Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Joe Thomas is throwing his last name out there in a conscious bid to join the ranks of first-and-last-name soul legends whom we lovingly refer to as Marvin, Stevie, Luther; because Gaye, Wonder, and Vandross helped to pave the way. The influence of Marvin Gaye is apparent in Joeâs ad-libs and he cites âI Want Youâ as his favourite Marvin album, explaining âThatâs the same one with (the track from which we sampled) âI Wanna Get To Know Youâ on it. When they played the record for me I said âItâs an honour to do thisâ, Iâd been waiting for someone to give me a Marvin Gaye track to be on. His style was just unmatched.â That 2004 collaboration, which used the addictive chorus of Marvinâs âCome Live With Me Angelâ, had soul purists grudgingly slipping the G-Unit track into their assorted playlists. Talking more about his inspirations, Joe divulges: âMy mentors were the artists before me. I started listening to more Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder records, listening to the differences between the two and what made each one special. What made Marvin special to me was his simplicity; he didnât do all the extra riffs but he had a lot of soul and a lot of passion. And Stevie, in a sense, gave a more technical offering. You really had to be good to cover Stevie stuff. Heâs a one-off. He gives it to you and itâs not gonna be done again, ever again this way. You canât possibly match the way he sang his records. With Marvin you could kinda get it, you could probably match his tone - but what you canât get from Marvin was his soul, his vibe.â

We discuss the general state of the soulful portion of the music industry. Are sales too low? Are too many people doing the same thing? Are record labels unsupportive, and are artists collusive or crabs in a bucket? âSoul music has been selfish,â he says of the lack of collaborations between R&B singers. âWe get really personal with our music and itâs hard to bring in other artists who sing because singing is so passionate - rapping is a whole other thing - singing is more passionate and personal, so maybe thatâs why people donât do a heap of collaborations.â
Perhaps competition between singers is another key reason? Actually, âIt should be more competitive,â Joe postulates. âIn one sense it is, but I mean that it should be in a hip hop sense: the way hip hop comes together and makes itself bigger by competing. (R&B singers) compete in a different way, we compete more personally. Plus there are so many people youâve gotta go through with R&B artists, they donât just spontaneously jump on a record. Even with Nas,
I had no problem getting him on a record - not going through management or a big hoopla with the record company. Rappers are more real, theyâll talk to you straight up like âIâll do this and you do this for me: weâll make a deal ourselves.â That vibe that hip hop has, that competitive aspect that makes hip hop, makes each artist step their game up.â

The influence of hip hop can be found not just in Joeâs collaborations with a multitude of rappers (his album features Nas, Fabolous, Papoose, Chamillionare, Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo to name a few!), but in his product planning. In the pipeline alongside his musical pursuits, is a clothing line called J. Thomas, a new Tequila called âSohoâ, and his own cigar. He elucidates: â(Rappers) definitely taught me that sort of hustle, New York has an incredible hustle. They get that money. Those in the hood who have the talent get in the industry thinking, âYou know what? This is not always guaranteed so let me capitalise right now and get my home-made t-shirts before I even come out with the first record.â Theyâre smart like that; theyâve got merchandise before theyâve even got an album. Iâm building an empire.â

âWho Is Joe?â is released on March 26th through Jive Records.
Words Marsha Gosho-Oakes

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