As the clock struck midnight on JoJo’s 28th birthday last month (Dec. 20), the singer gave her fans an unusual gift: new, completely re-recorded versions of her first two albums, 2004’s JoJo and 2006’s The High Road.
Though her highly publicized legal battle with her former label, Blackground Records, appeared to come to an end in 2014, when she announced a new deal with Atlantic, those two albums remained a link to a dark time in her life when she felt her career was held hostage. JoJo (born Joanna Levesque) didn’t own the master licensing to the original recordings, so Blackground controlled what happened with the songs and where they appeared. The albums were at one time available on streaming services, but the label — the same one responsible for the absence of Aaliyah’s complete catalog on streaming services — had long since removed them.
As JoJo moved on with her career — in 2016, she released Mad Love., her first studio album in a decade — fans continued to ask about JoJo and The High Road. So at the start of 2018, the now-28-year-old began searching seriously for a way to get those albums back. The original recordings, she determined, were out of her grasp. But JoJo learned that she was allowed to re-record them, so she got to work on remaking both records, along with old one-off singles “Demonstrate” and “Disaster.”
Below, in her own words, JoJo opens up about what it was like to revisit her first two albums, healing from the trauma of her legal battle and what’s next for her now that this chapter has closed.
It all started with a phone call to my lawyer.
I wanted to see if there was something that could be done to get these first two albums in the hands of my fans. I was like, “Should I file a petition to get these masters? Is it worth undertaking this and spending the money? Does anybody want this?”
If it weren’t for my fans being very vocal on social media, I would not have done this. I see people on my timeline like, “Why can’t I find your first two albums? Can you fix this?” and I wanted to stop seeing these comments! It makes me feel so out of control to not be able to come up with a solution. I wanted to give them what they were wanting. Something that bothered me was that I thought there was a misconception that these albums weren’t available because I was somehow embarrassed by them or didn’t want people to see them. But I sold millions of albums, and they were a huge foundation for me — I’m proud of them.
My lawyer said we’d reached the end of the statute of limitations on my re-record clause, so I was within my rights to “cover” my old songs. It seemed like I was going to have absolutely no chance of seeing eye-to-eye with my former label and getting to an agreement, so my only option was going to be to get into the studio. I had to recreate new masters of these songs. We had to completely re-do everything.
When I was on the road on the Leaks, Covers & Mixtapes Tour in 2018, my collaborators and I were getting these tracks, listening to them, and figuring out what we were going to do with them. There was a period of time, like 10 days in July, when I was going in every single day and recording two songs a day. To find the tracks, I just did what my fans have been doing: I went to YouTube. I did these re-recorded albums with Javad Day and Jordan XL, and I sent them and my musical director the links to the songs on YouTube. It was kind of crazy. I laughed about it, but I was also like, “This ain’t right!”
Listening back to both of those albums, it brought me joy, because I was so young and naive and had no experience in the industry — it was just about my love of singing and music. And it was nice to connect to that. My intention was to give the fans the nostalgia that they couldn’t get. It really wasn’t my intention to try to make these songs “cool,” or make them something that they’re not. Fifteen years ago I was 12, and I was singing about these grown-ass things that I knew nothing about. It was really interesting going back, because now I’m a woman who’s made tons of decisions, loved and lost and fucked up. I’ve lived, so to put that into these songs was really dope.
When I did “Keep On Keepin On” and thought about my 12-year-old self writing those lyrics, I cried. The idea of “Keep On Keepin On” is a message that I still need — and one that I don’t think I’m ever going to stop needing. It was almost like a little gift that my 12-year-old self gave to myself now. That message of “You gotta keep your head up high, and whatever you’re going through is going to be okay,” that was woke! I don’t know where that came from, but I was always a little weirdo.
It was the same with “The High Road.” I was like, “Did I manifest this happening? What the fuck?” It’s crazy to think about the content of that song. It’s about resilience — when people go low, you go high. I guess my 15-year-old self was having a premonition about the things that I would need for the next few years. I’m an only child, and I always wanted a big sister or somebody who could teach me things or tell me about how life was going to be. When I was re-doing these two albums, I was feeling very nurturing toward my younger self and having compassion for her, because I feel like a different person now. I felt like a big sister to myself.
There were definitely a lot of chills, a lot of tears. And I didn’t really have a lot of people around in the studio at all. I just wanted to be as in the moment and emo and sensitive as I could, because there are a lot of positive and negative feelings that went along with all those memories. Being tied up in the lawsuit and feeling like nothing in my career was in my control, I really lost my way. I lost the connection to my voice, literally and metaphorically. I lost agency over my own career and my history. Re-recording these songs reminded me of the path that I was on with my first album and that sassy, confident, young individual that I was.
I also had developed this fear of my own voice. Going back into the studio and going for these same notes that I hit before I’d even gone through puberty was very therapeutic. It unlocked something in me where I’m fearless now. I don’t have this weight of disappointment and sadness from all the things I’ve been through personally and professionally.
This is closing a chapter for me, and the reaction has been amazing. The support has really blew my mind. I’d really like to make my mixtape Agáp? available for streaming next. Since I made that after I got out of my deal with Blackground, I should be able to do that — I’ve just got to get approval from the people I made the music with.
Besides that, I really just want to focus on the future. Moving forward with my own label that I’ve started, Clover Music, which is a joint venture with Warner Bros. Records, I just want to feel powerful. I needed to make a boss move, and that’s really what that was about. I’m not in any rush on my next record, because my fans deserve the best — and so do I. I’ve already been writing so much, and we’re going to keep chipping away until I have an album where everything feels right. It’s really about newness in 2019.
This new season for me is about owning who I am, where I’ve been and where I’m going. I didn’t realize that re-recording my first two albums would be so important to my personal healing journey, but it has been. In connecting to the inner child, I was able to feel more like the woman that I’ve wanted to be for the past few years.