While browsing Twitter a couple of days ago, I saw a tweet from Keith Caulfield, Associate Director of Charts at Billboard that asked, "How does JoJo make money?" Personally, I really don't care how JoJo makes her money, just as long as she keeps singing. JoJo's story is not unique in the world of contemporary music. A beautiful, young breakout star gets a couple hit records and as she grows up we don't hear anything from her as disputes with record labels ensue. But, it's different with JoJo because she is a fighter. She understands that her singing voice is the only voice that matters in her career. With such a vibrant voice, she knows that if she puts music out (by any method), fans will seek out, consume and promote her music. Agápē (which means "unconditional love" in Greek) sees JoJo taking control, shaking off the past and gearing up for the next chapter of her career.
Agápē, serves as both an explicit cautionary tale of what is wrong with the industry and an example of what it takes to come up on the other side. The opening line of the first track "Back2thebeginniningagain" perfectly sets up these stories. She starts, "It took 22 years to trust myself, too many people told me to be somebody else," and continues by quoting someone else saying, "There's two things you gotta do to succeed, forget about you and listen to me..." Her insight into what has gone right in her life/career and what has gone wrong in her life/career is the key factor in this mixtape being her most honest work. JoJo's genuine testimony is something that is rarely heard. The next track, "We Get By," is a smooth favorite that has an addicting hook. I appreciate that the mixtape is not overproduced. Every sonic effect is necessary and nothing is left for waste. I do not have to fight with the production to hear her message.
While Agápē has a modern vibe, I also detect some '90's flavor. Songs like "We Get By" and "Billions" are reminiscent of the dark, but chill Release Some Tension era of SWV. JoJo also infuses some poetic testimony into the mixtape. After "We Get By" she coolly states, "Whatever comes my way, I'm gonna be fine, I can deal with it" and further expresses her faith that "someone is watching" over her and that she "believes in" herself. The seductive Toni Braxton-esque "Take The Canyon" is one of those tracks that you find yourself going back to over and over again. It's the kind of track that you wish was released as a single with a video, but you know those steps may tarnish its reputation as a "deep" cut. "Take the Canyon" also reminds us that JoJo is an adult who does adult things as she concludes that "everything is better with a blunt in your mouth..."
Agápē's front half has a strong song-cycle appeal, where the songs musically seem to flow together. "Billions" would seem to be the strong candidate for a commercial single release. On a major label record, the track with lines like "Billions in the world, but I'll always come back to you" would appear to be formulaic but JoJo gives it an urban edge.
The second half of the mixtape contains multiple interludes, which don't really add too much and serve as a disappointment considering how top heavy with quality the first half is. For me, this put the brakes on my vibe. This is the same problem I usually have with Janet Jackson albums where there is usually a one-to-one ratio of full-length songs and interludes/preludes/reprisals. But, this is a mixtape, not an album. Also, towards the end, I felt beat over the head with her story of being used and dealing with others taking advantage of her. Obviously she has experienced tremendous growth, but after spending 15 minutes hearing about those trials, I want to hear how she gained her newfound control and what she is going to do with it.
I highly enjoyed Agápē and appreciate that JoJo was willing to share so much with us. You'd be hard-pressed to find any other 22-year-old with her raw talent. I hope she continues to put out music and shake off anyone who isn't on board with her journey.
JoJo Agápē [Download]