The game has changed. With the internet giving artists the opportunity for exposure that was once never there and suddenly creating intense competition, artists are forced to question what value they are adding to the consumer to differentiate from the next. Although Daron Jones has garnered a large fan base and gained legendary status from his time in 112, as you will hear in this interview even he has been forced to change the way he does things to continue a career in music. But the difference with Daron is he gets it, and has what it takes to succeed. Upon the release of his first solo album “Uncensored,” I talked to Daron about the sound he has on the album compared to the sound of 112, the interaction with fans he has on Twitter and Facebook in promoting his music, the best marketing tool he has as an independent artist, the best song he’s ever written, and if he hopes 112 will ever get together again.
YouKnowIGotSoul: First off, I just want to congratulate you on the release of your new album “Uncensored.” How are you feeling with the release of this album?
Daron Jones: It’s good, I’m loving it. It’s not just an album for me, it represents a time in my life and just a time…it represents growth as a man. It just represents me standing up on my own and saying everything I want to say and being all that I am as a man and as an artist.
YKIGS: For those of your fans who haven’t had a chance to hear it yet, how would you compare the sound of this album to what they’re used to hearing from you on the 112 albums?
DJ: I think in a sense it’s an evolution of that to a certain extent because my contribution on the 112 from the writing and production standpoint was pretty big, like I did 80% of the music the whole time we were a group. With that being said, it was a lot of hip hop influenced music, it was a lot of pop, soul, jazz and gospel, and I think on this album you’ll get kinda like the same thing but I think it’s more so my way, instead of having everybody’s input, I’m just doing it my way. But it’s just pretty much a lot of the same things sonically and a lot of the same messages.
YKIGS: I wanted to ask you about the first single you released, “Money.” Did you receive any backlash from fans who weren’t quite expecting that sound from you? What has the reaction been like?
DJ: Yea I mean I did, the song “Money,” it went on a blog called “Sound Saavy” and the first time it was wow, they didn’t really understand the sound and they didn’t really understand the evolution of my sound. So yea I did initially, but for the most part, everybody was just happy to have me back and they understood the song and they understood where I was going. At the end of the day, the bottom line was just a message encouraging faith in a time when we all kind of dealing with recession just to kinda put it out there like this is where the future’s at. Like we all trying to get back to the money and we all trying to do it big and that’s really what the song was about, it’s just really to inspire. For the most part, those that were open minded were able to receive that message.
YKIGS: Ok, I can understand that. What made you decide to title the album “Uncensored?”
DJ: It had a lot to do with me as an artist and as a man. Because as an artist, growing up in the business and coming into the business at 17, it’s kinda like you become censored because everything you do has to run through an executive or a group of people that have to make the final decision on what it is that you’re singing or how you’re presenting your product, even how you’re presenting yourself. So the “Uncensored” title was just a way of me saying that part of my life is over with, the part of my life that anybody can tell me what to say or what to do with my music or with my life in general, that’s done. Now I’m completely uncensored so these things I’m saying, you’re getting it directly from the horse’s mouth and it is what it is now, the past is the past and we’re moving forward with Daron Jones and the DPS movement.
YKIGS: So you released the album a little over a week ago on December 5th. How happy have you been with the response you’ve got on it from fans and whoever has heard it?
DJ: Wow, I mean the response has really been incredible. Mostly what I’m getting is that ok, wow, I’m happy to see that you’re doing an album. A lot of people are happy to see that I’m doing a solo album because most of the response I’m getting is that I was a lot of peoples’ favorite in the group and they just had to see that ok, you got an album and it’s a solo album and I can actually go get it right now. Most of the response has been overwhelming on the positive side.
YKIGS: Since you’ve released the album online through your own site on DPS Productions, do you feel you’ve had any difficulties reaching your fan base?
DJ: No, it’s funny you say that, it’s been very easy to reach the fan base because of Twitter and because of Facebook. I’ve been using Facebook really as a marketing tool and really Twitter a lot as a marketing tool and it makes it a lot easier to reach out to fans. That’s the thing about being independent right now, especially an artist that has a fan base already it’s like a whole nother world. Because I came into the game, I mean on my first album the amount of money that I was making per cd was just like, it aint even enough to mention. But now I get every penny from the money that comes in, whenever a cd is sold it goes directly to me and it’s just a totally different world now.
YKIGS: Yea, I mean I follow you on Twitter and see you actively on there interacting with fans and all of that type of thing. How has that kinda changed the way you do things. You can get instant feedback from fans, how has it changed the way you interact?
DJ: Man it’s awesome because and it’s funny that you say that because me and my team talk about this a lot. It kinda opens up a playing field, like I was kinda talking about this the other day. Ok, just say for instance, like what’s really setting artists apart? Ok, I’m Daron, and I can sing and I can play the piano and I can produce songs. So at the end of the day, if I’m on BET spinning 30,000 times a week, or if I’m on VH1, it just automatically makes me a star for the most part as long as I can pretty much provide that which the BET audience is looking for. See now that you have stuff like Youtube, the playing field has evened up. So whoever is controlling BET and VH1, they really don’t control who our stars are anymore. People can get on and be a star on their own and a lot of times these outlets that people are used to getting their music from, it kinda renders them powerless in a sense because they are not the only places where you can go and get 22 million people to watch you, or 30,000, or 40, or whatever the number is. It was a day when the only place where you could get that type of exposure was on a television network, now you can get it online. *Laughs* So it kinda opens up a playing field, like Susie from down the block can be the next Taylor Swift. So now it’s kinda like Taylor, what makes you so special? Everybody gotta go the extra mile and interact with the fans, I think it separates who’s who now, it’s gonna tell who is real about it and who is doing it just to be doing something.
YKIGS: I don’t mean to take anything away from what you’re doing because I think you’re doing an amazing thing releasing the album online, independently by yourself. But do you feel that maybe some of your fan base that’s not on Twitter, not on Facebook, and maybe they really don’t even know you have an album out? How do you feel about that?
DJ: Oh yea that happens too, we get a lot of that so I don’t just do everything online, I still kinda get out in the streets as well and try to balance it out. It’s just the best tool that I have at this point is not necessarily just Twitter or Facebook, but rather just the old school aspect of word of mouth, people telling other people and then getting to them that way.
YKIGS: What’s the transition been like from being in a group to being a solo artist? Has it been smooth?
DJ: Well it’s kinda difficult for me actually because outside of being in 112 it was just always making songs for somebody else. So whenever I’m writing a song it’s like I always had to keep other people in mind and I had to kinda censor what I was saying or I had to write based on who was going to be saying it. So just being a producer period, whether it’s producing for 112, Paintbrush, or whoever it was that I’d been writing and producing for, I kinda had to come to terms with the fact that this is my music. Because it took me awhile to kinda just swallow that like ok, I’m writing for me now, so it’s like what do I say? *Laughs* So that took a minute for me to kinda just say, I can say what I wanna say and I just put my name on it now instead of somebody else’s. I kinda took me a minute to grasp that concept because I was so used to writing for everybody else.
YKIGS: I want to talk to you a little bit about your production, because I’m the type of r&b fan I take the time to read the liner notes. I’ve seen your name and know you’re a very talented producer. I actually talked to Stevie J., another talented producer, and he talked about how he had a hand in helping you learn your craft in production on a trip you guys took to Trinidad. Tell me if you remember anything about that and what you remember learning from Stevie J.
DJ: Man I’ll say to this day, Stevie J. is like one of the most talented producers I ever ran across. I don’t think I ever met a producer that was more talented than Stevie J. because it’s like Stevie can play every instrument. So when I met Stevie, he made me wanna step my game up. I actually picked up a guitar when I met Stevie, and then the first song that I played the guitar on was the one that I produced for Keyshia “I Should Have Cheated,” but that was because of Stevie’s influence and just being around him. I can’t even really say it was just one situation, just being around him period within the Bad Boy movement whether it was at Daddy’s House. One thing I learned from Stevie too was that confidence, like Stevie always had that confidence, like Stevie would say stuff like, in the beginning, when we were doing the bad boy thing, he would be like “Yo, watch how I change music, watch what I do.” And I saw that and I remembered that and as I grew older, it’s like I picked up some of that. You gotta be confident and you gotta know what’s going to go down because you’re going to receive a lot of…you are going to get a lot of people saying “You don’t know what you’re doing” or “What’s that,” or “Why it don’t sound like it used to sound.” So kinda being around him prepared me for that, I don’t know what to say about Stevie. *Laughs* I could go on and on and on, but the main thing is I aint never met a producer doper than Stevie J.
YKIGS: This might be a difficult question for you to answer but I figured I’d ask it anyway. I went through your whole discography, saw all of the songs you’ve had a hand in writing and producing, do you have a song that consider the best song you wrote or produced?
DJ: *Laughs* Wow *Laughs* Woooo.
YKIGS: *Laughs* You can throw a couple at me, just anything that comes to mind!
DJ: I don’t know, I mean I guess “I’m a Playa” on the 112 “Part III” album was one of my favorites. I think the Keyshia Cole “I Should Have Cheated” was one of my favorites because that was a time in my life when everybody was questioning my abilities. I feel like people were questioning me as a producer, they were saying “Well what have you done outside of 112?” A lot of the songs I was doing at that time, they weren’t singles on other people’s albums. The song with Keyshia represents me kinda standing up for myself and what I felt my worth was. Because that song initially was for Nivea, and Nivea didn’t want to make it a single, and at the time my manager was trippin “Yo D just get the check, they gonna cut the check, it doesn’t matter if it becomes a single, Lil Jon got the first single on the album and this is going to be a big album for Nivea!” And I just got to that point, I was tired of my songs, songs like I feel like are big singles not getting the attention that they deserve. If it was another song I would take the check, but this time around I’m not taking the check, if they’re not going to release it as a single, it’s going to sit on my computer, it’s going to sit in the archives until somebody comes along and realizes the statement that this song is making for women. And then me and him kinda fell out about that, but I just took a stand and that song represented a turning point for me as a producer like “Hey man, yall going to have to make my songs singles, I’m not just going to sit my songs on albums where they can’t get the exposure they deserve.” And then when that song came out, it was crazy because it blew, I think it was the third or fourth single for Keyshia, and Ron Fair at Interscope had already told me “Yo we’re going to put the house on this song.” But they released a couple of singles before it, so when that song came out, it was just kinda like everybody that was doubting me because I didn’t have anything in awhile, everybody that I was working with was like “Nah we really don’t wanna use this stuff right now.” So Keyshia put me back on the map.
YKIGS: Very cool, very interesting. This now led me to another thing I’d like to ask. Is there a song that you wrote for another artist and maybe felt should be a single, maybe felt like it would have been a big hit if it were released as a single but unfortunately that didn’t happen? Can you remember a circumstance like that?
DJ: Well back in the day I wrote a couple of songs for Usher that ended up being not on his album, but ended up being actually big 112 singles. “Anywhere” was for Usher. “Anywhere” was for Usher and “Dance With Me” was for Usher.
YKIGS: How does that make you feel? Does that almost make you feel like you have vindication that another artist turned it down and then you were able to turn it into a hit?
DJ: Yes because it kinda built my confidence because I’m a big student, I’m a student of the game. I’m sure with the conversation that we just had about Stevie you could kinda gather that I like to learn, so as a producer I was learning to kinda balance having my emotional ties into music as well as kinda giving the consumer what they wanted and giving radio what they wanted. I was kinda fighting this whole situation at that time while I was growing as a producer. So I was listening to things that Puff would say, we wanted to put out ballads on our first album, and Puff would come in the meeting and say stuff like “Hey I just met with five program directors, they don’t wanna hear that!” So at the end of the day, I was learning to find balance with my production because I was listening to cats that was on the marketing sides whereas other artists they just go into the studio writing whatever they feel. But with me, I was kinda like listening to what the cats on the marketing side, the executive side was saying, and I was taking in. So I had to get to that point where I was involved in that thought process when I would write songs.
YKIGS: Aside from the album you have out now, are you currently in the studio writing and producing with other artists or do you have plans to for the future?
DJ: Right now I’m working with my sister, her name is Sunny Jones, and she’s going to be out, we’re going to drop the EP of her in the Spring or whenever. So right now we put out a snippet of her song “Play My Position” and a lot of people are digging that so we’re going to drop that at the top of the year, like a five song EP, the introduction just to get people knowing who she is and how she gets down.
YKIGS: I had a chance to interview Mike from the group as well recently and he was saying he still hopes the group 112 can get back together some day and make it work. Is that your hope as well?
DJ: Well I don’t really hope for that so to speak, I just want everybody to just move and if it happens it happens.
YKIGS: Looking back at 112, what would you say is the legacy of the group? I mean you guys achieved so much, so what do you think is the lasting legacy?
DJ: Woooo, that’s a good question! At the end of the day one of the great things about 112 is how long we actually stayed together. A lot of groups that were before us they didn’t stay together as long as 112 did. Of course the hit records and just the way that we touched people in a positive way with the music as a brand I mean nobody can ever take that away.
YKIGS: That’s true. That’s all I had prepared, is that anything else you’d like to add?
DJ: Man I just want to say thank you for your time and taking the time out. And I want to say thank you for everybody that supports me as an artist and I don’t know, just be looking forward to some new music because I’m just going to just keep giving it out! *Laughs*