R&B has gone through quite a journey since the beginning of the century. Once known for subtle romantic undertones and seductive wordplay, recent years have seen the genre cross paths with EDM, pop and oh yes, even the hip hop sub-genre known as “Ratchet.”
As both a solo artist and a member of the groundbreaking group New Edition, Johnny Gill knows a little something about changing trends in music, but on his latest solo album, Game Changer, the singer is taking a stand for rhythm and blues in its purest form.
“Sometimes in music when you’re considered old school, you don’t get celebrated you get penalized,” Johnny told BET.com in an exclusive conversation. I feel compelled to stand tall with that banner and continue to carry on that lane of R&B that still exists and that people still have a love for. There’s no Luther Vandross anymore. There’s no Teddy Pendegrass anymore or Gerald Levert. Some say, ‘Oh, I don’t think this will work because it won’t work for radio,’ but history is on our side,” he added.
Over the course of his career, which has spanned roughly three decades, Johnny kept his sound consistent, but on his new album, Game Changer, which came out last week, the former New Edition singer put a little more focus on the upper octaves than on his previous projects.
“I approached the album, especially the first single, 'Behind Closed Doors,' from a different angle and started with a falsetto before going into my main style,” Johnny noted. “I was just sitting there talking to a couple of the other songwriters and I said, ‘You know, I want to approach the song from a different angle,’ and that’s how I came up with the falsetto thing. I wanted it to be something that’s quite seductive but yet still really nice and powerful and I’m really, really happy it worked out."
The song was written by Johnny’s longtime friend and former executive producer Babyface. The venerable crooner champions the LaFace Records founding father with helping take his career to the next level.
“I got to work with Babyface, which is always great when the two of us get together. I’ve had some huge records in my career, but the guy that gave me my signature record was Babyface. 'Rub Me the Right Way' was my biggest record but 'My My My' was my signature record. Another thing a lot of people didn’t realize I did was put Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were two of the most prolific and hottest producers on the planet, together for one project. I always said no matter where I go musically, even for the next 30 years, I will always feel compelled to have them be a part of whatever I’m doing because they helped get me to where I am today."
One of the other standout tracks on Game Changer is “This One’s for Me and You,” which features New Edition, and, according to Johnny, the reunion brought him right back to the days of packed arenas and screaming fans.
“It was like we never missed a beat! We were actually on the road at the time we recorded the song so we all went in the studio and recorded. It was cool and it was fun because we already were in a groove,” Johnny recalled.
He also said New Edition fans can expect much more from the group in the new year. “We were just sitting in there talking and laughing and at the end of the day that bug came over us and we started talking like, ‘Wow, we gotta get a new CD together, and make some new music as New Edition,’ so that’s how it really ignited and that’s something we’re in the middle of getting situated as well. Fans can expect a new New Edition album coming,” he teased.
In years past, Johnny (like most of the music business) was bound by deadlines and all the outside pressure that comes with being on a major label, but this time around he is on his own label, J Skillz Records, and he’s making sure that every step is taken organically.
“It’s nice. I’m not looking at the clock anymore going, ‘This studio time is costing me,’ cause I own the studio. I can record at my own pace, which makes it better and more enjoyable for me,” said Johnny. “I’m fortunate to be able to be my own boss. I can control where my music is going, how it’s getting out there and how it’s being cared for. It’s something I’ve never had the opportunity to do and I am enjoying every second of it."
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(Photo: Roger Walsh /Landov)