Born Joe Lewis Thomas, Jr. in 1972 in Georgia; son of Pentecostal ministers. Addresses: Record company--Jive Records, 11 West 19th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10011, website: http://www.jiverecords.com. Website--Joe Official Website: http://www.joescrib.com.
Helped by the major hit songs "I Wanna Know" and "Stutter," R&B vocalist Joe's third album, the 2000 release My Name Is Joe, fulfilled the promise that the artist had developed over several years in the music industry. From his early signing to a record deal right after high school to a personally disappointing first outing in the recording studio, Joe branched out into writing, producing, and offering background vocals for the work of other artists. Gradually building his public profile by contributing songs to several successful soundtracks, Joe's strategy finally paid off. Going double platinum within a year of its release, My Name Is Joe established the performer in the top league of R&B singers, writers, and producers, and earned him a reputation as one of the hardest-working artists in the music industry.
Joe Lewis Thomas, Jr. grew up surrounded by music. His parents were both ministers in the Pentecostal Church and made sure that their five children took an active role in church activities. During his childhood in Georgia and Opelika, Alabama, as Joe recalled in a 1997 Ebony interview, "[The church] was my whole life. I did nothing else. In high school and growing up, [my parents] weren't having it any other way. 'Forget about parties and hanging out. You're going to church.'" Fortunately, church-going gave Joe an opportunity to develop his musical talents, giving him an appreciation for Christian acts such as the Winans and Vanessa Bell Armstrong. From an early age, he played guitar and piano, and directed the gospel choir in his parents' church as well. By the time he was a teenager, Joe also found the time to perform with a band around Opelika, taking as his inspiration contemporary acts such as Bobby Brown, Babyface, and Keith Sweat in addition to classic Motown artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. After completing high school, Joe decided to forge ahead with a career in music.
Taking a job at a gospel music store in New Jersey and continuing his musical training with a Newark church, Joe enlisted the support of producer Vincent Herbert, who helped him compile a demo tape of three songs. With the tape in hand, Joe reached a publishing deal with Jive Records and a recording contract with Mercury/Polygram Records in 1992. Joe's first professional efforts from these deals came with his writing and producing credits for Toni Braxton and Hi-Five, but by 1993 he had also completed his first album, Everything, which was released by Mercury Records in August of that year. Despite his growing list of production and writing credits for other artists, Joe's debut was a disappointment. "I understand a lot of things that went wrong with the writing, production, and vocals on the album," he told Ebony in 1997, adding, "I've grown a lot just by listening to the things that I've done before."
Joe was also disappointed by Mercury's promotional efforts behind his first outing, which proved to be only a minor success despite airplay for the tracks "I'm in Love" and "All or Nothing." Deciding to put more effort into working for other artists, including SWV, Usher, and Tina Turner, Joe let his contract with Mercury expire without recording another full-length album. He closed out his contract, however, with a major hit contribution to the Don't Be a Menace to South Central soundtrack in 1996, "All the Things (Your Man Won't Do)," which reached number two on Billboard's R&B singles chart. Quickly signing to a recording contract with Jive Records, where he already had a publishing deal, Joe followed his first hit soundtrack song with another successful movie track, "Don't Wanna Be a Player," from 1997's Booty Call. A top 40 hit on Billboard's Hot 100, the song also drew critical praise in Billboard's review of its April 1997 release, proclaiming Joe "among the R&B community's most viable contenders for Luther Vandross's 'King of Soul' throne." The song also projected Joe's image as a romantic and sophisticated singer, in contrast to singers that relied on crude sexual come-ons in their lyrics.
Released in 1997, All That I Am concentrated on ballads that reinforced Joe's approach as a sensitive crooner. "I want to bring back the romance to R&B," the singer told Billboard in anticipation of the album's June 1997 release, "I talk about relationships from a female and male perspective--how they work, the good times and the bad times--I talk about it all." Discussing his music with Ebony later that year, he reflected, "I believe in respect. I look back and wouldn't want anybody to disrespect my mother or my sisters. I want them to be in the best relationship or be in the best situation possible." Helped by Joe's success with "Don't Wanna Be a Player," All That I Am eventually turned platinum, a great improvement over his debut effort. Joe also scored a success with his collaboration on Mariah Carey's "Thank God I Found You" remix, which further enhanced his reputation as a singer and raised expectations for his next album.
Looking forward to the release of his third full-length album, Joe was once again helped by the inclusion of his work on a movie soundtrack. "I Wanna Know," a romantic ballad included on the soundtrack for the 1999 film The Wood, hit the top five on Billboard's Hot 100 early in 2000.
While Joe continued to emphasize the romantic nature of his songs on My Name Is Joe, released on Jive Records in April of 2000, he commented on his website that "this album is a lot more sexual than anything I've done in the past," with franker expressions of sexual themes. As he related to Billboard, "I've had a lot of freedom to express how I feel about certain things, especially sexual content. With this album, I was really comfortable to say what I wanted to say and still have the same amount of respect for women." Indeed, the album was welcomed by a Times reviewer as "ideal seduction music," while the Los Angeles Times agreed that My Name Is Joe was "mood-enhancing background music." Other reviews were not as kind. Spence Abbot of the Wall of Sound website admitted that "Joe's slick, slow-dance-inducing, candles-in-the-dark mood music will be a perfect fit for your sensual activities," but nevertheless insisted that "his brand of soul lacks authenticity and sincerity, not to mention the grit of a Sam Cooke or a Marvin Gaye." An Entertainment Weekly review went even further, dismissing My Name Is Joe as "boilerplate pop-soul production" that veered into "cruel hostility toward women" on some of its tracks. However, critics agreed that "Stutter" was the collection's standout track; the public agreed, sending the song to the top of Billboard's Hot 100 early in 2001. The international success of "Stutter" also helped make inroads on sales charts outside of the United States.
Joe's mainstream success had taken advantage of Jive's ability to market its artists across a number of musical formats, as he performed with labelmates Britney Spears on her television special and collaborated with 'N Sync on the track "I Believe in You." Describing himself as an all-around entertainer, Joe commented on his website that "I guess you could say I'm sort of old-fashioned in my approach because trends can come and go and my goal is to write songs that last. Good songs don't age, and my objective each time out is to write and sing good songs." Although he built his reputation on romantic ballads with his first three releases, the singer looked forward to exploring social issues in his future songwriting. In addition, Joe planned to continue his work as a producer and songwriter for other artists, including projects with the Temptations, Babyface, Usher, and BeBe Winans.
by Timothy Borden
Joined bands while in high school and moved to New Jersey after completing high school; completed record demo and secured publishing deal, 1991; Everything released on Mercury Records, 1993; signed by Jive Records; contributed "All the Things (Your Man Won't Do)" to the Don't Be a Menace to South Central film soundtrack; released All That I Am, 1997; released My Name Is Joe, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Everything , Mercury, 1993.
- (Contributor) Don't Be a Menace to South Central (soundtrack), Island, 1996.
- All That I Am , Jive, 1997.
- (Contributor)Booty Call (soundtrack), Jive, 1997.
- (Contributor) Rush Hour (soundtrack), Def Jam, 1998.
- (Contributor) The Wood (soundtrack), Jive, 1999.
- My Name Is Joe , Jive, 2000.
- Billboard, April 5, 1997; April 26, 1997; August 16, 1997; May 20, 2000; December 23, 2000.
- Ebony, August 1997; October 2000.
- Entertainment Weekly, April 21, 2000.
- Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2000.
- Q, August 2000.
- Times(London), February 23, 2001.
- All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 19, 2001).
- Hollywood Stock Exchange, http://www.music.hsx.com (April 19, 2001).
- Jive Records, http://www.getmusic.com/artists/001/joe (April 18, 2001).
- Joe Official Website, http://www.joescrib.com (April 18, 2001).
- Rnation, http://www.rnation.com (April 19, 2001).
- Wall of Sound, http://www.wallofsound.comartists/joe/home.html (April 19, 2001).