Johnny Gill Talks 'Game Changer' Success, Bobby Brown, Jamie Foxx & New Edition Biopic

Johnny Gill 2016
AJ Alexander Parhm

Johnny Gill performs at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi on July 2, 2014. 

Johnny Gill couldn’t have chosen a more prescient title for his latest album, Game Changer.  The set -- the first under his own label J Skillz Entertainment -- just spun off its third top 10 Adult R&B airplay single, “This One’s For Me and You,” featuring Gill’s brothers in song New Edition. Jumping 6-4 this week, the tracks follows predecessors “Behind Closed Doors” and the title track.

The multiple Grammy-nominated artist behind such solo, New Edition and LSG hits as “My My, My,” “Can You Stand the Rain” and “My Body” says adding label CEO to his skill set is “beyond challenging but fun on top of it all.”  Released in 2014, Game Changer owes its staying power to Gill’s still deliciously sensual vocals and a suite of strong songs delivered by such songwriters as Babyface, Chuck Harmony (Jazmine Sullivan), Gregg Pagani and Wirlie Morris (Charlie Wilson) and Claude Kelly (Tamar Braxton).

Come next month, Gill and New Edition will join Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, Wilson, Sullivan and more on Tom Joyner’s annual Fantastic Voyage cruise (April 23-May 1). Reportedly in rehab, Bobby Brown won’t be joining New Edition on the cruise. “It will be just the five of us,” says Gill. “I spoke to him about a week or so ago. In this business, you realize that getting your life together is more important than anything.”

New Edition Biopic, Minus Bobby Brown's Involvement, Coming to BET

You’ve been described as having a “Midas touch” when it comes to sensuous R&B. Do you agree?

It’s a great compliment. But I don’t know if I look at it like that. For me, it’s the Midas level of hard work, passion and belief that I put into this. It refuels me to know that after 32 years, I can still be in the game, in the mix and doing what I’ve enjoyed doing all of my life.

How did you derive your label’s name, J Skillz?

That’s me. Because I play a bunch of different instruments [including guitar, bass and drums], I’ve always been called Skillz. I thought, “Hey, it’s got a ring to it.” So that’s what I named my company.

What’s been your hardest-won lesson?

Learning how to not be dependent. I sat out for 15 years not recording because I was looking for a record deal. Then you start questioning your confidence. I woke up one day and decided why am I sitting here waiting for somebody to do something for me? My talent hasn’t eroded. Then [Notifi founder] Ira DeWitt said I needed to put out new music [starting with 2011’s Still Winning]. And Jamie Foxx told me there’s a void and you can fill it. “You’re the last dying breed of crooners,” he said. “My studio is open any time you want to come.” I’m like OK … maybe I was missed.

Jill Scott, Babyface, Tyrese & New Edition to Headline 2015 Holiday Jam 

Your indie success and that of Tyrese, Lalah Hathaway, Charlie Wilson and newcomers like KING and Kehlani? What impact is that having on the genre?

There’s a resurgence of great established and new R&B artists and songs happening. It’s just a matter of us coming together to keep pushing the boundaries; to be respected and get back to a place where people will listen and understand that R&B should not be at the bottom of the totem pole.

When can fans expect the New Edition biopic the group is co-producing for BET?

We were supposed to start shooting between February and March. But we still have more to do in refining the script, and we’re casting right now. Then we’re ready to load up, aiming to release it at the top of 2017.  It’s weird but so exciting. We’ve been trying to get this done for I can’t tell you how many years. And finally it’s here.