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JoJo Has Nothing To Hide

JoJo

Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images

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JoJo Has Nothing To Hide

The pop performer tells the Recording Academy about rerecording her 2004 self-titled debut album, what she wishes she'd known about the music industry at 12 years old, and what she'd like to do next

GRAMMYs/Mar 12, 2019 - 10:39 pm

"There are things that just cannot be taken away from me," says JoJo. "And that's my history, my voice, my spirit." 

Over the years, that's exactly what the pop star has reinforced, though her approach—always using her voice, her spirit—took a lot of strength and resilience. In an age in which seemingly everything is available at the tap of a finger, JoJo’s first two albums remained absent from the world, as if lost in a patch of quicksand in the music streaming universe. And while dedicated fans of the 28-year-old pop star’s 2004 debut, JoJo, and 2006 followup The High Road, certainly felt their absence, the voice behind them, unable to share her music with the world, felt that loss more deeply. 

JoJo signed with record label BlackGround at the age of 12, after having already turned down contracts elsewhere at a younger age. The label was co-owned by Barry Hankerson, ex-husband of Gladys Knight and uncle of Aaliyah, whom he also managed at a point. Hankerson also managed R Kelly and Toni Braxton. The label's output included records from Aaliyah and Braxton, super-producer Timbaland, and R&B singer Tank, among others. But all of those beloved records have been held away from any and every online streaming or purchase outlet. The reasons behind that decision remain unclear, despite many reports attempting to dig into the issue. Many of the artists behind those hostaged records have settled out of court, with confidentiality agreements involved. 

After years with her records suppressed, JoJo and her team came to a settlement with BlackGround in 2014. A deal with Atlantic followed shortly thereafter, but the master licensing for the original recordings for her first two albums remained under BlackGround control. Instead of allowing her songs to remain locked away, JoJo decided to record new vocal takes to slightly altered production. Diehard fans finally able to hear those songs rejoiced, but no one’s spirit was as unfettered as JoJo’s.  

On the eve of Women’s History Month, JoJo spoke with the Recording Academy about her fight to control her own voice, the process of re-recording songs she first released as a young teenager, and the music that comes next.

Did you always have a sense that you would be an artist or a musician of some kind?

Always. I was such a creative child! I'm so thankful that my mom nurtured that in me and allowed me to be free and to express myself through various different kinds of art—visual, music, dance, and acting. She didn't stifle that in any way. I always knew that I wanted to live a creative life, to not go a traditional route. And I always loved music more than anything. It made me feel so whole, so understood. And when I sang, I felt like I had found something that made me special, and I felt that from a really young age.

What made you start writing? What was the cause of that urgency? 

Even at six years old, I would just be inspired to try and put my own lyrics into melodies that already existed. I started writing at school. I was really lucky to have teachers who fostered my creativity and encouraged me to do extra assignments for creative writing and poetry. That writing turned into songs because I'd like to model what I was doing after songs that I really liked, whether they were Mariah Carey's, Whitney Houston's, or Aretha Franklin's. I was a strangely precocious little girl; I would look at the advertisements in the back of the newspaper for auditions. Somehow I knew that's how you got famous—you had to audition for things. So I was looking for auditions and saying, "Mom, can you take me to New York for this audition? They're looking for kids who can sing and dance and I really want to do that!" I'm just lucky that I had a mom who listened and was willing to take me to those things.

It’s especially influential to have that maternal support in making that dream feel very realistic as well.

There's honestly no other way I could've been so successful so young. I had been offered record deals from the age of nine years old. It was just that precociousness, that old soul. Nothing about the industry, the music itself, or the expectations scared me, nothing. I was very excited by it all.

How rapidly do you feel your perceptions of the industry changed as you got older?

The more experiences that you have with human beings, the more that you learn, whatever industry you're in. Life is all about relationships. So the more you engage in various kinds of relationships, the more perspective you can take into the next situation. As I got older, I got a little bit more conscious of people. My consciousness evolved and I was less naive.

At this point in your career, do you have a typical way that you like to work? Do you have your own studio, or a place in your home where you like to write, or are you needing to constantly adjust?

I do my best to create an environment wherever I am where I can be free, comfortable, and confident. I really like to live a life that's open and to be inspired by conversations and experiences. Something interesting might happen at any moment, and I'll jot it down. I have tons of notebooks, tons of notes in my phone, tons of voice notes with melody ideas. But over the years, I've really learned to love collaboration. I love getting with a co-writer or a producer, coming to the table with certain ideas or influences and seeing what they have as well. That's really special and valuable to me, especially if we're talking about an experience that we can both relate to. It's cool to see different sides of the same coin and to be able to explore it a little bit. I love the humanness that connects us all. I just try to stay open and keep myself in the flow as much as I can, not being closed off, or afraid, or ashamed, or self-conscious. 

"I feel like I've got my power back and I'm stepping into the fullness of myself."

You've been through hell with your former label, which makes what you said about the importance of relationships so meaningful. I can only imagine that was such a life-changing experience.

It was definitely frustrating to feel like my history was just being swept under the rug. I've been building this career since before I was 12 years old. I feel like I've got my power back and I'm stepping into the fullness of myself. I spent a lot of years feeling like there was nothing I could do, feeling unempowered. It was fulfilling to find a solution—taking action, going back into the studio, re-singing the songs, collaborating with producers to have them remix these tracks, and re-releasing my first two albums. It’s amazing to have my fans understand what that meant and what the time commitment was, and amazing to have them be received the way they were. It made me feel like it wasn't in vain. It was crazy that it got to this point, but I like solutions, and instead of being overwhelmed by what I can't do, I wanted to focus more on what I can do and move forward, because I'm tired of looking backwards.

I wanted to take control of my narrative in a tangible way, and this enabled me to do that. I wanted to put this out before I put out any new music so I could really get in touch with that carefree spirit that I had when I first started recording my first album, before things got really difficult for me in my professional life and personal life. I found my voice again through this process. I've been having conversations with other friends who are also in their 20s, and it seems like there's a similar theme going on: we're all wanting to get in touch with that inner child and to remember how we felt before life got in the way of who we truly are: that fearlessness and that true inner essence. 

Recreating any sort of magical artistic moment is so tricky. Did you just jump right into it?

I just put my head down and did it, and with each song I went back and I had vivid memories of being in the studio the first time. I didn't try to recreate it exactly because I don't sing today like the little girl that I was back then. The voice changed and has more body now than it did back then. I wanted to take where I am now and relate to the songs in a natural way. I really just tried not to psych myself out about it. I tried to be as true as possible. Sometimes it felt like I was covering another person's songs. It was kind of trippy to remind myself that we're one and the same, and to bridge that gap. This is really for my fans, because I saw that people were asking where they could hear my first two albums, and I didn't want it to come across like I was holding them back, or any weirdness like that. I just wanted to feel in control again.

And as a woman in the music industry—or sadly any industry—you must have felt countless pains. But it’s inspiring and energizing that you were able to reclaim that music. How much of your strength was attached to that identity of being a woman in the music industry?

So much! I really needed to go through this in order to get some strength back and to feel like I'm firmly standing on solid ground. There are things that just cannot be taken away from me … and that's my history, my voice, my spirit. In any industry where there's money involved, and ego, I think that it can get very convoluted and challenging. I wanted to remember why I love this, and it's because of how music makes me feel, how I can connect with as many people as possible. It would have been really hard for me to move forward because my spirit was broken through the process of feeling like I was losing my identity.

"I wanted to remember why I love this, and it's because of how music makes me feel, how I can connect with as many people as possible."

Where did you mine the courage from to achieve that? 

Well, I certainly don't think about it as being courageous. I just refused to give up. I wanted to choose to see obstacles as opportunities—and that's what my team and I have done for the past 10 years. Now that I'm free, making a new album, and working on a joint venture with Warner Bros., I'm more empowered and excited than ever. It's constantly checking your mindset, and saying, "Do I want to be depressed about this, or do I want to find a better way to perceive my circumstances?" We have to check ourselves and ask those questions every day, because we're more in control than we think we are. That's what I needed to come to terms with. There were certainly moments where I was in a dark headspace, but that's why you can't do it alone. My fans' support, the way that we are engaged with each other, is invaluable to me. And I wouldn't have continued on in the way that I have if it weren't for them.



Were there certain things about the process that you were surprised to learn, things that you wish someone would have told you when you were younger?

When I signed my first record deal, I was 12 years old, and my mom read a book called All You Need to Know About the Music Business. I think she learned a lot of valuable stuff in there, but there were also things that were not included in that book. I know that we trusted the people that I was signing business contracts with, and we trusted that they had my best interests at heart and that we were truly like a family. It's important to separate business from family and friends and knowing that you can't trust what somebody says—you need to get it in writing. We didn't understand that I didn't own my voice. I had to get permission to do anything with my voice that could possibly make money for the record labels that I was signed to. They chose many times not to let me do certain things because they wanted more money. I wish we had known to go over contracts with a fine-tooth comb. But to be honest, I don't live my life that way, where I'm looking backwards and thinking what if, thinking in retrospect, because it's just not constructive. So I think about how I can move forward and have more ownership and more empowerment, and encourage young people to think about how much they want to give away of themselves and to be protected.

You're working on new music, pushing forward, focusing on who you are, who you can be. What does that music look like? 

It's really eye-opening to dive deeply into myself and connect with myself in a way that I really never have. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone, sonically, even in the way that I'm singing. I just want to continue to grow. I feel like if I'm not growing I'm dying. That's what's exciting me right now. I have nothing to hide. I want to tell all my stories so that I don't feel ashamed of anything. I've had a lot of experiences as a woman—some good, some not so good. I want to control that narrative because I think a lot of times as women we feel ashamed for things that we've done, and instead of feeling that, I want to connect with others because I think there's strength in being vulnerable. And I want to find that.

Is there something creative that you haven't done yet that you'd still like to do? 

I'm really interested in directing. I would really like to start shadowing directors and getting more involved in that. I'm really inspired by how a lot of artists are being hands-on in that way and have been for a while. I just bought a place in L.A., and I'm really interested in the curation of making that a home and how developing a personal style and an aesthetic is something that can carry you through different areas of your life. 

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

2019 Music Festival Preview: Noise Pop, Coachella, Ultra & More

Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.