Fifty years after signing with Motown, The Jacksons are celebrating their anniversary with tours in 2018 and 2019, but eldest brother Jackie Jackson is also doing his own thing with his new record label, Critically Amused.
Billboard met up with Jackson at a hotel in Brentwood, California, to talk about his new venture and his first two artists, Gold Lemonade and D.B.L.
What inspired you to start a record label?
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve had a recording studio in my home for six years. You can make real records from my home studio and I found two acts, Gold Lemonade and D.B.L. I thought they both deserved to be signed to a label.
Where did the label name come from?
My wife Emily came up with the name Critically Amused and I thought it was a great name, because I was amused by these artists. I’m amused by their talent.
How did you meet the first two acts you signed?
Lya Lewis was taking a class right near a Panera Bread in Las Vegas. She and her friend decided to take a smoke break in their courtyard and I happened to be there with my wife. I thought Lya was beautiful and I wondered if she was in the business. I asked her and she said she was a DJ from France. I told her my friend John McClain had a studio and that artists like Drake and Usher recorded there. I offered to get her some studio time to record. I went online and heard some of her music and told my wife this was something I could market, because there weren’t a lot of female DJs at that time. She went back to Paris and we stayed in touch and we wrote songs — I would send a track to her and she would send tracks to me. I would write lyrics and she would come up with music and we started working together. She sent me some music with vocals by a guy named Jvgg Spvrrow. He’s from St. Martin and he’s incredible. They’re a winning combination.
D.B.L. is someone my whole family has known for years, since he was a kid. He’s from St. Lucia. He’s a hardworking artist who learned the business through me. He’s a great dancer and an incredible entertainer. I think the world is going to love him.
You spent a few years on one of the most successful labels in the history of the business, Motown. What did you learn there that you can apply to running Critically Amused?
I learned so much from Motown. It was like going to college. We were like a family, the whole Motown label. Berry Gordy and all of his artists, from Smokey Robinson to Diana Ross, and the Four Tops, the Supremes and the Temptations, and all of his songwriters, everyone was willing to help us. We learned so much about lyrical content and how to write, produce and mix songs. And we learned about the running of a label, all the administrative work.
Are you actively looking to sign other artists?
Yes, but right now I’m going to concentrate on these two. I’m looking for both of them to pop, to be successful. It’s like when Lil Wayne signed Drake and he had Nicki Minaj. Both of them superstars. They’re huge, and hopefully we can get like that.
You recorded solo albums for Motown and Polydor. Would you ever consider being a solo artist again, this time on your own label?
Maybe I will put some singles out and see what happens. If something sticks on the wall, I would keep going.
Is Critically Amused going to release albums as well as singles?
You have to think singles because that’s what’s happening. If you throw an album out there, no one knows who it is. You put out singles, that’s what people are doing right now. Same with The Weeknd, he put out singles and then people were waiting on the album after he became a big success, and that’s what I plan on doing.
You’ve signed a distribution deal with Kobalt. How did that come about?
My attorney, Lee Phillips, made a call to them and said Jackie Jackson has some music to play and he set the meeting. The Kobalt folks were waiting for me in a conference room. We played the music and they just went crazy over every song. They had a lot of ideas and I thought, “Wow, this is really going to happen.” I was very excited, because they loved the music and that’s the most important part. Everything starts with the music, because if the music doesn’t happen, it doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to have the product, and I was really concentrating on having the product. I understand that, because I’ve been in this business for many years. All I try to make is good music with good melodies that everyone can sing and dance to. You need that hook.
Is this the most excited you’ve been about a project in a long time?
Yes it is, although I’m still touring with my brothers and we’ve got some big plans coming up in 2018 and 2019 but this is me by myself. This is my own doing, and I’m very, very excited about doing this and I’m doing it at a time when we’re not on tour right now. So that’s why I’m rushing and trying to get everything on track so I can just roll down the train track. At this moment, everything’s looking good.
The first Gold Lemonade single, “Cake Up,” will be released Friday. Billboard has the exclusive premiere of the NSFW video. D.B.L.’s initial single, “Another Round,” will be released on May 25.