It's been ten years since Joe hit the music scene with his debut album, Everything. Over the past decade, the singer, songwriter and producer has gained multiple Grammy nominations and has written and produced songs for artists such as Chico DeBarge, Barry White and Tina Turner, The BackStreet Boys and Mariah Carey, to name a few. And with his latest release it doesn't appear that Joe plans on slowing down anytime soon.
The son of two preachers, music played an important role in Joe's life early on. As a musician and singer of his parents' church, the Georgia native's early musical influences include gospel greats such as The Winans, Commissioned and Vanessa Bell Armstrong (with whom he'd later also work with). He eventually discovered secular acts like Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat and after playing in local bands, set his sites on a career in music. After graduating high school, Joe bought a one-way ticket to New York to pursue his dream. His melodic and instrument-playing skills would serve him well – it enabled him to produce his own three-song demo, which eventually lead to a label deal and the 1993 release of Everything.
Between 1997 and 2002, Joe would release three more albums. All That I Am (1997), his debut for Jive, and Better Days (2002) sold well, but it was 2000's My Name Is Joe that catapulted his career to new heights. The album debuted at number-two on the Billboard Top 200 and the singles "I Wanna Know" and the remix for "Stutter" featuring Mystikal both went to the top five on the singles chart (number-one and number-four, respectively).
Though the release of Better Days was met with decent sales, it didn't compare to My Name Is Joe. "It did fairly good numbers, but I came off of selling three million records with My Name Is Joe." Every artist knows the fickle side of the industry, but only a few can weather the storm. It's Joe's love for creating music that gets him through the downswings of the business. "I just stay in on course and continue to work. Music has to continue to inspire and . I can't stop. It's important to me to make my voice and my music heard and felt passionately."
Today is a new day for premier soul man Joe Thomas. After ten years signed to Jive Records, he has decided that now is the time to start taking chances. "Nothing against being signed to a major label, but most of the time it's about what they want you to do as opposed to what the artist wants to do. I have nothing against Jive, but I really just wanted to be me. Seriously, I got tired of being held back."
Teaming-up with his manager of 15 years, Kedar Massenburg, who also serves as executive producer on the much anticipated project, Joe has come back stronger than ever. Indeed, from the first listen to his soulful emancipation Joe Thomas, New Man, it is obvious from the looseness of his voice and the texture of his timbre that he was feeling a little different.
"Of course there is a happiness that comes with independence, but I also felt more confident in the studio," Joe explains. "I was able to work at my own pace, choose my collaborators and sing the truth. Kedar and I have been working together forever, and we know how to make a great soul record."
Yet, just because Joe Thomas, New Man is an indie R&B record, does not mean that this is a bargain basement affair. "I've developed many close relationships with some of the best in the business," Joe says. "When it came time for me to go into the studio I was able to call on my friends like Puffy, Bryan Michael Cox and (video director) Billie Woodruff to come through."
In addition, Joe was also blessed with contributions from Nas, Game, Busta Rhymes, Mario and Trey Songz, Snoop Dogg and P. Diddy. "I only like working with people who can take their art to the next level. But, believe me, getting all the right folks for this project was a blessing."
Releasing dual singles "ER" and "Why Just Be Friends," the talented balladeer is more than ready to compete with his rivals on the radio. "The track "ER" was produced by a newcomer named D'Mile, a young and eager dude out of Brooklyn (Janet Jackson, "Feedback")," Joe says. Serving as the opening for New Man, the theme of unrequited love is one that runs through the majority of the disc.
"All of us know what it's like to be feeling somebody who might not be feeling you," laughs Joe. "For a lot of guys it's not about what they have, but what they want."
With a voice that is sweet as chocolate and strong as coffee, "Why Just Be Friends" is the perfect summer record detailing the carnal blight of dudes, as Joe explains, "gets caught in the friend zone too many times." Produced by the Stereotypes, a crew hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Joe says, "They passed along some tracks, and I was really digging what these guys were doing. I mixed the song myself in a home studio I have owned for about eight years. I call it simply, Joe's Crib Studio."
Fact is, once the various tracks were perfect, most of Joe's vocals were recorded from his home studio. "I like doing things quickly, and in the home studio I can get in the zone and work at my own pace." On the club ballad "We Need to Roll," the singer got a chance to make another musical dream of his come true.
"I recorded that song with Trey Songz and Mario, because you almost never hear R&B guys singing together," Joe explains. "I remember how hyped I was when Quincy Jones put out 'The Secret Garden,' and I wanted that kind of vibe on the record."
A southern boy who was raised by two preachers in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia and Opaleika, Alabama Joe mastered an array of instruments when he was still a kid. "I have nothing but respect for musicians," Joe explains. "Though I don't play on this project, I'm working on something special right now where I'm playing everything in the studio."
Admiring the genius and swagger of artists like Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway, Joe's songs also share the sacred/profane dilemma in his music that elevates beyond the arena of his peers. From the sweet as cherry Kool-Aide lyrics on "Man In Your Life" to lonely teardrops of "Sorry" to the freaky deke of "Triple Black Room," Joe continues to dig deep into his own psyche for the best material. "The artists who are my heroes, be it Marvin, Prince or Donny, were never too proud to reveal there true selves. It is impossible to be a true artists if your art isn't honest. Although it might hurt sometimes, I have no problem baring the realness of my life in the songs." Coming across as a protector on the lush song "I Won't Let Him Hurt You," the track has slight Asian touches in the music that is beautiful. "I spend a lot of time overseas, and those sounds are as much a part of my influence as soul or gospel.
I want to experiment, and mix a little of that flavor with what I do best." Smooth as butter and perfect as the pyramids the track "By Any Means" is one of those songs that lingers in the mind hours after you've heard it. Utilizing a cool groove laid-down by his homie Bryan Michael Cox (who has produced hits for Usher and Mariah Carey), this song is an obvious hit. "Bryan and I have worked together a few times in the past, and obviously his track record speaks for itself."
Once nicknamed "the Casanova crooner" by Hip-Hop Soul magazine, New Man proves that Joe has lost none of his spunk or flavor. If anything, dude has simply gotten better. Let's hear it for soul brother number one!