For the past decade, Donell Jones has been a top singer/songwriter & producer who is known for creating smooth, urban soul hits. He first achieved success as a songwriter, penning the hits ‘Think Of You’ for Usher and ‘Get It Together’ for 702. Then he broke through as an artist, scoring a platinum album with Where I Wanna Be (in 1999) and going gold with Life Goes On (2002), which spawned the chart hits ‘U Know What’s Up,’ ‘Where I Wanna Be’ and ‘You Know That I Love You.’
Now after a four-year hiatus, Jones returns with his fourth album Journey of a Gemini, on LaFace/Zomba Records. This album is already off to an excellent start on the charts, debuting at #15 on The Billboard 200, and at #1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. This is the first time that an album by Jones has debuted at #1 on this chart.
On his first three albums, Jones wrote and produced most of the songs by himself (or occasionally with ‘Eddie F’ Ferrell). But on Journey of a Gemini, Jones decided to reach out and collaborate with several of the hottest R&B/hip-hop writer/producers, such as Jermaine Dupri, Sean Garrett, Mike City, the Underdogs, and Tim and Bob. The result is a very contemporary mix of songs, with more uptempo cuts than Life Goes On, which consisted mostly of ballads.
‘This album has much more uptempo and midtempo songs,’ said Jones. ‘I loved the last album, but I realized it had too many ballads. It didn’t have the club and dance records on it. So I wanted to make sure I had a good balance of songs for the new album.’
To get the freshest new tracks, Jones made the decision to collaborate more, and work with these top writer/producers. ‘It took a lot of persuading by my A&R exec Mark Pitts, to get me to write with other people,’ he said. Pitts is known for his hit success with Usher and the late Notorious B.I.G. ‘I usually produce and write the songs myself, or with Eddie F. But once I got with these guys, I learned from them and they learned what I do. Working with a lot of different people on this project has opened me up, and has made me a better writer.’
‘As I collaborated on these new songs, I did want to make sure that I stayed true to my fan base, and I believe I’ve done this. Sometimes your fans hear your new record and it sounds different to them, and they wonder what you’re doing.’
The first single from the album was the club hit ‘Better Start Talking,’ which features a rap by top writer/producer Jermaine Dupri, and was written by Dupri, Sean Garrett (who’s had hits with Ciara and Usher) & Ryan Leslie. ‘Better Start Talking’ is one of several songs on the album which features a rap vocal appearance. ‘These days, it definitely helps to have a rap on songs for added radio airplay,’ explained Jones. ‘There are a lot of radio stations now that need to have a rap on every song they play. They say they play R&B, but it’s usually a R&B song which includes a rap on it.’
Besides ‘Better Start Talking,’ there are a number of other strong, uptempo cuts on the album, such as: ‘Spend The Night’ and ‘Lust Or Love’ (written by Jones & Mike City); ‘Feelin’ You’ (Jones with Tim and Bob); and ‘If U Want’ (which features a rap by Bun B.). Jones does return to his classic R&B/pop style on his new single, the midtempo ‘I’m Gonna Be,’ which he wrote with Tim and Bob (Tim Kelley & Bob Robinson). With its smooth groove and hooky harmonies, this is exactly the type of song which keep Jones locked in with his fan base. ‘It’s a real feel-good record ‘ I had fun writing this song with Tim and Bob.’
Another notable song is ‘Cry,’ a heartfelt, emotional ballad which includes a sample of the Hall & Oates hit, ‘Sara Smile.’ ‘We were in the studio, and we were thinking of sampling a Hall & Oates song,’ recalled Jones. ‘When we heard ‘Sara Smile,’ it inspired me to write a song to go with this sample. With the lyric of ‘Cry,’ it’s about telling people to take care of their children. A lot of parents are on drugs ‘ children become drug addicts. We need to pay attention to our kids.’
Overall, Journey of a Gemini is a solid reflection of where Jones is at in his music career, and with his personal life. ‘This album is about me, what I’ve been through, and the relationships that I’ve been in,’ he said. ‘It’s also about my journey as an artist. This year marks my 10th anniversary as a recording artist, and I’ve definitely had my ups and downs. But I believe this album has some of my best work yet.’
When asked what advice he would give to young artists and songwriters who are trying to break into the music business, he said, ‘Stay true to yourself. It’s your dream, and nobody can make it true but you. Believe in yourself and trust in God.’
Dale Kawashima is on Google+