Joy Denalane: Joy Division

She may not be a household name in America, but Joy Denalane has caused the eyes of some of the US’s most lyrically competent to pass a glance in her direction. On her sophomore project Born and Raised, Joy is most certainly able to independently hold the reigns, but she opts to allow Lupe Fiasco […]

Win A $75 Giftcard To Footlocker

She may not be a household name in America, but Joy Denalane has caused the eyes of some of the US’s most lyrically competent to pass a glance in her direction. On her sophomore project Born and Raised, Joy is most certainly able to independently hold the reigns, but she opts to allow Lupe Fiasco and Raekwon to tag along for the ride.Born and raised, no pun intended, in Germany of a South African Father and German mother, Joy Denalane was slow off the blocks when it came to her music career. But as her career picks up momentum, when she began is irrelevant. We are just aware that now she is here. Discussing how college was just an alibi, her love of music, and how one Chicago MC buttered another Chicago MC’s bread by being too busy on set, Joy Denalane gives us a little to feast on. AllHipHopAlternatives: So where does Joy Denalane come from and what are you about?Joy Denalane: I was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. Born to a South African father and a German mother. I have five siblings, and I didn’t actually start singing until I was 19. That is actually quite late for today, as nowadays people start way earlier. I had a friend of mine who thought I was talented, and he would always hear me singing when I was walking around, and he encouraged me to try out. I was into Hip-Hop and Black music back then already. AHHA: Who influenced you?Joy Denalane: Well really my father, who spent lots of deutschmarks on records – thousands of records that he would always play for the family every day. That was mainly jazz or funk or R&B; one of his favorite bands was Earth Wind and Fire. So I grew up with the music, but no one was catching up to how I was for some reason. So when I went to sing, it was obvious I was into soul music, and all my musical idols were Hip-Hop stars or soul singers. So the direction was always pretty clear for me. This is really how it went down.AHHA: How was your first experience in the studio?Joy Denalane: Well I went to the studio, and I grabbed the mic, and I never gave it back.AHHA: Because you started so late, do you think that hindered you in any way, or did it just make you go harder?Joy Denalane: I wasn’t even aware of age back in the days. I wasn’t even thinking, “Oh I am too old for this,” or anything like that. I was just doing it for the love, and also I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to become a professional singer. I was just doing it as a hobby. I was still at school, and my dream was to study medicine. Ultimately I wanted to be a doctor for some reason, so I wasn’t taking it too serious. That came a couple of years later. AHHA: Did you go to medical school?Joy Denalane: No I didn’t. I mean I don’t know how you handle it in the US or the UK, but here in Germany, you would have to go to a test first and then passing the test you could go. I had all the information for the test, but I didn’t even do the test. I wasn’t even trying. But I started studying Africanism, I started studying Egyptology, German Linguism, and Musical Science.AHHA: That is quite a wide range of subjects right there.Joy Denalane: [laughs] Sounds pretty rough, but I think what was good together was the Africanism, the Egyptology, and the Linguism as that is a cultural thing. If you want to go into the language, you go into literature, if you want to go into culture or politics, that is all one family. The musical science is a bit random, but I think I did that as more of an alibi as anything else. When I started studying, then I knew already I was into music and I just wouldn’t allow myself to say, “You know what I want? To become a professional singer as this is where my heart it,” because here in Germany it is so different from the States. In the States, I have a feeling that arts or whatever your talent is as a child, your parents are supportive and they will support you no matter what. If it is arts, sports, reading or whatever, they will support their children even though it is a direction that might not be seen as so serious. It’s hard to explain, as in certain societies there are certain things that are accepted as serious, and then there are some things that aren’t. I wasn’t ready to go and stand in front of my father and tell him I wanted to become an entertainer because I lived music. So I started to study as an alibi, and kept music as a hobby.AHHA: You have been compared to Mary J Blige; there are pretty serious comparisons. How do you feel about those?Joy Denalane: That is so funny. Of course I feel honored as these living legends that I am compared with, I have no words to that. I heard there was a comparison to Aretha Franklin, and I think that is just a bit too much. I am being compared to artists that have been in the game for so long and have delivered for so long, and I am new and I don’t know if I can take that. I mean it is a compliment, but it is a bit too much and then also on the other hand I am thinking it is cool, and I feel honored and I know what people mean. I wouldn’t be mad if someone would just give me my won box and put my name on it. AHHA: Don’t you think that will come once people get familiar with you?Joy Denalane: Well if that will happen, that will be great and I am honored. At least these are comparisons that I can understand. Sometimes people will compare me to people who are great, but I don’t see the parallels. With Aretha and Mary, I know exactly what they mean. I think it is an honor.AHHA: How hard has it been for you to get to this point as an artist?Joy Denalane: Well it is so abstract, because when you are doing your thing, you work hard and of course you do have a main goal – you know like a lifetime goal you want to achieve. But when you are busy, you are in your work and you are in your microcosm. I work hard sometimes, because some days I am in three different countries and you can feel the exhaustion physically. But the work itself is not hard work, it is beautiful work, and I love to talk about my music and I love to perform. That is not work for me and my whole career is based on fun. You know you have moments where you are totally down, because once you decide to be part of the commercial market you have great moments and you have really, really bad moments. Maybe you had worked really hard for something, or you were prepared for something and then there is that one phone call which totally tears everything down. You go through these things too; but at the end of the day, I have been lucky enough that I could work with people who trust me and who give me space to become the person I want to be. So yes, this is my career. I worked hard, but it is fun too and I am just grateful at the end of the day.AHHA: I know you have two kids, how do they enjoy having an “industry” mom?Joy Denalane: They were born into it. They don’t know me or my husband any different from how we are now. We have always been musicians, we have been on tour, and they may have seen us on TV. For the little one, it doesn’t matter at all as he is only three. He listens to the music, but he can’t relate it to anything. But for the older one who is in school now, it is starting to matter. He is the age where they are developing their own musical taste.He likes Hip-Hop and will stand in front of the mirror; he knows what he wants to wear. Once in a while he will come home and say some kid has spoke about me and he will say, “Don’t talk about my Mom, she is the best,” so it does matter to him. But still we don’t try to make them feel special in any way. We talk about our work, but we never tell them what we do “is something really great.” We never do that. AHHA: How did you manage to collaborate with Lupe? Joy Denalane: It was two years ago, and the song was written, and it was clear to me that I wanted an MC to rap over it. At first I wanted to do it with Common as we did a collaboration for a remix for “Go,” and that was how we met. We said we would do this as I had played it for him and he had started writing. But then he was so busy, and it was his campaign, and then he was shooting movies, and all of a sudden he was in Hollywood…it just didn’t work. At some point I gave up, I wanted to do it, but he had different priorities which I could totally understand. So I thought let’s do it and hope I found someone. At that time, a business partner of mine gave me [Lupe’s] MySpace link to check out as he thought I would love him. So I went, and I did fall in love with him right away and this was right before his break through. There was no problem to get in touch with him as I had told my business partner I would love to work with him. I liked his content, I like his style and just how he mixes his street smarts and is sophisticated at the same time.I just think he is really refreshing. Before I could turn around after talking to him about the song on the phone one time, he sent me the song and that was it. We met in Tokyo as we played in the same festival and we shot the video to “Change.” He is so humble and so down to earth, totally the opposite of being complicated.AHHA: That’s nice right?Joy Denalane: I am not saying I am not complicated. [laughs]AHHA: Well we are women, we are not complicated…we are just complex. [laughs]Joy Denalane: Exactly, we are complex, totally different story. That was how it went down with Lupe.AHHA: You also feature Raekwon on “Heaven or Hell,” which is a title that he used beforeJoy Denalane: Yeah his song was a classic, and I fell in love with that. I always said one day I would use it as a sample, as I loved the instrumental so much that I said one day I would use it. It didn’t work with my first record, because musically we had a different concept, but with this album it was the perfect sample and it was actually the first song written for this album. Since he made it his classic, I really, really had to get him on board to honor my version and give me the ok. I think hadn’t he done that, I probably wouldn’t have released it as it really was my mission to get him onboard for this project. That was why I drove to New York, and what was funny was he didn’t know what to expect. A friend of mine who knows a friend of his, organized a meeting. All he knew was he was going to meet some German girl. He had no idea what to expect. We met and we started talking, and I told him I wanted him to rap on one of my songs, and there was a second of confusion as he didn’t know I was a singer. There was the question of how we were going to do this, and there were all these guys in the studio talking and I told them all to stop. I was very friendly and yet I was very straight. So we sat down, and I told him he should listen to the song and then maybe make the decision afterwards. I told him, “Before you listen to the song, I think you will really like it,” and at that point I think he must have thought I was crazy as well as self-confident. When the song started, he was so touched and he looked at me and was like, “Wow, I didn’t expect that. That’s crazy.” Everyone in the studio was quiet and couldn’t believe it, and then he started writing his verse right away.