Johnny Gill Recalls How His Mom Predicted Latest Hit 'Soul of a Woman': 'Momma Knew'

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET
Johnny Gill poses for a portrait during the BET Awards 2019 at Microsoft Theater on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles. 

The song is featured on new album "Game Changer II," out now

Mom knows best. That’s what Johnny Gill learned by way of his No. 1 Adult R&B Songs hit “Soul of a Woman.”

“Soul …” was originally submitted with several other songs when Gill was recording his 2014 album Game Changer. Though he’d always loved the song, inspired by his mother Annie Mae, he decided to hold onto it. Five years later, it became the first selection he recorded for Game Changer II, released Friday (Sept. 6) -- and a song his mother predicted would be “big.”

“My mom rarely talks much about my work,” says Gill. “But in this particular case, she kept saying, ‘Play that song for me again. That’s going to be big.’ Well, momma knew; it went straight to the top.”

Beyond “Soul of a Woman” (whose video co-stars Emmy-winning actress Tiffany Haddish), Game Changer II boasts 10 more tracks, including Gill’s second single “Perfect.” The sultry ballad features his New Edition mate Ralph Tresvant. Also enlisted for cameo roles were icons Carlos Santana and Sheila E. on the Latin charmer “Fiesta” and After 7’s Kevon Edmonds on another potential single, “Home.” Among the songwriters and producers Gill tapped as collaborators are Elvis “Black Elvis” Williams, Gregg Pagani, Carlos Battey, Claude Kelly & Chuck Harmony and his “Rub You the Right Way” hitmakers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Rounding out the new album are three bonus tracks.

Available now through Spotify, iTunes and Apple Music, Game Changer II marks Gill’s eighth solo studio album and continues the career renaissance ushered in by its predecessor Game Changer. Peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart, the set -- the first under Gill’s J Skillz label -- also spun off another R&B chart-topper with “This One’s for Me and You.”

Now performing various dates around the country, Gill is producing Tresvant’s upcoming solo album. Gill also recently filmed his role as the Five Stairsteps’ lead singer Clarence Burke Jr. (top 40 hit “O-o-h Child”) for the music biopic Spinning Gold about Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart. “My good friend Samuel L. Jackson talked me into doing the role, but he didn’t have to do much talking,” Gill says with a laugh.

Gill talks more about his teaming again with Tresvant below as well as the secret behind his career renaissance.

The inspirational message behind “Perfect.”

When I first heard the track, its lyrics and message were so powerful. I began thinking about how many women feel so under pressure to look perfect since Instagram and other social media have taken over the world. “Perfect” sends a strong message, reminding women to embrace their imperfections and recognize that this is how God made them. Nails, curves, hair… that’s not what ultimately defines you. Embracing those imperfections allows you to be who you are and understand your value.

Helming Tresvant’s solo return:

Ralph’s project will be released through my J Skillz/Kalvary Records label; he’s the first artist I’ve signed. Ralph never really took the time to nurture his solo career the way the rest of us did. However, this isn’t about trying to chase or capture what you didn’t do or missed out on. It’s about owning who you are now and building from there, taking advantage of the opportunity to express yourself artistically. It’s a blessing and honor to be able to do this for him. We’ve got some great stuff so far. We’re looking at releasing the album next year.

Revving up the tempo on Game Changer II:

I wanted to focus on including more tempo because I haven’t recorded those kinds of songs in a while. I wanted to strike the same kind of balance that I have in my concerts because I like to party as well. So I worked with producers such as Gregg Pagani and Black Elvis, among others, and also reconnected with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. They came up with nice tempo records that allowed me to be Johnny without compromising who I am.

Saluting musical hero Luther Vandross on the GC II song “That’s My Baby”:

I hate most that we didn’t get the chance to work together. But every time Luther released a single, he’d call me, play it and say, “What do you think?” He was just an incredible storyteller on top of having one of the greatest voices, second to none. He was a dear friend and I miss him so much.

Secret behind his longevity and renewed career boost:

If I knew what the secret was, I’d bottle it up and sell it [laughs]. All I can say is I still have a passion for music. And there’s still a platform out here for me to express myself and inspire people in a world that still needs a lot of work. 

THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.