In a world filled with musical divas, JoJo is anything but. The 15-year-old singer, who scored big with her platinum self-titled debut album, harbors a humble attitude to compliment her public image. While some may pigeonhole her as a TRL pop princess, JoJo possesses a love for all things music (she cites D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar and Voodoo as two of her favorite albums) as well as an affection for acting.
Three years is an eternity to be away from a profession where the top spot changes more than the weather. Still, JoJo is motivated to commandeer her place among the current crop of female songbirds. Armed with a new album, The High Road, and a seven-member band for touring, she has her sights set on reconnecting with fans. She is picking up where her last album left off, as evidenced with the success of her new single “Too Little, Too Late,” and a high-powered slew of producers including Scott Storch, Timbaland, Rodney Jerkins, Swizz Beatz, Jonathan “J.R.” Rotem, Jermaine Dupri and Ryan Leslie.
JoJo spoke with us in the midst of her hectic promotional schedule, and addressed the importance of family, the real meaning behind the title of her new project – and those rumors of romance with Bow Wow and J-Kwon.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: What have you been doing in the time between your first album and this new album?
JoJo: In between the first one and this one, I shot two movies – one in Australia, the other one in Vancouver. The first one was Aquamarine and the second one was RV, which was with Robin Williams. And I took about nine months to a year to shoot those films, and they were back to back. I finished two more years of school, and I just got to live at home. I got to not be on the road. My mom bought a place here in Massachusetts, and I’m living with her, obviously, because I’m under 18. Which is great and it’s close to our family. We live in Massachusetts, like I said, so that’s been something that’s been different. It’s been three years since I was in the studio. Recording at 12 and recording an album at 15 is a little bit different.
AHHA: With all that time away, I know you must’ve had some yearning to get back into the studio.
JoJo: I did. I think that doing the movies made me miss music a little bit, especially just performing and just being able to sing every day, or just being in the environment around music. Like even in the studio, I missed it, and I was definitely yearning to get back to it. I took a little time off after I did the movies just because I wanted to be home and especially my mom really wanted to be home. She missed her family. So we did that. We took a few more months, and then I got back in the studio and really dedicated myself fully to the new record.
AHHA: Your success seems to have come overnight. For somebody so young to experience all of this, what was it like being caught up in that whirlwind? Did it take you a minute to adjust to all of it?
JoJo: I think to most people, every artist seems like an overnight success, but in most cases that’s definitely not the situation. It was not an overnight thing. It wasn’t just like, “You know what, I’m going to try singing today and see how it works out for me.” And oops! Here comes my record contract.
I’ve been singing since the age of two. And ever since I saw Whitney Houston sing on stage on television, I knew I wanted to do just that. But being so young and being exposed to this industry and getting to see the world and meet people, and go through a lot of things that other people would not have the pleasure of doing is, in some instances, it was overwhelming. I was just so excited. Nobody put this on me but me. No one was like, “You need to go out there and perform and make our family money.” It was never ever ever that. I just want to clear that up. This is always a passion that I had, but until you live it and until you experience it, you have no idea what it really entails.
AHHA: What was helping you maintain your grounding with all the success?
JoJo: Well, I’m still adjusting. I think with new success or each new level that you reach, there’s gonna be a new period of adjustment. Every day is a new one for me, and I learn something new. I think that what’s kept me grounded so far is how close I am with my family, and how close I am with my town, my hometown. Most of my friends are outside of the industry. They’re not rappers or actors or musicians because…I don’t live in Hollywood.
AHHA: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last album was a little more on the pop side with some R&B thrown in. Was the addition of more R&B and Hip-Hop flavor deliberate?
JoJo: I don’t really care what people call the music. I don’t really care if they want to call it pop, rock, R&B, Hip-Hop, whatever they want to call. I just like music. I’m a music lover. So the first go around, you record an album at 12, and people are arranging it for you and telling you the songs. “You’re gonna have to sing that.” I was just so excited and so green, that the things they were giving me I loved. Even looking back on it, it’s an album that I’m proud of. I did it at 12-years-old. There’s no if, ands or buts about it. I don’t regret it.
But this album is just…this is my second time around. I started to just listen to a lot of music that I thought was really great. I love R&B. That’s really what I’m been influenced by. Like SWV, and Dru Hill and D’Angelo and Erykah Badu. And even James Taylor and Joanie Mitchell and Bob Marley. All kinds of things – even the Eagles. My dad used to listen to a lot of things like that. So for me you’re gonna hear not just R&B and Hip-Hop influences, but rock also.
It’s so unfortunate because I think if you stay in a box and stay in your own little bubble, there’s only so far that you can go. You always need to keep exploring and always need to keep reaching. That’s why I don’t want to release albums back to back – I don’t want to be 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and release an album every one of those years. That’s just not for me.
AHHA: Let’s talk about the new album. Is there a particular meaning behind the title?
JoJo: Absolutely. It’s also a song on the album that is one of my favorites, called The High Road, and it was produced by J.R. Rotem. He’s an amazing new producer that’s coming up. As soon as I heard this track, it was inspiring. It was an uplifting kind of song. That’s what I want this album to do. It’s gonna take you through a whole range of emotions.
To me the “high road” is about overcoming obstacles, coming through adversity and being able to triumph over a whole plethora of issues that you may go through in your life. Even as a young person…young people go through so much. In high school and in relationships, with family I think in most cases it’s more fulfilling to take the high road and you’re going to get more out of it. That’s what it is on the preachy side, and it’s also just an uplifting message. This album is meant to make you feel good and also inspire.
AHHA: Being in the public eye, there always seem to be those romance rumors. I read somewhere that you may have been involved with a soccer player. Freddy Adu, if I’m not mistaken. And then there may have been some rumors with Bow Wow or even J-Kwon.
JoJo: I will clear that up. I would never – I want to say it a million times – never, never, never, never, never, never, never ever with Bow Wow or Kwon. Ever. Never ever, ever ever. I was with Freddy for a year and a half. So that was definitely true, but it seems like they want to link me to all the urban guys, but that’s not me. I just like who I like, so it has nothing to do with that. I don’t know how Bow Wow came up, just ‘cause we did a song together. I know with a lot of people that happens, and just because a boy and girl work together they automatically think there something might be more than that.
And J-Kwon gave an interview talking about me before, and I know that that’s how that came about. But it was never anything. For a while it bothered me, because I was like, “I’m 13.” Bow Wow at the time was, I think he was 17, and I know J-Kwon was like 18. That’s just a horrible look for me, and people were calling me names and I felt so horrible…I just can’t believe that people would think that of me.
AHHA: You started out acting in community theater, and you’ve done some acting in movies, but are there any plans on returning to theater?
JoJo: I’m glad you asked that, because when I found out that Usher was doing Chicago on Broadway, I was actually so excited about that. I think that it really opens some doors for other artists that might want to try the theater and get back to the theater, because a lot of people have roots in theater, and I think it’s so cool. It’s a way to really express yourself, really go over the top and incorporate dance and music and acting all in one. The fact that Ashlee Simpson is doing it too I think is so cool. I would be honored to do that. I think it requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but I would love to do that one day, to challenge myself.
AHHA: What are people in for with The High Road?
JoJo: For the people who have heard the first album, I would say you’re going to hear more growth on this record. You’re going to hear more strength. When I was recording the first album, it was really my first time in a real studio, and I was scared and I just didn’t know how to really work my way around the studio. I’m still learning. You can learn some things new with every experience. You’re just gonna hear me be more confident on the vocal a little bit stronger and more assertive. I’ve been through a few things these past few years, so I have more to sing about.
And for those who have not heard the first record, this is just a young lady coming into herself and exploring different genres of music. We have a lot of songs that you might want to dance to, songs that will move you and make you cry and songs that will chill you out. We have songs that are for everyone.
AHHA: What’s the one thing that you have learned so far through this journey?
JoJo: In my short life and in what I’ve learned so far, I think family is the most important thing and I think that having my best friend around, we’ve been best friends for eight years. She moved to Florida a couple of years ago, but we grew up together in Foxborough. I think that having her around has meant so much to me. She has got to see my trips to L.A., and she has come to the VMA’s and the studio with me, and she’s done a lot of things with me. I think that it’s just important to keep the people around that you knew before success. There’s a lot of people who will try and take advantage of you, whether it’s financially, physically, whatever the case is. Especially as a young woman, you really need to be careful and be assertive and be strong. And that’s a hard thing to learn when you’re young.