Published on August 3rd, 2019 | by Christopher Wallace0
Exclusive: Multi-platinum Recording Artist Jon B Talks 25 years in the Game, His Love for Hip Hop and More
American multi-platinum recording artist, Jon B, who is infamous for his smash hits such as “They Don’t Know”, “Somebody To Love, and “Are You Still Down” ft. Tupac is still making timeless classics almost 25 years later.
The Hype Magazine’s Christopher Wallace caught up with Jon B backstage at the Once Upon A Time in Long Beach Music Festival to discuss those nearly 25 years, what’s coming up and his love for Hip Hop…check out the slightly edited version of the live conversation below!
Chris: We’ve got the legend, Jon B in his trailer backstage at Once Upon A Time in Long Beach Music Festival. What’s going on?
Jon B: Peace, man. Peace, yeah. Just finished rocking it out here man. It was a beautiful time, man. Beautiful crowd. The energy was amazing on stage. My band killed it, man and we played my first single for the new album, “Understand,“ for the first time live. So, getting to sing that for the audience for the first time, that was, you know, it’s like really… It’s like diving into a pool of cold, cold water and just getting used to it real quick. You know what I mean? It’s the first time doing it so it’s just, it’s always like a little bit of nerves anytime we perform something for the first time, right? It was nice, man. We killed it and it came off real dope.
Chris: My first question is, what is the secret to staying young because I’m looking at you and I don’t think you aged a day since 1997
Jon B: Bless you. Love, man. Love. Keep the love inside your heart, you know. Don’t waste no time hating on what the next man has or what the next woman has but cherish the blessing that you have yourself. You know what I mean, that God’s given you. And I think that that, it’s a matter of just remaining humble and remaining grateful. You know that’s the fountain of youth right there. I think it’s just a matter of taking care of yourself too and drink some water yall.
Chris: So, it’s been almost 25 years and fans that probably wasn’t even born yet in the crowd rocking to your music. How does that feel?
Jon B: I mean, it’s amazing, man. You know, I just however I fill in to your life. You know, whatever age, however it was. Whether you know was your mother that played the music for you, or your father or your uncle or when were young or you weren’t born when the record, the year that my record came out. That means the most to me because the music is going to do what it needs to do emotionally, and I think that that’s the tell all, really, is if the music still means something 25 years later. And it and it does apparently, you know? That’s what’s so special for me as a songwriter, someone who played the chords that made the song. Yeah, it’s more than just being an artist who got to sing it. Your song is like, it’s living on so it’s a blessing.
Chris: So singer, songwriter, producer. Jon B, you got a new single out with Donell Jones.
Jon B: Yes, yes. Excited about it.
Chris: How’d you get Donell Jones on the track?
Jon B: Man I’m excited, man because you know I get the pleasure of being up close to some of my favorite people in R&B. I’m such a fan of R&B music and Hip Hop music. It’s like, why not work with a Nas if I get to be able to get a close proximity to a Nas or a Jay Z. I have worked with Nas, have worked with Jay Z. I’ve worked with Drake, have, not personally with Drake but being able to even have these artists sample my records. You know, be, you know, hit me up, be like, “Yo, I sampled this joint, I flipped it. What you think?” It’s like… “What?!” It’s just a huge big-up for me. So, you know, anytime I get to collaborate, actually have the person on the joint with me it’s kind of like getting to live a dream in real life and make that moment known to the rest of the world forever. So like, working with Tupac, it’s going to last forever. You know, and working with Donell Jones is kind of like a return to that same kind of that same energy, man. I felt so magical back in the ’90s. Like the music mattered so much and you know his music was definitely a part of my whole lifestyle and just everything. Back in 2001 I was rocking hard to some Donell Jones big time. So for us to both have done the 2018 Soul Train Awards together, we were backstage and we were just chopping it up, man. It was real good vibes between us, you know. That it’s nice to see somebody remain humble after all these years and so much success. Platinum records, millions of dollars later. You know, it’s like, bottom line is your heart stay, remain grateful and humble? And so having him on the record was a no brainer. I asked him if was, was down, you know. I sent him the record and he and he was like, “Man, I love it, man. I love it. I want to do it.” I just was like, it was another one of those kind of Tupac-type situations. It’s working with a legend, you know he blessed me, man. He blessed me. He was in the video and the video was crazy. We got the video out right now on Vivo. You know what I’m saying. Check out ‘Understand‘, my brand new video featuring Donell Jones. Right now on Vivo, all right? And download the single. Support this independent project. It’s, um, it’s independent. You know, I’m, I don’t want to sign my soul away I feel like I’ve earned the right to be able to have the ability to sustain through my fans, through the listeners. You guys have allowed me to come out to the shows. The shows is really what’s paying for the album (laughs). I ain’t got to even front. It’s like I might as well be transparent and just let y’all know that what it takes so long to make this happen. It’s not, “Aw, let me take forever.” No, it’s about getting them chips together to get, be able to have the money to be able to put a record out. It costs money to make money, so.
Chris: So now, with the new streaming services, what’s most important part to you having total creative control over your album, is it the sense of like, I can just do what I want and let it evolve through time or you just trying to make classic music.
Jon B: Yeah, I just want to make classic music and not have any limitations for what someone sees me as, “Oh, you could do that. You can’t do that.” Like, I’ve never had limits on what I… I’ve never put limits on what I was doing. They were telling me, they were telling me back in ’96 that it was, like too taboo to work with Tupac, you know? To have, ‘Are You Still Down?’ be a song that had a rapper and a, you know, a smooth R&B singer on it. It’s like, they were like, “Where does it… Two separate worlds. How can you combine that?” So we had to kind of like take some chances and really kind of go against the grain and leak the record (laughs), you know? Um…
Jon B: And let the, and let the culture, let the culture kind of decide for us. That made the history that it made. I was blessed enough to have the interaction with him actually in the studio and actually meet his mother and get blessed by his family, the Shakur family. To be able to even have the audacity to put a record out after Tupac’s death, and it’s a great honor. I wear it like a badge of honor still to this day. Got to talk about my man Tupac Shakur.
Chris: I mean, you should. I mean one of his albums is, is named after one of the singles you guys had.
Jon B: Yeah, yeah. His first release after his death was called, ‘R You Still Down?’ His mother told me, “My son played me this song, you know and he never played me his music but, you know, he played me this song and he was very proud of this song.” So, I have to make sure that this song is able to come out. There’s a lot of red tape involved, you know, to be able to release something after someone dies. So, yeah. It, it was crazy not, not being able to have him there present for the video, having to pour the Cognac out. Literally for my man. I just had made his acquaintance and 20 something years later we get to live that same theme again with Nipsey Hussle, and rest in peace Nipsey Hussle. Big up all the fans who support Nipsey Hussle, because once again, its legend that fell a victim to violence.
Chris: You ever get to meet Nipsey?
Jon B: I will speak on this, is that Nipsey and I had a conversation you know, actually hit me up and he wanted to remake Are You Still Down? Whatever reason, it just never happened because it wasn’t meant to happen. But, just that alone is, uh, you know, something I hold dear to my heart. You know, him actually hitting me up and say, “Hey, man, you know. I’d like to redo that. We should do that again” That song meant something to me. So, yeah.
Chris: So how much are you touring these days?
Jon B: Man, touring is really my main gig (laughs) right now and has been for the last 15 years really. And even since the beginning. It’s been 20 something years so, yeah. I never stopped touring but particularly, the last 10 years have been incredibly amazing with touring because it’s been like resurgence in people’s love for the ’90s. You know, it’s been long enough, I think, having everything else kind of like be a part of their life, you know, that they missed us again. (Laughs) I feel like y’all miss me again and now it’s being embraced the same way that it was in the ’90s, you know, in a different way by a whole new crowd. A whole brand new, fresh crowd who hasn’t been jaded by whatever yet. And now we, so cats like me who kind of felt like we kind of like ran our course, it’s very, very beautiful to see all of the shows sold out, you know. I don’t know who’s the hottest on the radio or who’s selling what in, you know, on streams or what, but I know my shows are sold out. And I know I keep the asses in the seats. So, and every show is like I’m very passionate about performing these records. It’s been, it’s been 20 something years. So, you know, always guaranteed that I’m going to come up on that stage ready for them. So, yeah. I love what I do. I’m blessed, man. (Laughs).
Chris: I know you come from a family of musicians.
Jon B: Yeah.
Chris: Have your mother or sister ever played on an album for you?
Jon B: Oh, man, absolutely. Yeah, my- my mother’s a pianist but she actually hasn’t played on, on the album on songs but she was the one who showed me first chords. She sat me down at the piano. She said, “This is a major chord, this is a minor chord. This is a seventh, this is a ninth. This is… Put your fingers like this and, you know, put the base right here.” You know so a lot of that is like the basics of what I know. The foundation of what I know. So I have my mother to thank for that, being that she’s a pianist. But, my sister’s a violinist. My brother’s a cellist. My father’s a violinist and conductor so when it came to having, like, my own little personal orchestra on the side, I kind of had that. So, some of my songs you’ll hear some of my family playing strings in the background, you know. It’s a beautiful thing, man. I love, I love production, I love producing that. I think that’s one thing that’s sort of like a secret. Like, unless you really are paying attention to the credits, like and doing your research on how do I make my music, um, people don’t know that I actually write your own songs, you know. And actually produce the track.
Chris: And that’s important.
Jon B: Yeah, it’s very important because it’s a signature sound that I’m trying to go for. Even if I work with someone else, and they produce the track, there’s something about the track that will remain, uh, to be, you know, my signature sound. I’ll say, “Okay that’s, I’m adopting that.” And that’s me right there you know what I’m saying. So, yeah, I mean I think the new song, Understand, is- is a return to like vibes like, They Don’t Know. You know what I mean? classic R&B, just a classic love song. At this point I’m trying to tell the audience, like, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Like, I’m a grown man now. I was a young man back then. Like, I’m a grown man, I’ve seen some things. So what I have to give you now is better than it’s ever been and just hold tight. Just rock with me. Understand, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You know?
Chris: And I can honestly say, like being from Texas, like, I feel… I mean, Are You Still Down went platinum but just having the reach to get across our genres because we heard the song then seeing the album, we was like, “Oh, he’s white.”
Jon B: (Laughs).
Chris: But, nah, he’s cool because, you know, just like the late Pimp C said, “Tupac wasn’t messing with you when he was alive, he wasn’t messing with you either.
Jon B: Yeah. That’s right. And actually work with him while he was alive, a lot of people worked with him when he was passed and that’s beautiful but I had that man vouch for me while he was, while his feet was sitting here on the planet. You know what I mean, on the earth. You know what I mean, he was here and he vouched for me and we made that record. It’ll last forever so, you know, even if he’s not here in physical form, he’s still here in the spiritual form. And every time I just on stage and sing that song, it’s like, it’s meant to be the way that it is, man. HE’s more powerful in spirit than he ever was here on, on, actually in physical form. I think it’s now, it’s 20 something years later and the audience, I see these young kids like, singing the lyrics, his lyrics back to me. You know what I mean? I’m like, all right. That let’s me know (laughs).
Chris: Who’s somebody that you wanted to work with but you haven’t yet?
Jon B: Um, man, so many people. I mean, out of this generation, I’m really looking forward to working with the likes of Khaled or Weekend or someone like, uh… Oh, man! I mean, Chris Brown, even, you know what I mean. Drake, you know what I mean. Just a lot of people that I haven’t actually been in the studio with, you know. I’ve had Chris Brown sample my music, I’ve had Drake sample my music but I’ve never been in studio with them, you know, actually. So that would be a dope, dope collaboration to kind of make happen. You know, after all this time I think, I think it would be really amazing to see what we can come up with.
Jon B: Um, I would like to link with the likes of Swizz Beatz. He’s just always been somebody that I’ve, even from an artistic point of view, I just respect him so much as, as an artist. An all-around renaissance man, you know what I mean? The way he dresses, the art that he makes and endorses as well. The production in the music that he’s been a part of for so many years.
Jon B: And, um, I’m a big Hip Hop head so like, you know, working with the, the legends of Hip Hop has always been like a big deal for me. I got to get to the Just Blazes, I got to get to the Hi-Teks, J Dillas and you know. Um, I kind of prided myself off doing that on my earlier albums. So, Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest. Doing the album, Cool Relax with and DJ DJ Quik. Working with DJ Quik on his album, The Book of David recently.
Jon B: You know, it’s a beautiful think, man. I have artists like Bri Steves coming out sampling, They Don’t Know. You know what I mean. She’s a brand new artist and she, she was dope, you know what I mean. For that, I was like, way to flip it from a female’s perspective as well, you know. And the song lives on in a whole another way. So, yeah. It’s just it’s a beautiful time.
Chris: So what can we expect from the album?
Jon B: The album is going to be, man, a return to just romantic vibes, you know. One thing I can definitely say is, I’m in touch with that romantic side of myself. Not, not ashamed to, uh, just show that the element of, um, of what romance is, in terms of like… I think, really, a lot of people, uh, need sort of like this escapism in their life. They need to escape. A lot of people just need to create an atmosphere for themselves and just kind of relax and step back. And so that’s what I’m doing with this album, you know. Understand is about every track means something that you can vibe to and it’s in that field. Somewhere inside your life, you know, it’s, every song kind of has the, uh, a theme to it and, uh, there’s a reason for it. I don’t have one record on my album that’s like, “All right, I’m just taking about, just riding it on this one. That’s it.” It’s just simple, you know, it’s none of that. IT’s strictly for the lovers out there. All right? Understand. (Laughs).
Chris: All right, Jon. I know you got to go, man. I thank you for your time. It’s The Hype Magazine, I’m Chris
Jon B: Chris, thank you, my brother. Thank you and everybody out there tuned in, man. Thank you. All right. Understand. You out. Jon B. You already know. One love, baby.