Remember Jon B.?
He came through with a look like a thin, handsome Big Pun with the mellifluous voice of Babyface and we were confused. Is he white? Lightskinned? Puerto Rican?
Then later, when we saw him dancing Puffy-style in the video for "Don't Talk", we were like, okay, he's white. BUT, he was Teena Marie-styled white, which is to say blacker and with a more soulful voice than most black people we know.
Tonight, his episode of Unsung airs on TV One.
When he hit the scene in the 1990’s, Jon B. didn't just flood the radio with romantic ballads like "They Don't Know", which peaked at #2 on the R&B charts. He was also a prolific songwriter and producer for heavyweights like Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson and R&B stars like Toni Braxton, New Edition and TLC, and hip-hop stars like Guru, Jay-Z and Nas.
He would be the last artist to work in the studio with Tupac for the song, Are You Still Down. At the session Tupac told him, “I love you man, don’t waste your talent.” Two weeks later Tupac would be murdered in Las Vegas.
Born from a musical family with a father that was a conductor, and his mother who was a concert pianist, Jon B. got hooked on R&B shuffling through records at his grandparents’ record store in Pasadena, California.
When he performed at a junior high school talent show, members of the R&B group Troop were the judges. The win gave him the confidence to continue to pursue music and it culminated in a demo that got into hands of Tracey and Babyface Edmonds.
The single off of his debut album featured a cut with him and Babyface, "Someone to Love"—which garnered them a Grammy nomination for best pop collaboration. There was no better start to a career. The track "Pretty Girl" followed and out the gate, at 18 years old, he had joined the ranks of the R&B elite.
Jon B., who has a new album, tentatively titled “Mr. Goodnight” that is due out in 2017, sat down to talk with The Shadow League before his Unsung episode airs this evening.
The Shadow League: I don’t know if many people know about your songwriting and the production list of numerous people you’ve worked with. Break it down real quick.
Jon B: TLC, Spice Girls, Luther, Coko from SWV, Jay Z, Nas, Guru, Cuban Linx, AZ, the list goes on, plus all the producers I collaborated with. I'm a huge fan of R&B and hip hop, house music and everything, music in general, jazz and everything.
TSL: Talk about working with Michael Jackson.
JB: We were managed by the same manager, which was orchestrated by Babyface. He wanted me to have a very high powered manager. I met Mike backstage. I told him he was a huge influence. I got the call a couple of weeks later to remix the song, “You Are Not Alone,” and that was a huge single at the time. The president of Sony called me to do it and that was a huge honor for me.
TSL: What about Luther Vandross?
JB: That came about from a song that I produced and wrote and Babyface helped me out with backgrounds and the arrangements and it was dope. I was backstage at an awards show and there's Luther and he's like: I want to work with you man. I was like: Are you kidding me? You’re a huge part of the whole reason why I sing.
It’s a huge honor when you have these people that are such a huge influence on you, come up to you and they know you. And the fact that they are not here anymore makes it that much more special to think back on it.
TSL: What about Hip Hop artists?
JB: Nas, he’s amazing. I think about working with Jay-Z back in the beginning when “Dead Presidents” was out. Great time and great music. Guru, God rest his soul. Gang Starr and all the Jazzmatazz music was incredible. I'm a huge Hip Hop head.
I got a chance to collaborate with Ali Shaheed Muhammad that was included on the song we had Guru on-- the remix to Relax. I got to meet Phife Dawg and Q-Tip and Nas lining up all of that. I wanted to be one of the first ones to be on the up and up of the blend of R&B and Hip Hop. I was like why can’t this exist together? I felt like it was time to be versatile.
TSL: You did a mix of both, classic ballads and Hip Hop soul.
JB: Absolutely. The ballads were the foundation. I really just wanted to give you variety. That's what I started to do with the very first album when I was collaborating with artists like Bootsy Collins--songs like “Simple Melody.”
TSL: You said Babyface was a big influence, what was it about him that you admired?
JB: How many R&B records in the 90s weren't produced by Babyface? He was writing everything. That's how I learned how to sound it out. I think there are certain influences that stick to you and they feel natural. That's what it was like to work with Kenny. It matched my personality. I think there’s only so many people that really tell the truth like him. He says it how it needs to be said. He also has a good ear for what a lady wants to hear. I know cause it worked for me, before I had a deal and I was playing him for my girlfriend.