Frankie J Gains Momentum with Hip Hop collaborations
4/8/05 - LatinRapper.com news / Fuerte Group release
Many singers claim Michael Jackson as an inspiration, and
have their kid-size sparkly gloves in frames to prove it.
Frankie J may be one of those artists who started his
performing career in his parent's living room singing
along to Thriller, but, even then, Frankie put his own
spin on the proceedings. When Frankie's family got
together for the holidays, they would clear the furniture
out of the room so that he could get down unhampered. "I
did 'Billie Jean.'
That was the song that Michael Jackson used to introduce the
moonwalk to the world," says Frankie J. "My family would
always give me a sombrero because, on television, Michael
flings a hat into the crowd, and then he starts to moonwalk.
I did the same thing he did, I threw the sombrero in the air,
and then I would moonwalk. I was six years old." The odd
combination of a sombrero and Michael Jackson moves was an
appropriate prelude to Frankie's performing career. Years
after his pre-teen living room MJ impersonations, Frankie J
returned to his R&B roots--after a four year stint with the
multi-platinum Mexican-American group, Kumbia Kings--with his
2003 debut solo album, What's a Man to Do?, which spawned the
bittersweet chart-topper "Don't Wanna Try," whose video was in
heavy rotation on MTV's TRL.
Now, two years later his solo debut and fresh off his hit
collaboration with rapper Baby Bash, "Suga Suga," J builds on
that momentum on The One, his eagerly-awaited second solo
album, which more than delivers on the promise of What's A Man
To Do? Frankie's new album is pure unadulterated R&B,
perfectly patterned for slow dancing with a special someone,
immaculately tailored for the dance-floors of clubland, and
dreamily suited for long, late, and lonely nights. Despite the
man's Latino heart-throb pedigree, do not file The One under
"Latin Pop." With The One, Frankie J emerges as a serious
neo-soul/pop contender, his sensuous falsetto putting him in
the same general categories as Usher and Justin Timberlake.
And, though, Frankie J's not wearing a sombrero these days, he
still adds seamless Spanglish flourishes to his music.
The album's first single, "Obsession (No Es Amor)," produced
by Happy Perez, is a case in point: its serpentine
guitar-laced rhythm and sensual bass line, combined with J's
soaring vocals, communicate the mixed emotions associated with
a romance that's crossing the line into dangerous territory.
The song is a deft remake of a hit by the bachata group
Aventura, which while packing all the wallop of the original,
translates its spirit for an English-speaking audience. Born
Francisco Javier Bautista in Tijuana, Mexico, Frankie J has
spent his life moving between his Latin roots and his American
surroundings. When Frankie was 2 years old, his uncle took the
lad and his siblings north across the border dressed up to
trick or treat. The family never returned to Tijuana, and
Frankie grew up in San Diego listening to the ballads and
boleros that his traditional Mexican family loved and the soul
music he was drawn to. There was music running through
Frankie's family, his father was the lead singer of a band,
and his grandfather played violin for the local church. When
Frankie got a little older, he began listening to freestyle,
including acts like Lisa Lisa and Brenda K. Starr, but
especially dance-pop freestyle singer George Lamond, whose
airborne vocal style inspired Frankie to develop his own voice
and unique sound.
"Usually guys don't have high falsettos, and I admired George
Lamond because I wanted to sing that way," Frankie says. "I
would always practice to his songs, and my pitch would always
reach up to his level or even higher." Frankie began writing
songs in high school, and when he was just 15, was introduced
by a friend to the CEO of an independent Canadian record label
that specialized in freestyle. The CEO heard his music and
offered him a deal. "I was like a little kid with candy," says
Frankie. "I was thrilled that this guy had heard my song." He
recorded a few songs under the moniker Frankie Boy, and though
that early deal didn't lead to fame and fortune, it did teach
Frankie J a few things. "The biggest thing I learned," he says
today, "was, 'Always read the contract before you sign it.'"
After he finished high school, Frankie heard about an
opportunity to join the Kumbia Kings, and went to Texas to
audition. He was selected for the group, and spent the next
four years with the massively successful Kings, led by A.B.
Quintanilla, the brother of legendary singer Selena. "Once we
played a show in Monterrey, Mexico, for 100,000 people,"
Frankie remembers. "It was incredible."
But while Frankie enjoyed sharing in the success of the Kumbia
Kings, he was always working towards a solo career, inspired
by artists like Brian McKnight, K-Ci and Jo Jo, Stevie Wonder
and Prince. "I got involved in the group to learn about the
business, to learn about being on the road, and then to branch
off with that information," he says. Though leaving the Kumbia
Kings was a risky move for Frankie J, the gamble paid off with
What's A Man To Do? and is compounding maximum interest on The
One. Frankie J is particularly excited about The One's title
track--produced by Hollis hitmaker Irv Gotti (Ja Rule,
Ashanti, DMX, Murder Inc.)--with its intoxicating melody and
subtle touches of percussion. "The minute I heard it I knew,"
Frankie confesses. "It's something magical." The One showcases
Frankie as a maturing songwriter while its production
highlights increasingly nuanced arrangements. "The Story of My
Life," for example, is a subtle ballad, spun from a delicate
guitar melody and subtle finger-snapping, with Frankie J.
lamenting the inevitability, and universality, of hard times.
"Most of the time," says Frankie, "I write from personal
experience. When I don't, it's like acting, taking on a role
in a movie." Another of his favorite tracks on the album is
the sweetly seductive "Number One Fan," which was inspired by
a special someone in Frankie's life. "It talks about being in
love with a girl and treating her as a star, and you're the
groupie that's with the girl. Telling her that you want to get
her autograph." Having spent years in the limelight, Frankie J
turns the tables with "Number One Fan." On The One, Frankie J
collaborates with a variety of heavy hitters including the
legendary Mario Winans--who's crafted hits for Whitney
Houston, Mary J. Blige and Brian McKnight, among others--on
the striking "Just Can't Say It's Love." Hot producer Brian
Michael Cox--who's worked with Usher, Jagged Edge, and Nivea,
to name a few--worked with Frankie on three dazzling tracks on
the album, including the tantalizing club jam, "On The Floor."
Frankie J is feeling confident about The One and his
collaborations with heavy hitters like Irv Gotti, Happy Perez,
and Brian Michael Cox. "R&B music has always been in my
heart," Frankie says, straight from the heart. "People would
always doubt me and say, 'You're Mexican, you don't have the
soul to make it.' But soul is just soul, whatever the ethnic
background. I think the music speaks for itself."
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