Joi is original in the midst of clones and after a career that spans over two decades you can see clear elements of her influence in artists like Janelle Monae. She is humble in her approach and direct in her delivery. Her spirit speaks through her performance and her music heals.
We caught up with Joi after an amazing performance at The City Winery in Chicago. We spoke about her influence, her intention when making music and her new projects.
How would you describe what you do?
My intention of what I do is to inspire and set people free through my own freedom that I have acquired by being authentic to myself, to my art and to my ability to touch people. As a result, it ends up being a healing process for those who partake of it including myself. That is what I do through sonic art and visual performance art.
You define yourself as “gutter funky yet refined.” Your vibe also has a strong spiritual sense. Is this deliberate?
I think that the spirit part comes from the authentic part. I feel when you are operating from an authentic place that it’s inevitable that the spirit will come through and work on your behalf and touch other spirits. It’s inevitable when you operate from a place of authenticity.
The word “authenticity” pops up a lot. When closing out your show, you mentioned the “copy cats.” Were you speaking of anyone specifically? Do you feel that there are artists imitating what you do?
When I was a younger woman, the idea of copy cats made me more angry. As a more mature woman, I’m able to see it more clearly for what it is. You don’t get to decide who you influence and to what degree. Some people will be influenced and inspired in large parts and others will be influenced in smaller parts. As artists we don’t really have a choice or a say on how you influence people. I recently have begun to say to some of my younger folk who are originators in whatever it is that they do that if you don’t want anybody copying you, stop being so f—ing dope.
Copying is going to happen. As a more mature artist, I’m able to see the love and the goodness in the influence. It’s as if you have given birth to people. It’s like watching your children grow up. I choose to look at it from that space as opposed to trying to do detective work and figure out who is biting or who is doing this or that. That’s a waste of time and a waste of energy. It’s much better to know that the influence is there and will continue to be there. It’s more important to be focused on yourself in dealing with your own art and own craft and let it continue to be evolutionary and retain the root of who you are are and that you are in a continual space of expansion. I believe I do that and continue to do that.
You were extremely prevalent in the Organized Noize documentary and it makes me refer back to the show when you called yourself a muse. How present were you during all of the recordings and sessions?
I was there for a lot of the process. I was around so much it would be impossible for me to say what I was there for. I think it would be fair to say that I was continually present. “Sunshine and the Rain” was out a few months before Southernplayalistic came out and the guys used to freestyle to “Sunshine and the Rain” instrumental in the Dungeon. This is before they knew me. Once I met them, they were like, “You are the Sunshine and the rain chick.”
I met Rico before I met anyone. He and I forged a great friendship initially then I met everyone else shortly after. That opened up the door to become friends and collaborate with everyone else. At the time I didn’t realize the type of influence that I would have on my peers and the influence they would have on me. The influence was interactive. I was listening to rock s–t, deep funk and soul s–t. I worked on some very futuristic stuff with Dallas Austin. I’m sure some of what I did rubbed off.
What artists get you excited now?
There are lots of young Jedis out there that are doing some exceptional things, visually performance wise and sonically. I shudder to attempt to name any because I would not want to leave any out or exalt one over the other. I love the progressive young artists who are sticking to their guns and creating from their space. I appreciate those who are navigating in this world that seems to reward those who are unoriginal. There are those who are out their fighting the fight to retain their integrity. You have your Janelle Monaes, Kendrick Lamars, FKA Twigs. … There are many out there who are fighting the good fight and who have managed to breakthrough that glass ceiling of being kept in that certain space. I recognize that that is exceptionally difficult in these times when many are being rewarded for mediocrity and unoriginality.
What words do you have for those who are following their passion and fighting to be who they really are?
Well, the walk of authenticity and integrity is not a walk for the faint of heart. There are few accolades that come with with it. Quite frankly, if you do what you do, you don’t do it for the accolades. You do it because it is what burns in your belly; it is your passion. You do it because you have to. You have been out here to do it. If you realize that, know that and stay focused on that, then it makes your journey clearer. It doesn’t make it easier, but it makes it clearer and it makes your ability to exist in your intention that much more powerful. I say to them to continue to fight the good fight. People need you and you need to keep doing what you are doing for your sanity and for your own greatness in the sight of the creator.
Wow, you are really dope. I’m not even talking about the music. I’m talking about your whole spirit and energy. Are you working on anything right now?
I teach vocal performance, personalization and stage performance mastery through a curriculum that I developed called Artisan Polishing. I continue to do this with up-and-coming and established artists. I’m also working on a new project called Rebecca Holy Love Salvation Symphony. I’ve been working on it for a while. I’m featured on about three songs on The Art of Organized Noize project. Zo! from the Foreign Exchange has a new project called Skybreak and I’m on a song called “Just Watcha Like.” Zo!, Phonte and I co-wrote that song. It’s everything you like about ’80s R&B. I have a few projects on the horizon and I’m looking forward to continuing these live performances, the 20 years of Joi and counting shows, as sonic history lessons, recapping my catalog and my influence on modern music.