Steph Jones defies labels. And that's a good thing.
The independent artist and singer-songwriter created a huge buzz with his single "Mr. Ordinary" and has been favorably compared to neo-soul favorites such as Maxwell and D'Angelo. But the raspy voice and sometimes soaring falsetto is so reminiscent of a younger Marvin Gaye or Al Green. And while many brand new artists would consider a contract with Def Jam and working with Ludacris the virtual equivalent of hitting the Powerball, the Houston-area native walked away from it. "There's always room for growth," Steph Jones tells Rod 2.0. "If there isn't, you're settling and I don't like to settle."
The singer slash songwriter originally began his career as a model. Signed to Ford and featured in numerous national print and television campaigns. After leaving Def Jam/Disturbing Tha Peace, Jones began marketing himself through social media. It all began on My Space before Steph Jones segued to his YouTube channel which now has almost a million views. And of course there is StephJonesMusic on Twitter, where he is über-popular and constantly updates his status, uploading photos from the red carpet, out at dinner, and the occasional shirtless Twitpics that have become #TrendingTopics. Steph also regularly broadcasts and even takes requests on UStream.
Jones has also become one of the very few younger male R&B singers to embrace a gay fanbase—especially at the beginning of his career. "Mr Ordinary" was featured on the "DL Chronicles" soundtrack. Steph also participated in photographer Adam
Bouska's striking "No H8" campaign, spoken out for equality and against homophobia. We discussed all this on a short phone call ...
ROD 2.0: That No H8 photo is ferosh. How and why did you get involved?
STEPH JONES: I love that photo and was happy to do it. A friend of mine hit me up and asked to do it. I didn’t hesitate and I'd do it again. If you believe in something, you have to stand up. I am not about to intrude on anybody else' s happiness because they'll take away someone else's rights next time. And I don’t want to hear about how it used to be. "Back in the day" we were picking cotton. Now we have President Obama.
R20: It's refreshing to hear that point of view, especially from a new jack in RnB. There's so much pressure to be gangsta and homophobic to gain street cred.
STEPH JONES: That's a problem in American culture and African American culture. There are a lot of insecure people, insecure straights, insecure gays. And to be honest, a lot of the insecure straight bullies ... they're probably fighting something on the inside. Ya feel me? But if you look at a lot of these singers and celebrities, they've been given a gift. So much power, such a platform and many waste it. That's why I want to reach out to everyone, all people, black, white, Latino, gay, straight ... people helping people.
R20: How did you start singing? You originally were modeling, right? The usual industry career path from that is acting ...
STEPH JONES: I've been trying to sing my whole life. My mom is a jazz dj to this day. But when I was growing up she was a big fan of "Shut Up" [LAUGHS]. So I had to sneak some songs in when I was in the shower or somewhere. Later in college I got into karaoke...I was a like a kid in a candy store. When I go into modeling, I thought I would do that for a minute and introduce people to my face subconsciously.
R20: So modeling was a strategy?
STEPH JONES: Not ... exactly. I was a manager at Bally's and, well, I was sleeping in my car. I didn't want my family back home to know. A few people suggested modeling, so I went to agency after agency. They all said no. Except for Wilhelmina. I saw guys there with better bodies and looked better than me, but I had personality. They sent me to three bookings in one day. Got 'em all. There was a point when you couldn't walk in a mall and not see\ [the ads]. I had three national commercials. Then I went to jail.
R20: In France, right?
STEPH JONES: Yes. Two years in a French prison, basically for not snitching. During that 25 months I was working on myself as a human being. Nothing like your freedom being taken away from you, man. While I was in there, I started writing raps, movies, songs, everything. Two days after I got out, I took my music to a DJ. I said, "If you like it play it. If you don’t, you don’t ever have to hear from me again." That was "Breathe It In." It took off from there.
After "Breathe", someone introduced me to MySpace. I was like, what is this? I just put up a few naked looking pictures (LAUGHS) but eventually used it as a platform. I made a few YouTube videos and started singing at comedy. That's how I met Ludacris.
R20: This is Rod 2.0 so I have to say it: The boys love you. You look incredible. And the voice. But you know this.
STEPH JONES: (LAUGHS) Thanks, thanks.
R20: How did you begin dealing with that? That probably was when you started modeling right? Were you ready for it?
STEPH JONES: I've never been asked that before in an interview. Okay. I wasn't ready for it at first. When I first arrived in LA, honestly, I didn’t know how to deal with it. There was one openly gay dude in our high school and sometimes people didn't treat him right. But when I got to LA, I saw quickly who runs the business. If you respect people, they respect you. I just started loving people for who they are. A lot of my friends, they are not as fortunate as I am. Their loss.
R20: And the response to your "No H8" ... ?
STEPH JONES: People are happy, there are always hitting me up on Twitter and saying "Thanks for looking out for us." I was happy 2 do it, I am a Christian, but I don’t just go by the book. I go by my heart. When I did "No H8, my heart was smiling.
R20: So you're working on a new mixtape?
STEPH JONES: The bulk of it will be a surprise but I'm remaking classics. Especially by The Beatles, like "Hey Jude" and "Please Please Me." Anyone who is a 'frand'—a friend or fan—knows those are my songs, I love the Beatles, Sinatra, all the classics. It's going to be different than "Gravity" or "Lifetape." I'm really excited about it. But I did add "La La Means Love" to "Gravity". So many people love the song.
R20: Last word?
STEPH JONES:Thanks and I love all my frands. Follow me on Twitter!
Steph Jones can be seen in the Shontelle's new music video for "Impossible". Steph is cast as the boyfriend "that loves her, but is far too focused on his own music career."