Passion will drive you to extremes; it has been known to create or destroy, motivate or distract. In the case of John Michael, it taught him write, produce, arrange, mix and ultimately sing songs that got him a record deal and loyal following of fans. His passion was born out of a love for music and a shyness that isolated him, giving him the time to develop the skills needed to take him from his bedroom to the stage, doing what he loves. As he prepares for the November release of Like a Drug, his mind is on the karaoke machine he used when he began singing and the issues facing the world we live in. In between there lies the music he’s making in 2015.
Growing up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, John was introduced to the big band classics as a youngster, tap dancing to the likes of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. However, it was the karaoke machine his dad purchased that he gravitated toward when no one was around; he sang the standard “Sunny Side of the Street,” repeatedly erasing the recordings, unknowingly working on his craft before puberty. By the time he reached high school, he connected with a group of enterprising friends who were into music as well and they began working through the advent of their own “record label.” Using early editions of production software like Fruity Loops to create beats, it was a crudely-made cover of Dru Hill’s “April Showers” that began to circulate around the school and stoked his fire for being a recording artist. His peers’ response brought him out of his shell and gave him an identity counter to his usual quiet personality. He dove into music headfirst, purchased additional software for crafting beats and began writing and selling hooks via the Internet, while working at a Mercedes dealership. During this time, he became a father and the birth of his son gave him a new passion to drive him toward his goal.
In a sense, John Michael was a visionary; he was on social media sharing his talent before it was trending and began to make connections that enhanced his craft and furthered his career. It was through the Internet that “Sophisticated Lady” made its way to Top Notch Music and industry vet Marv Mack. Mack not only recognized Michael’s talent but also his drive, and the two worked “Sophisticated Lady” up the Urban AC charts and subsequently released the well-received album Sophisticated.
After dropping three mixtapes last year, John has focused in on Like a Drug, a document of his experiences over the last few years. Many of the songs are allegories, with women representing music and the music industry. Michael likens the industry to a drug addiction; he says the work that comes with releasing an album stimulates you like a narcotic and has you on cloud 9, but when things aren’t going so well or that newness wears off, the results can be devastating. He sings about the chase, the high, the crash and burn and redemption, but talks about the pitfalls of admiring the trappings that come along with the business and living for the turn-up, blind to the injustices happening around you. He says, “All music, art, culture, goes in cycles; we’re pushing the edges of morality and culture right now. Donald Trump is a viable Republican candidate, kids getting killed by cops in the street and recently, a first-person account of a murder and people ask what happened to R&B? R&B or soul music is tied into the real kind of love that we have, the love for society. So we have to ask ourselves how far we are willing to go until we come back to the way things used to be.”
Like a Drug will be available November 6th via Top Notch Music, and the lead single “All You Gotta Say” can be purchased on iTunes.
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 www.theworldaccording2teef.com and on Twitter @wrldacrdng2teef.