by Carissa Dunlap
After ten years trapped in a recording contract and unable to officially release music, singer and actress JoJo (Joanna Levesque) is making her comeback with her third studio album, Mad Love.
At the age of twelve, JoJo was signed to Blackground Records and Da Family Entertainment for a seven-album deal. Her first single, “Leave, Get Out,” ushered in one of the most promising young voices in the music industry, and made her the youngest solo artist to have a number one single on the Billboard charts. With her debut album quickly reaching platinum status and her sophomore album, The High Road, producing another platinum hit, “Too Little, Too Late,” JoJo became a fixture in the pop and R&B scenes, with a clear trajectory to a career as successful as a young Mariah, Whitney, or Aretha.
Throughout 2006, Blackground Records halted label-wide distribution as a result of losing a deal with Interscope Records. With the success of her sophomore album, JoJo spent two years writing and recording her third studio album, only for it to never reach completion. Blackground rejected the release of JoJo’s album for reasons unknown. Despite requesting to amicably part with the company, Blackground would not release JoJo, leaving her locked into a contract and bound to a deal with no guarantee of an album release. Thus began the years of prolonged legal battles and lawsuits with her label.
During her years stuck in limbo, the singer struggled to release a follow-up album. She submitted multiple albums worth of material, but was met with silence. The company was repeatedly constituting changes in ownership and distribution deals, making it difficult for the artist to produce new music. However, label issues did not stifle JoJo’s desire to create and express. In 2010, the then twenty-year-old self-released a free mixtape exclusively to Rap-Up.com. The mixtape, entitled Can’t Take That Away From Me, was produced by Clinton Spark and Chester French. They worked with JoJo to create a more experimental body of work, incorporating live instruments, sampling different sounds, and generating heavier soul influences. Following the release of the mixtape, JoJo produced a remix of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” from the perspective of a female and retitled it “Marvin’s Room (Can’t Do Better).” It became an instant viral success with over forty million views on YouTube.
In 2012, JoJo released the critically acclaimed mixtape Agápē. It featured more mature content, lyrically referencing her struggles with alcohol, drugs, abuse, sex, and the conflict with her label. JoJo defines this as her purge album, discussing the gritty details of the darkest parts of her life while also celebrating her roots as a soul singer and a lover of life. She also describes it as a “labor of love from the heart without limits or boundaries.” Critics praise JoJo for her ability to create an almost genre-less album, yet still have it be a cohesive body of work. The mixtape’s first single, “Andre,” was influenced by the confidence and personal style of Outkast’s Andre 3000.
Between releasing her independent mixtapes, JoJo was in talks with her label about re-recording the entire third album for the third time, with the tentative title Jumping Trains. She released her first official single, “Disaster,” in 2012, and it debuted and peaked at number 87 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles. Critics were not as impressed with the single as much as her independent releases, stating how the single showed little contextual growth from “Too Little, Too Late” to now. She released two more singles, catchy pop song “Sexy to Me” and soulful vibe “Demonstrate,” produced by Drake collaborator Noah “40” Shebib. Despite the numerous releases, Jumping Trains never came to fruition.
Relief did not come until 2013, when a loophole saved her from a lifetime stranded in the confines of an unorthodox contract. According to New York state law, if you are a minor at the time of signing a contract, that agreement can be effective for only seven years. By 2013, JoJo was on her ninth year. Blackground Records settled the suit outside of court, and by January of the following year, JoJo announced she was finally free and had signed with Atlantic Records.
In celebration of her emancipation, JoJo released an extended play mixtape, #LoveJoJo, featuring an “Intro” written by poet Aeni and covers of three classic songs– “Caught Up in a Rapture,” “Take Me Home,” and “Glory.” Nearly a decade after her last album, as a thank you to her devoted fans, JoJo released three singles– “Save My Soul,” “When Love Hurts,” and “Say Love.” With a mixture of pop and soulful sounds, the “tringle” (three singles) proved to be an intentional pivot as to what is to come next for JoJo.
During the summer of 2016, JoJo went on tour with girl group sensation Fifth Harmony to promote new music off her upcoming album Mad Love. “I am going into Mad Love with a new perspective and a new intention,” says JoJo in an interview with Idolator.com. JoJo offers a new mindset and a mature sound, specifically in her lead single off the album, “Fuck Apologies,” featuring Wiz Khalifa. It is equal parts engaging and empowering, preaching to not make excuses for how you feel because only you can understand your truth. Mad Love came out on October 14th, debuting at number one on iTunes. With eleven songs on the album plus four bonus tracks, JoJo opens up even more about the severity of her depression, her struggles with the recent death of her father, and the hardships of love. Mad Love represents empowerment, love, imperfections in every aspect of life, and finding oneself. Notable features on the album include rising star Alessia Cara and returning artist Remy Ma. Up next for JoJo is a sixty date Mad Love tour beginning early January 2017.