Why Did She Leave: The Second Coming of JoJo
We have all at one point or another sing-screamed “Leave (Get Out)” by the insanely talented 2000s icon, JoJo. But her absence lasted over a decade and consisted of fights against bad contracts she couldn’t help but sign at a young age.
Written by Roberto Soto
At age 12, JoJo signed to Blackground Records, a once iconic record label run by Barry Hankerson, uncle and former manager of the late Aaliyah. JoJo’s journey was one of dreams, being repeatedly acclaimed by tween girls (and gays!) and critics alike. With a heavenly voice, relatable lyrics, and fabulous production on her 2004 self-titled album JoJo and 2006’s The High Road, certified platinum and gold respectively, JoJo was on her way to becoming a star.
With MP3s and streaming services on the slow incline, kids who loved her music were waiting to add her tunes to their iPods. Platforms like iTunes, Rhapsody (now Napster), and an infantile Spotify were slowly growing in popularity with adolescents and young adults. Yet, therein lies the trouble: with the rapid growth of online music distribution, Blackground did not (and still has yet to) release many of its clients’ music on any online service. No stranger to client complaints, Hankerson has been continuously caught up in numerous lawsuits over royalty payments, breaches of trust, and, in JoJo’s case, Blackground’s refusal to release her third album and compensate its producers for over seven years.
In those years, JoJo was forced to self-produce and self-releasefree mixtapes, which contain the heart-aching ballads we love that demonstrate her growth both as an artist and as a young woman. To this day, JoJo does not have control over master recordings of her first two career-making albums. Sound familiar?
This past year, we learned of Scooter Braun’s acquisition of Taylor Swift’s entire catalog of master recordings following Braun’s $300-million-dollar purchase of Swift’s former label, Big Machine. Signed at just 16 years old, Swift quickly became a teen idol herself, presumably grateful for a record company that was taking a huge chance on her career as a young, up-and-coming female country artist, not knowing they were also taking advantage of her.
Both acclaimed artists signed to their respective record companies at an age where their classmates were trying out for soccer teams and choir. Neither knew just how much their squiggly Hancocks would lead to a surrender of their entire career. Should being an exceptionally talented child serve as justification for a record label taking full advantage of you because they make you think it’s in your best interest? A musical newcomer is not likely to understand the power of legal contracts, especially those that dictate and control your artistic creations. Education on the ins and outs of the music recording business are essential for any artist to succeed.
On the other side of the spectrum, alt-pop wonder Maggie Rogers graduated from New York University Tisch with a degree in Music Engineering and Production. With lessons on the music business and its politics from scholars and industry professionals in school, as well as informal tips and tricks from established musicians in her work as an interview transcriber with music journalist Lizzy Goodman, Rogers used the knowledge she gained on the business to negotiate her way to virtual independence within Capitol Records. She created her own imprint, Debay Sounds, to license her own music within the company. This gives Rogers the freedom to create the music she likes in the form she desires, with minimal binding from record executives. Unfortunately, not everyone has the pleasure of knowing how to own their intellectual property while remaining “successful.”
Many legal disputes with Hankerson remain open, but by 2014, JoJo was able to find a loophole in her contract which nullified any agreement initially signed by a minor. This ruling allowed her to finally break free from the chains of Blackground Recordings. She promptly signed to Atlantic Records and officially released the final iteration of her third studio album, aptly titled Mad Love in 2016, which debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 200 Album Charts.
The album showcases a more mature JoJo, sharing the various lessons she has learned over her 10-year hiatus. From being unapologetic (“Honest.,” “FAB. (feat. Remy Ma),” “High Heels.”), to stripping down literally (“Like This.”) and figuratively (“I Am.”), she showcases her underrated and long-silenced powerful voice.
To celebrate her freedom, JoJo found a way to legally release the music that made her the star she is, by rerecording and rereleasing her first two albums JoJo (2018) and The High Road (2018). In an Instagram post the day of the rerelease, JoJo shared her gratitude and joy:
Enjoy some of your JoJo favorites, and even some hits you don’t even know you love yet.