When did the music industry get so schizophrenic?
And whatever this is.
I miss the days when real R&B singers stuck to their lane but still got props from the hip hop world without gimmicks and shameless pandering.
If you think the first person to bridge the gap between rap and R&B was Drake, you probably just put in your order for your high school class ring. Those of us who are older and wiser know the true R&B trailblazer was Oran “Juice” Jones.
I’m sure you remember OJ Jones. If not, that’s what I’m here for.
The Houston native graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1981 and was the second African-American Brigade Commander in Naval Academy history. He served as a sniper officer in the United States Marine Corps until 1986, when the music industry came calling.
OJ was the first artist signed to OBR Records, a subsidiary of the renowned Def Jam label. This also made him the very first R&B artist on the hip-hop record label. While that doesn’t seem like a big deal today, back then, rap and R&B were two totally separate entities. In fact, it was practically an insult to associate a rap artist with anything remotely resembling R&B. The soothing sounds of R&B clashed with hip hop’s rebellious edge.
OJ Jones’ signing signaled a partnership between the genres that would last till this day.
Jones’ debut, Juice, dropped in 1986 and playa, look at that album cover. That’s the personification of big pimpin’. It didn’t even matter that he forgot to iron his slacks, OJ just invented swag.
“Curiosity” and “You Can’t Hide From Love” sort of floundered on the charts but “The Rain” made up for all of that. It was one of those rare anthems that the divas and the d-boys both could relate to. Plus, the video has the most ridiculous one liners I’ve ever heard:
“Close your mouth cuz you COLD BUSTED.”
“What were you tryin’ to prove, huh? You’s with the Juice!”
“My first impulse was to run up on you and do a Rambo, whip out the jammy and flat-blast both of you but I ain’t wanna mess up this thirty-seven hundred dollar lynx coat.”
That last line was enough to make Mr. Biggs turn in his playa’s card.
“The Rain” was a hit, rising to No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 9 on the pop boards. “The Rain” even scored a couple of Grammy nominations. OJ’s star was shining.
For a moment, anyway.
Jones followed up his solo debut with a GTO: Gangstas Takin Over in 1987. Still trying to make pimpin’ look easy he dropped “Cold Spendin’ My Money” as the lead single. It’s not a bad song (if you’re a 60-year-old man who stalks women at college step shows) but it lacked crossover appeal of “The Rain.” The album and single didn’t make much impact.
Juice tried his luck once again in 1989 with To Be Immortal. The only song I remember from the set is “Pipe Dreams,” which was an ambitious take on the evils of excess. Yeah, those songs are a dime a dozen these days but again, OJ showed he was ahead of his time. Neither that song nor the album made a blimp on the music scene’s radar. Juice wisely decided to bow out of the game to start a family and care for his ailing mother.
It would be almost a decade before we’d hear from OJ again – if you lived in the UK, that is. Player’s Call was released overseas and with songs like “Purse Comes First” and “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” you can tell he’s back to pimpin’. Album single “Poppin’ That Fly” actually wasn’t bad for a 1997-era track but our friends across the pond weren’t impressed. Player’s Call wasn’t released stateside for another 10 years.
OJ has since retired from the music game. These days, he’s helping his son Oran II and his daughter, Perri Jones, launch their music careers. He also blogs occasionally for sites like Global Grind, but I haven’t seen anything new from him recently.
Should He Come Back?: Nah. OJ had his run and he’s better off mentoring a new generation of artists than trying to squeeze more bucks out a 30-year-old single. OJ changed the game, he’s earned his retirement.