Sam: Hey Johnta, how are doing?
Sam: I really appreciate you taking the time out to answer these questions
Johnta: Pleasure is all mine
Sam: Quoting one of your lyrics: “Turn up your radio and I guarantee that you’ll hear one of my songs”. Indeed, your undeniable success as a songwriter has ensured that this rings true. Did you ever foresee yourself getting this far?
Johnta: Umm, not like this. I mean anything that I set out to do, I wanna do good at it. I’m not gonna lie and say I didn’t think I was gonna be a success. I would never start anything that I didn’t think I would be good or succeed in. Did I think it was gonna be to this degree though? Not like this, but I thought I would be successful.
Sam: When did you realize that music was want you wanted to pursue?
Johnta: When Tyrese’s “Sweet Lady” came out and it was a hit and I stared making a little bit o paper, that’s when I knew [laughs]. I loved music and always loved music but his was when I thought I could make it into a career.
Sam: You’ve penned some of this decade’s biggest hits – earning numerous awards in the process. What led to you stepping to the forefront and becoming an artist yourself?
Johnta: Just from working with Jermaine Dupri on a daily basis. He really saw something in me as an artist and wanted to present it to the world. I wanted to be an artist for a minute but it was Jermaine that gave me the confidence.
Sam: Did you have any fears when making the transition (from writer to performer)?
Johnta: Nah, um like I said it all goes back to I believe in myself and the talent that God has given me. I don’t really get nervous because it’s about creating the music for me. If people gravitate to it, that’s good. It’s a blessing.
Sam: ‘Ocean Drive’ – your long-awaited debut album – had been slated to drop on many different dates, yet was pushed back on each occasion. Why was this?
Johnta: Definitely, the first few dates were when I was at Virgin and things just couldn’t get right, which also led to Jermaine stepping down. It was unfortunate because “Turn It Up” was just about to take off. After that, L.A. made a home for us at Island. We re-opened the door and it’s exciting again. We shot a video with DJ UNK so this is exciting that it’s happening.
Sam: Could you explain what inspired the concept of the title ‘Ocean Drive’? What can listeners expect from the CD (i.e. sound, producers, writers, collabo’s etc)?
Johnta: At first it was about a strip in Miami, called “Ocean Drive”. Then we started to use that scene to create the feel for the album. It became like a way of life, a feeling. Ocean Drive is sexy, its freshness, we wanted to bring that sound to people even when they are away from the strip.
Sam: How did it feel working in the studio and writing/recording for your own project, as opposed to for other artists?
Johnta: Its pretty much the same feeling we approached it the same way. We just wanna go in there and make good music, no matter who we’re working with. I didn’t want to get overly excited about it being my OWN record, so I put it out of my head so I could treat it like I treat every other visit to the studio.
Sam: I’m really liking the album track ‘Hood Love’ featuring Mary J. Blige, How did the collaboration come about? What was it like working with Mary in the studio?
Johnta: It came about because I wrote “Be Without You” on Mary’s last album. Jermaine and I were talking about different artists I worked with that would be cool for the duo so we reached out to Mary. She was receptive and its always a pleasure being in the studio with Mary, She always brings the emotion and is genuine on every track.
Sam: You’ve finished recording the album, right? Are there any tracks you would deem as personal favourites (and why)?
Johnta: “The One That Got Away” produced by Stargate
“Hood Love” feat. Mary J. Blige
“Call Me If I Was Your Boyfriend”
These tracks are all of my personality rolled up into one. It’s cocky, it’s got swagger. What my listeners have come to appreciate: ballads, storytelling, melodies…
Sam: You evidently have a close working relationship with Jermaine Dupri. How did you guys meet?
Johnta:We met through producer Brian Michael Cox. I just kept on nagging him about putting me and Jermiane together.
Sam: Some singer/songwriters have gone on record to state that they wish they’d kept a particular track for themselves. Has this ever been the case for you (if so, which song(s))?
Johnta: No, I don’t feel like I gotta hold on to a record, cuz I always feel like I can make another great one.
Sam: Have you ever been frustrated with the fact that, prior to now, many have known the hits you’ve written but not the man behind them?
Johnta: My prime role is the coach. The coach is never gonna get enough praise and accolades as the stars. When I work with Mariah, I’m there, JD’s there to assist. Mariah is leading the team, but she’s the one that’s taking home the MVP, and deservedly so, and I’m cool with that.
Sam: For you, which gives you better satisfaction: hearing a song you co-wrote on the radio or hearing your own song on the radio?
Johnta: Hearing my own song on the radio. Cuz I’ve heard other people singing my songs for so long, so it’s great to hear my own voice on the radio.
Sam: Though you’re evidently a versatile writer, which artist has proved the most difficult to write for?
Johnta: I haven’t met a challenge yet that’s too demanding. I’m grateful to work with artists who already have their own identity. It’s easy to work with a Mariah, an Usher, a Mary cuz you just have to add to what they are doing.
Sam: Mariah Carey describes you as ‘a true talent’ and Mary J has labelled you as ‘the best thing to happen to the music industry’. How does it feel hearing praises like that from such celebrated artists?
Johnta: It humbles you because they’ve achieved so much success and they are so well liked all over the world. And they are known for their incredible music, so for them to respect my talent, that’s great.
Sam: What advice do you have for those wishing to break into the music industry, be it as songwriters or artists? How can they go about achieving their dream?
Johnta: Be persistent is the most important thing. Don’t give up. You don’t want it to be easy. The overnight guys disappear overnight as well. Stay persistent and sharpen your craft an it’ll work out.
Sam: Album release date?
Johnta: November 2007
Sam: Thanks for taking time out to answer our questions; it’s very much appreciated. Best of luck with the project, we’re eagerly waiting on it.
Johnta: Thanks you.