects everything I went through in a relationship when I was down. Then, you have a song like ‘What In The World’ where you are in a relationship that doesn’t really have a title, and you are unsure of what it is exactly. You’re more or less trying to figure out what you are doing. You’ve been together for years and spent a lot of time together, and you aren’t official, or husband and wife. So, its angles like that I’m hitting on.

AHHA: I’m sure people can easily relate to that topic. Now, you have the track ‘Everytime’ with Dirt McGirt. That’s an interesting collaboration. How did it come about?

Jon B: That whole situation was like a phone call, man. I had seen the VH1 special about ODB, and back in the day I was a huge Wu-Tang fan. There was a point when I would go to a Wu show, I’d be there to see ODB, cuz he was the wildest and the craziest. He would come out on stage and turn the whole show upside down. I wanted some of that raw energy on the album, and for that song, I felt like Just Blaze had put that type of track together. I had played piano, and he more or less sampled that riff and threw the beat on top of it. after I heard it, I was like, .Man, it’d be ill to have ODB on this record.’ Then, he signed to The Roc, and it all worked out. From there, it was a matter of getting the thumbs up from Dame Dash. We did, and the track came out cool.

AHHA: You handle the bulk of your songwriting and production. In a time when artists blow up using other peoples’ words and beats, why do you think you haven’t been given respect and acclaim on a bigger scale?

Jon B: I think that a lot of people don’t know. Hip Hop is the forefront for music right now, so a lot of stuff is too soft for some people. Some people don’t want to listen to R&B. They’ll like a couple of songs, but they won’t want to go and buy the album. That’s why I’m trying to incorporate Hip Hop. Somebody might want to buy my record, and when they hear it , they might like it and be able to relate to it. Somebody can be feeling all bad, and their boy calls and is like, ‘Let’s go out tonight!’ So he throws my joint on and gets ready to go out. It just puts you in the mood to make to some females. This music is just me, and hopefully someone out there can relate to my stuff. That’s all that I’m asking. Really, it’s not a matter of asking. I just do me.

AHHA: When you go back and listen to your first album, and then play this new one, what are the biggest differences you can hear and see?

Jon B: Oh man. My mind was everywhere back then; like, kind of how it is right now, but these days I’m a little more focused. I was able to let people see such a broad picture of who I was on my first album - I was able to do it all. You listen to that album and you’ll hear the rock side, the R&B side, the funk, everything. I mean we had Bootsy Collins on the first song with the Parliament feel and the Michael Jackson type vocals. We ended the album with a very symphonic, European sounding record, so there were a lot of things going on on that album. It was very eclectic. This album is kind of the same thing, but it’s the grown man version. I was 18, 19 years old when I made my first record. I haven’t really changed as far as my musical taste, but there has been a whole lot added to the library.

AHHA: Looking back on your career so far, what would you say has been the most rewarding part of it?

Jon B: The most rewarding thing is knowing how unbelievably blessed and privileged I have been to work with some of my favorite people in the industry, and favorite people, period. Tupac will always be someone who is an icon in my life, besides being an emcee and a poet. To have met him and then to have lost him so quick, it makes a huge impression on you. Especially when you do a record with somebody that the whole world embraces. A lot of cats that normally wouldn’t even check for me, now have put me on this crazy level of respect cuz I worked with Pac. The way that collaboration has blessed me is unbelievable, and it continues to bless me. Opportunities like being able to work with Nas and Faith Evans, you know, are some amazing collaborations. I mean, I worked with Eve and Mos Def on songs that nobody has even heard. I worked with Left Eye on probably the only song she ever did where it was all her singing. So basically, I’ve been really blessed to work with some of my favorites, and that’s really the main thing.