Donell Jones dropped his debut album My Heart in 1996 and 25 year later, the singer-songwriter is still in his bag.
Having the opposite of a sophomore slump, his second album—Where I Wanna Be and its Billboard charting title track— catapulted Jones to critical success and fame. Fast forward to 2021 and you have a seasoned veteran who just released his seventh album.
Released in December of 2020, seven years after his previous album, 100% Free is a project that reflects his evolution not only as an artist, but as a man.
A quarter of a century is plenty of time for growth and that is exactly what Jones did. As a husband, father of six, and owner of his own record label, the Chicago native’s current life and music reflect the level of maturity he has reached.
Jones spoke with BET.com via Zoom about the album, the splashy new video he just released for the single “Karma (Playback),” and how the practice of meditation ultimately changed his life.
BET.com: You just released the “Karma (Playback)” video. It’s very luxurious! I noted the Louis Vuitton jacket, the sheared mink, and the fancy tuxedos. Very upscale. I also noticed a few of your R&B friends there in the party scenes. Why did you include them?
Donell Jones: It was important to me to have them. Me and Carl Thomas are really good friends, as well as RL. I wanted to have one more person in there, but he had a death in the family and that was Dave Hollister. Jacquees represented that new wave of R&B. It was important to have them in the video so that people know even though we do music, we're still brothers and just show some love. There’s a camaraderie. I also just wanted to get together and have some fun.
BET.com: It did look fun, but the premise of the video/song has you digging through your woman’s DMs and finding out some stuff that she didn't want you to find out. Has that ever happened to you in real life?
Donell Jones: That never happened to me in real life, but it was the other way around. You know, I've been caught doing wrong things. I grew up and made amends and became a different person. But yeah, that was when I was one of those guys. But we grow and we do different things.
BET.com: This is the video from a single off of your new album that just came out in December 2020. It's a really tight, concise project—only seven songs. Each one has a different vibe. There’s reggae, sexy stuff, party jams all that. The final track is called “Meditation” and is literally a meditation. How did you put all this together?
Donell Jones: When the pandemic first happened, I got a strong idea to create a new project. This is my seventh album and I hadn't done an album in seven years, so I decided to do seven songs, you know , and make it 777. You know, those numbers mean a lot to me—they mean completion. I felt like people had lost their jobs and were less fortunate, so I wanted to do a free album and I want to name it 100% Free.
Then I got the idea of okay, well, there's so many things we want to be free from first of all we want to be free from wearing these masks and and free from just the quarantine period because that totally changed. Then I started thinking about how I became free from alcoholism and smoking a lot of marijuana. The idea was pretty strong and I just got to work creating this album
BET.com: How did you settle on including this meditative part at the end?
Donell Jones: About seven years ago, I tried meditation for the first time, and I had the most excruciating headache in the world, but I just kept at it. I got better at it and I just started to realize all of these things. My ideas are just thoughts, they're just suggestions. I don't have to pay attention to them. So I really want to put something on the album just to give an idea to people to try meditation. It really helped me out a lot.
BET.com: You mentioned freeing yourself from alcoholism and weed. Did you start doing that seven years ago too?
Donell Jones: Yes, around that same time period. I had a lot of things going on in my life and I just wanted to change. I had just gotten married I had my wife and a new son. I just wanted to spend some time with him and watch him grow and I needed to change my life. I have five daughters and here's my last. This is my son. I just wanted to be a better person for him.
BET.com: How did you ground yourself and find the energy to create something like this in the middle of a quarantine?
Donell Jones: Honestly, I really feel like sometimes I'm like an antenna and I just pick up the signal. It just came to me. It happened all at once and I just leaned in. I didn't challenge it, I just let everything come to me. And that's the way I move through life now. Just let it happen and if it's meant for me, it'll happen and if it's not, then it is what it is.
BET.com: It’s been 25 years since your first album and obviously the music industry has changed quite a bit. In that time, what would you say are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of how the music industry is now as opposed to when you first started?
Donell Jones: When I first started, fans would send a big bag of mail. That's incredible! What's also different now is that I'm the owner of my own record company and I was spending somebody else's money back then. So, we had a lot of things back then, but now I have to be pretty strategic about how I put my music out and to make sure I have a good record. I got to make sure that I'm spending money right and so it's different, but I welcome the challenge. I love it! I'm happy to be in charge.
BET.COM: As a seasoned vet in the music business, what advice would you give to the younger artists peaking today?
Donell Jones: I would say perfect your craft, study the greats, and never give up. This is a dream come true. Don't be afraid to be original. You can grab some stuff from the past, but don't be afraid to flip it and make it something new. Try to elevate and take things to another level.
Check out the video for Donell Jones’ latest single “Karma (Playback)” below:
(Photo by Paras Griffin/WireImage)