If R&B singer Joe is nothing else, he’s consistent. That’s if he was nothing else; he’s a singer, songwriter, producer, and businessman among the many other hats he wears that really make his twenty years in the music business remarkable, because he’s had to balance all of these roles while building a career filled with hits. His latest album, Doubleback: The Evolution of R&B, is a testament to his time in the business and his way of paying homage to the music that’s inspired him along the way.
Growing up a little less than poor in Georgia and Alabama allowed a young Joe Thomas to dream big; like many of us, he grew up in the church, which instilled the faith behind those dreams and also began to sharpen the skills that have led him on his musical journey. Many years later, those gospel roots still stick out in his vocals, as well as the passion to elevate himself from his situation. Also in those vocals and chords are the outlines of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green and a host of others whose music helped shape his sound and served as a reminder when his latest project began to round into shape.
Being in the game for so long, Joe has been part of many shifts in contemporary R&B, but its current direction caused him to take action. As he listened, he noticed the melodies were missing, that messages missing their mark or not fully formed, so he decided to take it back. More involved this time around musically, Doubleback has more of a throwback sound, complete with strings and horns. It’s an updated take on his earliest inspirations, the foundation of what many artists have built successful careers on. For Joe, that career has been relatively unsung; his name is not mentioned in the same breath as an R. Kelly or Maxwell, but his consistency and hits through the years certainly merit his inclusion in the conversation.
With the release of “I’d Rather Have a Love” earlier this year, he proved that his formula still works. The song is classic Joe: honest, strong vocally, with a delivery that’s relatable and lyrically adept. Joe is the quintessential everyman, as his music has been a soundtrack for our maturation through relationships, because it’s real. As evidence, listen to “Love & Sex,” his duet with Fantasia that illustrates that fine line many straddle, or “Baby,” which details the dilemma of being in love with two women simultaneously. There’s life beyond the superficial, and that’s what we hear when listening to a Joe record; from “All the Things (Your Man won’t Do)” to “Stutter” and “Don’t Wanna Be a Player,” there are identifiable elements that connect artist, music and listener that’s largely absent in music today.
Even his ascent as businessman mirrors how many fellas are moving these days. He’s taken more ownership over his brand, continuing his relationship with Kedar Massenburg and Massenburg Media, but building 563 Entertainment with a team that can handle his day-to-day affairs. For his latest album, he’s partnered with Sony/RED to distribute and assist with the promotional end of the album. Joe’s spent the better part of the summer the same way he’s spent most of the last twenty years: on the road, getting in touch with his fans, continuing to prove that he’s not your ordinary Joe.
Between rhetoric and reality is where you’ll find Al-Lateef Farmer: Black man, husband, social documentarian, and slinger of Soul by the pound. His brand of social commentary rooted in independent thought can be found at http://worldaccording2teef.com, and on Twitter @wrldacrdng2teef.