In these crazy times given this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and police brutality, music-lovers all around the world can appreciate music with substance that uplifts, inspires, and heals. Insert JJ Hairston, here to keep gospel music alive! As Billboard Music’s #11 gospel artist of the decade, the singer-songwriter pairs his soulful ballads with a message, with the intention of touching his audience in the most positive way.
It was 2019’s “Miracle Worker” that went #1, resulting in JJ shutting down stages during a sold-out tour around the States. With his unwavering faith in God, JJ encourages the masses to combat fear and trust that everything is in His power. And still, having consistently written and released songs for 2 decades now, JJ is more proud of his family than anything else — being both a father and husband.
Now, he unleashes his 11th studio album titled Not Holding Back on New Year’s Day.
AllHipHop: How’s it feel to be the #11 gospel artist of the decade?
: It’s funny, the best things happen when you don’t keep track. I haven’t been trying to monitor success by numbers, but more so by impact. The only way you can measure impact is by testimonies, people that reach out and say our music has helped them. In that way, we’ve been very impactful. It’s great when the numbers start to line up with your impact so for that reason, I’m really grateful for everyone that supports our music. Even for Billboard giving us the nod and congratulations, it’s really cool.
AllHipHop: What do you feel when you sing?
JJ Hairston: Wow, that mic is a weapon when I get it. I feel stronger when I am on stange than I do normally. When I’m in calm spaces, I’m very chill. I’ll have my daughter in my lap and be very relaxed. The guy on the stage has become somebody different, that man has an assignment and I’ma do everything I can to make sure that assignment happens. I feel really empowered when I’m on the stage. When I’m off the stage, I want to watch movies and hold my daughter.
AllHipHop: “Miracle Worker” was a big record for you, bring us back to when you created that one.
JJ Hairston: “Miracle Worker” was really cool because it’s our first time we recorded outside of the U.S. We recorded half of the record in Nigeria, that was really cool because I love the worship experience there. I love the way they’re engaged when they sing there. We’re singing these songs for the first time, but they’re singing in the audience louder than us. We released some great songs, some of them have become anthems worldwide so that was really humbling. It really set us up with where we’re going with this record.
AllHipHop: How much are you praying in a day?
JJ Hairston: We’re praying more than usual because this year, a lot of other people have been home and they’ve had a time off. We’ve been busier than ever because we launched a ministry this year. We’re doing a lot of work around the house, we’re preaching, really working with people. We’re praying that we’ll stay focused and strengthened, because sometimes you can get so enamored with the work that you forget your reason. We never want our how to outweigh our why, we’re really staying focused on why we’re doing what we do. Because of that we’ve been able to get through this year and grow stronger and wiser in this season.
AllHipHop: What are you most excited for with your new album, Not Holding Back?
JJ Hairston: I’m excited because 2020 really inhibited our corporate worship experience where we could all get together and sing. We wanted to create a record where people can get that experience at home. We accomplished it. We’re able to write and create some songs where people can feel like they’re in a church, even though they’re in a house. I’m excited for people to be able to have that experience at least for the 12 songs we have, hopefully it’ll carry us through till this pandemic lights up and we’re able to get back to church. I’m really excited about bringing the corporate worship experience to people’s homes.
AllHipHop: Why is it so important for you to spread love and positivity?
JJ Hairston: People need it. I’ve been telling people I almost made it out of 2020 without losing anybody, but a few days ago my dad transitioned. It’s funny because I’ve been hearing people tell their stories and testimonies about how they lost someone this year and they can’t have the funerals they’d normally had. They don’t even get to grieve the normal way because everything’s been so different. For me, I know what I feel and I’m pretty strong emotionally. For those already dealing with issues, I can’t imagine how they must feel when they have the loss on top of that. It’s important that we spread positivity and love in this season because so many people are in need of it. This quarantine has caused isolation for a lot of people so we want to be able to let people know they’re not by themselves, God loves them and we love them too. The only way He can love is through us, so it’s important that we allow ourselves to be those instruments for God to show His love to people.
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AllHipHop: Your post about your father passing was really touching, how does music help?
JJ Hairston: It’s funny because music’s not only our assignment and our vehicle, but it’s what we use to strengthen us and give us peace. As soon as my dad passed, I found myself thinking of a peace song. A song that brings us peace, a song that he loved. Not only do songs have the ability to give you peace, they also have the ability to bring back memories. I have memories attached to songs, there are certain songs in that day I remember that helped me keep the memory of my father alive in our hearts. Music’s so important to us in the season.
AllHipHop: What do you look for in talent when it comes to your group, Youthful Praise?
JJ Hairston: We have a lot of great singers, literally 30 singers. I can go anywhere and have 6 singers there, they’re all amazing. They all sing so much better than me. [laughs] What I really require out of all them is not how they sound, but what they say. What you say to me is more important than any riff or run you can do, or your technique. Because people don’t remember how you sound as much as they remember what you said, so I really require everyone that is with me to have something to say that’d inspire and encourage people while they’re singing.
AllHipHop: How is fatherhood during quarantine?
JJ Hairston: Fatherhood during quarantine has been crazy because my son got married this year. Having to walk him through the whole process of getting married was really strange because quarantine and the pandemic had everyone in a place we’ve never seen before. We couldn’t predict anything, everything I knew was different. Beautiful wedding, he married a beautiful young lady. He closed on his house two weeks after the wedding. Fatherhood during quarantine has been strange but awesome.
AllHipHop: Did they take after your footsteps in music?
JJ Hairston: My son’s a videographer, he’s really good at it. He’s called upon by a lot of gospel artists, I have two daughters, my middle daughter sings but she wants to get more into photography. My baby girl doesn’t sing at all. [laughs] She’s a genius, but I don’t know what she wants to do with her life.
AllHipHop: 3 things you need in the studio?
JJ Hairston: A bag of classic Lays potato chips, a bottle of water, and a pack of Fishermen Friends. Fishermen Friends are these lozenges that when you put one in your mouth, I promise you you can smell the next door. They really open you up. You really only get it for about an hour. After an hour it’s gone, you’re back to where you are. It at least helps me get to that space to open me up and be able to deliver the way I need to.
AllHipHop: Talk about your health journey, and being borderline vegan.
JJ Hairston: Borderline, yes. [laughs] We tried a number of different options. We’ve done intermittent fasting, we’ve done no carb. I haven’t had bread or rice in 4 years. It wasn’t because I was getting so big, but my family has dealt with people with heart disease and different transitions in their health. I want to be around for years so when I felt myself slipping a little, I contacted a trainer. One of our singers, her husband’s a trainer. I asked him what are the things that I should do right off the bat? He told me to stop drinking soda, lighten up on the carbs, and not a lot of fried foods. I’ve done that consistently. I’ll drink a Pepsi every now and then but I don’t eat starch anymore because once I broke it, I never went back. My wife’s much more rigid than me. She doesn’t eat any carbs, no soda. She does intermittent fasting so she doesn’t eat after 7pm, doesn’t start eating until noon. It’s crazy.
AllHipHop: How does it affect your ministry?
JJ Hairston: Being healthy helps to be more energetic. When you feel weighed down, you don’t feel good. I’ve noticed that when I’m eating fried food, I feel a different way, I don’t feel as light, I feel bogged down. Even beef surprisingly enough, when I eat beef I don’t feel as lean. I only eat grilled chicken and grilled fish as meat. My wife at one time, she went totally vegan as opposed to vegetarian. She said she even felt better so I realized what you eat really controls how you feel. To me, I need to be able to feel good to be able to minister well.
AllHipHop: Goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
JJ Hairston: I really want to be able to help launch young writers and singers. One of my proudest moments was being able to launch a young guy, Rich Tolbert Jr., who’s doing well now. Last year we did a tour, let him open up and put his single out. I want to do more of that, that’s what we wanted someone to do for us when we started out. For those who are afraid to do it, we’re limiting our exposure to younger artists. I don’t think that’s our assignment, we’re supposed to keep the door open for the next artists and next singers to come through.
AllHipHop: Anything else you want to let us know?
JJ Hairston: I’m excited. January 1st, week one to make sure we’re starting the year off with a record full of declarations and good music. We’re hoping that everyone that hears Not Holding Back is really encouraged and inspired to walk into 2021 with their head up and ready to go for it.