After taking the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 2007 with his debut album, Back of My Lac’ and producing two chart-topping singles, J. Holiday thought he was well on his way to the top. But after taking his audience to Bed, it seems that’s where he’s stayed for the last two years; while the release of his sophomore album, Round 2, made its way to No. 2 on Billboard’s R&B chart, the project never reached the level of its predecessor.

Now, with a new label and new a mindset, the Washington D.C. soul singer is ready to regain control of his music and take responsibility for his disappointing last album. Shedding light on ways to make it in this industry and things new artists should not do, Holiday opened up to XXL.—Amber McKynzie

It’s been two years since your last album. Are there any projects you’re currently working on?

J. Holiday: I just put out a mixtape called M.I.A.: The Lost Pages to reintroduce myself after the label change and all that. People were wondering what’s going on with me so I put out the mixtape. We got a song on there called “Float Away,” that’s picking up a bit. [I’m] still working on the album. Back in [the studio] with [The-]Dream and [songwriter] Los [Da Mystro], so just tryna get this music to the people.

You mentioned a label change. What was the situation your last label home, Capitol?

Honestly, urban music is probably [some] of the hardest music to sell as far as the label standpoint. They just didn’t have the urban system. I definitely had some good times on Capitol, but you know the urban department just didn’t have it all the way right, so I just had to get somewhere where that knew Urban music and that could be that force behind me. Now I’m with Def Jam.

Why Def Jam and not another label?

We were looking at Def Jam and Interscope, but Def Jam has a little more when it comes to hip-hop. They definitely know what they’re doing over there, so I mean that’s just it — simple and plain.

Back of My Lac’ was a nice set up for you. So, what do you think happened to your momentum after that? You said there was label stuff, but was there anything going on personally to take you away for a while?

Every artist that comes out for the most part don’t really know what’s going on as far as how things work, what’s going on, who does what, what’s your responsibility and what’s not your responsibility. When it came to the second album I started taking a little more responsibility [with] what I wanted to do and the kind of music that I wanted to do. It’s always a battle of power, so it just came to a point of, Alright, well, we not gonna put nothing behind it. We just gonna let you bump your head.' I don’t know why they do that because if I lose, you lose, so it didn’t make any sense to me.



Since you’re taking back control of your music, who are you looking to work with on the new album?

Not that I stay away from features, but I’ve noticed that a lot of artists use the features to sell an album. I never wanted to be one of those artists. I always wanted J. Holiday to be the focus of the album and not, Ah man, you hear that song he did with such and such? I don’t wanna specifically go chase certain artists. I mean there’s always gonna be artists that I wanna work with in my career, but not specifically for a certain album.

Okay, well since you’re not a big fan of using features for yourself, XXL wants to know five of your favorite hip-hop collaborations with R&B singers and why.

I say Fat Joe “I Won’t Tell” and you know I think that’s pretty obvious why. [Laughs] It was pretty much my first real look as far as a song featuring me, and it did pretty well and I feel like it’s a good record. And of course it’s catered for the ladies. [Next] I got “How Do You Want It,” “Brenda’s Got A Baby” and “Keep Your Head Up.” Those three are just ’cause I listened to so much Tuac when I was growing up and he always had something to say. [It was] content that just makes you think, you know what I mean? Then I got B.I.G. “Fuckin You Tonight.” I do love making music and that’s straightforward. R. Kelly is definitely someone I look up to and of course I miss Big and Pac, man. I think we need more people to do their studying and their research. And then “Ready or Not,” by Fugees. That’s another group that I listen to a lot and I always looked up to Wyclef and Lauryn Hill.

Of the artists you just mentioned, have any of them had any influence on you musically in your career and growing up?

I’d have to definitely say Tupac with “Keep Your Head Up.” One, because my father died when I was younger, so I was pretty much raised by my mom and it just sent out a very positive message, especially to the single mothers. The first album I did I had “The Back of My Lac” and “Ghetto” and then on second album I had a song called “Homeless,” so you know it’s just about the content. I love content. I’m starting to feel like the lyrical content is starting to be slightly lost.

You’re saying artists these days are lacking content. What advice would you give an up-and-coming artist?

The first thing I would say is to always stay true to who you were not who you are now. Stay true to who you were when you first had that hunger and nobody knew who you were and you were like, Man, I’ma keep pushing and pushing and pushing till I get on. When people get on, they stop pushing and they start changing. Second, I would say know your business. Meet the people, shake their hands, have the conversation with them, you know. Third, I would say it’s not all about the fame ’cause one minute they love you, the next minute they don’t really like you anymore. I mean, they did it to Jesus. Last but not least, you gotta stay prayed up. If you don’t acknowledge God eventually…everybody has their down moments, but if you don’t acknowledge God, you’re down moments will come faster than later.