R&B came to a tipping point. Auto-Tune madness is in full effect and with the new advancements in technology; the music industry supergiant has become a dinosaur lost in the rubble of passing comets. The clouds have lifted and there is no quiet storm. Slam poets no longer cling to the neo-soul hype. We’re in a recession, so we’ve lowered the volume on baby-making radio jams. But ever so often, there’s a voice that rings out from the bell towers that forces us to listen. With clever hooks, catchy foot stomping melodies and some contagious crooning, it’s hard for us to ignore upstart John Brown. He’s like an earwig, and we mean that in the best way possible.
While some speculate that the urban rhythm and blues scene looks to be in its dog days as it is full of braggadocio hype men, Brown is a charming anomaly of suave-and-sophisticated Lothario playboy and blue collar street folk. On a stifling late July summer afternoon, Brown chit-chats with GIANT and lets his freak flag fly a bit, talking about his humble beginnings, staying positive, his boyband heyday, a certain Day 26 friend, his solo debut and of course, women. Ladies, get ready to dismantle your current Tiger Beat crush. John Brown has arrived.
Giant: How are you doing, John?
John: You know man; I’m just enjoying this hot hot heat!
Giant: That’s why we’re indoors…
Giant: So, you’re on our list for Guys To Watch for 2010-2011.
John: Good. Sweet.
Giant: You’re from the Motor City right?
John: Yep. Motown.
Giant: So, what do you think you can bring to the R&B game that other artists from other cities like Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles aren’t bringing to the table. Because, let’s be honest no one’s repping Detroit nowadays.
John: Honestly its just feel good music, man. Something that people can really enjoy and actually has meaning to the words as opposed to some random degrading stuff that is not appropriate for kids. I wanted to do something that people can actually learn something from, take it and kind of incorporate it into their lives and you know, make something positive out of it. As opposed to the negative, so that’s my primary focus whenever I make music it’s just to put out something positive and something fun, but ultimately positive. Not saying that no else is putting out something positive, but you know, you hear some songs where some people are degrading women and all kind of craziness, I just don’t want to go in that direction. You know what I’m saying?
Giant: Your mom was actually a singer herself…
John: Yes. Yes, she was a singer. She was actually signed to Motown when she was 15 or 16 years old.
Giant: So, did she teach you how to sing
John: Yes, she taught me how to sing. She really stayed on me with the singing. Always! My mom definitely helped me out with that.
Giant: With her teaching you how to ding, did you have to go to other people and learn from a choir teacher or some kind of music outlet?
John: Oh, yeah. I went to several vocal coaches, because my mom was a full-time mom. You know, she really didn’t have the time to really sit down and give me lessons. But I went to several music theaters and vocal coaches throughout Detroit, so that helped me out as well. [It helped me] advance my vocals and teach me how to use my instrument properly.
Giant: Now, you mentioned instruments. So, are you an instrumentalist?
John: Yeah, in some sense. I can play the piano, the drums and [tune] the guitar. My parents [couldn’t give me it all].
Giant: A lot of singers nowadays rarely write their own songs or play their own instruments. Did you write your own lyrics or play your own instruments on your debut?
John: Yes, definitely. On the writing aspect of it, I’ve been writing a lot! Like, a lot lot. I haven’t actually played any tracks [to sample] or any instruments yet, but I am definitely going put that on my album. I am definitely going to do a song dedicated to someone special in my life, probably my son or my fans. You know, someone that is really really close me. I am going do something really special for them, where I am playing the piano. You know, kind of a smooth mellow track.
Giant: You got into the business very early in the game and actually knew Robert Curry of Day 26 growing up, correct?
John: Yes, that’s my best friend! I actually talked to him an hour ago. He’s in Atlanta right now. We’ve been knowing each other since we were like 8-years-old, you know? That’s been my boy for the longest.
Giant: So, will you be collaborating with him on future projects?
John: You know, honestly, we’ve actually recorded several songs together. Like even throughout his Day 26 thing. We’re go into a studio and just record songs. He’ll come to my house; I’ll go to his house and just record songs. So, I have several songs, probably 40 songs that we’ve recorded recently. Hopefully, I might try to incorporate my boy on the album. We got to do something different. Its got to be tight.
Giant: You actually connected with Wyclef Jean, through him, right?
John: Well, actually someone contacted my boy Robert and asked if he knew some guys that would like to join a group. After that, he contacted me. We went to New York, auditioned for ‘Clef and ‘Clef loved us instantly. He took us under his wing and we signed under ‘Clef. It was a great experience. I’ll never regret any of it.
Giant: What was it like auditioning for him?
John: Honestly, I scared. I’m not even going to lie to you. It was one those moments. It’s like when you get up in school, in front the class and you got to do a presentation and you got them butterflies and you feel like you’re going to have a heart attack and die. It was one of the feelings. But, as we went on with the performance he started moving his head, tapping his feet and stuff. We knew we got him. And he went ahead and signed us. That was dope, working with ‘Clef.
Giant: You were actually a part of a band E2G?
John: Yeah. That was the name of the group that Robert and I were in when we signed to ‘Clef.
Giant: So what happened? Was there any eternal conflict? Was there any drama? Why did end?
John: The thing is, in this industry… there wasn’t any drama, thing was people’s work ethics. Me and Robert, we’ve been doing this so long, we grew up together. That’s practically my brother. We grew up doing this so long, and some people in the group didn’t really have that drive like we had the drive. So, it slowly started to diminish… that love that they had for the group they didn’t have it anymore. Me and Rob, we had it. We were still signed to ‘Clef, were auditioning two other members. But ultimately, we started to focus on other things. Like, I wanted to go school. They wanted to do other things. But Robert and I are still friends to this day. It was one of those experiences where it was a learning experience, where some people can’t handle it and other people can. Robert and I can handle it, but for some other people in the group, they weren’t ready and couldn’t handle it. You got to be ready.
Giant: You just noted that there was an issue with work ethic, but it also sounds like there was a vision for the group, and that you saw a vision that others may not have seen for the group. As a solo artist, what is the vision that you see for yourself?
John: Fortunately, as a new solo artist you don’t have to worry about all that extra stuff. Only thing you got to worry about is you, you know? I definitely see longevity in my career. I’m happy and content right now with my labor, my management, everybody. I’m just excited. I’m blessed being in the situation I’m in. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
Giant: We mentioned Wyclef. As a solo artist, are you against working with him or would you consider working with him?
John: Oh, definitely. I still speak to ‘Clef. That’s my home boy. His cousin, Jerry “Wonder” [Duplessis] and Wyclef want to cut some tracks. My homeboy Jay Kudy… We were on the phone the other day to meet back in New York to cut a few records with Platinum Sound, that’s ‘Clef’s studio. That’s still my boy, the whole ‘Clef camp.
Giant: Will any of that on your debut?
John: I pray to God. It’s going to be super challenging but we’re going to do some tracks, and if it’s hot—which I’m sure it will be—I’m sure ‘Clef will definitely be on my album.
Giant: You were barely out of high school when you originally signed with Wyclef.
John: Yes, I was barely out of high school. I was in my senior year in high school in Jersey and I transferred schools when we signed on to Wyclef. Like, all over Detroit. I was only one in school.
Giant: You actually enrolled into a college on a choir scholarship, and that you spent your time as a nomad going school-to-school. Were the programs awful or where you looking for something more than the programs had to offer?
John: No, the programs were awesome. I just had other responsibilities. I had to handle to other stuff, so I just transferred schools. It was more convenient for me.
Giant: [We] were looking your MySpace and several other profiles on you and you describe your sound as a hodgepodge of hip-hop, R&B and rock influences. Is there anyone that you admire, would like to liken yourself to and model yourself after?
John: Honestly, You may think this is weird, but I think this dude is incredible—Phil Collins. I love that dude. He is stupid dope.
Giant: There is nothing weird about that! Phil Collins is awesome!
John: People ask me, “Are you serious?” And I’m like “Yeah, I’m serious!” Celine Dion, Phil Collins… I wish Luther Vandross was still alive. People like Tyrese, Usher… those kind of people really motivate me, especially in the music industry. They are just incredible fucking artists.
Giant: Other than Phil Collins, you once mentioned in the past that you were inspired by Sting, Nas… Just being curious… what is it about Celine Dion that you admire?
After geeking out about her artist merits and “My Heart Will Go On”…
Giant: So, I’m guessing on the pantheon of divas like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey…
John: Oh definitely. That woman man… People say Beyoncé is the greatest singer in the world. Celine is my Beyoncé. And not in like a sexual way, I’m t talking about music.
Giant: Now your song, “Imma Love You Right” is starting to get a lot of airplay, a lot of hit on Youtube and iTunes at the moment, and it’s pretty big on the radio. What is the first thing you want people to know about your craft when they sit down to listen to your record?
John: Honestly, I’m a young guy putting out some positive music. Normally, you’ll see or hear a young guy put out something, just to put it out, just get that response in the club. But, my thing is in particular [with] “Imma Love You Right,” it’s kind of like “Oh, that was creative” because I female friends who have been dogged by men, or my sisters. I just felt like it was time for someone to put something out there like that. Its sad the way you see the way you see how some young men carry themselves and treat these women. I honestly felt like, “Hey, if I can write this song…” especially from a young god’s perspective, it’s not really common.
Giant: Upon first listen, it can be likened to several artist like T Pain or 70s experimental Marvin Gaye. The song, that talks about the many way you love a woman, is it a reflection of the album as far as themes go? Is love the over encompassing theme of the album?
John: No, its not. We’re definitely going to touch out to many different avenues. We’re going to put a variety of different things on my album. We’re going to focus on things that happen in everyday life, we’re not going to focus on love… its going to be a variety of different things.
John: That’s funny the way you just came in with that. Alright…
We share a laugh.
Giant: Is there any current artists on your radar right now that you are just impressed with and would like to work with?
John: Alicia Keys, definitely. Tank and Tyrese, I worked with them already. That was one of my idols. I’d love to work with him. I also said Phil Collins.
Giant: Earlier you mentioned Celine Dion. Women in music are killing it right now, do you think there will be a renaissance with men in R&B and pop?
John: I think so. I definitely think so. You got Mario about to drop something. The-Dream is out here killing it. Tyrese and Tank’s records just dropped records. Got Usher out here killing it. Then you got John Brown, the new up and coming star. You’re going hear stuff about me, man.
John: There’s that alright again.
We share another laugh.
John: That’s funny. I’m going to start saying that. “Alright.”
Giant: Lastly, what do you a GIANT?
John: Honestly, what makes me a GIANT… I have the potential to become a GIANT. I am not a GIANT yet. I’m different, I’m hardworking, I’m humble, again I’m different and I am not afraid to try new things. I’m not afraid to do good things in my career. I think when you do that and you are not afraid to stay in this box, and you think outside the box, then you just grow and grow and grow. And that’s my thing and I just want to keep doing different things that will catapult my career. If I stay on that path, I’ll definitely because a GIANT.