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Singer Donell Jones Talks Being an Independent Artist, Working with Left Eye and LaFace Records Treating Him Like a ‘Stepchild’

R&B singer Donell Jones, 47, is all for artists owning the rights to their music. He opened up about that, his seven-year hiatus from releasing new music and more during a chat with Atlanta Black Star. Jones’ comeback album, “100% Free,” is set for a December release on his CandyMan Music label. 

The “Where I Wanna Be” singer expressed how musicians should stay independent instead of signing to a record label. Jones said that artists don’t need record labels due to social media’s power and the ability to speak directly to fans.

Rhythm and Blues singer Donell Jones @DonellJonesForever/Instagram

He added that despite record companies spending money on promotions, artists should own their masters, meaning musicians have full control over tracks and albums. When record labels become involved, they own the rights to your music.

“I’m creating, I’m writing, I’m producing, I’m making music, I’m singing it. Then I should own my music. You shouldn’t own my music because you spent a certain amount of money,” Jones said.

Jones referenced the late Prince, who wrote the word “slave” on his face in the ’90s following a dispute with the Warner Bros. record label over his contract, symbolizing he felt like a prisoner.

“That’s exactly what it is. It’s like a slave ship. I wanted to get away from that, and I’m sure a lot of other people want to get away from that because, when you spend somebody else’s money, they get to tell you what they want to do,” Jones said.

He noted that record companies aren’t even promoting things like love anymore, “just ridiculousness.”

“I think it’s crazy that some artists want to change their music and do different things, but that’s not what they push,” Jones said. “So they gotta do what’s out there and what’s selling right now.”

While it may seem that Jones has great disdain for record companies, the “U Know What’s Up” vocalist slightly complimented the company he was signed to, LaFace Records, which he described as the best label back in the day.

Founded by Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, LaFace’s catalog includes TLC, Usher, Toni Braxton and OutKast. Jones’ only issue was that he felt like he was treated like a stepchild instead of a priority.

“They gave me one shot. They were going to drop me right before I released my second album ‘Where I Wanna Be,’ ” said Jones.

“I thanked them for the opportunity that they gave me, but I feel like they could have pushed me a little bit more as an artist. Had I been somewhere else on another label and been the focus, my career and my trajectory would probably be a lot different than it is today,” Jones added.

For musicians insisting on breaking into the record business, Jones advises artists not to sell themselves short or do anything that will interrupt one’s integrity.

If you have a team, stay with that team because “they got your back,” Jones said. “There’s the dark side, and there is the light side, and whatever door you choose to walk through, you got to live that.”

Jones’ home roots in Chicago have shaped his love for music and the work he has given his loyal fans over the years.

“The best part for me about growing up in Chicago was the fact that we got music from the West Coast and the East Coast, so it was like a melting pot right there in the middle. I got to appreciate both sides,” he said.

Jones pointed out while he’s grateful to be thought of as a legend in music, he believes that he’s not done. “I feel like I have so much more to give. This second half of my life, now you’re going to get the best of Donell because I learned so much,” Jones said.

A part of his legend status is one of Jones’ biggest hits, “U Know What’s Up” remix with the late rap princess Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, a part of the popular girl group TLC. The track peaked at the number-one spot on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart in 2000.

Donell Jones Courtesy of Donell Jones

Lopes passed on two years later in a car accident in Honduras, but Jones remembers his label mate as one of the “sexiest things walking down that d–n hallway” in their music video for the hit record.

“She was just a beautiful person, man. Amazing spirit, man. Had she not been on that record? I don’t know where we’d be today. I think it’d still be a hit, but I don’t think it would be as big as it was,” Jones claimed.

Jones isn’t shy to say that he’s a fan of the new generation of R&B singers such as Chris Brown, Trey Songz, Jacquees and Bryson Tiller.

“All of these young guys are doing their thing, and R&B has changed,” he said.

However, Jones does feel that the genre today is a bit on the raunchy side. Jones jokingly said that a singer would at least leave a little bit to the imagination back in the day.

“But at the same time, when I was growing up, people thought we were pushing the button too,” he added. “So I don’t want to be one of those old guys, but I feel like where they’re missing is where I can come step right back in and put my stamp on it,” Jones concluded.

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