R&B veteran Johnny Gill is gearing up for the release of his seventh solo album Game Changer, due in stores December 9. The legendary singer has given R&B fans hit after hit as a member of New Edition, LSG, and as a solo artist. Now, Johnny is back not only with a new solo project, but also with a forthcoming New Edition album as well.
ThisisRnB recently caught up with Gill to discuss his new album, longevity, the state of R&B, New Edition’s new album, and much more.
Check out the full interview below!
Your new album Game Changer is on the way, and we have already been blessed with the hot single “Behind Closed Doors.”
Talk about the recording process of the album. What producers did you work with on the album? What can we expect?
Johnny Gill: It’s a Game Changer. I worked with Babyface again, we hadn’t worked together in years. We haven’t recorded with New Edition since 2004 and we have a New Edition joint on there. It’s for grown and sexy folks. It’s great music; all we tried to do is make great music, and hands down we accomplished that so I’m excited about it.
What was it like recording the new song with your New Edition brothers? Is that what inspired the “All 6 Tour” and the forthcoming New Edition album?
We were already on tour when we went in the studio to record the vocals. Just in doing so in New York, it was funny because we were like man this is old and good times!
I miss the era of groups! What do you think it will take for there to be a resurgence in the R&B group?
Johnny Gill: People supporting. People making sure they send the message clearly as well as what they do with R&B. Showing that there’s a need and an interest. People have to send the message to the industry that they want to hear great music and there is a respect for it and a need for it. And traditional R&B hasn’t gone anyway. I’m praying like everyone else that everyone shows up on December 9 to buy my album, and say they still have an interest in R&B music.
What do you miss most about the ’90s and ’80s R&B?
Johnny Gill: That was my era of having fun. Understanding that nothing last forever. The reality of how we structured music and dealt with music is a completely different way of how music is made today. I never wanted to be forgotten and to be respected of how you get to the next step you don’t skip from A to Z you have to go through A-B-C to get to where the new generation is trying to get to. Our job is to make sure they don’t forget, and that they have a respect for the music that was here before. When they are hearing and making music they are hearing our music from before. They are riding on the shoulders of their forefathers because their mothers and uncles were playing our music. It’s important that everyone gets a chance to be respected. I looked at the AMAs and thought it was a great show but where was the R&B? You can’t be mad; if you don’t like something all you can do is change it. All we can do is make sure our genre will continue to be around. Hopefully my album can continue to inspire the new generation and some will say, ‘I want to go that route.’
You took a 14 year hiatus as a solo artist. Why did you take the hiatus and what inspired you to come back?
Johnny Gill: The state of the business was disappointing, the changing of the guards as we can see. I was fortunate that I could tour without having a record, and that’s why I did it for many many years. I never had intentions to record again until someone seriously approached me about doing something, and I would hear it everyday from my fans. I’m thinking the business has changed what am I going to record and for what. To put time and effort into something I can’t control and my fate lies in their hands. I’m like I’m cool. Little did I know 15 years later I’d be in the position to own my own record label. I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d have that level of control over my own career and my destiny.
You are one of the few artists that has been blessed to tour your entire career. What do you love the most about touring, and what has been you craziest tour experience?
Johnny Gill: Being in front of people because people tell you when it works and when it doesn’t. They tell you if you are going in the right direction and if you are doing the damn thang. It’s always fun to feed off the energy of the audience. Now, after 31 years we’ve had some moments (chuckles) unless I can PG it I don’t know if I can talk about crazy tour moments. We’ve had some great times. I’ve been to the mountain top. We’ve had number ones. We’ve been the top rated act. I’ve been the top vocalist of the year, and doing what we do I want to continue to do this at a high level.
You know you are a hot group when you can have several successful subgroups. What has it been like touring with Bobby and Ralph as Head of State? Can you describe each member of New Edition’s (including your own) personality.
Johhny Gill: (chuckles) The thing that I’ve made a conscious effort since I was a kid starting in the business early on.. I’m never going to be defined by one thing holding all the cards or one thing being able to determine my destiny. I always felt being able to recreate and work on different projects allows you to never be stuck in a box or a corner. That’s why you have seen me do New Edition, LSG, Head of State, the George Howard thing. I’m not going to be defined by one thing.
On New Edition: Ron is the All-American guy. He’s our landmark guy. If you didn’t know our names you would go oh with the tall light skin guy. He has such a big and warm personality. Ricky is the guy that would be the ultimate brother for any brother. He kind of rides and sides with understanding whatever you are doing. He can always make sense of stuff. Mike is the kind of brother you are always going to have your own tussles with. He stands stern and firm on his own beliefs. You will always bump your heads with him, but you will come full circle and realize you need the brother like him to bring the leadership and that’s what he brings. Bobby is the rebel. He’s the brother that you have to say you can’t do that, stop, leave that alone. He’s the mischievous one (chuckles). But he’s always been incredible; he’s always had an incredible heart. Ralph would have to be the ultimate brother, best friend, and working partner. He’s always looking to grow and always ready to take risks and challenges. He’s always creating. You want to lock yourself in the room with him every time you want to create. Ralph is the ride or die. Then myself, I’m the daddy. I’m always trying to make things better. I never forget things. I always want to make it comfortable and fun. I’ve always been the protector watching out for all of my brothers.
What I love about classic R&B from the past is the real vocals, timelessness, gritty soul, unique harmonies, vocal arrangement, live instrumentation, the love …..How do you feel about the current state of R&B? What’s missing? What, in your own words, is wrong with it?
Johnny Gill: R&B comes in different formats. I just find that people shouldn’t abandon the hardcore traditional R&B which a lot of stuff derives from. The state of R&B…. R&B is so disrespected. Right now it’s at the bottom of the totem poll. Everything derives from Rhythm & Blues. All genres. You can’t get away from it. It’s the least respected genre right now, and we are going to change that December 9. No one is giving it a chance anymore. Nothing lasts forever. Times change. It’s nothing wrong with that, but if you don’t know where you come from how do you know where you are going. It’s important that we put it in a place to be respected, upheld, and valued.
A few months ago I attended Keith Sweat’s birthday party here in Atlanta. It was a magical night for R&B as so many artists were present. Joe said something to me that stood out, he said ‘R&B artists need to come together like this more often on a united front for the genre to win as you always see rappers collaborating and supporting each other.’ What do you think needs to happen for R&B to really win again?
Johnny Gill: I think Joe hit it; I think he’s right. That’s probably what kept us from being heard. We have to unite and support and keep raising our voice saying don’t forget where we come from. We have to keep reminding people that R&B is still here, and it still exists. It’s still a lane for it and there are still artists that want to do it but they are being forced to go in a different direction because radio won’t play it. So we have to let radio and the industry know there is still a need for it and a market for it.
You’ve been regarded as one of the best voices in R&B. You posses amazing range and a certain soulfulness. How would you describe your sound?
Johnny Gill: God given. Unique. Anointed. I think that every artist has a gift and to some degree we are all anointed. Sometimes we have something that goes even further; and over time it stands the test of time. I never abused it and I understood what God gave me. When I get on that mic I give it the same effort and power no matter if I’m in front of 2 people or 2,000.
What can we expect from the new New Edition album?
Johnny Gill: Who knows because we are in the creative stage. You don’t know until you know. We know we have to come forth and do what feels right for where we are today. Maybe some will agree; maybe some won’t. Maybe everyone will agree. It’s about what state you are in today. I could sing “My,My,My” over and over again but I’ll never have the magic I had then. I was in a time, place, and space that allowed me to interpret what took place. If we try to record that again it would never happen. It’s about where you are today.
Why should people go out and buy your album on December 9?
Johnny Gill: I know how the heads of these companies are looking to see what the support of the fans will be like. The support will show we do have a lane still for R&B music. It will show that there’s a need for it and there are people that want to hear it. I’m here and I’m going to carry that banner to the very end!
–Interview by Rea Davis
Pre-Order Johnny Gill’s Game Changer on iTunes now!