Interview: Montell Jordan Shares his Joy from Transformation to Christian Music and the Ministry
“I get more joy out of seeing people focused and looking toward God than I did when they were looking toward me.” This statement was made by Montell Jordan and sums up his transformation as a Christian, and it doesn’t get any more pure than that. In case you hadn’t heard by now, about a year or so ago Montell gave up secular r&b music and joined his church ministry and began recording Christian music. This is no publicity stunt; the man has truly found a better way of life through a series of changes and his dedication to God and it shows in this interview. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with him upon the release of his new album “Shake Heaven”. We discussed with Montell what to expect on the new album, differences from recording the traditional r&b he’s used to, the reaction he’s got from his fan base and peers, what he misses most about his old lifestyle, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your new album “Shake Heaven” released last month. For those who haven’t heard it yet, what can they expect to find on there?
Montell Jordan: I would say first of all the album is a hot album, I think it’s not just a hot Christian album, I just think it’s a hot album. Part of the design behind the album was my experience in the world creating quote unquote secular music. Part of what I wanted to bring to the table of me making chamber music was the quality of production and quality of sound that the same way a Christian would listen to regular music, I want to make sure that the music that’s being created has the same appeal that would draw in believers and non believers alike; that they would just like good music. So that’s the first thing you would hear, an album that wouldn’t sound like anybody skimped on production or finance, it’s just a high quality recorded album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: At what point did you decide to do this gospel album?
Montell Jordan: It wasn’t a decision to do a gospel album, it was really a decision to go into ministry. That came from a journey, really a lifetime journey that came to a head last year through a series of prayers. My wife and I came to the conclusion that it was time and God was calling us into full time ministry. There was no decision to leave r&b music and start doing gospel music. Honestly I don’t even think the “Shake Heaven” album is a gospel album. I just think it’s an expression of Christian music the best way that I know how to try and translate my love for God with the church that I’m at and I’m a part of with so many different cultures of people to just create a world album of worship that everybody would be able to gravitate to.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I read in another interview you did that your goal was to “Take back the music”. Is that a message you’re trying to send to other artists out there?
Montell Jordan: No, I don’t think it’s a message. I think it’s just what we’re doing. I think that all things that are good belong to God. I think people like to say that “Well that’s the devil’s music”, I don’t believe that. I believe that if something is good, I believe that it comes from God. From that standpoint, I think that we can pervert music to be whatever we want it to be. I believe love songs come from God, but I believe we as humans can pervert those love songs and turn them into lust songs. I know that for a fact because that’s what I used to do! I could have created a really good love song when I was a secular recording artist, but there were things that I wanted to do to make it more appealing and more fleshly. So we take songs and good things and good gifts that God gives us to write and create but we turn them into what we want them to be to function here in the world. With that being said, “taking back the music” just requires people with a God like mind and want to have the heartbeat of God and want to take back the beauty that God intended for certain songs and be able to translate them back into a format where God can get glory from them, even if they’re not Christian songs.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk to me about the creation of the “Shake Heaven” album. Were there any major differences in creating a Christian album as compared to back when you used to create r&b albums?
Montell Jordan: Absolutely. I think that the spirit behind the songs or the spirit behind the man definitely dictates what covers the music. Here’s what I mean by that. I can remember when I was recording stuff back in the world and I would go in and have alcohol brought into the studio which is funny how they call alcohol spirits. I would have whatever my alcohol was, and if I was creating a lustful song, I would have the spirit of lust that would have to be present so that when I created the music, that the spirit would be over the music. The same way that I used those spirits back then, I was just honored and I’m grateful that God would transform me to want to use his spirit to want to create the music that I create now. What we would do is we would get together and pray and fast and ask God how he wanted to be honored in the music. When we came into the studio, that’s the spirit that would show up and give us the right words and the right melodies and the right harmonies to create this music. The same way, the same functioning of using spirits, the word of God says we worship him in spirit and in truth, that’s what we gravitated to and we held onto for the creation of this album. We wanted everything that we did to be worshiping him in spirit and in truth. I think that’s what we tried to capture on the “Shake Heaven” album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Since you’ve gone away from r&b music, what’s the reaction been like from your fan base, those who have been with you since the beginning? Have they been overly supportive?
Montell Jordan: You know it’s interesting that I think a lot of people want to go to Heaven, but not a lot of people want to do what it takes to get there. What I mean by that is if I came out today on Twitter and said “Montell Jordan is back in r&b, he’s got the hottest album ever”, I’d get thousands and thousands of hits and maybe millions of people would be interested in music from back then. But when I go and say I’m sold out for Christ now, you have very few people that actually step out there and say “Wow, I’m following you here or I’m following you there”. If I say I’m on my way to hell and this is the hottest thing ever, a lot of people will follow. If I say I’ve changed my direction and I know the truth about God and what he wants for our lives and I try to lead people in a different direction, there’s not a lot of folks willing to go that way or at least openly profess that they’re willing to go that way. This leads me to understand the scripture that the pathway to hell is wide and there’s a whole lot of people on it and the pathway to heaven is very narrow and few people choose it. I see that, I see that daily and it hurts me but it just shows me that God is real and his word is true.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What type of reaction have you seen from your peers in the industry?
Monell Jordan: I have peers in the industry who are watching and they are watching me quietly. What I mean by that is they know, they’ve seen the transition and I think they’re watching to see what God does in my life to probably determine what course of action they’ll choose in their future. I can see some artists that are in the same position a year or two ago that are trying to hold onto relevancy and salvage what notoriety that they have left, trying to love a world that will not love them back. When your time is up, your time is up. Yet, secretly and quietly, personally, I have conversations with them, they’ll shoot me e-mails, we’ll talk about God, we’ll talk about the struggles that they may be going through. We’ll talk about how close they are to maybe making the same decision. Publicly they can’t say “This is what I’m trying to do” because immediately Christians kind of have way of saying “He’s ours! We’ve got him now!” You kinda pull somebody into a fire maybe that they are not fully able to sustain. A lot of our peers, they’re watching and I’ll just leave it at that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk to me about someone I know you came up musically, producer Shep Crawford. I know he’s got into pasturing recently. What’s your relationship with him like?
Montell Jordan: Shep Crawford is one of my best friends ever. He’s my God brother. Literally we grew up together, we made music together, we still make music together. I just spoke to him the other day, we have a great relationship and friendship. He is pastoring now, I’m music pasturing here in Atlanta. Our transitions came about a little bit over a year apart which is interesting too. I think we still have a desire to create music together whether it be Christian music, whether it be music who anybody who is Christian or non-Christian can listen to. I think the part of “taking back the music” requires God’s people to create the music that we listen to. For example, the Happy Birthday song that we sing on everybody’s birthday is not a Christian song, it doesn’t glorify God, it wasn’t created to glorify God, it’s just a song. Every time and everything under the sun, there’s a season for everything; a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to live, a time to die; there’s a time for everything. When it’s somebody’s birthday time, there’s this song that goes *sings* “Happy Birthday to You!” It doesn’t glorify God yet somebody wrote that song. Somebody wrote a song *sings* “Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are” that lullaby’s kids to sleep. It will be sung forever, but does it glorify God? No. But does God get glory from it? Depending on who wrote the song or who created and for the purpose that the song was created for, to give a child peace when going to sleep. I believe it does. With that being said, I believe that the same way we need birthday songs, we need lullaby songs, we need wedding songs, we need laughter songs, we need party songs. There’s a time for everything and in that, it requires God’s people with God’s agenda to go back and create those songs so that we have an alternative to the songs we use in our daily lives.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Is there anything you miss about performing your old style of r&b music or that whole lifestyle?
Montell Jordan: Nothing. I miss nothing. My mind was so twisted back then and I was so lustful and everything about what I was trying to do, it was literally a whole different mindset. I get more joy out of seeing people focused and looking toward God than I did when they were looking toward me. I do not miss it at all.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What do you remember most about creating Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here”?
Montell Jordan: What I remember most about creating that song and I’ve said this before in a past interview is it wasn’t originally written for her. The song was originally written for Patti Labelle. So a lot of the words in the song were crafted specifically because of I thought the song was going to go to Patti Labelle. In the second verse, when I say in the song *sings* “This time I swear I’m through, and if only you knew”, that “if only you knew” is from a song Patti LaBelle had *sings* “If only you knew*. So I was playing off of words from her song to try and make sure that she knew that the song was crafted for her. That’s probably the biggest memory I have about creating it is that we created the song for Patti Labelle. When Deborah Cox breathed life into it, we knew it was for her and it was her time and I love her dearly for breathing her life into a song that hopefully will be a timeless.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about creating “Incomplete” for Sisqo.
Montell Jordan: We wrote that song for Michael Jackson! *Laughs* With Sisqo, we wrote that song, I had Michael Jackson in mind. It’s about a guy who literally had everything but without the girl that his life would be incomplete. The song sat around probably for a year, maybe a year and a half before anybody even came to record the song. It was very cool that at the time, Dru Hill’s lead vocalist Sisqo was going solo and we got an opportunity to record the song on him. Originally, the best thing that I remember about that song was that it was recorded for Michael Jackson. I think I even demoed the song, nobody will ever hear it, but I actually sang the song like Michael Jackson would sing it. There’s probably a version of that somewhere in Shep’s archives.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Now that you’re done with r&b music and have left it in the past, what is Montell Jordan’s legacy in r&b music?
Montell Jordan: There’s two answers to that. One, as far as my legacy with r&b, There’s a ton of stuff, being nominated for a Grammy or MTV Award or having Def Jam’s first number one record. There’s a bunch of different accolades that come along with “This is How We Do It”. I think that all of those things don’t necessarily deal with a legacy. I think my legacy will deal with what comes after I’ve left the r&b industry. Part of my decision to leave the business was if I were to die, what would people say? For me, they would say “Oh, Montell Jordan, the guy that did ‘This is How We Do It’, he had a number one song, he died.” I did not want my life’s work to be summed up as the guy who did “This is How We Do It”. So what my legacy is now, I believe is the guy who did “This is How We Do It” and then….It’s the “and then” that I’m concerned about. And then he retired and went into full time ministry and recorded this many albums and this many people got saved and he spoke to this many people and changed this many lives. That’s what I’m concerned about, my legacy and the “and then”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Montell Jordan: Just as many people as possible to get the “Shake Heaven” album because it’s a beautiful piece of work. It’s not just me, it is truly my writing and production but it really showcases and introduces the next generation of worship leaders. It’s not worship as usual. When you crack that album open and you listen, it is not your typical worship album, it’s not copying, it doesn’t sound like anybody else’s album. I love the fact that Victory is trying to create its own new sound here.