Donell Jones Gives a Track-By-Track Breakdown of ‘Where I Wanna Be’ Album [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
R&B ain't what it used to be. Instead of crooning about love and ideas of marriage, many R&B newcomers have taken to reminiscing about strippers and drunken sexcapades with no regard for romance, much less struggling with monogamy. While those types of tunes are entertaining, they subject matter is quite a departure from the climate of the '90s when even the rap and R&B mash-ups of the time were more tender than than thugged out.
Among those artists that flourished during that period was singer Donell Jones, who was signed to LaFace Records in 1996, under the Untouchables imprint headed by Heavy D and the Boyz' DJ Eddie F. While his debut album, 'My Heart,' was met with mild lukewarm response, it wasn't until he released his 1999 follow-up, 'Where I Wanna Be', that things started to take off for the Chicago native. Featuring the hit singles 'U Know What's Up (Remix)' and 'Where I Wanna Be,' as well as fan favorites such as 'Shorty (Got Her Eyes On Me),' the album would earn Donell a platinum plaque and position him as one of R&B's emerging stars going into the new millennium.
While Donell continued to make hits after 'Where I Wanna Be' and is still actively making music (he's currently in the finishing stages of completing a home studio and plans to start recording for his next album in November), his sophomore album remains the signature release in his discography.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of 'Where I Wanna Be,' we got Donell on the phone to give us the scoop on how the album came to be. When speaking on his thought process going into the project, the Chicago native reveals he created songs for every occasion. "On this particular album, I tried to make something for everything. One day you're feeling this way, you can listen to this song," Donell states. "One day you might be feeling that way and you can listen to that song. We just tried to hit all emotions on that particular album."
Check out the making of Donell Jones' classic album 'Where I Wanna Be.' Ladies, throw your panties and fellas, take notes.
"Eddie F. and a guy by the name of Darren Lighty put the track together. When I heard the track, I loved the track, I thought it was a great track. And then, when I heard the song on the track, it wasn't called 'U Know What's Up' at the time, it was a song called 'When You Hear the Car Horn Blow.' And I didn't like the song, so, they went back in and a guy by the name of Bilal, Chris Lighty and Anthony Hamilton came up with the song, 'You Know What's Up.' And immediately after hearing that version of the song, man, I was still a little unsure because the other song ['When You Hear the Car Horn Blow'] was still kind of lingering, so, I was still a little skeptical of the song, but after I did it, it turned out pretty good."
"That was produced by myself, a guy named Wesley [Hogges], and Eric Williams from Blackstreet. What happened was, we was down in Atlanta, just trying to come up with ideas and we had a guitar player by the name of Tommy Martin that was in the studio with us and we all just brainstormed and that song just happened to come out. It was just meant to be."
"That song was produced by myself and Kyle West and how that song came about was, it was actually a true story. I was in a relationship at a young age and things started moving for me and we went in different directions -- me and the young lady I was involved with -- and I just wanted to write a song about it. So, I was on a plane [going back home] to Chicago, my dad's mom had passed away, so, I'm on the plane writing this song and when I got there [Chicago], I had totally forgot about it. But when I went home, I started to remember the lyrics, so I started putting these chord progressions together.
"And then, Eddie [F.] had called Kyle [West] up, 'cause I wanted some help on the record. So, when Kyle came over, man, he just took the chord progressions to another level. It just made my writing easier, because I had a bigger range of chords to work with as far as singing to it. So, that's how that record came about. We really didn't know where we was going with that record because it didn't have a beat and back then, most records on radio had drums to it, but this only had congas, so, we were really trying something new. And by the grace of God, people fell in love with it because it was true and it was really from the heart."
"Eric [Williams] and Wes [Hogges] wrote and produced that song and when I heard it, I was like 'This s--- is a no-brainer. It just fit perfectly with my voice, it was a ballad, and you know back then, you know, cats weren't really doing rapping style type of [R&B] songs and it was a real smooth type of song, so, that's how that song came about."
"That was produced by me and Sheldon Goode, one of the guitar players who played on most of that album. That was just one of those records, man, we were just in the studio and the beat came, it was a simple record. There's no bassline in it, it's just guitars and a few strings. We decided to keep everything really simple. And then the lyrics are just talking about hitting up some chicks without having no strings attached and that's how we were living then."
"That's another one that was produced by myself and Sheldon Goode, and also, it was co-written by a guy named Jolyon Skinner. We just wanted to write something where a female could sing it, but we singing it from a male's perspective. And basically, it was about this chick, she's in a relationship with somebody else, but you wanna know and she ain't really giving you no answers about what she's going through with this other relationship. Most guys, we really don't talk about that kind of stuff 'cause it's like, 'I don't care, if you hooking me up, I'm good.' But it was basically to sing a song from a male's perspective, but it's really something that females go through. So, it was like, maybe if a female hears this song, maybe she might be going through this. And that's what we were gearing towards, more like a female audience but singing it from a male's perspective."
"That was also produced by me and Sheldon [Goode]. That songs just about having a good time with your woman. We just wanted to really make the album sound more live because my first album, it was more hip-hop-driven, it was more sample-based. And then when I came into my second album, I just wanted to grow and add some extra elements to it, some live instrumentation and bringing in Sheldon really provided that for us. So, that 'Alright' song, just another very simple song, not too many chord progressions or anything like that, but basically straight to the point."
"That was produced by myself and I had that record for a while. I had that record since I completed my first album, I had made that record. And what happened was, I had brought in Sheldon, I just had him add some guitars to it and it just took the record over the top. But basically, that record is about 'just think about what we can have together, what we could do together.' And then the little snippet that came after that is called 'Don't Call My Crib,' we thought that was a good segue into the next record. And that was basically about 'Yo, I told you, don't call my crib, I told you I gotta relationship with my girl, don't be calling here! Stop playing!' 'Cause I know a lot of cats was going through that and I know a lot of people made that they voicemail. We was trying to have a little comedic thing on the album as well, man, we just wanted to have fun on that album and it really turned out great."
"I grew up in Chicago around a lot of family members that were in abusive relationships and stuff like that. I just wanted to write a song about that 'cause nine times out of 10, you become the enemy. I appreciated the fact that I had Sheldon [Goode] on that record to add some guitars to it because it's just something about guitars, it adds a flavor to things that you really can't get with keyboards."
"That was produced by Darren Lighty. Eddie [has] got this thing about him, he just knows uptempos and mid-tempos. My thing was always the ballads. His element was 'Well, you got the ballads, I got the uptempos, lets make this thing happen.' When I got that record, that was a no-brainer, it felt pretty good. It kind of reminded me of a Micheal Jackson type of feel and I've always loved Michael Jackson as a kid growing up. I [pay] tribute [to] him for my style, from him and Stevie Wonder. So, that record was a no-brainer, I just went in and knocked it out, it was a easy record."
"That record was more about just giving your love to a woman and letting her know that she's the reason why everything's going great for your life. You wanna spend the rest of your life with her and nothing can come between that. And on that particular record I just went all out, I went and hired live strings, I got live congas, one of the first records where I actually just went all the way. It cost a hell of a lot of money to do it, but we hired a whole string ensemble, guitars, the whole record was pretty much live. We went there with that record. Unfortunately, it wasn't a single but it's one of the records a lot of people love still today."
"The reason why I did that record was on my first album, I had a lot of samples, it was sample-heavy. So I didn't wanna lose that element cause I know people would say 'Damn, what happened to that Donell?' I wanted to have at least one sample record on the album and the Curtis Mayfield record just fit perfectly. And the song is about 'you wasn't there for me, so I'm out. I wanna do something different.'"
"I gotta be honest with you, I wish I could take credit for it but I had nothing to do with it. The label told me they were gonna try to get Lisa ["Left Eye" Lopes] on it. I wasn't even in the studio when she did it. The label and Eddie were like 'We gotta make this record pop off, we need you to be associated with something that's huge' and at the time, TLC had 'No Scrubs' out, and for her to get on the record, it just made that record even bigger. It just took Donell from a regular R&B dude to like 'OK, we gotta start listening to this cat.'
"I really appreciated the fact that she jumped on that record. And it didn't just boost my career, but hers as well, 'cause now people are looking at her like she could drop a solo album 'cause at that time, I really don't think she had done anything outside of TLC. It was a beautiful thing when that record came out. I was still a little nervous because my first single, 'Shorty Got Her Eyes On Me,' didn't really take off. But the funny thing about it is, once 'You Know What's Up' came out and took off, it was like 'S---, I can't go nowhere without performing 'Shorty Got Her Eyes On Me too' [laughs]. I guess people fell in love with the song all over again after 'You Know What's Up' came out. But when that record went No. 1 [on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts], I couldn't believe it, and it stayed No. 1 for eight weeks, man, going into 2000. It was the last No. 1 R&B record of the century. So it was just a beautiful thing, it was just meant to be and I just really appreciated that girl for jumping on that record, man. Left Eye, man, she really put her foot in it."