Welcome back to TGJ Replay!
Designed much like our ‘Retro Rewind’ and ‘From the Vault’ features, ‘Replay’ is That Grape Juice‘s newest reflective segment to act as a written quest to re-spin the gems and jams of yesterday. Unlike its TGJ retrospective predecessors, ‘Replay’ looks to dust off and showcase entire albums (and eras) from a library of pop and Urban pop music hits.
This week, we’ll press play on the critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album of pint-size powerhouse Jojo:
Even in the absence of a record deal and full on backing, Joanna Levesque – affectionately nicknamed Jojo – was already making a name for herself belting out some of music’s most vocally challenging hits…before she could even ride a bike. Appearing on a number of top-rated American television shows from ‘Maury’ and ‘Destination Stardom’ to ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’ and ‘The Rosie O’Donnell Show’ in her formative days (as seen above), the youngster was becoming a media darling on the wings of an uncanny vocal ability seasoned far beyond her years.
Catching the eyes and ears of media exec Vincent Herbert, Levesque was introduced to Blackground Records CEO Barry Hankerson, who – reports have it – was instantly impressed with the 12-year-old vocalist. Likening her to his late niece/flagship artist Aaliyah (who was also 12 when he added to her the label), Hankerson quickly set up sessions with hitmaking producers The Underdogs (Harvey Mason, Jr.) and more. With Herbert at the helm, ‘Jojo,’ her self titled debut album, was born.
America would finally get a much deserved taste in full of the budding teenager’s offerings with the set’s lead single ‘Leave (Get Out).’ Written by the preteen herself, the tune – on the instrumentation front – tip-toed on a very radio friendly line of teen pop and R&B. On the vocal front, however, the singer’s stylings left many-a-listener jaw-dropped. Quickly earning comparisons to the industry’s other blue-eyed/big-voiced diva, Christina Aguilera, Jojo’s soaring vocal displays and crisp melisma – like Aguilera’s – were finding welcome on both sides of the musical spectrum (pop and R&B).
Taking the song all the way to #12 on the Hot 100, the feisty single was certified gold less than 4 months after its debut and earned international success in a number of European markets. By the time her self-titled project hit stores in June of 2004, critics and fans alike were singing the praises of the prepubescent soulful songstress (a lauding that would help hoist the project to a #4 debut on the Billboard 200).
‘Weak’ Live (SWV remake)
Despite an album full of delectable Urban numbers (see: ‘Homeboy,’ ‘Sunshine,’ ‘Breezy,’ etc.), Blackground opted to push the project’s pop’ier numbers in an attempt to avoid alienating the singer’s
white mainstream fans.
Shortly after seeing her name listed aboard the ‘Best New Artist’ nods at the year’s MTV Video Music Awards (losing to Maroon 5), Jojo and co. lifted its long-awaited second single, ‘Baby It’s You.’ Tapping pint-sized rap hitmaker Bow Wow to co-star, the Harvey Mason, Jr.-penned tune was launched to radio.
‘Baby It’s You’
Though failing to attract the fanfare of its predecessor, ‘Baby,’ which peaked at #22 on the Hot 100, did manage to nab a gold certification for exceeding 500,000 in sales.
Together, ‘Baby’ and its predecessor ‘Leave’ helped push their parent project right into platinum territoy (an impressive feat given the absence of push from the label). Bursting onto the scene with ‘Leave,’ the potential for the project to be launched into the stratosphere was evident given the international response to the tune and, of course, the singer’s extraordinary talent. The distance (in time) between the lead single and its follow-up, in conjunction with no single thereafter, lent the album an undue limited shelf-life.
But, as she would later learn, the lack of support would spell itself a mainstay during her tenure at Blackground.
All-in-all, ‘Jojo’ was not a defeated project. For, if all it did was introduce the masses to the gems of Ms. Levesque, that in itself was a win. Now, as we await her third full length LP, we hope she returns to tip-toe on the very rhythmic pop line that brought her debut its acclaim over 10 years ago.
As we excuse ourselves to press play on our jam ‘Never Say Goodbye,’ you tell us: