"I won't rest until it's something that I feel great about," says the singer of her long-delayed third album.
Nine years ago, Joanna "JoJo" Levesque was a teen pop star scoring radio play with G-rated breakup anthems like "Leave (Get Out)" and "Too Little, Too Late." With her recently released "Agápē" mixtape, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter enters unfamiliar lyrical territory: over sultry R&B production, JoJo is unafraid to user he maturing vocals to talk about drinking, sex and complex relationship issues. "Everything is better with a blunt in your mouth," she explains in a seductive rasp on the aching "Take the Canyon."
"My mom is probably the one that's the most freaked out. She sent an e-mail to my young cousins and told them not to listen to it because it's inappropriate," JoJo tells Billboard about the eyebrow-raising content on "Agápē," which was released in December. "I can understand why some people might be taken aback or say 'Oh gosh, what happened to sweet little JoJo?' She's still there, but she's 22 and she has her moments, dammit!"
The release of "Agápē" was certainly a moment for the former teen star, who has spent well over a half-decade trying to release the follow-up to her 2006 sophomore album, "The High Road." After originally being announced in 2007, JoJo's third LP has changed titles, been the subject of dozens of leaked songs, and then been summarily scrapped. The singer says that she has "hundreds of songs" ready to go for a new album, but there is no release date on the horizon.
JoJo has blasted her longtime label, Blackground Records, on Twitter when her frustrations about the lack of attention have boiled over into the public sphere. Now, the 22-year-old is completely estranged from her own imprint. "I don't have a relationship with them," she says of her label. "I would just prefer to have a platform to release my music and support. I desire to have a relationship with a label, I desire to work hard and I desire to be a part of a team and be a team player. I desire support, that's all."
Because she hasn't had an official platform to release her new music, JoJo has forged her own manifesto on the Web. In 2011, JoJo posted a remix of Drake's "Marvin's Room" online, with the singer turning Drizzy's explicit kiss-off with a profane piece of stifling R&B. "Marvin's Room (Can't Do Better)" took off, garnering 33 million YouTube views and attracting the attention of the original song's producer, Noah "40" Shebib.
Months later, JoJo headed to Toronto to record with 40, and the result was "Demonstrate," a mid-tempo ode to sexuality. "Baby, there's a lot of freaky shit running in my mind/That I can't say/But I know I can demonstrate," JoJo sings on the track, which was never released commercially but received raves from online outlets like Idolator and Popdust.
"Demonstrate" was originally pegged as the lead single to JoJo's endlessly delayed new album, but even if its release is deemed too far removed from the album finally hitting stores, the song showcased a more adult aura that's miles away from the heartbroken teen of "Leave (Get Out)." "I think I sound terrible [on my older songs] -- as a vocalist, I think it's horrifying," JoJo says with a laugh. "I love to perform those records live, because I have a different perspective on those records now. At 13, I didn't even have my first kiss yet. What the fuck was I talking about? 'Get out'? Get out of where -- my playground?"
The 13-track "Agápē" mixtape was recorded over a few weeks at the house of JoJo's friend, 27-year-old singer-songwriter Austin Brown, who scored production and co-writing credits on the release. Inspired by JoJo's native Boston as well as her current city, Los Angeles, "Agápē" blends contemporary jazz and R&B influences together while trying not to take itself too seriously -- in short, it's a reminder that JoJo is still making interesting music.
"I didn't have a grand scheme or rollout plan with it. I just wanted to release music," she says. "For my third album, it's been a really long time coming and I'm interested in doing something that's important -- that the masses love, that my fans are proud of, that I'm proud of. I won't rest until it's something that I feel great about. The mixtape is a little more experimental than what my intention is for the third album, because there are no rules for a mixtape."
JoJo says that she "definitely" wants to head back into the studio with 40 soon, and that she'll likely work with producers Da Internz (Big Sean, Nas) soon. In the meantime, the 22-year-old will hone her live show for the first proper tour of her career; she mentions that she's been simultaneously running on the treadmill and singing in order to boost her endurance. No live dates have been announced yet, but JoJo hopes that they're coming soon.
"I want to connect with people," says JoJo. "I want them to laugh, cry, get drunk and have a great time, and I want to do all those things with them. I want to have a relationship with my audience because that's all I desire. Being on stage is the biggest turn-on ever."