When it comes to RnB, Donell Jones has impeccable taste. Born in Chicago Illinois in 1973, his musical inspirations are unquestionably some of the best. His hometown alone boasts an array of extremely talented and gifted artists, such as R Kelly, Lupe Fiasco, Common, female rapper Da Brat and rising artist Jeremih. Donell uniquely sets himself apart with his mellow suave vocals and debonair nature, to what can only be best described as that much-loved ‘bedroom’ music. He can certainly put his sensual yet stylish stamp on a slow jam, leaving the ladies playing his tracks on repeat.
We know Donell from memorable hits like ‘U Know What’s Up’ and ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’, and with six impressive albums under his belt, he is still going strong as a fully fledged R&B hitmaker and looking forward to leaving a lasting impression on one of music’s most lucrative genres.
Donell’s career began when he left a notorious gang in Chicago’s Southside, known as The Gangster Disciples, following a near-death experience and instead pursued his passion for music. In 1996 he signed to LaFace Records and released his first debut album My Heart.
Three years later, he had swiftly established himself as a top recording artist, with his second album, Where I Wanna Be, selling over a million copies. It was also where he collaborated with TLC’s Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes on ‘U Know What’s Up’. Most recently, this year, Donell released his sixth album, Lyrics, entirely written, produced and performed by himself.
We love Donell and we love a fighter – he fought for his dream in a competitive market and made it. We catch up with him live from the US.
Who do you most admire?
That would have to be my mother.
Which is your favourite era of music and why?
I would say the late 70s, early 80s, when I was growing up; they had some really good music out then. I guess there were no labels on it, everybody would listen to anything: a bit of soft rock, a little rock’n’roll, a little bit of everything, R&B, it was really universal – it wasn’t put into a lot of categories as it is now.
Are you currently single or taken?
I’m off the market! [Laughs]
What’s your weakness?
Oh wow, let me see… I don’t really know if I have a weakness! Cake! [Laughs] I really don’t eat a lot of it, but when I do I kinda overdo it.
Are we talking ‘cake’ cake or cheesecake?
You know what? Cheesecake!
A bit of a sweet tooth, then?
I do! I try to stay away from the sweets. But when I do I overdo it.
What excites you?
What excites me is when I can make music, go on stage and see how people react to it.
That’s a good feeling, right? Oh, there’s nothing better…
What do you consider to be the greatest song of all time?
Oh man, she asks some good questions! Favourite song to me, I have a lot of them; but I think my most favourite song would have to be Michael Jackson ‘Lady in My Life’. That’s my favourite song of all songs.
Who would you consider to be the greatest pioneer?
I have to name a few people: definitely Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, definitely Teddy Pendergrass, and then last but not least, Quincy Jones.
How would you most like to spend an ideal day?
My ideal day would be lying back in the bed – watching Dexter!
All day? [We laugh]
Yep! What I do is, I like to tape about five or six episodes so I can watch it all day…
With the cake or no cake?
Nah, no cake involved in there! [Laughs]
Which new artist out now would you most like to duet with?
Hmm… Trey Songz.
Can we get a female artist too?
Female-wise Jazmine Sullivan.
Having written for artists like Brownstone and Silk, which is your favourite song you’ve written for someone or yourself?
It’s definitely gonna have to be ‘Where I Wanna Be’.
How do you find juggling your career with fatherhood as a father of five?
I find it really easy; it’s not hard at all. At the beginning of my career it was, because I was on the road so much; but now my daughters are older, and my youngest is two – I get to spend a lot of time with her, it’s not that hard.
With six impressive albums under your belt, what are your plans for the future? Any acting roles?
I really want to get into producing songs for epic movies. I would love to hear some of my music playing when they’re making love or when somebody’s about to get killed – I would love to make that music.
I’m really into the theatrical aspect of it and hopefully one day I will get a chance to do that.
Interview by Kemi Giwa