You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen. Oh, my God. I thought JoJo died like she’s still out here. Yeah ******. I’m still here. From the age of 6, I was like, I’m going to be a star by the time I was 13. My song “Leave Get Out” went number one. From there was MTV. I opened up for Usher. That was my first tour. But 13 Jo Jo was the youngest solo artist to ever have a number one. How do you follow that? She does too little, too late. From the second album. She was going toe to toe with massive records that year from Nelly Furtado to Justin Timberlake. She had the vocal chops, she had the star power, she had the personality to really become a global superstar. Which she was on the path to becoming. I just felt like this is the beginning of the rest of my life. Prior to getting her record deal, JoJo and her mom lived a very modest, humble life. My label got my mom a car, got us an apartment. I had my own room for the first time. They felt like family to us. I think that that’s what both my mom and I were really longing for. Deep down, both of us come from very unstable like family situations, and they really appealed to that within us that we were creating something that was going to last forever. The label moves us to New Jersey because the child labor laws are easier to get around. So in retrospect, I realized what they did. At a certain point my label was no longer a functioning record label. They lost their distribution. They were getting sued left and right. I recorded hundreds of songs, wrote hundreds of songs. They didn’t come out and it felt like I was banging my head into a wall because I’m like, Is anybody ever gonna hear this? It felt so insane. She was really stuck, that contract, they owned her voice. She was really in a place where she thought she was never going to sing again, in a commercial way. Nobody can take this away from me, like, how dare you? For me, it was like, this is going to happen by any means necessary. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is what I committed to when I was six years old. I became obsessed with making sure that I could get my career back on track. I grew up in south of Boston, in Foxborough, a small town. It was very humble upbringing. I would say really just my mom and I. We shared a room. I would see my dad on the weekends with some frequency. My mom was cleaning houses for a living and she has an amazing voice. She was the soloist at our Catholic Church, St. Mary’s. There was always music playing in the house and I just always felt compelled to sing. I was trying to impersonate what I heard so I would try to sound like Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston. My little tiny voice would try to sound like that. I would literally sing for anybody who would listen. I was such a weird little girl. I can’t believe my mom didn’t like, like sit your ass down. She’d just let me she really let me express myself. How’d you feel about your first little concert?
It was fun. You had fun? You’re really good. Thank you. The Boston Globe was on the countertop and I just looked in the back. I was like, Ma, look like they’re looking for talented kids. I’m a talented kid . We have to.. please take me to the city. And.. She did. And I think that was my first audition. We were taking the Bonanza bus from Foxborough to New York City countless times for auditions. The first TV show I was on when I was six was Kids Say the Darndest Things. I remember being so nervous, but really thriving off of that energy. The way I described it when I was little I was like the bug just bit me and I was just infected with this passion. It made me feel special. Thankfully, my mom encouraged it, but not in a pushy way. It was never like, you’re gonna be a star, honey. There was none of that. I was like, I’m going to be a star mom. That’s what it was. I’m going to do some warmups.. Kids say the Darndest Things had asked me to come back. So we went to L.A. for the first time and I loved it. I thought it was amazing. They flew my mom and my dad out there and they were already divorced by then. It meant so much to me, I was like wow, this is a place where anything can happen. Even my parents can be together and this makes them happy. Wow. California’s magical. I really was like, Mom. Let’s just go out there. And we packed up everything and moved. We stayed in the Habra Heights with my mom’s cousin, had absolutely zero connections. My mom read a book called Everything You Need to Know about the Music Business, and that’s really all you can do at that time. As far as protecting yourself, we didn’t know where else to look. And we didn’t know any lawyers. We didn’t know any people that could really help us navigate. I did this thing called America’s Most Talented Kids. It was like Star Search and I lost to a violinist, but there was a man in the audience who came up to us. I was balling my eyes out and he came and found me. And my mom was like, I think your daughter’s really special. And here’s my card. Call me tomorrow. And that changed my life. Very quickly, we went around to different labels. I was on a private plane for the first time. I’m a little girl from nowhere. This was the wildest thing ever. He took us to Barry Hankerson, who had this label called black-brown Records. He was a Allayah’s uncle and start that label for her because she was so young that nobody would sign her. But hearing about how he had made a Allayah into the icon that she was, we were obviously really interested in that. And that’s who we ended up going with, we.. They felt like family to us. I think that that’s what both my mom and I were really longing for. Deep down, I was in school and in the studio at night. I was like, This is it. I learned so much working with producers who had had huge hits and it was so exciting crafting this project. You good babe. Did everyone know that this album and these songs were gonna be a hit? ***** No. When this song “Leave Get Out” came across, they were like, we need that song for Jojo. And I was like, I am not a pop singer. OK, I am a soul singer. I am R&B singer. And I thought that was the poppiest song I’d ever cut. But when I went into the studio, I had fun with it. And if it weren’t for that song, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you. I remember hearing it for the first time and just, you know, just the feeling that you got, like you knew it was a massive, massive record. They sent it to radio on CDs that didn’t have my face on it. There was a lot of jokes about like, is it JoJo, like KC and JoJo like that a woman now? Because I’m not the first. But there was a genuine response to the song. Then when they were like, she’s a 13 year old white girl, they were like what? They were not expecting that. Not just my race, but my age. 13 is just so weird. To be singing lyrics that grown. It’s actually a little bit more of an adult format than you imagined it to be. That’s why you don’t see a lot of teenage artists breaking through. Her thing was to tell people she was older than she was, just so that she could be taken more seriously. I was going around singing for every single station. It’s like how you would do a political campaign. It took over radio. Eventually it went number one. I just saw the full picture that I was in the presence of someone who could go on to really do something special and have a great career. I started to hear whispers of other artists having very serious problems with “Blackground” the label. And then a person who worked there before they left said to me and my mom, you need to abandon this ship before it sinks. So I remember that when I started doing movies in between my first and second album, people at the label were really not happy about not getting a percentage of that. Men were sent to my film and television agent’s office to intimidate him. My agent was like, Whoa, this is not what I signed up for. Things got really tense between my mom and the label because her mom was managing her. She was a mom first. My mom just outwardly hated the industry, outwardly wanted to pull me out from it. I wanted to just work. I just wanted to work and just put out music. And I was just so excited to continue the journey I was on. So I let go of my mom as my manager because it became very, very unhealthy for her. I was really concerned that it was just going to kill her if she continued on anymore. So that was the hardest thing of my entire life up to that point was saying, Mom, I really want you to be my mom, but I don’t see how this this professional relationship can go on anymore. The most devastating experience of my life, I’ll probably never really go into how everything happened there, but it was absolutely horrific. The the response and. Maybe there are some situations where it’s so it’s OK for, you know, a parent to manage their child. But if you don’t have experience in this industry, it’s just too devastating. It’s just not meant for people with a sensitive soul. It’s just not. Although I wasn’t putting things out in, it appeared that I was on hiatus or vacation, I was making albums. She’s turning music in consistently, but nothing is being done with it. I just didn’t understand where the lack of follow through came from when we had such big success. They had burned a lot of bridges with different distribution companies. I saw people that opened for me coming up and starting their careers and surpassing me. It was so incredibly upsetting. I really wanted to put something out and I just was trying anything because I was like, what is going to be the thing that makes you guys just take this all the way? And I thought that maybe it was the way that I looked because when I was 18, I remember being sat down in the “Blackground” office and the president of the label being like, we just want you to look as healthy as possible. And I was like, I’m actually the picture of health. I’m actually I look like a healthy girl who eats and is active. And I don’t think that this is about my health. I think that you want me to be really skinny. And he’s like, no, I wouldn’t say that, blah blah blah. But I ended up getting put with a nutritionist that had me on a 500 calories a day diet and I was on these injections that make you have no appetite. And I was like, let me see how skinny I can get, because maybe then they’ll put out an album. Maybe I’m just so disgusting that no one wants to see me in a video and that they can’t even look at me. That’s that’s really what I thought. I mean, I’m not angry for being looked at as a product because as artists, we are. I am speaking for I would say probably every woman in this industry that, you know, your image and your weight is is just is up for conversation and it’s just uncomfortable. It’s hard enough being being a woman. I’m sure a lot of us develop extreme insecurities and disordered eating and really unhealthy thinking about ourselves. I felt that how I was must have been not enough, must have been dissatisfying. So I started getting really ******, drinking, making out with strangers, looking for validation and attention and looking to feel pretty, looking to feel good, looking to feel worthy. She was a shell of herself. She was depressed. I’d never seen her that way cause, you know, I had known her as a teenager who was just so full of life. I mean, there were definitely nights that I stumbled out of clubs and that I blacked out and was just completely reckless, did not care. I needed to be buzzed to feel, OK, I would go to the edge and stand on my tiptoes on the edge and then come back. I should be dead. So you really did rely on substances for awhile? Yeah. How were you able to kick that? My dad was an addict and I refused to end up like that. I did not want to do that. I would have ended up like my dad just going to sleep one day and not waking up because life is hard, not coming from a cushy situation where I can just run home to mommy and daddy and go, you know, go home. Where is that for me? I make my own home. You know, I I have myself. So I had to make this work. It had been two years that I was working on the album and nothing had happened. Me and my team were looking for an out. The lawyer that I had looked through the contract, it was like, this is ironclad. You’re never getting out of this. We literally had litigators and attorneys tell her you need to find a plan B because you’re probably never going to be able to be a part of this industry again in a way that you’re used to. And I was like, oh my God, how is this possible? I signed this contract when I was 12. This is no longer a functioning record label. They don’t have an office anymore. And my family was like, Jo, just go to college like **** this industry, get it, get get out of it. Like you’re a smart girl. You know, you could go get a degree and be, do whatever you want. I’m like, I couldn’t imagine actually doing that. If I don’t really give this my all. I’ll never forgive myself. I moved forward with filing the first lawsuit. They were gonna try to bleed me dry and see how long I could go before I would give up my lawyers, Shannon Hays combed through the contract and eventually found this thing in New York law that says that you can’t keep a minor in a personal service contract for more than seven years. And that statute was up. And then it was just kind of on from there during the lawsuit. I wasn’t allowed to make money from putting out music. Blackground owned my voice and name and likeness. But the biggest thing was my voice because I did not care about the name JoJo. I would’ve pulled the prince in a second. You could call me whatever the hell you want. I don’t care. So what I did to get around that was I compiled a couple of mixtapes. The first move being Can’t Take That Away from me, which was very much a direct statement to my label. That title made me feel strong, like this is my relationship with my fans and I’m I keep this going. So the mixtapes allowed her to have her voice heard, but it wasn’t in a commercial way. She wasn’t making money off of it. So put out these two mixtapes and did some touring off of them because my label didn’t have a part of my touring getting to go and connect with my fans in that way kept me going. She had a show in Milwaukee a day after her father passed away and she stuck to her commitment and she performed feeling that support, feeling that energy is so powerful. That was her way to kind of keep pushing through. I could’ve never have done that if I was going to keep fighting, if I was gonna go through with this lawsuit, even if it meant that I would lose every dollar that I had. They’d be there for me on the other side. People had got so passionate behind the lawsuit. This hashtag free JoJo movement and people making their own merchandise and rocking it and spreading the word and getting it to people who are like, is JoJo dead? What the **** happened to her? My fans will be like, you don’t know what happened? You know, just like letting people know. I mean, they were my street team for free and just out of passion and love. We’re talking about an artist who has been mostly out of sight, out of mind since she was a young teenager. And so to have that kind of loyal fan base with very little output over the years. It’s amazing. When Blackground found out that I’m in this, like I’m really going to really try to get out of this. They settled. I didn’t get any money. I didn’t get any damages, anything like that. I just walked away. Being able to sign another record contract. I was like, let’s go! I was free and I signed to Atlantic. I had my champion in the building, who is my A & R Aaron Bay Shuck. I could tell that she had all of this energy and ideas bundled up inside. We started making this album, it felt so good. I was singing my ass off. I was like, challenging myself. We had this vision for how we were going to make up for all the lost time, how we were gonna re-establish her as a superstar she wanted to be and deserved to be. But a few months into the recording, Aaron got the opportunity to become the president of A & R at Interscope. He took that opportunity and it was a gut wrenching decision. But I decided that I had to do it. I felt kind of deflated by not having that that partner. The people who remained at Atlantic after I left had a different vision for JoJo than I did. So when I was told it’s really this song or nothing’s coming out, I was like, well, I haven’t put out an album in 10 years since I was 15 and I couldn’t wait any longer. So I was like, let’s let’s go with that song. I completely disagree with the message, but yeah, let’s go. I’m not proud of myself for that, but I just had no fight left in me. I toured a lot for “Mad Love”, and that was so nourishing because my fans are why I’m still here. They think of me as this fighter, as this resilient, strong badass. And there’s so many times that I didn’t feel like that. All of these records that her fans knew her by were not on the streaming services. It just made me angry and it made me feel like my story is being erased. And I needed to change the narrative. So she had the idea to re-record those first two albums and put them on streaming. If I covered my own material, those would be new masters. This was an opportunity for the creatives that were involved in making the songs to finally get royalties, to finally get paid. So she put up all the money herself and recording albums for anybody who’s done it before. You know that it’s not cheap. I recorded two songs a day. I knew that what my fans wanted wasn’t a reinvented version of my first two albums. I really wanted to give them what they deserve, which is to be able to feel nostalgic with the music that they grew up with. We had to like find ripped versions on YouTube of my own music so I could refer back to what these songs were, how they sounded. I re-sang everything I did all my background. It was really cathartic. It was amazing to kind of get in touch with that. That 12 year old and that 14 year old when I was making those first two albums because she was so pure and unjaded and excited, she found her love for music in an R&B way again in a soulful way again. And both of them went number one on i-Tunes. I ended up recouping all the money that I had spent in the first quarter of it being released. So that was a really great affirmation. They believed in me and I went from feeling like a disempowered child to feeling like a capable woman. I think it’s really the beginning for her. This whole other chapter now that I’m in a joint situation with Warner, with my label Clover. It feels like the empowerment that I’ve sought for for a long time. Jo ended up being pretty much my first signing when I got over here. It was time for her to take real ownership of her career and really have a say. Making this album has been incredibly rewarding, cathartic, frustrating, upsetting, you know, all the things that making an album is for most artists. I’m just, I’m not impressed with my my vocals on “Man” so I asked him to come in and help me redo this. Don’t roll your eyes, you know I’m crazy. I have so much respect about how particular you are, but you are a little bit crazy sometimes. Now that I’ve lived with it for months. You know, you just listen over and over in your like. **** that is not good enough. It’s awesome. I’m obsessed. Most artists, they listen to it and they’re like okay I’m good. Give it to the producer. Make it sound better. Let me try the second pre. Yeah, over pronunciate. “Rare.” But I want to see it with my Boston accent. How do you see “rare” in Boston? “Rare” Over emphasize the Boston accent. OK. And come in. Sexy. Nothing sexier than a Boston accent. She comes to the whole project as a very old soul in a still young woman. So she is pulling from all that stuff to make authentic music. We’re getting ready to perform three new songs for the first time. This is a big moment for me. Stuff from the new album, the fact that she was insatiable for confidence and for happiness. That’s what drove me to really pull myself out of a rut. I mean, she’s had struggles and all of us have gone through that. I feel like she represents me. Don’t forget to breathe. Okay. Make sure you breathe… Ladies and Gentlemen, please, welcome, live, on the Honda stage, JoJo I think people might be surprised at just how self-deprecating I’m willing to get. Or like just how vulnerable. When “Joanna” was written, we got real. Let’s dig into what people say about you that isn’t nice to hear. When you say these things or you read these things, you start thinking, is that mean you have these doubts? I’m much more comfortable with honesty than trying to act like I’m a perfect woman. There are only a handful of artists that come out of any generation that have the vocal abilities that she has. You know, the runs she can do and the range she has with the tone she has is so unique. You hear it echoed in so many other pop artists and vocalists these days. It’s almost like a bit eerie when you hear her doing it again now. This journey has been a journey of learning how to love myself. I feel really lucky, really, really grateful for longevity that I have. And for the resilience that I do have. But I work on it every day because I want to create a life for myself and I want to create a legacy. Here we are sitting in 2020, where JoJo won a Grammy award with PJ Morton for their song “Say-So” which reached the top 10 of the Urban AC Billboard charts. That’s phenomenal to be able to have that kind of span of a career while so much of that time she was held hostage and and unable to put out music. Most artists would have long given up. And I don’t think Jo ever gave up.