90’s R&B legend Donell Jones has paved the way for some of R&B biggest stars to date. He is the epitome of an a REAL R&B singer, having found success with hit records Where I Wanna Be, U Know What’s Up, and Shorty Got Her Eyes On Me. Hailing from historic Chicago, Illinois, he used music to combat the pressure of gang violence and becoming a product of his environment. As one of the most distinct voices coming out of the 90’s and early 2000’s era, he is gearing up for the release of his forthcoming album titled 100% Free.
After taking a seven year hiatus from music, this melodically songbird is back and better than ever. I had the esteemed pleasure of chatting with Donell Jones ahead of his 100% Free album release. As he candidly shared with me what life is like for an R&B star returning to music, it is clear that he will continue to influences the masses for many years to come.
Checkout then full interview below.
GD: As it has been seven years since your last album release, what were you doing in the meantime? Also what was the ultimate decision for you to get back into the studio?
Donell: I was trying to get myself together. I had to overcome a few things. I had a battle with alcohol for a long time, whiskey in particular. That was something I had to overcome as well as cigarettes for 30 years and marijuana consumption. Also self sabotage and negative thinking I had to kick.
I just wanted to go and reinvent myself in a sense of dropping all the things not beneficial to me as a person and individual. I just want to do everything over again, reteach myself how to do everything, and just start over again. I am also a father and want to be there for my children.
GD: Are there any tools that you could provide people that struggle with any type of alcoholism or substance abuse or anything that hinders them from success?
Donell: I would say, it’s all in the mind. A lot of the time we feel like we want these things but it’s just a thought. If you take the thought and make the choice to say no, the more you say no to something the less the thought will come. Then eventually, the entire thought won’t come at all. You just have to really be disciplined and realize that it’s all in your head. Because everything you do is a choice.
GD: How have you been able to stay relevant without releasing a lot of music?
Donell: I think it has a lot to do with the type of songs that I’ve written in the past. Everything I write is based on a personal experience, and things I’ve been through. When you speak your truth, you are not the only one going through it. There are people all over the world going through the same thing. Also the music, the subject matter, the vocals, etc. all play a part.
GD: Why do you feel that the music industry steals your ideas and tries to silence you? How has this taken a toll on your mental state?
Donell: I feel like the music industry tries to silence me because of the type of music I make. My music goes to the soul and feeds the soul of a man and a woman. It’s not raunchy, it makes you feel good. A lot of music today I feel is demonic, and it makes us want to do drugs and is all about sex.
Sex isn’t a bad thing but the way we are going about it, how we are speaking about it is not good. I think that’s why a lot of other artists in the 90s were successful because of the type of music they put out. There was a lot of good music, but music is different from now.
GD: Today’s R&B is different than when you were putting out music. What’s your perspective of today’s R&B artists in comparison to your music and other 90s artists?
Donell: I won’t compete with these younger guys but I think our music had a little more substance. In the 90s you had artists like myself, Genuine, Maxwell, D’Angelo, and many others. Nobody sounded the same, and we all had a different style of R&B. Today artists sound the same with the same type of tone, cadence, flows, etc. That is what I feel is the difference between the 90s and today’s music. There is simply no originality. I feel originality is the biggest thing for today’s artist.
GD: As you’re upon your seventh studio album, can you talk about the inspiration behind your studio album?
Donell: Well it’s been seven years since my last studio album. There will be seven songs on it, and it’s my seventh studio album so I’m going for that, 777 theme. The album is called, 100% Free and when I say that I mean that I’m free from self sabotage, alcoholism, and a lot of what I suffered from in the past. But not just personally. I am also free from label contracts, so I am technically free all the way around. With my seventh studio album I can give my fans a 100% free album because there is nothing holding me back.
I don’t have a label telling me I can’t do something as I produce, sing, write, and all on my own. My fans have been rocking with me and the time we are in right now, I feel that this is a great opportunity to give them something for free, especially right now when people are losing their jobs, etc. God didn’t make me pay for this talent so why make my fans pay for it? I should be able to give it to them for free.
GD: Is there anything we can expect on this album?
Donell: You are going to get Donell Jones of today. I’m not changing my style, and there won’t be any features. The next album, I will definitely go in more in depth. It is called Elevate and will have a lot more songs and be a big album for me. But 100% free is for us becoming free as a people, and us realizing that there are a lot of opportunities for us. We just have to fix our minds and what’s going on inside of them.
If we can do that, we can become 100% free, and that’s why I’m doing this album. These songs will be incredible. Some will be inspirational songs, bedroom anthems, and others will get you dancing. Within 7 songs you will get a variety as I am trying to give you everything in those 7 songs.
GD: What did the process look like since you’re doing everything independently/on your own?
Donell: It’s pretty easy for me because I’ve done that throughout my whole career. All of my albums, I have written and produced the majority of them give or take 4-5 songs. So it is pretty easy for me and I love making music as it is in my heart. I felt like that is what my calling is. I am blessed to do this.
GD: How has the city of Chicago influenced/impacted your career musically? And how does it inspire you today?
Donell: Being from Chicago, everything about Chicago is Donell Jones. From my swag, to the way I dress, wear my hats, and my shoes, I am Chicago. Even though I left at 17, I carried everything with me. What inspires me today is that we have to get these younger brothers off the streets and let them see something different. When I was there, there was gang violence but there was a lot more structure to it.
Now, it just seems like we are lost and we just need to get the word out that there in another way. I feel like this album will help these individuals, if not them, their parents. We just need to hear something different from different people besides these young guys talking crazy on records.
GD: Do you have any advice for artists who are battling with dead end contracts or may have some deals on the table but aren’t sure what to do?
Donell: I have a lot to say, because it was me. I wouldn’t change anything, but what I would tell a young artist is no matter what the situation is, always give your best but do not short yourself. Make sure you are always giving your best work because in the end, when the contracts are up, people want to see what you got and you have to be able to give them what you got. You have to able to deliver. Do not get mad at the label. You signed the contract, so do your best and give your best. When the contract is over, the fan base will rock with you forever.
GD: What’s your outlook on this presidential election? What are you looking forward to this election season?
Donell: Everyone needs to vote. The main thing is just getting out here and making sure your voice is heard. If you don’t vote you can’t really say anything about what’s going on. If I’m being honest I feel that we need better candidates. I’m not really happy with either one. I wish Kamala Harris was President instead of VP, but we have to choose the lesser of two evils. I don’t feel either guy is qualified for the job but let’s get out here, show up, show out and show them that we deserve to be heard.
GD: What are some ways artists can get more involved with sparking that voting culture?
Donell: Things like what we are doing right now such as speaking about it in interviews and maybe post here and there. My thing is I don’t want to influence you on who you vote for. That decision should be your own because whoever you vote for is your business. Just make sure you vote.
GD: How has your music career and growing up in Chicago influenced how you are in being a father?
Donell: When I was younger I already had two kids. I was a good dad financially but I wasn’t really there because I was on the road a lot. I really hate that part of my life because I wish I would have been there a little bit more.
Now that I’ve gotten married and had two more children with my current wife, I can pick and choose in my career what I want to do and how I want to do it with my children. The type of father I am today, is very different than who was back then. Now I can handle more, I’m more involved, and things don’t bother me.
Also you are a different person when you get older in age. You can take a little bit more than when you were younger. Family is everything to me. Not only do I have young kids, I have grandkids now as well. I am loving watching my whole family grow.
The release date of his forthcoming project is still in the works, but all updates will be available on his official website here. Be sure to stay connected with Donell Jones by following him on Instagram @donelljonesforever.