Syleena Johnson is beyond talented. In fact, there’s not just one word that can describe how remarkable the singer and reality television star truly is. Music has been a lifelong passion for the Chicago native and with her father having had a successful career in the music business, the genes were innate. In fact, her first official studio release was a collaborative album with her father, Syl Johnson in ’95. She followed that up with her debut album, Love Hangover in ’99. Still, it wasn’t until her Jive Records debut in 2001, titled, Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness, that listeners truly began to value Syleena. The Chapters have proven to be a musical diary unlike any other, and now with latest release, Chapter 6: Couple’s Therapy, Syleena takes fans even deeper into her life and love, musically and beyond.
It was our pleasure to catch up with Syleena Johnson in an exclusive interview where she talked music, reality television, multiple entrepreneurial endeavors and of course Chapter 6. Ms. Johnson reminds us that she is a living testament that true R&B music and genuine talent will survive the test of time. Check our out complete interview with the R&B Diva here…
Parlé Magazine: You have a lot going on so there is a lot to cover, but let’s start with the new album, Chapter 6: Couple’s Therapy. Tell me, why Couple’s Therapy for the title?
Syleena Johnson: Well I always write about where I am in my life and I base the titles on where I am. This album, my husband and I are going through therapy and that’s just the stage for where I’m at. Plus, I just feel like we lack a lot of love music right now, we lack a lot of love, so I wanted to bring some love back to the music game.
Parlé: Syleena has been in the game for a long time now, and you’ve been through 6 chapters with us. But for people who have been following you, what do you want them to know about where you are in life and in music right now?
Syleena: Just basically that I’ve never given up on my goals and dreams in the industry and I keep fighting, and I intend to fight until I decide that it will be the end. And just that I love music, I love what I do and that’s the thing that keeps me here. Shout out to all artists in the game that are coming up, basically you have to have goals and dreams and you have to stick to them. There’s really no time limit on them for when they are to manifest.
Parlé: Obviously people can see you on TV now with R&B Divas so they have a better insight into your life, but what do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about you?
Syleena: That I was discovered by R. Kelly, that I’m an R. Kelly protege, or an R. Kelly artist. I did study under him, like I watched him and studied him because I truly believe that he is the king of R&B and one of the greatest of our time, but he did not discover me. Wayne Williams discovered me. We were on the same label, so that’s kind of a misconception that I’ve heard, but not too many other ones…
Oh, I know one… that I’m bananas and all over the place because of my character on R&B Divas, because I have to turn up sometimes. I’m not really a turn up queen, only if I’m provoked to that, if it causes for that, for me to turn up on you, but that’s not my main personality.
Parlé: When people pick up this new album, Couple’s Therapy, what do you want them to ultimately get from it?
Syleena: When people pick up this album I want them to get healing, I want them to get reassurance that it’s so hard to be in relationships, it really is. Being in a marriage, being in any kind of relationship with anyone, you know, it’s tough. It’s going to take strength and time to get through a lot of things. My favorite bible verse is Galations 6:9, that basically says that weaping only endures for a short time and basically what it says is that you have to endure because it’s going to be okay. Basically what Chapter 6 is saying is that you’re going to go through all these different things in your relationships but if you hang in there you’ll prevail and work it out. We always run to divorce, we run through a way to get out and I just want people to know, this from my point view, my relationship but it can be for any relationship, it could be my relationship with my mom. You just hang in there, you have to fight for what you love and believe in in this world. Chapter 6 is hey, go to therapy, nothing wrong with going to therapy. You have to find solutions to keep what you have instead of trying to get away from it immediately without any sacrifice.
Parlé: R&B Divas, you’re three seasons in now, but were there ever any doubts for you going into it?
Syleena: Some people had doubts but not the original cast, because we were the original cast and we thought this was the greatest idea ever. And we thought that we were going to be able to dictate the tone. We were right to an extent. We really knew that this was going to be awesome for our brand to expand it, so we weren’t even thinking about the negative effects, which was losing friendships. If there’s one thing I could wish to get back it would be to keep our friendships intact. A lot of friendships have been ruined because of this show and its not the show’s fault it’s the people in the show that allow the things around the show to sever what I thought were important relationships. But you know people say all the time, if they’re not your friend now, they weren’t your friend then. If it could break so easily than it was never fixed. So, I just feel like that’s the most negative thing. I definitely wanted to do it and still like to do it because I think it is a great platform for R&B artists, a great platform for all artists really, because our fans, the one thing that they miss is that personal interaction with us and seeing how it is we come about creating what we do. And how we feel about writing the songs and how we feel about being artists, and if we’re tired… they want to see all that, not just arguing and carrying on, they want to see what their favorite people go through. It’s a great platform.
Parlé: All that said, what do you hope people gain from watching you on the show?
Syleena: I just want my fans to see me match my music, because I pour myself into my music. If I was somebody watching me, or let’s say I was watching Mary J. Bilge, watching her on a reality show, I would want to see her match her music. Match her lyrics, match her message, that would make me very happy and that would make me like her more. And see her weaknesses and vulnerabilities and be able to relate to them, because at the end of the day, I’m just a woman out here doing the same thing as every other woman, get to the next level in whatever it is rhat we do. We’re still women, I hate to be graphic, but we still bleeding every month, we still pissing and shitting, and breaking up and having babies. We’re still doing all that stuff. Me being a recording artist doesn’t make me better than them, it actually makes me relative to them. The misconception is since I’m an entertainer, I come from a different place, but no. If we all sat in a room, though we come from all walks of life we would still share the same stories. That’s why I think reality tv is important for an artist, because it allows our fans in to that intimate place where our music comes from.
Parlé: Speaking of that connection, your book project The Weight is Over, when does that come out?
Syleena: It comes out the end of this month. It’s not about the fat, like ‘I lost weight,’ its not about that. The Weight is Over is the weight, the pressure of life, the industry, being a woman, all of the weight that’s on my shoulders to excel, to be perfect, but mainly the pressure of body image, not just physical body, but structural, face, everything. To be beautiful, to be perfect in this industry. Men can be a hot scalding mess and look a mess. But women can have a zillion records, sell a zillion records, we have to be perfect! One hair out of place and it’s, ‘oh, did you see her hair, she look a mess.’ So it’s so much pressure to be a female artist, especially a Black female artist in this industry. And the book just talks about my plight, my struggle with body image and where it originates, because subconsciously it originates in the home, but it intensifies with this industry. That’s what happened with me. It started in the home but it was intensified in the industry and brought out to the surface in the industry.
Parlé: You also have a workout DVD that you’ve been working on. Any updates on that end?
Syleena: The workout DVD is called Mommy’s Got Soul. It’s again for women that look like me, your mama, your sister, all the women in the world that done had children or are pregnant and they want to watch a workout DVD with women that look like them, but they’re working out. To me, that’s more inspiring.I got my motivation from a Biggest Loser DVD that I did. These people, they were on the show but they still weren’t like stick thing, some were still thick, but they were still working out. That was so inspiring to me. So I wanted to create a workout DVD for mothers because first of all, when you have a baby its possible and very likely that you’re dealing with post partem depression, you already don’t like what you see in the mirror, you’re already bogged down with the child and the schedule, you might be nursing and things of that nature so you’re not as eager to put in a workout video and workout hard. So this workout DVD is for moms. It has no weights or anything, you only use body weights or something they can do easily at their house. The reason why it’s taking me so long is because I’m perfecting it. Talking to moms, being a mom, the DVD was an hour or something like that, but you know moms ain’t gonna sit around for an hour to do a workout. Then it didn’t have the right music, it’s called Mommy’s Got Soul, so it needs to have good soul music. So I created a five song House EP, kind of like a dance EP but I’m singing soulful to it, so that the woman can be excited about working out. How many times have we gotten workout DVDs and the music be so dull, because they can’t really use big artists because it cost too much, they gotta get the clearance, all that? So they get some local producer and they pay him work for hire and he creates the music for the whole thing, two, three tracks. Well I’m going to create new music for my fans who are moms, so they can listen to it and workout to it. I’ma cut the video down to like 35 minutes, maybe 40 minutes if that, so they can get it in, quick, quick.
Parlé: When I first heard the album at your private listening session earlier this year you had music with R. Kelly on the project. On the final version of the album however, those songs didn’t make the cut. What happened?
Syleena: I had two R. Kelly records but unfortunately I wasn’t able to work with Robert like I wanted to because we just had different views on things. And I just really feel like he might have been too busy and I wasn’t a priority, and I just didn’t have time for that. And that might’ve been unfair but maybe not, I have to do me and focus on me and he has to focus on him. I went on about my business because I believe in me too. I worked with some amazing producers, he’s an amazing producer and we have an amazing connection, but he’s not the only producer that I have great connections with and kindred connections with. I have a great connection with Pierre “The Maven” Medor. I have a great connection with Chris “Cajun” Johnson. They are the only two producers on the record and they did an amazing job, even more amazing than I could have ever expected. I think this may be my best work yet. Me and Robert, we cool, it’s just that he had to do his own thing and I had to do mine. You come to that place in life. We don’t have any bad blood, I would never speak a bad word about him. I just had to do me, I can’t wait around for others to get it together.
Parlé: Kelz is just one Chicago artist you have a great connection with and one of many you’ve worked with. What is it about that Chicago connection? It seems different from that of any other city.
Syleena: We all share the same type of vibe so its a no brainer. Its real easy to be like, ‘I want you to get on this because this’ and they’re going to know what I’m talking about because we from the same neck of the woods. We all come from the same musical background, plus we’re friends and we’re close. In this industry it’s important to utilize your relationships in a good way, and work together. Working together is so important. I love to work with people from Chicago because they have the same hunger and drive that I do. Willie from Day 26, is not only completely and ridiculously talented, Dave Hollister I been trying to work with for years. And Leela (James) isn’t from Chicago but we’re great friends. I always tell her that I am fond of her gift and I just think she’s an amazing artist. I’m just blessed to have worked with all three of them. Actually I’m working with Shawnna right now on a new song of mine that is going to release overseas. So, I just like my Chicago artists, I just do.
Parlé: State of R&B, we talked a bit about it before, but musically I think we can agree that it’s in an interesting place. What are your thoughts?
Syleena: Its there, its just not in the forefront and it’s actually crossed over to Pop music, which is weird. Robin Thicke is R&B, Adele has R&B records on her albums. Its rhythm and blues, it’s in everything. It’s just not what people thought of as the classic R&B or the 90s R&B. Cause it was running things, it was Faith and Mary and Guy. You had the groups out, Blackstreet, our people, Jodeci, Johnny Gill, New Edition. In the 80’s it was more alternative, but Michael Jackson was R&B quiet as its kept, he just crossed over. R&B is always there, its always going to be there, its just that Hip-Hop has made such a rise that it appears and makes it seem as though R&B is gone. But we’re here, we been working, we been touring Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, R&B is still here, Ledisi, Marsha Ambrosius, Melanie Fiona, Elle Varner, so its here. Me, R&B Divas television show couldn’t have even survived if it wasn’t here. All the artists on R&B Divas that are still fighting and making music, so its still here its just not in the forefront, but its coming and its emerging Tank, TGT, Alicia (Keys) still sings R&B last I checked. Its here, but its going to make its way back around. Its like evolution, we evolve in this industry. Its like every genre has its season.
Parlé: Any final words you want to leave the readers with?
Syleena: Go to my webpage www.Syleenamusic.com for all things Syleena. My Twitter, Facebook, everything is on that page. And basically look out for all the lovely things we talked about in this interview. Plus we have a lot of amazing things in the works that we didn’t even talk about. There’s some cool things coming from me.