It almost seems inevitable that once a group disbands and each of the members try to find success going in their own direction, they soon fade from the public interest. In the case of Jean Baylor, who pretty much did fade from the public eye for over 7 years, she’s equipped with the triple threat of talents that’s allowed her to remain relevant; she can write, she can play piano, and she has one of the most amazing voices of her generation. After taking some time to re-evaluate life and reinvent herself, this former half of platinum group Zhane is back to doing what she was put here to do; sing. In this interview with YouKnowIGotSoul, she talks about her solo debut “Testimony: My Life Story,” how her sound as a solo artist compares to that of the Zhane, her decision to leave the group and create music on her own, her collaboration with Will Smith early in her career, whether she thought the classic “Hey Mr. DJ” would indeed become big, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How were you originally inspired to get into a career in recording music?
Jean Baylor: Well I’d have to take you all the way back to the beginning of my childhood. My father was a pastor, second Baptist church in the town that I grew up in in New Jersey and that was one of my first experiences along with the fact that my mom had a piano at the house so she played the piano and I started to gravitate toward the piano as well. I guess I was listening that old show Mickey Mouse *sings* “M-I-C,K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E” and I went and picked that out on the piano so my mom thought she had to get me on piano lessons. So that’s how I got started, I started piano lessons, I started singing in the little bitty children’s choir at church and I was just inclined to be attracted to music, so that was the very beginning.
YKIGS: When did you originally meet Renee, the other half of Zhane, and when did you guys decide to form a group and go into music?
JB: We met in college at Temple University in Philadelphia. We just met hanging out with a group of girls and the radio was on and we kinda started singing together. So that’s when we realized we sang and both were heavily involved in music, both played the piano and wrote songs. So we started hanging out at the music building and doing those things and then we actually started doing some performances on campus together and talent shows and such. So that’s how we started coming together singing and playing together and that sort of thing.
YKIGS: Is it true that one of the group’s first recordings was on DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Ring My Bell” record from their “Homebase” album?
JB: That is true! *Laughs* We were featured on the “Ring My Bell,” the old Anita Ward original on his “Homebase” album. Somebody introduced us to Jazzy Jeff while we were in college and we kinda started doing some things with him so that was the main song that had got recorded there and released.
YKIGS: Another collaboration you guys had early on was with Queen Latifah and Kay Gee from Naughty By Nature. How big of a role did they play in your careers?
JB: Well it really jump started everything. The song with Jazzy Jeff was great to get recorded but it didn’t really jump start too much after that. So there a gentleman who took us up to some of the record companies in New York and the one that stuck was Flavor Unit, and that was Latifah’s management company at the time turned record label. That’s where we started to work with Kay Gee of Naughty by Nature because he was looking for a girl group. So it really worked out well from there, he was looking for a girl group, we were looking to do an album, and that’s when “Hey Mr. DJ” was created during that time. We were still in our very last year of college so we would go up to the studio on the weekends and we would come back home and go to school and that’s when “Hey Mr. DJ” was created along with most of the first album. Graduation was in May of 1993 and I finished up school and moved up to New York and got started with everything, finishing up the album, starting to do promo dates and that kind of thing. That’s how it all got started from there; we signed our deal with Kay Gee and Motown at the time.
YKIGS: You mentioned “Hey Mr. DJ” which is one of the most memorable songs from the group. When you guys recorded the song, did you expect it to become as big as it did?
JB: No we didn’t have too many expectations, we were just going with the flow. We liked the song, I remember liking the song and thinking since I liked it, somebody else will like it too and they did! *Laughs* It turned into a classic.
YKIGS: What would you say is the main reason the group went their separate ways?
JB: That was really my decision. I decided that I was ready to get back to exploring music on my own as an individual. We had a lot of musical influences, both Renee and I, before we got into the group, and it was hard to be creative and have the space to express yourself in that way, a group setting. So we did the two albums, two albums in seven years, and I was just ready to step away from the group and start doing music on my own again. I felt like I would have the creative freedom to write and sing and do what I wanted to do.
YKIGS: Let’s talk about your solo album “Testimony: My Life Story.” What was your inspiration behind the recording of this album?
JB: You know I left the group in 2000, and for about six or seven years after that I stepped away from the industry and was able to just take some time to myself. During that time, I had some life changes, I really grew an inspiration in stepping away from that. During that time I was able to reflect and make the decision to really get closer to God and look for him, that kinda thing. In a sort of way, that’s what the album is about, it’s a life testimony in general. A lot of times, people say put God first. But when you really do that, he works in wonderful ways and brings things into your life that are great and reflect him so that’s what happened. I got married during that time which was great and I’ve just been kind of staying on that trail ever since, so it’s just a testimony to my life story. *laughs* I guess that’s the testimony.
YKIGS: Since so much time had passed between the group’s last album and your solo album, did you always have plans to continue making music, or was there ever a time when you thought you might go in a different direction?
JB: No, I always had plans of making music. That was the whole point really of just wanting to have the freedom to make the music that I wanted to make. So yea I always knew that I would do something. I was working on music during that time at home, and writing with different people and doing some song placements with other groups and artists. I just hadn’t actually completed an album or any cohesive work. But when I got married, me and my husband really started doing some songs together and it just worked out from there.
YKIGS: How would you compare the creative and recording process of being a solo artist to being part of a group?
JB: It’s different, some of it is the same, and some of it is different. The semantics of having to go in the studio and write and be creative are the same. But the main difference is a certain kind of freedom as a solo artist and not being attached to a major label. That was a big part of it as well because the label always wanted us to go in a particular direction that wasn’t really reflective of my personal writing and singing style. So that was the biggest difference, just being able to go in and just kinda go with what you feel and what you think as opposed to what you think the label wants to hear and what the label thinks that the public wants to hear. That’s probably the biggest difference for me.
YKIGS: Talk to me about your single “Morning Time” and give me some background on the song and the inspiration behind it.
JB: Morning time, joy will come in the morning! The lyrical content is taken from a biblical stanza where it talks about your joy coming in the morning, basically the idea that we all go through things in life, tough life situations and the trick in going through them is really getting through them. There’s a saying, if you can make it through the night, you’ll be fine. *Laughs* So the night is kinda symbolic of those rough, dark times where it’s difficult to maneuver because a lot of times you find yourself in a place of uncertainty where you’ve never been there before and you’re just trying to find your way out of it. Just sticking with it and just that development of strength and character those in dark times that brings you through into that symbolic morning where you feel like you can breathe again and things are working smoothly. But that’s basically what that song is about, just kinda making it through tough times.
YKIGS: Do you have a favorite song from your solo album and why?
JB: I like “Come Go With Me” a lot. I think it’s just a nice easy song. I love the string arrangements in that song. I kinda like the little pop feel to it and I think it’s a beautiful melody, very strong melody, and I’m a melody driven songwriter. So I guess I would say “Come Go With Me.” And then the b-side of “Morning Time,” that’s very dear to my heart too and that has really inspired and blessed a lot of people especially on Youtube. There’s a video there, a live video of me singing and playing the piano and it’s very nice, it’s a slowed down version of “Morning Time.” It has over 80,000 views now, people really like it, it inspires them at certain points in their life, and that’s a big thing for me if I can do that for someone.
YKIGS: What has the reception been like from your fans and from music fans in general on this album? Also have you found that fans of Zhane have kinda been waiting around for you to release new music?
JB: Yea that seem to be out there ready and willing to listen. *Laughs* Sometimes it’s tough to get to all of them in a short amount of time.*Laughs* But they’re out there and they’re listening and they’re wanting good music so we just do our best to try to get it out to them through the internet options that are available to us.
YKIGS: Looking to the future, what plans do you have going forward in your music career? How long do you hope to keep recording music?
JB: I hope to do it for the rest of my life. It’s my passion, it’s really one of the gifts that God has given me so I’d really like to use it to its fullest potential. So we’re just hoping and praying for more opportunities to do more performances, touring and things like that. All of these things cost money so it’s not the easiest thing to maneuver without the backing of a major label, but people do it. But yea, I would like this to be a lifelong career.
YKIGS: I’m sure some of your fans would like to know, is there ever a chance for a reunion with Zhane or are you past that?
JB: Everybody asks that. I mean you never know, it’s not really what I’m focused on right now, but you never know what may happen in the future! *Laughs*
YKIGS: Do you have a favorite song that you recorded as part of Zhane or maybe one that immediately comes to mind?
JB: “For a Reason” is probably my favorite because it seemed to help a lot of people. It was a song that I wrote on the first album and it was very slow piano, just piano and vocals, a ballad, but people loved it. It’s saying that everything happens for a reason and it’s one of those songs that has gotten people through some really, really tough times. I’ve had people come to me and tell me all kind of stories and scenarios that the song helped them through. So I’d probably say that song.
YKIGS: That’s all of the questions I had for you, is there anything else you’d like to add?
JB: Only that people can go and check out the album and buy it at www.dajams.com.