Many singers claim Michael Jackson as an inspiration, and have their kid-size sparkly gloves in frames to prove it. Frankie J may be one of those artists who started his performing career in his parent's living room singing along to Thriller, but, even then, Frankie put his own spin on the proceedings. When Frankie's family got together for the holidays, they would clear the furniture out of the room so that he could get down unhampered. "I did 'Billie Jean.' That was the song that Michael Jackson used to introduce the moonwalk to the world," says Frankie J. "My family would always give me a sombrero because, on television, Michael flings a hat into the crowd, and then he starts to moonwalk. I did the same thing he did, I threw the sombrero in the air, and then I would moonwalk. I was six years old."
The odd combination of a sombrero and Michael Jackson moves was an appropriate prelude to Frankie's performing career. Years after his preteen living room MJ impersonations, Frankie J made his mark with a four year stint with the multi-platinum Mexican-American group, Kumbia Kings, before returning to his R&B roots with What's A Man To Do?, his 2003 debut solo album. Frankie's debut album spawned the bittersweet chart-topper "Don't Wanna Try," whose video was in heavy rotation on MTV's TRL.
Now, two years after his solo debut and fresh off his hit collaboration with rapper Baby Bash, "Suga Suga," Frankie J builds on that momentum on The One, his eagerly-awaited second solo album, which more than delivers on the promise of What's A Man To Do? Frankie's new album is pure unadulterated R&B, perfectly patterned for slow dancing with a special someone, immaculately tailored for the dance-floors of clubland, and dreamily suited for long, late, and lonely nights. Despite the man's Latino heart-throb pedigree, do not file The One under "Latin Pop."
With The One, Frankie J emerges as a serious neo-soul/pop contender; his sensuous falsetto putting him in the same general categories as Usher and Justin Timberlake. And -though Frankie J's not wearing a sombrero these days, he still adds seamless Spanglish flourishes to his music. The album's first single, "Obsession (No Es Amor)," produced by Happy Perez, is a case in point: its serpentine guitar-laced rhythm and sensual bass line, combined with Frankie's soaring vocals, communicate the mixed emotions associated with a romance that's crossing the line into dangerous territory. The song is a deft remake of a hit by the bachata group Aventura, which while packing all the wallop of the original, translates its spirit for an English-speaking audience.
Born Francisco Javier Bautista in Tijuana, Mexico, Frankie J has spent his life moving between his Latino roots and his American surroundings. When Frankie was 2 years old, his uncle took him and his siblings north across the border dressed up to trick or treat. The family never returned to Tijuana, and Frankie grew up in San Diego listening to the ballads and boleros that his traditional Mexican family loved and the soul music to which he was drawn. There was music running through Frankie's family, his father was the lead singer of a band, and his grandfather played violin for the local church. When Frankie got a little older, he began listening to freestyle, including acts like Lisa Lisa and Brenda K. Starr, but especially dance-pop freestyle singer George Lamond, whose airborne vocal style inspired Frankie to develop his own voice and unique sound.
"Usually guys don't have high falsettos, and I admired George Lamond because I wanted to sing that way," Frankie says. "I would always practice to his songs, and my pitch would always reach up to his level or even higher." Frankie began writing songs in high school, and when he was just 15, was introduced by a friend to the CEO of an independent Canadian record label that specialized in freestyle. The CEO heard his music and offered him a deal. "I was like a little kid in a candy store," says Frankie. "I was thrilled that this guy had heard my song." He recorded a few songs under the moniker Frankie Boy, and though that early deal didn't lead to fame and fortune, it did teach Frankie J a few things. "The biggest thing I learned was," he says today, "always read the contract before you sign it."
After he finished high school, Frankie heard about an opportunity to join the Kumbia Kings, and went to Texas to audition. He was selected for the group, and spent the next four years with the massively successful Kumbia Kings, led by A.B. Quintanilla, the brother of legendary singer Selena. "Once we played a show in Monterrey, Mexico, for 100,000 people," Frankie remembers. "It was incredible."
But while Frankie enjoyed sharing in the success of the Kumbia Kings, he was always working towards a solo career, inspired by artists like Brian McKnight, K-Ci and Jo Jo, Stevie Wonder and Prince. "I got involved in the group to learn about the business, to learn about being on the road, and then to branch off with that information," he says.
Though leaving the Kumbia Kings was a risky move for Frankie J, the gamble paid off with What's A Man To Do? and is compounding maximum interest on The One. Frankie J is particularly excited about The One's title track produced by Hollis hitmaker Irv Gotti (Ja Rule, Ashanti, DMX, Murder Inc.) with its intoxicating melody and subtle touches of percussion. "The minute I heard it I knew," Frankie confesses, "it was something magical."
The One showcases Frankie as a maturing songwriter while its production highlights increasingly nuanced arrangements. "The Story of My Life," for example, is a subtle ballad, spun from a delicate guitar melody and attenuated finger-snapping, with Frankie J lamenting the inevitability, and universality, of hard times.
"Most of the time," says Frankie, "I write from personal experience. When I don't, it's like acting, taking on a role in a movie." Another of his favorite tracks on the album is the sweetly seductive "Number One Fan," which was inspired by a special someone in Frankie's life. "It talks about being in love with a girl and treating her as a star, and you're the groupie that's with the girl. Telling her that you want to get her autograph." Having spent years in the limelight, Frankie J turns the tables with "Number One Fan."
On The One, Frankie J collaborates with a variety of heavy hitters including the legendary Mario Winans who's crafted hits for Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige and Brian McKnight, among others on the striking "Just Can't Say It's Love." Hot producer Brian Michael Cox who's worked with Usher, Jagged Edge, and Nivea, to name a few worked with Frankie on three dazzling tracks on the album, including the tantalizing club jam, "On The Floor."
Frankie J is feeling confident about The One and his collaborations with heavy hitters like Irv Gotti, Happy Perez, and Brian Michael Cox. "R&B music has always been in my heart," Frankie says. "People would always doubt me and say, 'You're Mexican, you don't have the soul to make it.' But soul is just soul, whatever the ethnic background. I think the music speaks for itself."
--- from the official Frankie J. website