"There are two sides of a Gemini," says platinum recording artist Donell Jones, referring to his zodiac sign. "You've got the good guy," he teases slyly, "and the bad guy." On his fourth and long-awaited album, Journey of a Gemini, the singer/producer/songwriter opens up and takes music lovers on an intimate and sometimes explicit journey into both sides of his interestingly opposing split personality.
Jones came up with the name of the album from the experiences he faced while making the record. "It's been a journey going from LaFace (Records) to Arista (Records), and now to Jive (Records)." The project that started three years, three labels and fifty songs ago, has taken Jones on a bumpy ride that's ended as smoothly as its creator's laid-back personality, and he says, "is some of his best work yet."
Along with a new record label came it's new ideas, a new timetable and a new A&R man, Mark Pitts. The respected hit maker has contributed to the success of such heavy weights as the late Notorious B.I.G. and Jones' multi-platinum label mate Usher. Jones' credits Pitts energy and influence for some of the notable changes on this project.
"This album is really up-tempo driven," says the self-described balladeer whose first three CDs were ballad heavy. "I also got an opportunity to work with a lot of producers on this album." Jones, who normally writes and produces most of his records himself, claims that it took a lot of convincing to make that happen. He admits, "working with a lot of different people on this project has opened me up and has made me a better writer." Some of today's most sought after songwriters and producers lent their talents to the project including Sean Garrett (Ciara, Usher), The Underdogs (Omarion, Fantasia) and heavy hitters Tim and Bob (Bobby Valentino).
On the first single from Journey of a Gemini, the club joint "Better Start Talking," Donell enlists some support from platinum producer Jermaine Dupri who lends his crown-hyping rap.
"There's a lot of lovemaking on this album," states Jones who says most of his music is a reflection of what's going on in his life. "Most of my previous records are about love and relationships, break ups and make up," he explains. "There's not a lot of that on this record."
But don't worry, there's definitely a lot of Jones' signature sound. He has masterfully perfected the ability to blend old school soul with an edgy hip-hop sound creating songs that appeal to real music lovers of all ages. "Special Girl" produced and written by Jones, exemplifies this talent to the fullest. "It's my Teddy Pendegrass, old feel kind of record," describes Jones.
He also delivers a classic Donell Jones love song, "Portrait of A Woman," a cut reminiscent of the title track off his sophomore platinum album Where I Wanna Be. Jones attributes his sound to his roots growing up in Chicago, his parents and his musical influences Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. "As a youngster I listened to my mom play a lot of different music," he explains. "I think that had a lot to do with me creating my own sound."
At the young age of eleven, his mom bought him a keyboard and he quickly taught himself to play. Also inspired by his father, a gospel singer, Jones naturally gravitated to music. But, it wasn't until he garnered a huge response from girls while performing in his high school lunchroom that he decided he wanted to sing.
"Music was a great outlet for me," says Jones who admits to "doing some stupid stuff" on the tough streets of Chicago. Trying to escape the gang-related world he was experiencing, Jones joined a singing group and began doing shows around the city.
It was in 1993, in a different city, Washington, D.C., where Jones would get his big break or more accurately, where he would create it. "We went to the BRE (Black Radio Exclusive) conference, had a showcase and nobody showed up," laughs Jones. "Realizing this was our last chance, we went downstairs to the lobby and sang for anybody we could." The group's bold move and determination paid off when Untouchables Entertainment Group CEO/President Edward "Eddie F" Ferrell (co-founder and former member of the hip-hop group Heavy D & The Boyz) told them not to sing for anyone else, he was going to sign them. Tainted by always hearing empty promises, Jones says, "we waited for him to leave and started singing again." One month later the group inked their deal with Eddie F.
After visiting Eddie F in New Jersey, the group and the deal went sour and Jones found himself back in Chicago. Eventually, Eddie F sent for Jones to return by himself, a move that led to the beginning of his solo career.
Jones wasted no time honing his writing and production skills, quickly catching the attention of hip-hop Mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. "He heard the song I wrote for Usher's self-titled first album, "You Took My Heart" and told Eddie that he wanted me to write some stuff with him." Soon after, Donell penned Usher's first top ten hit "Think of You." Jones has gone on to work with several other artists including contributing vocal arrangements on Madonna's 1994 hit album Bedtime Stories; penning songs for teen pop sensation 702 and R&B group Silk; and singing the hook on one of the late rapper Big Punisher's last hits "It's So Hard."
But it's his own projects that truly showcase Jones' undeniable talent. Not long after signing with LaFace Records, a deal spawned through Eddie F, Jones released his debut album, My Heart, featuring an uncanny remake of Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet" and the ghetto anthem "In The Hood." A respectable first effort, My Heart, introduced Jones' distinct sound to hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide.
In 1999, it was his sophomore project, Where I Wanna Be that solidified his presence in the music scene today. The album sold over a million copies and earned Jones an American Music Award for Favorite New Soul/R&B Artist in 2000. It featured several hit singles including the title track, "This Luv" and "U Know What's Up." The remix of "U Know What's Up" featuring the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of the Grammy Award winning group TLC, helped catapult the single to the top of the Billboard R&B singles chart where it stayed for an impressive eight weeks.
Three years later he followed up that album with his third CD, the critically acclaimed Life Goes On. Jones' continued to tackle love and relationship issues on this album, writing heartfelt lyrics and performing them passionately with raw and genuine emotion. His ability to create the hot club records and mid-tempo grooves were also prevalent on this project that included the standout single "You Know That I Love You."
For Jones, life truly does go on. Pleased with where he is in both his career and personal life, the Atlanta resident recently gave up drinking and smoking marijuana, claiming to feel "100 percent better now that I don't have those demons in my life.
"A perfect day for me," says Jones, "is seeing my children and making some music." The one thing he says is missing and is most looking forward to is performing again. "I love to perform more than anything else," smiles Jones' showing off his trademark dimples. "There's nothing like getting that energy back from the people and seeing how they react to your songs."
Jones' Journey of a Gemini invites listeners to experience both the good and the bad sides of this talented Gemini, a powerful combination destined to strike a positive reaction from all.
--- from the official Donell Jones website