K.Joy: It’s Like This…

ABOUT A YEAR AGO, my excitable friend Kevin Starke of the vinyl emporium Kstarke Records told me that he’d recently run into K. Joy – “the singer on that track ‘Like This’ that Ron Hardy always used to play,” as he described her.

If there’s one thing you learn in the music business, it’s that the people who work behind the counter usually have a better idea of what’s going on than the rest of us. I made a mental note of it, and referred back when I heard a hot track on Cyberjamz Records – the label from the internet radio station of the same name. The artist was K. Joy. The title? “Like This” – the same track but updated with a sleek and modern Deep House sound (the Chip E.-produced original was also re-released). It was quickly followed by “Butterflyz” and then the latest, “Lover’s Dance”. And in the years that have passed since “Like This” tore up the dancefloor, K. Joy hasn’t lost a thing.

I talked to K. Joy in late June 2009, just ahead of her appearance at Kstarke’s July 4th Old School Party and the release of her unique charity remix project, “I Am Woman”, which features a star-studded array of vocalists from Dajae to Carolyn Harding, Martha Wash and K. Joy herself.

Take me back to your early days! Were you a fan of House Music before you recorded “Like This”?

Oh yeah! I would say my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I loved going to parties. These were mostly the Mendell parties, Kenwood, and of course the Music Box and the Warehouse. There were also little parties held almost in people’s basements. Anything that was going on during the weekends, I was at!

Did you know then that you wanted to be a vocalist?

I actually never thought about singing as a career. I come from a very strict household. My mother was a teacher, and in those years it was all about prepping for college, maintaining a 4.0 GPA and going to an Ivy League school. The singing that I did was mostly gospel and classical up until that point.

How it happened was that Chip E. and I had been friends since we were kids. Literally, kids! We must have been eight years old and I remember playing in my father’s office. I made up a song – you’re going to laugh, but it was about a goldfish! But I sang this song and we were making rubber cement balls and I think he must have remembered that all those years later.

I always loved singing though – I was in the choir at Kenwood. R. Kelly was also in the choir then. The music department was really, really serious there. There was a three to four hour talent show coordinated by Lena Mclin, almost like Britain’s Got Talent with actors, singers, dancers – you name it, all competing against each other. I tied for first place, and I remember R. Kelly was in second place.

Chip was either there or heard about it. He came over to my House that summer and told me he was producing House Music records. He asked if I would write and sing on one he was producing. The title was going to be “Like This” and he gave me the topic and I had to craft the whole song to fit that. I wasn’t used to writing that way but about ten minutes later I had the song written.

“Like This” charted very high in Billboard and was definitely a bona fide hit. I’m curious because now we hear complaints that labels don’t develop talent like they used to. Do you feel that you were properly developed as an artist by DJ International?

I would say no. It felt as if DJ International regarded Chip as the artist and me as “just” the vocalist. To them it was Chip’s song, and Chip just pulled me in. This has long been a problem for vocalists in the dance music industry, with so much attention focused on the DJs and producers, and vocalists almost treated as someone that the producer pulls in.

“Like This” charted to #15 on the Billboard chart. Part of it was my ignorance of the music business – I was just a kid and as a kid you never think you’ll have a hit song in Billboard, that you’ll hear yourself on the radio, that people will recognize you in the club. You do projects because they’re fun, or because someone asks you and you’re afraid to say no. I felt like I was lost in the shuffle.

I was looking through your discography and there wasn’t much in the dance music industry between “Like This” and your releases in the last couple of years. What made you walk away from the dance music industry?

What made me walk away was that I didn’t get paid. We were paid for touring, like when a special label show was put together, but that was it. I don’t know this for sure but someone told me that “Like This” sold well over 100,000 copies, and I never saw a royalty check. I was told that it was “in the mail”, if you can believe that. Then I was told to go see Chip about it. But Chip said he wasn’t paid either. It actually hurt our relationship – we were set against each other.

That’s crazy – “Like This” was licensed all over the place. And it’s sad, because I had almost this same conversation with Chip. The producer and the singer of this great song, who were both really young, basically left the industry for more than a decade and I think we’re all worse off for all of the great tracks Chip never made and the great songs you never wrote.

Yeah. It made me feel like I didn’t want to ever deal with House again. The music is so positive but all of the politics and everything were so negative. I was just a kid and didn’t have money for a lawyer. What could I do?

But it was never my way to respond with more negativity. I began to sing jazz at local nightclubs and that provided an outlet for me. In the meantime I attended Northwestern and worked hard in my career.

So what brought you back after so many years?

It was in 2005 or 2006. Cassioware got permission from Chip to sample “Like This” for his track “I Wanna See You Freak (Like This)”, but Chip thought that he should check it out with me as well. Chip mentioned it when he was filming his documentary [The UnUsual Suspects], as we’d been in touch again. Then Cassioware asked me to come up to make a cameo when he was shooting the video.

It turns out that Diamond Temple and Rob Da Noize Temple were also there. Rob started asking me the same questions that you’re asking, about what happened after “Like This”. And the same thing had happened to him! He suggested that I should do my own label, since that was really the best way to make sure that your business gets taken care of.

Rob later introduced me to Sammy from Cyberjamz. I have to say that Sammy is the most fair, most honest label owner I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve been with Cyberjamz for a year and I’ve never done business with a better label owner in my life! When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. He doesn’t wait for you to call him about it.

My label is called Pure Innergy Recordings and is now a division of Cyberjamz. We’ve released four EPs since last year. First was “Like This”, with both the original Chip E. release and the new versions; then “Butterflyz” by Soul Oasis presents K. Joy; and then the “Butterflyz Unreleased Cocoon Mixes”; and then “Lover’s Dance”. I currently have about 30 unreleased songs finished and waiting to be released.

I’m curious how you feel about DJ mixes and the like that included your songs. For instance, “Like This” was probably kept alive for a long time from bootlegs of Ron Hardy sets. A lot of people may have never bought the original but know it as a “classic” because it’s been preserved in Ronnie’s mixes.

Exposure is exposure! Yeah, today it hurts the bottom dollar but I think it can even out in the end by more people knowing your name and knowing your talent.

Back then, of course, if someone loved the song so much that they wanted to include it in a set, they had to buy vinyl. And the power of a song could be so great that I don’t know how you could feel upset by it. For our generation, this music kept kids off the corner. It kept them out of gangs and gave them something to be passionate about.

So tell me about this new project you have coming out that we’ll be hearing on July 4th at Kstarke.

I consider “I Am Woman” the single most important project of my career. It was one of those finished songs that I mentioned, originally about my mother. Then my Godsister Lisa Byers passed away in 2006, four days before Christmas, from cancer. She was only 41. This song, which was about strength, perseverence and everything about being a powerful woman, really struck home when I was thinking about Lisa. I added a third verse to the song and really put my heart and soul into it!

But it wasn’t just about me. So I thought that I would ask other vocalists to also contribute, and they did. In addition to myself, it also features my sister Raiyn, who sounds like Lauryn Hill. There’s also Dajae, Libby Jones, Martha Wash, Trizonna McClendon, Flora Cruz, Screamin’ Rachel and Carolyn Harding. They all come from different backgrounds and they all brought their own style and their own wonder to this track. And you know what’s incredible? Every single person associated with this project did everything for free. They donated their time and their talent and not one person asked for money.

Obviously, I didn’t just want this to be a charity project – I wanted to make a great track that everyone would want to buy!

Now the important thing is that I wanted to release this track so that 100% of the proceeds went to charity, including the retailer’s portion. I began to research who I could work with as far as a suitable charity and I discovered the Women’s Cancer Network of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, which not only focuses on women and cancers that effect women, but also happens to be from Chicago, which is where both Lisa and myself are from.

There are a few different ways you can get the track. You can go to the donation page at wcn.org, click on the online donation link and on the credit card page, enter either I AM WOMAN or the name LISA BYERS and it’ll take you to a page where you can purchase and download the track of your choice for $1.99 or all tracks for a discounted price. If you wish to donate without minimum or limit, you can also enter the name of any of the honorees named by the artists who participated in the project, which are people known to them who were diagnosed with women’s cancer. You can find the complete list as well as other ways to donate and get this track at sonicbids.com/kjoyiamwoman.

The important thing is that we have kept costs very minimal so all proceeds can go to charity. This is something very important to me. We wanted to make a great track that people would want as well as get the word out that it’s for a worthy cause. And Lisa was born in July, so our projected launch day is July 1st.