I listened extra-intently to every word Montell Jordan spoke. The platinum-selling hit maker recently announced his retirement from performing secular music, and I studied the California native’s tone as he detailed his motivations to enter a role in ministry. The validity of his decision was not the reason I clung to everything he uttered. I believed wholeheartedly Jordan was done with that chapter of his life and career. What I was closely listening for was the slightest hint of regret.
I heard none.
Responsible for a number of hit singles including “Get It On Tonight”, “Falling”, “Let’s Ride”, “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” (by Deborah Cox), “Incomplete” (by Sisqo), and “This Is How We Do It”, Montell Jordan has chosen to vault his catalog of chart-topping albums and songs for the script of a higher calling. Listen closely as he tells all in this exclusive SoulTrain.com interview.
Soul Train: Montell, why did you decide to retire from performing secular music?
Montell Jordan: That wasn’t just a me decision. During the last few years of my career I felt a stronger calling toward not doing R&B music anymore. I was brought up in ministry as a child musician, and it was just a spiritual maturity. I believe God has more in store for me than the world does. My wife and I went on a fast in 2010, and during that time God revealed to me that I was going to retire from that side of the music business. I thought it about for a couple months then decided to completely throw in the towel.
Soul Train: Where were you when you threw in the towel?
Montell Jordan: I was at a youth fellowship night called FUSION at Victory World Church. The pastor preached his message, this girl sang a song, and it was all tugging at my heart. I felt like God was speaking to me pretty clearly that night. And we had an encounter at the alter. I surrendered to God and laid it all down.
SoulTrain: When you woke up the next day after deciding to retire from secular music, did you feel at all like something was missing?
Montell Jordan: No…I can’t say that. What I can say is it’s one thing to make a decision, it’s another thing to actually carry it out. I decided this was going to happen, but at the same time there was a large part of me that thought about making a grand exit from the business. Maybe do some farewell concerts. But what I didn’t realize is when I told God at the alter that I was going to need help laying the career down, because if I lay it down I’ll want to pick it back up. One of the things that happened when I announced my retirement in October, I literally didn’t do any shows October, November or December. I had been waiting trying to see if something else was going to present itself for me to do some type of farewell performance, and nothing…NOTHING came. So I knew it had to be God.
Soul Train: You didn’t want to seek out some type of finale for your secular career?
Montell Jordan: If I’d taken a television appearance here, or a 10,000-seat concert there, what would have stopped me from changing my mind? I think God wanted to make sure if he closed the door I wouldn’t try to open it back up. So I can say after the official retirement date – January 1, 2011 – I felt like I woke up a completely new person.
Soul Train: Your popularity sky-rocketed from the moment you debuted. And you’ve remained a well-known figure in the entertainment industry. Even though no chance of a farewell performance came, why didn’t you at least announce your retirement on TV and make a bigger spectacle of it?
Montell Jordan: If I can be brutally honest; I don’t know if anybody really cared.
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Soul Train: Nobody?!
Montell Jordan: CNN covered it! They covered me leaving R&B and going into ministry. They came out and talked to me, and did a piece on the church and everything. But there was no BET or anyone else.
Soul Train: That’s… stunning.
Montel Jordan: It’s one thing for you to seek them out, but I would have thought after seven albums and #1 singles and millions of records sold, and tours, that after announcing a retirement people would want to know what’s up with that. And it didn’t happen. So that made it a little easier to say goodbye. I felt like I was loving something that didn’t love me back the same way. That’s not really love.
Soul Train: I can’t believe there was no fanfare of any kind.
Montell Jordan: There was nothing. But that was cool because God had been dealing with me about it for a long time. I was loving music, I was loving touring, but it wasn’t loving me back. I would see it in little things. Back early in my career I did a tribute to Chaka Khan with me, Eddie Levert, Brian McKnight, and Kelly Price. Like this was maybe 10 years ago. I was great fans of people’s music. They would do tributes to certain people but nobody would call to say, “Hey, let’s have Montell come be a part of this tribute on Soul Train” or “part of this tribute on BET”. I don’t know if it was not having a label presence there or what it may have been, but I felt as though I had a love for something and I didn’t feel the return of that.
Soul Train: The fans weren’t showing you any real love either?
Montell Jordan: I’m not talking about the fans. The fans have always seemingly been very kind and have been fans of my work. I’m speaking particularly of the business side of the industry. Most of these business people, executives, and label people know me. They know I’ve not only had #1 records, but have written #1 records for other people. They know I’ve had a great resume of songs and a decent reputation of being in the business. It didn’t seem like any of my peers or the people I knew were in any way interested in what was going on with me or with my retirement. There were no congratulations to me going into ministry. It was just a quiet little exodus.
Soul Train: It has to be hard not to have someone honor you for the work you’ve done or even the time you’ve invested. It sounds so crazy listening to you say this.
Montell Jordan: Part of it is people remember you from your last success. They say you’re only as good as your last single. As far as I’m concerned I’m just getting started with what I was really meant to do in life. I’m still going to be creating music. My challenge is this music we’re creating now under the umbrella of Victory World Music. I go to Victory World Church where I’m a worship pastor. They’ve given me the green light and the ability to create our own original music, our own albums. For me, from what I know about the music business and from everything I’ve learned, we’re basically upgrading the sound of Christian and Gospel music to the standard of what people are normally used to hearing on the radio.
Soul Train: What is it about Christian and Gospel music you think needs upgrading?
Montell Jordan: I didn’t like the quality of the material. I always thought the stuff on the radio was hot, but when I turned on a Gospel station I didn’t like what I was hearing. Now I believe that is going to change dramatically and drastically. I think we’re going to be at the forefront of that. For me to have the career I had in the secular music business, now I’m just doing my best to make sure the name of Jesus gets out there but in a quality level that’s comparable to what people are listening to on the regular radio stations.
Soul Train: Are you certain you’re ready to handle such a drastic audience change?
Montell Jordan: I watched my career go from a place where I was in the Georgia Dome with sixty-something-thousand people with their hands raised up singing “This Is How We Do It”, to being in a small night club with thirty people with their hands raised up singing “This Is How We Do It” fifteen years later. And I’ve gone from a little store-front church with ten people with their hands raised singing Christian songs, to now ten thousand people a weekend singing glory to God. At least what I’m doing now is more rewarding, and don’t mean monetarily. It’s more spiritually rewarding. I feel like I love something that does love me back now.
Soul Train: Sounds like you’ve gone through some major highs and lows. What type of drastic change has your personality undergone through all this?
Montell Jordan: You have to understand, when I was in the R&B music business there were two Montells; there was Montell Jordan the R&B artist, then there was Montell Jordan the husband, father, and man of God who was trying to live the right life. Montell the R&B artist was the dude that would be hugging the girls extra close, and signing breasts, and being the sexy dude. That was that dude. The other Montell was the dude sitting at home with his kids trying to explain, “Oh, that’s just Daddy at work!” When somebody has two different personalities that can be considered schizophrenia. [Laughs]
Soul Train: And it comes down to which personality is the true one.
Montell Jordan: Exactly! You see all the time with artists and their alter-egos, their extra names and different identities. Some have multiple personalities. You have to find the true you. I believe we were all created by God, whether you acknowledge it or not. It’s just at some point some come to him faster than others. I think my objective is just to let people see a life in Christ can be just as fulfilling as a life in the world.
Soul Train: A lot of singers give thanks to God for their talents and awards, and in their songs, but choose to stay secular. The hip hop artists do too, which you had a strong connection with. Can you imagine any of them collaborating with you now?
Montell Jordan: Any of the top guys out there right now could come and spit 16 bars the same way they would spit on their rap records, or go rap on an R&B record, or go and get on a Katy Perry record, or whatever. If they love God and they have that in their personalities, why couldn’t they hit up a Mary Mary record? Or a Montell Jordan record for the kingdom? At least it’ll give people a glimpse of what’s in their heart.
Soul Train: But for a long time you gave people just a glimpse of your beliefs too. You straddled that line.
Montell Jordan: I did. It was that fine line. I was a walk-the-line Christian for a long time. On my first couple R&B albums I put a Gospel song on each one to kind of show I do know the Lord; I haven’t completely submitted to him, but I do know him. It was one of those types of things. And it takes every man his own time before he comes to that conclusion, but I’m hoping I can be instrumental in allowing Christ to get to them a little faster.
Soul Train: The phrase “This is how we do it” used to represent partying, but what does it represent for you now?
Montell Jordan: Before it was what’s happening in the hood, this is what my block is like; this is how we drink, how we party, how we conduct business. I think now it just means how God is establishing what originally belonged to him. Again a major objective of mine is to make sure the things that the world gets glory for belongs to God. It’s funny to look at now when you see the guy driving the Bentley and making it rain fifty thousand in the club, or the bloggers talking about how much a rapper’s outfit or shoes costs. But I’m not going to beat people over the head about it and say, “That was stupid!” It took me awhile to get there too.
Soul Train: Now that you’re there, where do you see yourself going?
Montell Jordan: Now I’m trying to see how many wells you can build to get people fresh water, or how many un-adopted kids can find homes in the United States. And human trafficking is such a huge destroyer of our youth right now! I’m just trying to bring some type of awareness that there is so much more to be done, and there’s something better out there.
– Mr. Joe Walker
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Mr. Joe Walker is an acclaimed journalist published over 2,000 times in more than 30 different regional, national, international and online entertainment and news publications. He’s likely writing something as you’re reading this. While also Editor In Chief/Creative Director of The Ultimate Interactive Magazine (TheUIM.com), he contributes to Hear/Say Now, Muskegon Tribune, Kalamazoo Gazette, and SoulTrain.com. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker.