When music critics and journalists begin discussing the best R&B male vocalists of the 2020 decade, the name John Brown, a.k.a. J. Brown, will surely be near the top of the list. His ability to croon a romantic or salacious ballad, yet pocket an infectious groove, are in line with the best of them. Sure, it’s okay to draw comparisons to, like, JOE, R. Kelly or Tank. And since you asked? J. Brown currently has a Top 10 R&B single with Tank, titled “Don’t Rush.” It’s one of five Billboard R&B Top 15 singles Brown has charted in just 4 years. Audiences have gotten familiar with the songs “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Give it to U,” “Moon” and “Vibe.”
In May of this year, the Detroit-bred singer, who currently resides in Oakland, released his full-length project, titled Chapter & Verse. It’s the follow-up to his 2020 EP, Forever Yours. Music Industry Quarterly caught up with Brown recently while he was in his studio. Humble, grateful, and all-around nice guy may be understatements when describing the singer-songwriter.
Explain the Chapter & Verse reference for the title of your album? And who did you collaborate with as it pertains to producers/co-writers?
I wanted to acknowledge where I came from, what with my father being a pastor. The church has been near and dear to my heart for years. I have a story to tell, and my album is a story. I figured what better way to reference this album than to reference where I come from and what I’m about. That’s not to say the album is biblical or has any Gospel songs. It’s a reference on where I come from.
As for producers, there are quite a few, starting with Tank, Jake & Jared, two young cats from Philly. They did my song, “Simpin.” There’s also Carvin Haggins, who wrote a lot of the Musiq Soulchild hits. There’s my girl Mumu Fresh (featured on the song “You See Me”), along with my boy Steve James from Indianapolis – all good songwriters and producers.
When listening to your more explicit lyrical content, do you ever feel conflicted
being a preacher’s kid? Did your family give you a hard time?
That’s a good question. You often hear pastors of secular artists say, that you can’t serve two masters. My father and mother weren’t like that. My mom grew up singing secular music. I never grew up with there being any type of tension, or them trying to sway me to record only Gospel music. They just wanted me to do what I like to do, which is the most important thing.
You are a pretty straight-ahead R&B artist, without all of the hip-hop nuances and rap features. What made you decide to choose that lane?
My music is for a different audience. In order for them to receive my music, I have to carry
myself a certain way, which is truly who I am. Now, I would do a rap feature. It would have to be with someone who made sense. I love the mature crowd. Even while growing up, I loved that mature sound of R&B. I prefer to stay on this path rather than something
that would seem out of character for me.
What was it like collaborating with Tank? Were you actually in the studio together during the entire process?
Listeners typically think everyone is in the studio together. Usually producers send tracks, and each artist records from where they are, and that’s that. I’ve been knowing Tank for a while. He is really a great dude. He is just so down to earth. We knocked the song out in person. It was like friends catching up and doing what we like to do. We recorded the song at his house. The production was already done when I got there, but we recorded everything else at his house.
Talk a bit about the dual personae you have: the guy next door vs. being the unwitting sex symbol. How do you play off that especially in live performances?
I look at it like this. Say, when I go to a basketball game. Like for most guys, this is our
form of escape. When women come to my live shows, this is like an escape for them. They get to leave the realities of work or home. When they want to grab and scream at me – let’s just say, I love it! It lets me know that I’m doing something right. They come out to scream and grab my shirt, I encourage it, please! There’s a mutual understanding and I’m all for it. It’s part of R&B. All of the greats went through that. I don’t think they complained. So, ladies, keep doing it!
How important has R&B radio been for your success?
I love my radio folks. They have been very supportive. I can’t begin to name all of the stations. I love them with all of my heart. They have undeniably been a part of everything I’ve been doing in terms of music, and have played a major part in my success.
Why do you think radio and audiences have been so receptive to your music?
I think it’s because of the sound that I have, it’s been missing for a while. Radio can be extremely picky when it comes to the selection process or when it comes to programming and things of that nature. But I also think they like me personally. Just because they like a song doesn’t mean they’re going to play it. Honestly, they also see my character, they see my authenticity, and they like my personality. As for the music, a lot of programmers have told me that, ‘You’re bringing back that sound that I grew up on.’ The music feels familiar, and that’s what’s been missing.
You’ve had 5 Top 15 Urban AC singles with songs like “Moon and “Sunrise Sunset” in just three to four years. Has this journey been gradual, overwhelming or a slow grind for you?
It’s been a slow grind because I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve had several
record deals and production deals, so I’m thankful. I know God has placed me right where I need to be and at the right time. It takes a while. A lot of people think this happens instantaneously. This thing is a process. I’ve been doing this for a while, and its finally starting to pay off.
Many would say that R&B has been in a weird/ transitional space in recent years. Where do you see the genre at or going?
To define R&B right now, there’s a lot of new cats that are doing some really cool stuff.
There are artists like Lucky Daye, Ari Lennox, HER and Daniel Caesar. I think we’re in a
good place right now. People are receptive to it, especially younger people. Music is
kind of oversaturated right now, so time will tell. But I believe we’re headed down the
“Simpin” and “Don’t Rush” are the current singles from the album. Do you plan on releasing more singles or videos from Chapter & Verse?
We plan on releasing “Nothing Without You” next. And we’re definitely coming with more
music. We just have to figure out which direction we want to go in.
What about hitting the road?
I do a lot of shows. I’m going to be a part of the big Spirit Music Festival coming up
in D.C. I’m also doing some shows with Ruff Endz and Levelle coming up. I have a
few tours coming; just waiting for all of the details to be worked out.
Follow J. Brown at
FB, IG and Twitter: jbrownmusiconly
Interview Conducted by David A. Mitchell