Legendary Singer Donell Jones Converts Setbacks into Positive New Way of Life
R&B legend Donell Jones wants his fans to know he’s no longer in the clutches of debt, addiction, a smoking habit and other vices that affected him throughout his career. His new album “100% free!” is exactly that: 100% free. Jones will release it to his fans in a matter of days.
Jones cemented his musical legacy long ago with chart-topping hits like “Where I Wanna Be” and “U Know What’s Up.”
But all that glitters is not gold. Jones says he dealt with crippling addictions along the way, and they led him to take a break from making music.
He built a successful career despite his demons. Now, clear of the crushing weight that hampered his personal life, the R&B icon feels he’s reborn and just getting started again. He even gave up smoking.
Jones is open and honest about his setbacks and his triumphs, and explains how “100% Free!” is his most daring step yet.
Zenger: How have you been during this Covid-19 Craziness?
Jones: You know what? Man, to be honest with you, this thing has kind of made my life a lil’ better in a sense. And let me explain to you why… I’m already an introvert, and I stay in the studio all the time.
So, it really didn’t change my life as far as that. But what it really made me do is made me think about my life and changed a few things. I got out and started working out a lil’ bit. It made me want to get out in that sun, so in that sense, it kind of helped me a little bit because I’m always in the house.
Zenger: It definitely changed all of us in some way, shape, or form. I think it stinks that you guys aren’t able to promote and tour. Still, most of you have been using social media and the internet in a remarkable way to supplement the lack of touring and public appearances.
Jones: Yeah, man! It really opened up the social media thing for me. But not only that, man, it made me just think about life and made me realize I gotta live my life to the fullest, man.
Zenger: ‘Karma (Payback),’ love the new single. I’m always amazed how artists like you are able to not only create timeless music but relative music as well. Is it just a matter of keeping your ear to the street?
Jones: Thank you! For me, it’s always been just following my heart.
That record was an old record from, The Stylistics. I used to love that record. Me and my group used to sing that record. So, I always knew one day I was going to do something with that particular record.
I woke up one day I was in bed with my wife, and I woke up singing the song. She asked me, ‘Damn, what song is that?’ And I told her that it was The Stylistics joint.
So, immediately I went downstairs and started making the music, and just wrote a whole new song from it, but I kept their thing, which was, “Payback.”
I added the ‘Karma’ thing. When songs hit me like that when I’m sleeping, that means I’m supposed to do it. And that’s exactly what happened with that particular song. It was something that I was supposed to do, and it hit me at that specific moment.
Zenger: ‘Where I Wanna Be’ has to be one of the greatest songs ever made. But I gotta tell you, your rendition of Stevie Wonder’s, ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet,’ I believe you outdid the legend on that one. I’m not just saying that either.
Jones: Wow! I don’t know about that (laughing). Let me be completely honest with you, man…and I’m a Stevie Wonder fan. When I did that particular song, I didn’t even know it was a Stevie Wonder song.
A lady had sung it to me, a producer’s wife sang the song to me, and I sang it back to the tape. I didn’t even know it was a Stevie Wonder song.
Had I known it was a Stevie Wonder song, I probably would have been so intimidated to do it, and it probably wouldn’t have even come out right. So, I’m glad I didn’t know, but I think that added to it a little bit.
Zenger: When I watched your ‘Unsung’ on TV One, you had a very brutally honest episode. I learned things about you that I didn’t know. Was it therapeutic for you at that moment to share so much of yourself and get things off your chest?
Jones: It was. You know why? I had watched that ‘Unsung’ show a few times with artists on there. I just felt like…I didn’t know I was going to get the opportunity to do it, but I said, ‘If I ever do this show, I’m going to let it all out because if I’m going through it, maybe my story can help somebody else.’
And I just wanted to be 100% real. My family asked me, ‘Do you want me to talk about this?’ I was like, ‘Man, ya’ll just keep it 100 and tell the truth. That’s what we gonna do on this one. We’re going to tell the truth. We’re not holding anything back, and we’re going to give it to them in the raw, and that’s how I approached it.
Zenger: Do you see a void in what is deemed real R&B music? And when will we see a Donell Jones record or a case record? So we know we can expect that void to be filled.
Jones: I feel like R&B can never die.
I feel like the lines are blurred right now between the youngsters doing their thing. They’re mixing the rap with R&B. It’s like a hybrid right now.
But true R&B, I don’t think it will ever die. You got people like H.E.R. you got people like Ella Mai, a lot of youngsters out there doing it. I think the difference between the R&B of yesteryear and today is the fact that our subject matter was different.
We talked about love a little bit more. Today they talk about how much money they got, how many chicks they are going to get into the bed. And our stuff was mostly based on relationships with one person.
We had a couple of swagged-out records, but for the most part, it was mostly about love, makeups and breakups, and all things that happen in relationships.
I think that’s what makes our generation of music a little bit different. One thing about music, man, is we’re always going to be in relationships out there, but ain’t nobody talking about what they are going through.
So, I feel like there is a street that ain’t nobody driving on, and an artist like myself can just drive on that street by myself and just have a lane to myself and an artist like me.
Zenger: Absolutely! I was bugged out when I found out ‘Where I Wanna Be’ was a real-life situation for you.
Jones: Every song I always write is based on my personal experience.
Because I feel like, if I’m going through it, then I know other people in the world are going through it, and not only that, when I’m singing it, I can give it the type of emotion it needs because it was my life. It was a part of me. Not only am I singing about something that I have been through, but I’m still feeling the emotions of it when I’m trying to deliver it on record.
Zenger: Your upcoming album is titled ‘100% Free!’ That’s a compelling and profound title. Why is Donell Jones 100% Free now?
Jones: Well, I can say that I don’t have any contracts. I’m not signed to anybody. I paid everybody back all the money they said I owed them.
So, I’m free. I’m in the green now as well as I used to think negatively. I used to smoke cigarettes. I used to smoke marijuana on a regular everyday basis. I used to drink. All those things, man, just fell away.
I’m not interested in those things any longer. I’m free. I’m free from addiction. I used to be addicted to porn, man. I’m free from all of those things that were addictions for me! Negative thoughts come, but I don’t pay attention to them anymore. Anything you pay attention to is something that has a hold on you. I don’t pay attention to things that don’t mean anything to me anymore.
Zenger: Would you say too much too fast is why you fell into those traps? Or do you feel that was something within you that money and fame brought out?
Jones: I think born into this world; we all have to go through it. We all have to face something. We have to overcome something, and those were some of the things I had to overcome.
My life situations brought me to that point. Those were the things that I was addicted to; those were the things that were in my life. My pops and my mom smoked cigarettes when I was very young. So that’s why I started smoking.
My grandpop was an alcoholic; that’s what made me become an alcoholic and made me want to pick up drinking. All of my life situations brought me to the point where I was at…but I think we as human beings all have to overcome something.
Whether it be an addiction to social media, addiction to pills…anything, we can be addicted to people too. I think we have to overcome those things and just understand that loving yourself is more important than anything.
Zenger: This album’s content, was it a freeing experience because you’re finally making music without those vices?
Jones: In a way, yeah! For me, it’s free because my mind is free, my heart is free, and I love myself. I found love in me.
Many people listen to that ‘Karma’ song and think it’s all about revenge or getting somebody back. But the real truth and the whole story behind it is the second verse when it says, “I fell in love with me. I fell in love with the person I am. I love myself more than I love anybody else, more than I love anything else. I love myself more.”
And that means I’m not going to allow anybody to treat me any kind of way because if you aren’t gonna love me like I love me, you can just go on ahead about your business. And that’s why I’m naming this album ‘100% Free,’ because I’m free from all those vices, and it’s also going to be 100% free to the fans to download for free.
Zenger: Will that be available on your website www.donelljonesmusic.com?
Jones: It is. It will be on my website. I’m still going to put it on iTunes and all that, but I’m asking my fans if you want to download it for free, you can, if after you download it and you feel like you want to support me, you can.
But I’m not asking for any money. I’m doing this out of the kindness of my heart because…you know, man, they have been waiting around for me, and I want to do it. And my next album, the one I’m going to come with after this one, I’m going to ask for the support.
Zenger: Your debut album, ‘My Heart’ came out in 1996, ‘100% Free’ will have a 2020 release date, musically, what can we expect to hear from you?
Jones: It’s a better version of me now. Back then, I was so young, man. My voice has changed. My voice is not as high as it was back then. I was like 19-years old.
I’m 40-years old. And I smoked for 30-years. A lot of things have changed. At the end of the day, it’s still Donell. It’s just a more polished Donell because I know who I am now. The younger me…if I had known then what I know now, things would have been a lot different. I appreciate my growth and who I’ve become.
Zenger: Is there a collaboration that has escaped you in your 25 years or so in the industry you would like to fulfill?
Jones: I’m just getting started to be honest with you. One artist that I would love to work with is Mary J. Blige. I never got a chance to work with her. Hopefully, one day, we will get a chance to get it in.
Zenger: It’s an honor speaking to you, brother, continue to make good music for us, and anytime you have anything you want to get out, feel free to hit me up. Is there anything else you want to add?
Jones: I just want to tell the fans; I appreciate them for rocking with me all these years. Again, my album is called ‘100 Free’ will be on my website to download for free. Thanks again for rocking with me. And thank you, brother, for allowing me to speak with you today.
(Edited by Daniel Kucin Jr. and Annie Yanofsky)
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