Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of stories of artists who developed a successful solo career for themselves after singing back up for a major artist; Immediately Tank for Ginuwine and Kelly Price for Mariah Carey come to mind. Well, it’s quite possible that KJ Rose is the next in line! After spending years touring as a backup singer for the likes of Puff Daddy, Carl Thomas, Janet Jackson and Britney Spears, KJ had the chance to come into her own with the release of her debut album “All Heart, No Regrets”. She’s also backed with a strong cause; her music is intended to empower, enlighten, and excite others to find their purpose and to lie the best life possible. In this interview for YouKnowIGotSoul, she talks about her experiences touring, her journey to her debut album, what you can expect to hear on “All Heart, No Regrets”, some of the causes she’s currently involved in, what to expect from her in the future, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I read in your bio that after you graduated from college you landed in New York City and this led to a number of features with artists. Give me some background on how you got some of those opportunities and who you worked with.
KJ Rose: Once I got here I began performing at open mics and in the interim, I met Carl Thomas and he sorta became my vocal mentor. We both sang at Ron Grant’s ‘Blue Angel’ which helped me to cultivate my craft and it was also during the time Carl got his deal which was very inspiring. My very first album recording was with Heavy D, I had the opportunity to perform his song “Big Daddy”. From there I got a chance to work with Biggie, AZ, A+, Dead Prez, etc. – this was around the time when rappers were not singing, they were actually hiring vocalists. *Laughs*. I got a chance to be a part of history on Biggie’s “Life After Death” album on the song “Playa Hata”. Although I got to work on some great projects, I was still working my 9 to 5 until there was an opportunity for me to go on the road with P. Diddy (Kelly Price hired me for the job). It ended up being myself, Kelly Price and Carl Thomas as the background singers along with one other vocalist. The tour was an amazing experience but once it was over, I went back to work – I wasn’t quite ready to step out on faith but I finally took the leap in 2000. I felt like I wasn’t giving 100% to any one area of my life and I would have to dive into my music whole heartedly if I wanted to see my music take off. Once I quit my job, I got an offer to go overseas with Puffy and again I found myself on the road with Carl Thomas. We toured for a couple of months and when ended, Carl’s album started to take off, so once we landed in L.A., we were off to another tour for almost a year. This tour gave me the confidence needed to pursue music as my only career. Once things slowed down, I set out to go on a pop tour – I did all of my research and pulled all of my connections together to land on the Britney Spear’s “Dream Withing A Dream” tour. I was very persistent and I truly felt like this job was based off of my tenacity because I had missed the auditions but I continued to keep in contact with the music director. There were times I called him and he would tell me that he was auditioning other vocalists and to stay in touch so I was relentless in making sure that I stayed a viable candidate – even singing for him over the phone. He finally broke down and said that he had never given anyone nobody a job like this over the phone, but it was mine if I wanted it – I was on the road with Britney for approx a year and a half. Intermittently, I performed on the Grammy’s with Justin Timberlake and then I got a call to do a promo tour with Janet Jackson, which was the best training ground ever as a background vocalist. Janet was an iconic performer that I emulated throughout my childhood so I was in heaven. I also got a chance to work with artists that include Ashanti, Mario, Monica, R. Kelly, Common, KRS1, Amel Larrieux and Erykah Badu and a few others which fueled my passion even more. But there were times when the artists weren’t touring as frequently and when they didn’t work – I didn’t work and it was at that point that I realized I didn’t want my career to be predicated on whether somebody else worked or not – at the end of the day, I was still hired help. So the prestige was great and luxury of being on the road and traveling the world was even better, but it really wasn’t my own. I was always looking for the next background gig and I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I also wanted to put my own album out so I couldn’t continue to be on the road and see results for that. So I actually started working for Clive Davis for a year and a half. I started out as a night time receptionist, and was subsequently asked to work for him directly and I initially turned it down but I realized that there was so much value in sitting at that desk and absorbing all of the knowledge that he had to offer – it became a no-brainer. I had the opportunity to really observe how he worked and that was invaluable. While working for him, the crazy thing is that he never knew I sang. I felt like it was kind of trite to come in and reveal that I was a singer early on – I wanted him to take me seriously. I read everything, I picked his brain, I would ask him questions during just the most remedial tasks – anything I could think about the industry or an artist. He was always very gracious in answering any of my questions. I didn’t leave him until I got an offer to go on the second Janet promo tour. He was told by another assistant that I was going on this tour and I remember walking in his office during a huge meeting and he announced excitedly that I was headed for my 2nd promo tour with Janet. I was taken aback because number one I had never heard him scream my name that loudly! It was just a good feeling to know that all of the good work that I’ve done had not been in vain. Even now I can still send him songs and get his feedback, and whether I like it or not just the fact that I have that open line of communication is truly invaluable. I was also in the process of putting my own album together. I had been working with producers over many years that include my brother Jax, Bastiany, Andy C, Jordan Battiste, Terry Hunter, Harvey Allbangers and more. We had written all of these songs, but I just didn’t feel like there was enough for an album. I felt like they were random songs that didn’t feel cohesive. Honestly, I think I was waiting on someone else to validate me – to say that I was good enough or the album was good enough to actually complete and put out but I quickly realized that if I didn’t believe, then no one else would believe. In this day and age, you can do it on your own so I took that leap of faith. I wrote a song called “A Better Way”, which was one of the last songs added to the album. Once it was complete, I realized that it gave the rest of the songs new meaning and it all began to make sense. My single “Better Way” was very empowering and although it’s about heartache it’s also about hope. This began the journey of my debut album “All Heart No Regrets”. I was actually inspired to record the album by a quote from Sydney Smith: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”
YKIGS: Talk to me about this debut album “All Heart, No Regrets” which released last year. Talk to me about your style of music and the sound people could expect to hear on that album?
KJ: I would say my style is vintage soul. I come from a soulful place, I’m from Chicago, I’ve always kinda been labeled as this old soul or back in the day this young girl that has this very soulful voice. I grew up loving Anita Baker and so for a long time I think I sounded like her and no one really knew what to do with me. So I got to a point where I had to learn how to find my own voice. It was Anita, Stephanie Mills, Phyllis Hyman, Regina Bell, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan that gave me life – I love them all! These women told stories that were relatable with passion and authenticity – that’s what I set out to do on this album as well. I figured out that I was not going to sing another note or a riff that had not been done before, so I had to explore what it was that made me different and what I wanted to say. It just became a matter of me taking my own truth and writing songs of substance that connected with people. I feel like you can have a dope voice but if you never connect and it’s really just all about you – you’ve missed the mark. So my prayer before I do all of my shows is to let me speak to what the people need and to let me sing something that would either change their life or change their perspective. I know I have a purpose and will have to champion my own cause. Once I put the album on iTunes, it became an effort that my friends and family got behind. Once released, I opened for Eric Roberson at SOBs, and performed at the Conga Room in LA which is Jamie Foxx’s spot. The biggest thing that happened for me was the Monique show. The way that kinda came about, I feel like sometimes things are seemingly reserved for those that already have deals and then there are times when your music can actually rearrange things and move people in a way that’s inexplicable. Monique really liked my single “A Better Way” and she proclaimed that it would change lives. So I just think that her speaking and her encouraging me was really important to the launch of my career. I’m currently a BET Music Matters artist which has been instrumental in increasing the awareness of my project. I feel like the only reason I’m fortunate to have certain opportunites is because I finally learned to bet on myself and trust God.
YKIGS: Now that the album has been out for awhile, what’s next for KJ Rose?
KJ: It’s funny because being independent you can work an album forever. However, I’ve started writing songs for the second album although I feel like I’m not ready to leave my first album behind – there’s so much more work to be done. In the meantime, I’m also committed to building my brand – I’m currently being featured on Sundance Channel’s “Full Frontal Fashion”; working with NBC’s “Wednesday’s Child” – a campaign devoted to really helping foster kids find long term families; performing for BET’s HIV Awareness campaign as well as a few other projects in the pipeline. I do feel like I’ve surpassed what I initially envisioned for myself – I’ve already won the prize (which was completing my very first album) and now everything else is a bonus.
YKIGS: If you were to look at your second album and visualize for the future, who are some artists you’d like to collaborate with if you had the opportunity?
KJ: I want to work with any artist and producer that has a fervency for creating great music – from the most obscure to the most notable – magic is magic! I want to create songs that people connect to, songs that when people hear them, they no longer see me but they see themselves.
YKIGS: How can people reach you and find your music?
KJ: The album is currently on iTunes and EMusic and Rhapsody. They can also go to:
Facebook: KJ Rose