Interview: JoJo Hailey On Recording ‘How Do You Want It’ With 2Pac & ‘Special’ Solo Venture

JoJo Hailey’s contributions to R&B are permanently etched in music history thanks to his inimitable work with Jodeci and K-Ci & JoJo throughout the 1990s. Collectively, they’ve sold millions of albums worldwide and songs such as K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life” and Jodeci’s “Come & Talk To Me” are bona fide R&B staples.

Over the years, JoJo has stepped in and out of the music industry multiple times as he navigated life but each time he returned, he emerged a better version of himself.

Now, the R&B legend is taking the solo route for the first time in his illustrious career. His new single, “Special,” arrived on Valentine’s Day (February 14) and illustrates what kind of place he’s in today — sober, married, doting father and one-half of JT Entertainment, the record label he runs with his wife Tashaunda Hailey.

During a recent interview with HipHopDX, JoJo opened up about addiction, collaborating with 2Pac on “How Do You Want It” and his forthcoming solo album JoJo Family & Friends. 

HipHopDX: I understand you and your wife started your own company JT Entertainment. How do you like working together?

JoJo: I love working with my wife. She’s wonderful, magnificent, good at what she does and stands firm to her word.

HipHopDX: How long have you guys been married?

JoJo: We’ve been married for 12 years. We’ve been together for 16.

HipHopDX: That’s amazing. It’s surreal to be talking to you because I’ve been listening to you since junior high.

JoJo: Oh, wow. That’s good!

HipHopDX: I’m excited for you on this new venture. You’re stepping out as a solo artist for the first time.

JoJo: Correct.

HipHopDX: What made now the right time?

JoJo: It was just something that I wanted to do, so to speak. I wasn’t in a rush to do it. Then K-Ci, myself and Jodeci had took a little break. My wife and I decided, “Hey, we have kids. We have family members. Let’s try to do our own thing. Let’s get our own studio and let’s start our own label, JT Entertainment.”

I went in the studio actually with the intentions on starting an album for K-Ci and myself. Then I started getting into it and K-Ci started doing other little things — I live in California, he lives in Charlotte, North Carolina — just to kill time away. Then all of a sudden, it started feeling good to me.

It started being like, “Wow, I’m really able to express myself now.” It was like I was learning more about me. Then I just got hooked up and caught up in that moment. My wife always had my back and she like, “It sounds good. Why don’t you just try it?” I said, “You know what? I will. I give it a try.”

HipHopDX: That’s a good woman.

JoJo: Exactly. That’s how it really came about.

HipHopDX: You’ve done it all, so why not? You had so much success in the music business for decades. You can do what you want right now and that’s a beautiful place to be in.

JoJo: It is a very happy space to be in, especially with all our fans putting — no, let me change that word, the fan — all our friends that’s been supporting us for all these years. To give them something similar to the same old but a little new. “Let me see some solo JoJo for a minute.” That’s all.

HipHopDX: Yeah, they can get to know you a little bit more.

JoJo: Right, because I always played the back. I’ve always been the shy one and this and that. Now, everybody that comes to the studio — my kids and everybody — they’re very supportive. I just love it. It feels good. I have my lifetime partner with me. I’m like, “Wow, we can do it and have fun with it.”

HipHopDX: So life is good. That ties in to the title of the song “Special.” It seems like you’re in a special place in your life.

JoJo: I am, and I thank you for making that comment because that is what the song is all about. It’s all been about being in that special place, having a special someone and having a special feeling for love. Everybody was like, “Did you write it for your wife?” I said, “No, because if I write it for my wife it will be something orchestrated. I said, “I want to write a universal love song where it had a beat to it. You could be riding and you can be like [starts singing], and you can have fun with talking about love.

HipHopDX: I was doing a bunch of research yesterday and I woke up this morning singing “All My Life.”

JoJo: That’s another universal love song, but it was written about my daughter. It was never supposed to have gone on the album. I was messing around in the studio. My daughter was there, stuff like that, and “All My Life” came to me because she looked at me and said, “Dad, I love you.” She said that and I was playing around on the keyboard. It just came naturally.

HipHopDX: How old was she at the time?

JoJo: Miss Kayla Tiffany. She’s one of my artists. I believe she had to be around 6 years old.

HipHopDX: My dad used to take me to his studio when I was little. I remember going in there at 5 years old, singing songs for him and recording songs for him. That’s a special time.

JoJo: It’s just a magical moment at that point in time. Now she’s one of my artists over here at JT. Then I have another daughter, Miss Sequoia Winter. Both of them together, they encourage me. They going to tell me the truth. I’ll be like, “Come back to the studio.” They’ll walk in sometimes when they feel like it. Then I’ll be like, “What do you think?” They say, “Oh, you could’ve been better.” I’m like, “Wow.”

HipHopDX: They tell you how it is, yeah.

JoJo: Yes, and I love it.

HipHopDX: That’s better than having a bunch of yes men around you.

JoJo: That’s the exact reason why my wife and I are doing the JoJo Family and Friends thing with all positive energy around us. If my breath stinks, they say, “Back up [laughs].”

HipHopDX: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to them? What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned?

JoJo: What I want them to always realize about being in this industry, you got to believe in what you do, stay focused on what you do and always remember there’s a lot of things that I went through my life being in the industry. Try to remember some of the things that I had to endure and overcome, and know that you can be strong, you can do what you want to do in this. Just believe in yourself and just rock with it, go with it.

HipHopDX: One of the things you’ve had to overcome and you’ve been very vocal about, which I appreciate, is your struggles with alcohol. How have you changed since getting sober?

JoJo: Going to rehab and everything, it made me find myself. It made me realize that I’m not invincible. It made me realize that, yes, there’s a lot of demons out there that can capture you and sometimes you could be stuck. But if you want to also be better, you got to know yourself. I found myself in rehab. Every day they used to always say, “What you will be you’re going to always be and have those demons around you.” It comes, it goes. Once again, I’m always preaching this, you have to really get involved with yourself and put God first.

HipHopDX: When did you realize this is going too far and I need to change my life?

JoJo: Oh, it was more than once or twice. I’m just glad I’m at a point right now where I already know that feeling. I know what it is. I became that way because I didn’t really know what it was. I didn’t know that addiction. I didn’t know it. It was forced on me. I was doing something I didn’t really read up on, how this supposed to be, how it would turn out or what it would do to me. I didn’t care. I was young. Now I’ve gone to rehab a few times. Last time, I just realized I really love me. I sit in meetings and people are laughing. I’m like, “I’m funny. People like me. I’m cool and I’m sober. Wow! [laughs]”

HipHopDX: And you’re talented, oooh!

JoJo: Thank you, yes! Exactly.

HipHopDX: Coming out of it is not an easy thing to do.

JoJo: No, it’s not. It’s an every day challenge for the rest of my life. Anyone else’s who’s out there that had been through and had the downfall or whatever it’s a everyday challenge.

HipHopDX: I haven’t drank in 14 years. I don’t want to ever go back. That was not a fun way to live.

JoJo: No, I get it. You found yourself and say, “This is more fun this way.”

HipHopDX: Yeah, exactly. You’ve been sampled by so many Hip Hop artists and and collaborated with many as well. How does it feel to be so revered?

JoJo: That’s always a good feeling to be recognized. Who don’t want that feeling? I want to be recognized. It’s just like if you graduate and then they call your name to go get your diploma, you want your family and everybody out there to be like, “Yay,” cheering you on. It’s like a big cheer and it’s a good feeling. I love it. I love the fact that someone even takes out their time to notice the things I did vocally and everything. Sometimes, back in the days, I really didn’t notice I was being watched and noticed like that. It feels good. It feels wonderful.

HipHopDX: In particular, what it was like working with 2Pac on “How Do You Want It?” How did that all come together?

JoJo: It came together because we was always connected with Death Row at this point in time. 2Pac, he was working on this particular song one night. K-Ci and myself, we went up to the studio, the Death Row compound, and he was in the studio. So he said, “Come hear this. Check this out.” 2Pac was singing it, but I’m going to tell you — he was the worst.

He was like, “How you want it. How you do feel” like he was thugged out because he got that mentality. You got to remember that’s thug you’re talking about now. So K-Ci looked at me and I looked at K-Ci. He said, “Can you do something like that?” I was like, “Yeah, but not that way [laughs].” So what I did was take care of the words, made a melody out of it and it just worked. Rest in peace ‘Pac.

HipHopDX: So ‘Pac basically sounded mean on the hook?

JoJo: Yeah, he was thug, like, “How do you want it? How do you feel?” I was like, “OK, no.”

HipHopDX: You basically had to refine it.

JoJo: Yeah, I tried to put some melody on it. I had to make people not be scared of it because he had it somewhat sound like a threat. “Now, how you want it? How do you do you feel?” No [laughs].

HipHopDX: Basically, “Tell me now mother fucker [laughs].”

JoJo: Yeah, and that’s how that came about.

HipHopDX: I have to ask about Gang Starr because you got a chance to work with the late Guru before he passed away. What was that experience like working on “Royalty?”

JoJo: With Gang Starr, that was one of those late nights because we lived in New York City. Back in the day, Jodeci really got down. We were living there, so you would always see everybody out somewhere. Everybody in New York is always trying to do something. So when Gang Starr had his thing going on, it just so happened we were at the studio. They needed a hook on the song and I just so happened to be there. It’s crazy. It’s been so long, but that’s basically how that happened. In the same place at the right time.

HipHopDX: Did you get a chance to visit Gang Starr’s new album? It’s called One of the Best Yet. You have to check it out.

JoJo: I’ve seen something on Instagram about that, but I never tapped into it to see. I’ve never followed it, but I’m glad you said that because I would love to hear it.

HipHopDX: You’re a part of that history.

JoJo: Yes, indeed.

HipHopDX: So “Special” comes out on Valentine’s Day.

JoJo: Yes, Valentines Day. It’s special for the lovers. Yes.

HipHopDX: What’s the next step? What are you going to do next in terms of this solo album?

JoJo: Right after this, the ball is rolling now, baby. JT Entertainment is going to go everywhere. Like I said, I have my two daughters, Miss Sequoia Winter and Miss Kayla Tiffany. I have my nephew, which is K-Ci’s son, Mr. Devin Hailey. I’m going to drop it off to y’all, so we going to be busy.

HipHopDX: What’s your solo album called?

JoJo: It’s JoJo Family and Friends.

HipHopDX: Do you have a release date?

JoJo: I’m dealing with “Special” right now. I want to get that launched because this is me putting my foot in the water to check the temperature. Once I get that good feedback, then I can release my daughters, my nephew and the rest of the whole project. We all have good music. We really ahead of the game. We just got to put it out at that right time. I would say probably May or June.

HipHopDX: Sounds good.

JoJo: Oh, your spirit is so gorgeous. Thank you.

HipHopDX: [Laughs]. Same to you! You can’t put out that kind of soulful music without having that kind of soul. You know what I mean?

JoJo: Oh, yes. That’s right [laughs].

Find information about JT Entertainment here and check out JoJo on Instagram here.