Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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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 Joe’s ad-libs and he cites “I Want You” as his favourite Marvin album, explaining “That’s the same one with (the track from which we sampled) “I Wanna Get To Know You” on it. When they played the record for me I said ‘It’s an honour to do this’, I’d been waiting for someone to give me a Marvin Gaye track to be on. His style was just unmatched.” That 2004 collaboration, which used the addictive chorus of Marvin’s “Come Live With Me Angel”, had soul purists grudgingly slipping the G-Unit track into their assorted playlists. Talking more about his inspirations, Joe divulges: “My 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 didn’t 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. He’s a one-off. He gives it to you and it’s not gonna be done again, ever again this way. You can’t possibly match the way he sang his records. With Marvin you could kinda get it, you could probably match his tone - but what you can’t get from Marvin was his soul, his vibe.”

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? “Soul music has been selfish,” he says of the lack of collaborations between R&B singers. “We get really personal with our music and it’s 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 that’s why people don’t do a heap of collaborations.”
Perhaps competition between singers is another key reason? Actually, “It should be more competitive,” Joe postulates. “In 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 you’ve gotta go through with R&B artists, they don’t 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, they’ll talk to you straight up like ‘I’ll do this and you do this for me: we’ll make a deal ourselves.’ That vibe that hip hop has, that competitive aspect that makes hip hop, makes each artist step their game up.”

The influence of hip hop can be found not just in Joe’s 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 ‘Soho’, and his own cigar. He elucidates: “(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, ‘You 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.’ They’re smart like that; they’ve got merchandise before they’ve even got an album. I’m building an empire.”

“Who Is Joe?” is released on March 26th through Jive Records.
Words Marsha Gosho-Oakes

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