Donell Jones Talks Old Music, New Music and The Trouble With R&B

Posted by Mack of Sound-Savvy On 11:15 AM

When you think of R&B music, there's no way you can forget about the voice, the lyrics, the sheer presence of Donell Jones. He led the way through one of the greatest era's of the genre and he's back to do it again. We sat down with Donell on the release date for his newest compilation album The Lost Files (available NOW via iTunes) to talk about that project, his upcoming all new album, and breaks down what he feels is lacking in R&B music these days. Also check out his thoughts on the current landscape of R&B and which artists he thinks are hot, and who's not!

Sound-Savvy: So Donell Jones, what’s goin on? It’s so good to talk to you.
Donell Jones: I appreciate it, it’s been a minute.

SS: It has, it’s been since what, 2006 that we got your last album?
DJ: That’s correct.

SS: So the question that’s on everyone’s mind is where have you been all this time?
DJ: To be honest, I’ve been in the lab man, just workin’. I was in a situation at Jive Records so I was really tryin to get out of that deal and focus on my career, ya know. So it took me a minute to get that situated and now I’m ready.

SS: So are you signed with another label or are you doin’ your own thing?
DJ: I’m doin my own thing, independently. Candyman Music.

SS: That seems like the route a lot of artists are going these days. So, a lot of folks don’t know this but you got your start as a writer before stepping out as an artist. How long were you writing for other artists before you became a (performing) artist yourself?
DJ: I was writing for about 2 years before I became an artist myself. I had written songs for Usher, Brownstone, Silk, - a lot of artists back in the day. It was something that I just had a love for, ya know. I came into the business with a group and we kinda broke up. Eddie F, who discovered me, was like “Yo you should just write some songs”. So I started writing songs for people and Puff (Daddy) heard me writin’, and he said “Yo, I want you to write a song for Usher” so my name pretty much got out there and I started writing for a lot of people.

SS: Yeah and you’ve been known throughout R&B, your name is one of the most recognizable names in R&B as a great writer and a great lyricist. Where do you draw your inspiration for writing these songs?
DJ: Personal experiences man, I feel like the best R&B songs are something that people go through and that’s felt from the heart. When I wrote “Where I Wanna Be” I didn’t know how many people in the world were feeling the same way I was feeling but it was a true story so it just goes to show you that things that come from the heart really hit home with everybody else.

SS: Yeah and I think “Where I Wanna Be” was huge, especially with the fellas. You said something in that song that fellas have been trying to say for years and just didn’t know how to say it. That was an excellent joint.
DJ: Preciate that.

SS: So your new album is in stores now and it’s called “The Lost Files”?
DJ: That’s correct.

SS: So tell me about that, how did that come about?
DJ: The Lost Files is an album comprised of songs that I’ve created throughout my whole career that nobody has ever had the chance to hear. When I record an album, in the downtime I record a lot of songs but when it’s time to actually start recording the album I start from scratch. Those are songs a person never gets to hear so I was thinkin, I should do a “Lost Files” album because I got all these songs and nobody has ever heard ‘em and a lot of my fans are like “I miss that 90’s R&B”. So I got songs from when I first started in ’96 all the way up until now that I’ve put on this album. This is just volume 1 because I got too many songs but, I was like this might be a good idea because a lot of people miss that 90’s R&B.

SS: Yeah and I think 90’s R&B was one of the best eras in R&B, so I can understand why people are missing that. So this album spans your entire career?
DJ: That’s correct.

SS: Is there a single out right now or are you just pushing the whole album at one time?
DJ: I’m pushing the whole album but if I was to pick a single I would probably pick a song called “Superman”. And that song comes from my first album era, around 96-97. It’s just some true to life – its really about a guy that’s with a girl and she’s takin’ him for his money. She’s not there for him as much as he’s there for her. He takes care of the bills and all that but she can’t seem to get it right. And it’s funny because when I listen to the song today, it’s like the subject matter is still relevant to what’s happening today, ya know.

SS: Sounds like a predecessor to the songs like “Golddigger”. Once again, I see you representing for the fellas and that’s a good thing. So between your first album “My Heart” and now, how do you feel you have evolved as an artist?
DJ: When I first got in the game it was so different. I was young, I was probably about 19. Now I’m 36 so I’ve learned so much over the years. My songwriting has gotten better. I’ve gotten better vocally; it’s just so many things that have changed. I’m a better business man now. Back then, I had a lot of people that were in my corner but not letting me take the lead, now I’m more in the forefront with what I wanna do with my career. So I’ve grown all around, ya know.

SS: That’s wassup! I also hear your working on a new project for us, right?
DJ: No doubt… that’s coming in 2010. If the people love this album right here, this next album I’m coming out with in 2010 it’s bout to get heated man. It’s crazy, I’m not gonna lie; like I said it’s been three years. So if you could imagine how many songs I have and the type of material that I have, it’s gonna be something special, I really and truly believe that.

SS: So is this gonna be more classic Donell Jones? Are you trying anything new on this one or are you sticking to a proven formula?
DJ: I’m trying some new stuff on the new album but I’m still staying classic. I feel like if it’s not broke don’t fix it. A lot of people love me for what I did in the past and I don’t wanna change that – the musical sound today and the situations will still be what they’ve always been. So just that love, make-up/break-up relationship type stuff. You know, the songs that touch the heart.

SS: Do you have a title right now for the new album?
DJ: Actually right now, it’s untitled.

SS: And when are you looking at for a release date?
DJ: I’m looking at February, I wanna do something around Valentine’s Day, but that’s subject to change. It might be February or March, somewhere around then.

SS: Donell Jones and Valentine’s Day, you can’t really ask for more than that!
DJ: I keep tellin people man, the population is about to double!

SS: So I’m assuming there’s gonna be some nice babymakers on this joint too, huh?
DJ: Oh no doubt, no doubt! You got it! (laughs) Gotta get it right in the bedroom. I hear from so many of my male fans, they’re like “yo man, you don’t know how many chicks I crushed from your records!” *laughs*

SS: Yes sir!! *laughs* I mean, call it what it is… your music has been good for that, I can admit! Are you working with anyone else as far as writers, producers or artists on the project?
DJ: Right now, it’s pretty much just myself working on the album. I’mma get some joints from Ryan Leslie, definitely gonna get some joints from Tim & Bob. Mike City sent me some stuff.

SS: So just taking a look back at your previous albums, if you had to pick one that was your favorite or the most special to you, which would it be and why?
DJ: Man, that’s hard cause I love them all for different reasons. When I go back and listen to ‘em, it puts me in a place because I start thinkin about what I was doing at the time I made the record. But if I really had to pick one, I would have to say the “Where I Wanna Be” album, just because of that particular song “Where I Wanna Be” because I was really going through that situation. The person that I was with, she didn’t really understand but when she heard the record she kinda felt where I was coming from but it broke her heart. So I would definitely have to say that record…

SS: It’s funny you say that, because you mentioned that your inspiration comes from personal experiences. Have you ever written a song about someone and it had a less favorable outcome? Like, she wasn’t really feeling the fact that you wrote that song about her?
DJ: Uhhh. *laughs* I mean, “Where I Wanna Be”! That song right there because, to be honest with you the person I was talking about, I’d been in a relationship with since I was 17. She’s the mother of my four children. We were just going through a lot of stuff at the time. For her, it made her really feel bad because this song was on the radio, everybody knew us and it’s not only her hearing it, it’s her family hearing it, so ya know it kinda made my home situation a lil bad. But as an artist, you have to be creative and get what’s on your chest out. That’s what I feel music should be.

SS: Definitely. Now as someone who’s been in the game for a while, what’s your outlook on the current landscape of R&B, what do you feel is missing?
DJ: I think what’s missing in R&B today is the lack of production. I really feel like right now everyone in the game got a computer and feel like they can make beats. I don’t feel like they’re making music though. I feel like right now when you listen to the radio, it’s a beat-driven business right now but it lacks the quality of the music part. I feel like the producers now put two or three sounds on a record and it’s a go. Not only that, it’s just a fact too that the love is missing, a lot of artists are wannabe R&B Thugs instead of just giving the women what they want which is just the love music.

SS: I can agree with that. But lately it kinda seems like after the 90’s era ended males in R&B have lost their dominance in the industry. Do you feel like that’s because of a lack of talent or do you feel that the consumers’ interest is just shifting?
DJ: I don’t feel like it’s a lack of talent because some of these brothers can really really sing. I just think a lot of the guys now are trying to be rappers. It’s more of a rap-singing type of thing than it is a singing thing, ya know? I think that’s part of the problem. Not only that, I just feel like with the down south music being so strong right now, that’s what a lot of the R&B guys are trying to follow as well.

SS: Now just looking at some of today’s artists, are there any artists in the game right now that you’d wanna work with or be willing to do a collaboration with?
DJ: Definitely, Ryan Leslie is number 1. He worked on my last album with me, he did a couple joints on there and I just absolutely loved his style, his flavor. So Ryan Leslie.

SS: So now if I just throw out a couple of names to you, R&B artists, I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind.
DJ: *laughs* I know where you’re gonna go with this.

SS: I’m just askin! I’m not tryin to put you on blast! Okay, Trey Songz.
DJ: I like him. Talented. Great vocals!

SS: Okay, Day 26.
DJ: Ummm… same thing they can sing their asses off. Collectively as a group, they can sing their asses off. If they wanted to go solo, they could do that too because they all sound good.

SS: Aight, Chris Brown.
DJ: Dance like crazy.

SS: Okay, Mario.
DJ: Ummm, Mario… wow. I think he can sing, he probably just needs some better songs.

SS: Okay, and Omarion.
DJ: I put him in the category with Chris Brown.

SS: Fair enough, fair enough. So are you planning to tour at all, any dates coming soon?
DJ: I am, I’m kicking off a tour in 2010 and we’re gonna start in London and work our way back to the states man.

SS: That’s wassup, well I’m in Charlotte and you gotta come through Charlotte, check out Sound-Savvy and represent for the fans out here because it’s a lot of R&B fans out here.
DJ: Oh no doubt, I LOVE Charlotte, I’m only a hop and a skip away in Atlanta so you know it ain’t nothing for me!

SS: Definitely, we’d love to have you here in the QC. I appreciate you taking the time out to talk to the Sound-Savvy readers. I know everybody is looking forward to your new album in 2010 but they can go get The Lost Files album which is out today right?
DJ: That’s right it’s out right now. I definitely appreciate all the fans for sticking with me thorugh the years and I appreciate the interview. Thank you.

SS: No problem, best of luck with your project and we’ll have to get a followup interview when the album’s ready to drop.
DJ: No doubt man anytime.

Make sure you cop Donell Jones' newest album THE LOST FILES and stay tuned for his new album, coming next year!!

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