HHNLive.com writer Jonathan Tobias sits down with Jonell. Jonathan and Jonell discuss her shelved Def Jam album, hooking up with Hi-Tek, the success of "Round & Round", songwriting and much more.WAIT... THERE'S MORE STUFF
Jonell on her Def Jam album: "It was a hot album, I had Freeway, Keith Murray, Raphael Saadiq. I had Marsha from Floetry on the album".
Jonathan Tobias: Where does your inspiration come from?
Jonell: Actually my inspiration came from my father. The first time I heard him sing and play piano. He got a beautiful voice and can play very well. The first time I heard him sing I knew that's what I wanted to do, followed by Mary J. Blige with "What's The 411".
JT: Was it hard for you coming out of the Midwest to try and break into the scene?
JT: So you've been out of the limelight for a little bit, what was the reason for the hiatus?
J: Well it really wasn't a hiatus, I took some time off and I had some songs on some soundtracks. But I had to handle some business and at the same time I never stopped writing or recording I always kept that going and did some shows here and there.
JT: How did the song "Round and Round" come about?
J: Well round and round came off the Hi-teknology album. The DJ's started playing it on their shows in NY and it just picked up from there. Before I knew it the song was on hot 97, and I had no idea. I was still at home and recording. Tek informed me that it blew up and I was just amazed like wow and that's basically how it went down.
JT: How did you and Hi-tek meet?
J: Basically I knew Tek through someone that I had met and was asked if I wanted to meet him. At that time I did not know who he was for sure, but anyway I went down to meet Tek and I recorded something with him a long time ago, it was for a French rapper, it was Ok (haha), but we did not follow up on it or anything so it was like three or four years before I spoke with him. Eventually we ran into each other again and at that point I told him I was looking for a producer and I thought it was funny that I ran into him, like I was looking for a producer, and he was like oh yea, so we exchanged information, I think I called him right away, but I also ran into him the same week. Then he was like you know what why don't you sing something in my ear so I can get a visual, so I sang him the verse from round and round and then he was like we gotta record this tomorrow, then we recorded it and he put it on the Hi-Teknology album and I ended up doing two other songs off that album too.
JT: How different is it writing a song or doing a collaboration with a male artist versus a female artist?
J: It just depends on what kind of mood I'm in. Like certain songs, beats, vibes, can easily come from a male point of view. Now I'm not gonna lie, there are times that I may need a male writer or someone with me that can help me a little bit with some of my wording and kinda be like, no this is what you should do, because I'm a girly girl.
JT: Do you ever write a song for someone and then say to yourself, damn I wish I can keep this or use it for one of my songs?
J: (Haha), Yea I would just keep it why not. It depends on who it is really. If it's someone that I really look up to and that it is worth giving it to then I would just give it because I feel like there will always be songs coming out, always producers, always music out there and I love it so if I have to give it out I will. I have no problem with that
JT: That is a great way to share your gift to people. Because some artists I feel if they write a great song they may not give it out to other artists.
J: Sometimes it depends, like it could be a great song but it may not be for you. It could work better for someone else. I have to think logically about everything like, is this song really for me or is it fit for another artist?
JT: Do you have a favorite song that you have written?
J: Oh man you can't ask me if I have a favorite song because I am biased, I love all my music and all of my material. Of course there is some stuff that I'm like, no that's not for me. Now when a song is written and I know it is written for someone else I make sure it is not gonna be for me. It's not my style. But the stuff that I write for me I love, I love
everything so it's kinda hard for me to pick sometimes what I feel could be the one or something that could be that one song so it's really hard.
JT: Does an artist usually come up to you to write him/her a song or do you have to put yourself out there more and network yourself when it comes to songwriting?
J: Basically it's all in who you know and sometimes you need to network yourself. With me I know a lot of different producers, I have a lot of different relationships with people. People that are up and coming and people that are already there. I just pretty much work and do my thing with them and go from there.
JT: What kind of mindset do you have to be in to write a song for a movie?
J: I just go off the vibe of the song or the beat. Usually the beat will let me know where I need to take the song. There are times though where I know the story of the movie and of course I will have to write something that fits into that. I do not like to be put into a little box, like with a script, I usually like to go with the flow. With movies you can kinda get
away with anything, I mean there are certain subjects of course that are a little obvious, but you can pretty much work it out and pretty much guess what the song will be like and should feel like.
JT: Talk about how important it is these days for artists to really start branding themselves like you are doing?
J: Basically, I would say the first step to being a good artist is to put yourself out there and making a good brand for yourself and to have a team. First you need a good lawyer, someone that represents you, following that is your manager, just people that believe in you, those are the most important steps and with everything else that comes around that. As long as you have a team and they believe in you and you believe in them then there is no stopping you.
JT: You said that you trusted people and they weren't there for you 100 percent. How were you able to sort of weasel out the bad folks that were bringing you down and bring in better and more dedicated people?
J: I'm very observant of people. There are some times where I just have to sit back and watch. I believe with every one and every situation we are all given a chance and a time to look at people and see who they really are. They may seem like they are down for you and your friend, but when things are going bad for you, you can see who is really your friend and whose gonna be down for you and who is going to be there.
JT: Would you be able to talk about what happened with your deal with Def Jam?
J: Yea sure I have no problem with that. Basically with that whole situation, everyone pretty much wanted a different direction, where they wanted the project to go, and the labels merged on top of that. Then you have the executives that came in and the artists that were just on the label that were sitting at that time they were dropping so that's basically what happened. But I had a hot album.
JT: Yea it sucks that it was shelved, do you think it will be released?
J: I don't know if it will be released. I'm not to sure what is going on with that. It was a hot album, I had Freeway, Keith Murray, Raphael Saadiq. I had Marsha from Floetry on the album.
JT: I saw on your website that Kevin Liles signed you after three songs so it seemed like they really liked you?
J: Yea at that time we were in the middle of a bidding war, every label wanted to sign us. There was not one label that turned us down. But we decided to go with Def Jam. When we got over there we had three songs that we sent to Kevin, and they were really good songs with two of those making it on the album.
JT: Are you kind of scared to come into this business now with all the recent downsizing and merging with all these labels. Are you nervous about possibly releasing another album?
J: I wouldn't say I'm nervous about it. I just have to be on my P's and Q's about it and make sure I know what I am doing before I get myself into a certain situation. If that means I have to take my time and do it then that is what I have to do. I would rather do that then get into something and be stuck.
JT: So talk about your production company.
J: Well right now I am looking for some artists. I have a couple of producers that I am working with right now but I am looking for some artists. I am really looking for artists, I mean it doesn't matter, but I would love to find people from my hometown too. We have a lot of talent at home. And just period, it doesn't matter if you are not from Cincinnati, it doesn't matter at all. It doesn't matter if it's hip-hop or you are just a singer or a producer, I am just willing to try and work
with people and try and form our own little team.
JT: Do you think that there is anything missing in today's world of R&B?
J: I feel that sometimes with the industry there are times that the music is missing something. But we do have our Keyshia Coles and Mary J. Bliges. We do have people out there I feel that is bringing music back to where it needs to be like Chris Brown, Usher that are trying to do some things in a positive way. Of course we have the other side of it too. That's just the reality of what is going on in the world right now, everyone just wants to party and not really say what is going on in reality.
JT: Do you have a new album or mixtape coming out?
J: Well I have a new mixtape coming out but not an album. I am working on my album right now. I'm working with a couple of up and coming producers.
JT: Do you have anything else you would like to say?
J: I would just like to say to all my fans, I just wanna say thank you and I want to thank you for showing me love to this day, and I promise I will have something out for you soon so just be looking out for me.
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