JoJo can sing all the things girls wouldn’t dare say…at least out loud.
With the release of her latest single “Demonstrate,” the 21-year-old soul shocker plays a temptress in the bedroom over a melody crafted by Drake’s right hand man, Noah “40” Shebib. The collab is all thanks to a YouTube cover of “Marvin’s Room” that has racked up 45 million views (and counting).
The once ginger-haired teen songbird is all grown up now and has no problem pouring her heart on wax. As the viral YouTube machine continues to pump out new R&B songbirds, Jo sees no competition. In fact, she’s even besties with ‘I Am Other’ femme fatale Leah Labelle.
Though the Boston native’s got the vocals and the looks to slay the game, JoJo’s been taking her time on a new album, waiting for the exact moment to pounce.
Now sounds about right.
VIBE Vixen: Did the collaboration with Noah come about through the YouTube cover of “Marvin’s Room?”
JoJo: It was in a way. It was a dream of mine to work with him. They’re a really incredible team, so I was excited at the fact that he took the time to work with me, and it was interesting. When we were in the studio together, when we first got in, we were laughing about how we’ve already done a record together, we just never really done it knowingly.
What was his feedback about your take on Drake’s song?
He was very positive about it. He liked how I put my own spin on it and we were talking about how it’s a new time in music. This is the era of everything going viral, spreading everything so quickly.
You’ve been in the music game for more than eight years. Do you feel like you have to compete against this new crop of artists who are getting famous off the web?
Absolutely. I think it would be silly to say that I wasn’t. Everybody is kinda on an equal playing field as far as I’m concerned, but at the same time, I don’t like to think about competing. I like to think about being my personal best, representing something that I can be proud of and just trying to one-up myself and keep my blinders on in that regard, because if I was really focused on outdoing everybody, that would be a really stifling existence.
It seemed like “Demonstrate” came out of nowhere because you dropped “Sexy To Me” and “Disaster” earlier this year, but they didn’t get as strong of a response as this single did.
To be honest with you, this is the first time in a long time where I felt like everything is just making sense for me. I’m doing the music that I want to do, and the fact that I’m getting such a positive response from it just reiterates that it’s OK for me to move in this new direction.
It’s been two years since you’ve released your mixtape Can’t Take That Away From Me. What changes have you gone through, whether it’s in the creative process or life experiences, that led to you becoming more vulnerable in your music?
I’ve been through a lot. The biggest change for me was after the response came in from “Marvin’s Room.” I was really, really apprehensive to put it out there because I thought people would think, Oh she’s so grown now, she’s using the ‘F’ word, who does she think she is? [Laughs] I didn’t know what they were going to say. So when they responded and there was a lot of positivity and people were digging it, it gave me the OK to be myself. I am that rough-around-the-edges chick who’s very outspoken. I think I’ve become more liberated from that. And yeah, I’ve definitely gone through things in my personal life where I can’t help but to write what I’m going through, so for the past three years, when I was working on the album, a lot of the material I was writing was very angry, very aggressive because that’s what I was going through in my personal life. I was in a terrible relationship and now that I’m on the other side of it, I’m writing about love, making love, feeling good, having a good time and that’s where I wanna keep the music at right now.
A lot of girls flock to your music. Were you nervous that the younger ones now would hear you cursing and think, ‘Hey, that’s not the JoJo I used to listen to?’
I still think that I can simultaneously be myself–a young woman, outspoken, sometimes controversial artist–and I think I can also be a role model. I don’t think I need to choose. I have to make the decisions that make me happy in my artistry, but I know that the young lady that I am is someone I can look at in the mirror. I have little cousins that I have to see when I go back home to Boston and my family is all up in my face all the time. My mom was like, ‘Goodness gracious, Jo, that was very raunchy!’ I know that when I go back to Boston, I still have my family to answer to, [and] I never wanna compromise myself in a way that I can’t feel good about what I’m doing.
You said that you put a lot of your relationship experiences in your songs, so is it safe to say you’re living the single life?
Yeah. I’m just super, super focused on me, fortifying myself. I’m 21 and I just wanna live, wanna feel. That’s kinda the exploration that I’m taking with this album.
You’ve come a long way from singing about first loves to bedroom antics. What do you look for in an ideal man?
I love weirdos. I like ’em weird. I like them intellectual. I want to learn something. I want you to teach me something. I don’t mean that in a creepy way, but I mean, like for example, guys from another country or another place that I’m not familiar with or maybe he studied something I find fascinating. I love an alternative intellectual.
Anyone who’s visited your Twitter sees that you’re fascinated with dinosaurs. What’s the story behind that?
I just love them. When I was little, my parents were together till I was maybe 5 years-old and they’re much better separate than they are together, so when they would get into really big arguments, it would kinda scare me so I would go into my room and I would make habitats for my dinosaurs. I would sing and then I would drown out the noise and I would take grass and rocks from outside and playdoh and I would go into this world with my dinosaurs and it just brought me a sense of peace. I just liked to think that I was chillin’ with my imaginary dinosaurs, haha. I remember in third grade, our teacher gave us this assignment to give an argument and I was giving an argument as to why we should recreate dinosaurs or why scientists should find a way to make dinosaurs roam the earth again. I’m a weirdo. I don’t know what type of stuff my mom fed me in my childhood.
Your Twitter playlist looks very diverse. You listen to everything from Kendrick Lamar to Alanis Morissette. If you could soundtrack your life at present with three songs that are not yours, what would they be?
Frank Ocean “Sweet Life,” Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre “The Recipe” and Drake “Good Ones Go.”
I definitely think “Good Ones Go” is the better half of “Cameras” that gets overshadowed.
I love the “Cameras” part of it but the “Good Ones Go”?! Every girl wants to hear that! That’s my jam.
Jumping Trains is the album that you’ve been working on. What’s the status on that?
To be honest, I’m moving in a new direction. I haven’t come out and said it, but if you listen to the difference between “Disaster” and “Demonstrate,” they don’t fit on the same album. So with the release of “Demonstrate” and the feedback it’s been getting, it reconfirmed for me that I’m doing the right thing. I want a very consistent, cohesive body of work and that’s what I’m working on finishing up. It doesn’t really bother me that I’ve been working on something for four years. I just want it to be right. Whatever the timing happens to be, whether it’s the end of this year or early next year, I just pray that it’s right. I’m almost done with the tracks that I would consider the album to be. It’s just about fine-tuning and sitting down with my team and things like that.
Can we expect Noah or any other big collaborations artist-wise to hop on this?
Yes. I’m getting back in with Noah for the album and there are some guests that I’m really excited about. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from particularly the hip hop community which means a lot to me because I’m such a fan of hip hop music so just to be embraced is really exciting.
Is there any possibility of you working with Drake formally?
I would absolutely love that. I hope so. It’s definitely on my wish list. Drake does a better job than anyone of kinda creating an atmosphere and bringing people into it.
What do you hope to accomplish with this comeback album?
I want my music to create an atmosphere that people can put the record on and enter into. I wanna represent a different type of chick, that girl that can be one of the guys but is totally embracing of her feminine side. I just want this album to be crazy, sexy, cool. I wanna kinda take it back to the way music used to make people feel, particularly R&B music in the ’90s.
Is there an album out right now that you feel is doing that at all?
I think Frank Ocean’s new album is incredible. It’s so inspiring and exciting.