Interview recorded on February 7, 2012
Time will tell, but as a singer and songwriter, K'Jon could very well become the heir apparent to his mentor Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds. It's a possibility that was first noticed when his single "On The Ocean" came out and garnered much attention for his debut album, I GET AROUND, in 2009.
On the eve of his second release, MOVING ON, K'Jon reflects on his debut, and looks ahead to his future with the release of two singles: "Will You Be There" and "Bad Gurl." He reveals to Darnell Meyers-Johnson why he was somewhat disappointed with "On The Ocean," and why he broached the topics of suicide and alcoholism in the video for "Will You Be There."
Good day. This is Darnell Meyers-Johnson for SoulMusic.com. Today I’m speaking with a gentleman you may know best from his breakout hit, “On The Ocean,” from his 2009 album I GET AROUND. He’s about to release a brand new album, MOVING ON, featuring a new single, “Will You Be There.” Today I’m speaking with Mr. K’Jon. How are you sir?
K’Jon: I’m good, Darnell. I’m doing real good. How about yourself?
DMJ: I’m good. As I said in the intro, some people are going to know you from that hit that you had in ’09, “On The Ocean,” but some others may be looking at this and checking you out for the very first time. For those people, how would you describe your sound?
K’Jon: Definitely soul, hip hop, and R&B. You’re going to get all of those things in one.
DMJ: I understand you’re from Detroit. It’s a city that’s rich in music history. At which point did you decide that you wanted to pursue music?
K’Jon: Well, it wasn’t until I was laid off when I went into music full time. I was always dabbling into music early on, but I really got serious when I had the time to kind of perfect my craft and to take it to another level. So it was when I was pretty much a grown man.
DMJ: Being that you’re from the Motor City, who were some of your influences once you decided to get serious about being in the music business?
K’Jon: Well the Motown label, back in the day, when Berry Gordy was running it--all the acts that came out of Motown were definitely an inspiration for me. But, in general, I like all genres of music: Rock & Roll, even country. Hip hop was also very big with me. I was a hip hop fan early on, and I even recorded hip hop demos early, before I started recording R&B songs. So I kind of was influenced and inspired by all kinds of music.
DMJ: Why do you think you ended up morphing into more R&B than hip hop? In other words, why do you think you never became a full hip hop artist?
K’Jon: That’s a good question, because, you know, when I was growing up we had a lot of guys, even back then, who were trying to be rappers, and you know, I was just like them. There was competition and we had our own groups and I was more attracted to singing. I thought that, even back then, I thought rapping was--I thought it was like a fad and I would dress my hip hop songs up with singing. Like, with the chorus being singing and maybe I would rap on the verses. That intrigued me and it kind of gave me a little bit more inspiration to go full-out R&B, and start singing songs. So it was just more appealing to me--the singing side of it.
DMJ: Now, before you came out with your own joint in ’09, you were actually making a name for yourself as a songwriter. I know you did three songs on Shareefa’s 2006 album, POINT OF NO RETURN. Just tell me real quick how that situation came about.
K’Jon: Well, yes, Shareefa’s a good friend of mine, and we actually were in the same camp at the time and working on her project. So I was doing some A&R work. That’s one of the many hats of mine, and I was proud of it. I was proud to be able to write and help produce other acts, and so that’s how that came about. Those are some fond memories and good times back then.
DMJ: Your hit, “On the Ocean,” even though it was a huge hit for you, I was surprised to read that you were still kind of disappointed with it. Can you tell me why that was?
K’Jon: Yeah. A lot of people, you know--as a fan, you enjoy the song--and the song, from what I read and from what people tell me, is a very inspirational, emotional song, and it’s easy to get caught up in songs as a fan that’s listening, as a consumer. But on this side of the street, so to speak, as a businessman, as a person who relies on his music to feed his family and to sustain himself, that’s the part I’m disappointed at. Not the accolades the song received, but just branding my name to where I can go out and fend for myself.
I think that the song did well and had legs on it. The song was worked for years before it even had a major opportunity--before it was branded it was on the streets. I wanted to take that to another level and really capitalize off of it and become a super star, so to speak, to help make all sense of it. I just didn’t want to be quote-unquote “ghetto celebrity” where everyone knows you, but you don’t really have the dollar signs to match the claim, your claim to fame. That’s where my disappointments lie, and not in the fact of what “Ocean” was able to achieve. I’m strictly a businessman and I can record songs all day, and have fun in the basement and sing for family members, but I decided to do this to make all sense and feed my family and make a living out of this.
DMJ: Speaking of emotional songs, your new single, “Will You Be There,” is also an emotional tune. Struggle seems to be a familiar theme in your music. Is there any particular reason why you sing about struggle so well?
K’Jon: Well, with the new album, MOVING ON, we get to know a lot about who I am as a person, as an artist. Struggling is definitely something I think a lot of male figures can relate to, especially in this day and age. If you look at the charts, I think a lot of people sing about the same thing, about love and falling out of love. I think it’s refreshing to sing about what’s real and what really is on people’s minds today.
I know Marvin Gaye--he sang about the times when he was very successful, and you know, an inspiration like that helped mold what I sing about, write about. That’s definitely not the only thing I sing about, and so, fortunately and unfortunately, “Ocean” was like the only song people out there have heard. I definitely want people to learn the other side of K’Jon--the person who sings about the parties and women and the catering to women, the romantic side to K’Jon; and the MOVING ON album definitely catches you up to speed of who I am as an artist, as a person--but struggling is definitely one of those things that I know much about, especially in the city of Detroit, but I want people to know everything about my artistry and not just the struggling part.
DMJ: I do want to ask you about the video for “Will You Be There.” It explores a topic that is on everybody’s mind right now: the topic of suicide, particularly with the recent passing of Don Cornelius. Did you have any reservations about approaching such a sensitive subject?
K’Jon: The video is definitely about extreme measures of depression, and I can honestly say that I’ve never taken the extreme measures of wanting to take my life. I know times that were very dark, and where you--I think we all have wondered what life would be without yourself in the equation, but I think the video kind of wants you to think as far as some people actually doing that. I think the time that we’re living in puts a lot of pressure on a lot of people to provide for their families, bills, illnesses, other people dying, and the outlook looks bleak sometimes in people’s eyes. So we kind of stretched the imagination, so to speak, in the video, but in actual reality, I know of a few people, who--other people in their lives have actually taken their lives, or attempted.
The suicide part of the video is not the only thing … there’s substance abuse, and I’m sure that there’s a lot of people who can relate to that. We don’t always face our problems the same way. Some people handle their problems with substance abuse, drinking, drugs, and some people are positive; They actually talk to someone. They go and maybe even pray about it. There’s so many ways to deal with the dark times in our lives, but we all experience them; some are just greater than others, and we handle them differently than others.
DMJ: I understand you wrote all of the songs on your new album. So, if you could, just tell me a little bit about some of them and what you’re talking about in some of the other tunes, just to give us a little preview of what’s on there.
K’Jon: Well, just to lighten up the room a little bit, we’ll be showcasing some of the other songs on the album. Our fans can look up “K’jon’s Bad Gurl” and listen to that song, and also, watch behind-the-scenes footage; we’re shooting that video right now. We have a dance that goes to it, and you know Detroit is known for it’s ballroom and hustle, and so we have a new K’Jon Bad Gurl line dance, or hustle that is pretty hot, and gives us some other things to talk about, as well.
I’m really excited about this album because we go from A to Z. We do talk about relationships. We talk about the struggling. We do talk about being in love. There’s a duet on the album which features an artist on my label, “Wonderland,” which is an incredible duet. Misty Merritt is her name. She’s a phenomenal singer and I think the duet is one of the best in the last decade, in my eyes.
There’s so many songs: it starts off in urban mainstream settings and it eventually goes to what people are familiar with, as far as my sound and the messages and positive energy, and I’m just so excited about this album, because you get the full spectrum of who I am as an artist.
DMJ: This “Bad Gurl” dance, I’m trying to figure out how I can ask you this: is it something provocative, or is it going to be something my grandmother can do?
K’Jon: I think anyone can do the “Bad Gurl” dance. You can go to … again, I don’t know the actual website, but if you go to Youtube and Google “K’Jon Bad Gurl,” it will come up, but it’s not a provocative dance. If anything, it’s more sophisticated and sensuous, it’s definitely what a man would like to see, but it’s not provocative at all. We are trying to make it the number one ladies dance in the club by the summer. So I’m excited about that.
DMJ: Now, one of the things that stands you out from a lot of people who are out there right now, is that you do write a lot of your music. Can you just tell me a little bit about your song writing process?
K’Jon: Yeah. A lot of it is based on experience, and then as a writer, because I’m into screen writing now, and journalism is my thing--I even used to write sports stories early on--I was fixated on being an editor or a sports writer, and so writing is my forte. So I can take a song, or take an experience, or story from someone, and really stretch the imagination, or I can actually just tell the story and make sense of it all, where’s it’s not acceptable and sounds nice. I credit a lot of that to being able to rhyme, early on in my life, and to the hip hop thing. Even as an artist, by rapping and then singing, or a combination of both, helped to create who I am and define me as an artist.
Also, I like the way Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds wrote his songs. I’m a really big fan of his; he’s like my mentor. I got a chance to meet him; I was on a show with him a couple of times. It was a really big treat to meet a person who I really look up to as a writer. So a lot of things have helped mold me as a writer. A lot of these have been experiences and a lot, too, has been a creative imagination.
DMJ: Did he--Babyface that is--did he offer you any advice?
K’Jon: At the time, he was just sort of doing his thing, and everybody was looking at me like, “Wow, here’s this is the guy who wrote this number one song.” Everyone loved the song. I asked if I could work with him, and of course he obliged, and so I’m looking forward to working with him one day and, right now, just trying to solidify myself as an artist, as well, but I’m looking forward to the time working with him.
DMJ: Before we wrap up, I also know that you’re active in some community endeavors. Can you just tell me a little bit about that?
K’Jon: Well, you know I enjoy going out to different schools. As a matter of fact, I’m at a middle school tomorrow to talk about Black History Month. So I love giving back to the community and the kids. The B & Me foundation is an organization that helps young black men as mentors and I had a chance to really be a part of that organization. I’m just trying to attach myself to anything positive, definitely in Detroit, to help the community and young men. I really want to start a foundation of my own, but I’m kind of like getting educated on how to go about it, and really want to define what I really want to do with the kids, with the community.
DMJ: So you said that “Bad Gurl” is going to be the next single. Are you going to be out touring?
K’Jon: Well, “Bad Gurl” is not--it’s kind of like--what we plan on doing, being independent now--we plan on just pushing multiple songs. In the old days, I just really think that when you flood the market, the consumers really know what they’re getting, what product they're buying. It just helps, in the long run, but “Bad Gurl” is like a B-side of the “Will You Be There” single--just for the clubbers and the ladies who want to get out there and dance, and also the guys, too.
DMJ: Let everybody know how they can stay in touch with you online. I imagine you’re on Twitter and Facebook?
K’Jon: I am. I am on as “Who is K’Jon?” Go to Facebook—“Who is K’Jon?” Definitely, leave me a message at @WhoisKJon on my Twitter. I’m getting the hang of it all. So, if you reach out to me I’ll definitely respond.
DMJ: Is there anything you would like to mention that we haven’t talked about?
K’Jon: Well, we talked about a lot. I just--I want to thank the fans for supporting me, because without them there would be no me. So I’m looking forward to the second album and continuing where I left off and giving them what they liked from the initial album.
DMJ: Well, lets not forget one of the most important pieces of information we want to put out there. When is the album coming out?
K’Jon: April 10th, everywhere.
DMJ: All right, sir. We do appreciate your time. Anytime that you want to come to us at SoulMusic.com, and let us know what you’re doing, our doors are always open.
K’Jon: Thank you, Darnell. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
DMJ: Thank you, sir. Be blessed.
About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.