Nowadays, real artist development seems virtually extinct, but there are some new-school purists – like singer/songwriter JOHNTA AUSTIN – who are reverting back to the industry's original mantra: just make good music. Ladies and gentleman, meet the man responsible for the lyrics of the hit songs by Mary J. Blige [Be Without You], Mariah Carey [We Belong Together], Tyrese [Sweet Lady], Toni Braxton [Just Be a Man (About It)], Aaliyah [Miss You], Fantasia Barrino [You Got Me Waiting], Chris Brown [Yo (Excuse Me Miss)] and MANY MORE...Meet JOHNTA AUSTIN!
IN STORES FALL 2006
Before music was all about overnight pop stars and monster-selling albums, there was an unwritten rule in the record business that true artistry takes time to cultivate. You pay your dues, hone your craft, and weather the inevitable storms. Such was the formula for career longevity. Nowadays, real artist development seems virtually extinct, but there are some new-school purists – like singer/songwriter JOHNTA AUSTIN – who are reverting back to the industry's original mantra: just make good music.
For nearly a decade, 24-year-old Johnta Austin has been doing just that. An accomplished songwriter, Austin is the pen behind such hits as Toni Braxton's "Just Be A Man (About It)" (2000), Aaliyah's "Miss You (I Miss You)" (2002) and Mariah Carey's smash "We Belong Together" (2005). But it was the tender ballad "Sweet Lady" (1998), recorded by R&B belter Tyrese and written by Austin at the tender age of sixteen that prominently introduced the young scribe to the music world.
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Indeed, Austin is fully prepared to unleash his long-awaited So So Def/Virgin Records debut, OCEAN DRIVE. "When you think of Miami's Ocean Drive, you think elegance, you think classy, sexy, fresh – all of the things we feel this album is," says Austin . OCEAN DRIVE is the album Austin has waited years to make: classic R&B with poignant ballads, soulful rhythms and easy-going sex appeal. "We tried to create an album that's timeless," he adds.
Southwest Atlanta native Austin showed signs of precociousness at an early age. An aspiring child actor and singer in his church choir, Austin landed a gig at the age of 12 as co-host of a children's television series on Turner Broadcasting Station (TBS). Austin got the chance to interview entertainment icons like Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. This high profile gig gained the attention of late night talk show host Arsenio Hall, who invited Austin to be a guest on "The Arsenio Hall Show." When Austin revealed that he liked to sing, Arsenio immediately prompted the little prodigy to sing with the show's band. And of course, he took the challenge.
Coincidentally, an A&R rep from RCA Records was watching that show and later reached out to Austin , which led to the 13-year-old's record deal with RCA in 1994. However, Austin 's tenure on RCA was cut short once puberty set in and his voice changed. Consequently, he was dropped from the label in 1995 and replaced by another young male singer, the Coca-Cola commercial star Tyrese. "It was rough being dropped from the label," admits Austin , "but I understood early that this industry is a business. The people who initially signed me were no longer at the label. I was never really bitter about it, I just knew I wanted another shot some day."
Far from being discouraged, Austin took a keen interest in songwriting. He practiced and studied the craft, and within six months following his dismissal from RCA, he submitted the lyrics to "Sweet Lady" for Tyrese's debut album. By the time Austin graduated from North Atlanta’s School of Performing Arts high school in 1998, "Sweet Lady" was a Top 10 hit on the Billboard charts. "I was happy to get the opportunity to write a record for Tyrese," says Austin . "I didn't know it was gonna be as successful as it was. Honestly, I felt a little bit of satisfaction to be able to look at the people who dropped me and show them what I could do." It was also in 1998 that Austin hooked up with Atlanta-based Noontime Management, who has guided his career since.
With the success of "Sweet Lady" came opportunities to work with numerous other artists, including Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Ginuwine, Aaliyah, Faith Evans, B2K, Ciara, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and Mario. Austin's reputable work led him to well known producer Bryan-Michael Cox, who in 2003 introduced Austin to So So Def founder, superstar producer and current President of Virgin Records' Urban Music Division, Jermaine Dupri. As the two composers began working together on various projects, Dupri also took notice of Austin 's singing talent. "J.D. would ask me to write on some tracks," recalls Austin . "I would demo the vocals on records for other artists and as I did more and more records, J.D. started listening to my voice. Then I did this song called "Lil More Love." After he heard it, he was like, 'When I get this new situation [with Virgin], I'm gonna sign you."
True to his word, Dupri signed Austin to So So Def/Virgin Records in the spring of 2005. This time, Austin was able to bring a wealth of experience, musical knowledge, and hit-making talent – not to mention some serious vocal chops – to his new deal. "I don't think I ever stopped being an artist," maintains Austin . "I focused on the songwriting thing for so long because I knew when I got another chance to do an album, I wanted to bring more to the table."
Leading off OCEAN DRIVE is the sensual single "Lil More Love," the song that ultimately convinced Dupri to give Austin a deal. Produced by Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox and written by Austin, "Lil More Love" celebrates the pleasures of "grown folk" love-making as Austin croons lustily over a piano-driven melody.
"I try to sing with a lot of emotion," says Austin . "When it's a painful song, I want you to feel the pain in my voice. When it's a love song, I want you to feel the love. Marvin Gaye did it best. He could do all the riffs and acrobats with his voice, but it was his emotion and feeling that really brought the records home. That's what I try to do every time I get on the mic. I just really try to concentrate on the feeling."
And there's certainly a range of feelings to explore on OCEAN DRIVE, from the catchy tune "Joy" to the sultry "Dope Fiend." "Subject matter is key to a good song," says Austin ." You have to talk about things that people can relate to, be it love or an argument or wanting to be with someone and you can't. Melody goes a long way too.”
He may be young, but you can't deny Johnta Austin's "old soul" gift for songwriting. For years, he's lent this talent to dozens of other artists. Now, on OCEAN DRIVE it's his turn to shine.