I’m sat in a London restaurant with global superstar & legend Jon B, chilling before his show at the Jazz Cafe.
We’re chatting about his career, albums, changes in the music industry and the future when it suddenly dawns on me who I was actually speaking to. There sat in front of me laughing and joking so comfortably was the singer whose lyrics literally used to caress my neck as I played his albums (mainly ‘Pleasures You Like’) over and over. I even recalled being in clubs and watching men fawning over women as they mouthed the words to ‘Don’t Talk’. I couldn’t help but break into a smile as I sipped my merlot – I love this job!
“…What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?”
“You know one of the hardest questions that people ask me is which of my albums was my favorite to create and it’s hard because each album represents a different point in my life, they’re all stepping stones for where I am at currently. I was 18 when I recorded my first album ‘Bonafide’, 19 when it was released, I was a young man back then expressing ideas and here I am still doing so 18 years later. I suppose if I had to single out one record and say ‘that was my best project’ it would have to be ‘Stronger Everyday’ my fourth album. It was created through a period in my life that was very difficult and getting through it I literally felt stronger every day. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?
“…no time for complacency, there’s new cats in the game…”
Through all these years in the business I’ve seen some major shifts and the biggest would be the internet and the way people don’t buy CD’s/Records that much any more. I remember the days when people actually went out, stood in line at a store and paid in cash for my album, 2 million people did that! I get all nostalgic thinking of how people, myself included, would get an album, excitedly open up the liner notes and read along while listening to the music – I miss that and it was a beautiful thing to be a part of. I just feel very fortunate to still have a name in this industry and to still be in a position to sell-out gigs 2 nights solid (Jazz Cafe, London). At the same time I don’t feel at this point that I’ve achieved all that I’ve wanted to in my career, I’m still searching for that hidden door. I have no time for complacency, there’s new cats in the game being compared to me, Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake, this just keeps me going. I want to do music forever and just knowing that I still have support out there really is important to me.
“…it’s all about the dollar bills…”
I’ve learned that you can’t really rely on corporate machines to give you the real success that you want. Real success is earned with the way that you perform, the songs that you write, videos that you make – that is what you’re defined by. I think right now what we’re learning is how artists are so over saturated and sensationalized to the point where they don’t even need to have talent! Britney Spears is a phenomena but she literally cannot sing at all! There are so many people out there I know that can sing way better and that don’t have record deals, it’s a crying shame, but it’s all about the dollar bills. Then you have the artists who write what they think the world wants to hear and not what they actually feel in their hearts – I know how to play that game too but at the same time I don’t feel inhibited by the world, I feel enriched by it and so I don’t have to go there. I feel that the world wants to know how I feel inside and that’s just what I write. If the listener likes it great, if they love it – even better, if they don’t – well that’s an option too (he lets out a huge laugh) but seriously a lot of artists out there who are at the forefront of what’s going on, are the ones who have bought into the money train – straight up.
“…Babyface…the biggest influence on my career.”
Having said all that there are artists out there doing their thing right now who I do admire. First off, Babyface, who has also been the biggest influence on my career. I recall watching him make his assertion in the industry as a writer and producer first, then as an artist. He was the one who coaxed me into being who I am today. I was doing a lot of writing of songs for other people and I didn’t have the gall to be in the limelight but he was like ‘that’s you on the demo records right? then you just need to get some photo’s done and start doing interviews!’ He just really gave me the confidence to step out and I’ll never forget that. Other artists I admire are Drake, he honored me by sampling a song of mine called ‘Cameras’ on his latest album – his track being ‘Calling on You’, he kept my vocals and everything in there. Also Chris Brown sampled ‘They Don’t Know’ and that was a huge thing for me because both Drake and Chris (Brown) are huge artists they didn’t need to do that, it was really cool to get these compliments from artists of that calibre – it showed love.
“…which artist I enjoyed working with the most…Tupac.”
People ask me which artist I enjoyed working with the most in the past and with all due respect to Babyface, I’d have to say it was Tupac. I think back to that time when we recorded ‘Are You Still Down’ in a surreal way and relish the moments we had, it was very few and short lived but the greatest experience and I’m very honored to have had that.
“…I’d like to work with Drake and Chris Brown…”
In the future I’d like to work with Drake and Chris Brown, as well as Ne-Yo, J Cole and Kendrick Lamar. I also want to reach back to the roots and work with Babyface again – I hear he’s working with Toni (Braxton) so that makes me feel like he’s getting his ‘jones’ to come back. For me right now I’m working on my new album and hope to work with El DeBarge and possibly Bobby Caldwell – he is the original white crooner, I have so much love for him – that man has swagger like no other man.”
Jon then re-enacts the moment he first saw Bobby Caldwell walking into a room and his excitement at meeting him at the Soul Train Awards. We laughed and joked some more about Kevin Hart and Boris Kodjoe – Boris and his wife Nicole Ari Parker telling Jon that they got together to his songs – which prompted more joking around before it was time to go and leave Jon ‘B’ to prepare himself for his show, what a night that was.