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The new faces of R&B in Denver: Jon Shockness, J. Carey, Devan Blake Jones, BMore and B.Blacc

Have you noticed the influx of male R&B singers these days, particularly in the Mile High City? Adam Duncan, who just joined the A&M/Octone Records roster, is just one of many cats putting it down in Denver these days. Jon Shockness (Air Dubai), J.Carey, Devan Blake Jones, BMore and B.Blacc are among the other emerging crooners that have captured our attention as of late. We chopped it up with these smooth operators on the components rhythm and blues, who inspired them to start singing, and we got their thoughts on Drake.

JON SHOCKNESS

Taking his influence from the likes of Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and others, Jon Shockness is the perfect bridge between hip-hop and R&B. Having been featured on several rap joints (check for his appearance on A.V.I.U.S.'s album, For Better or Worse), Shockness shines brightest with his band, Air Dubai.

Westword: Who are the artists that inspired your singing?

Jon Shockness: I listened to Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Boyz II Men, all of that growing up. However, I contribute most of my singing to the Jackson 5's third album. My mom had these LPs, and I would play them everyday. It was just inspiring to me as a five-year-old that Michael, who was around my age at that time, could sing like that. It made me want to sing, too.

What are your favorite songs to sing?

My favorite songs to sing are anything. I just love to sing, so you'll probably catch me humming or singing anything I can.

What are your currently working on that captures your vocal talent?

Currently I'm working on becoming a better lyricist. I think it's important to be able to sing well, but it's also a gift to be able to sing with a purpose or to say something. That's where I want to be as a writer and a singer, and it makes my work more challenging and fun.

What do you think about Drake?

I personally think Drake is great. It's not 2004 anymore, where rappers have to be called pussies for singing on their own records. Plus why, as an artist, would you limit your sound to just rapping? I think Kanye said it best when he described singing as having the ability to reach emotion and places his raps couldn't reach. That's dope, and why I sing.

 J. CAREY

J.Carey can sing his head off for days. Live, his warm tones and intonation are impeccable and even more fresh when placed alongside the gruff sounds of an MC (check for his collaborations with Pries and others). A self-described "regular guy," Mr. Carey is a direct descendant of music's roots, rhythm and blues.

Westword: Who are the artists that inspired your singing?

J. Carey: I grew up idolizing vocalists like Brian McKnight, Joe Thomas, Eric Benét, Dave Hollister, Jaheim, Tank and Musiq Soulchild. I also loved hearing the ladies: Lauryn Hill, Mariah Carey, harmonies from groups like Jade, Brownstone and SWV -- the list could go on and on. That said, I would say that my number one influence for vocals and songwriting would definitely be Mr. Donny Hathaway. I remember hearing "For All We Know" for the first time as a kid, and I was absolutely mesmerized. I was hooked ever since.

What are your favorite songs to sing?

I love to sing songs that I can directly relate to. I am very much a regular guy, and though I enjoy seeing and hearing about wild and extravagant fantasies -- come on, who doesn't? -- I also know that my realities can be highly entertaining as well. I do write and arrange all of my own songs, but I have no problems working with other artists and singing words they've written. Being a singer -- I won't lie to you -- ballads work the best on the lady crowd, so I bring those out all the time.

What are you currently working on that captures your vocal talent?

Ha, tough one. Growing up, I'm not ashamed to say that I was limited in my range of music. R&B was pretty much it for me, and I didn't even get into rap until I heard the Fugees' The Score and Nas's It Was Written. I sing a different tune nowadays, as my musical ear has grown immensely in my adult years. At any given moment, a shuffle in my iTunes could bring up the Kills, then move into Mickey Factz and then over to Muhsinah. There aren't an infinite number of words in the English language -- or any other language -- but I believe that there is an infinite amount of ways to sonically and, more specifically, vocally, express them.

For that reason, I always try to work with as many different kinds of musicians as I can. If I can't work directly with an artist of a group, then I have no problem going to their shows and gaining new perspectives and inspiration there. I've been doing a lot of writing over the past three years, and I feel that I'm ready to put out a cohesive project -- a project that I would be proud of, even with my discerning ears. I hope everyone else feels the same.

What do you think about Drake?

Yikes, potentially touchy subject! I feel that there are artists out there who genuinely make great music in more than one genre, but it isn't for everyone. I can't tell you how many people I've come across that think it's "easy" to rap -- but they never say, "It's easy to rap well" or "It's easy to rap excellently." The same goes for singing: Sure, everyone is Whitney Houston or Marvin Gaye in the shower or during their rush-hour commute, alone, behind limousine tinted windows, but if it were really that simple, then we'd never have seasons worth of hilariously heartbreaking outtakes for shows like American Idol or X-Factor.

Looking at the other side of the subject, being a great singer or vocalist doesn't always guarantee those same skills will carry over to rap -- and vice versa. To me, Drake is a tough one. I definitely became a fan of Drake during his pre-YMCMB days when he put out "Room For Improvement" and "Comeback Season". During his YMCMB conversion, he released "So Far Gone," and I still rocked with him. He showed growth, took on records that weren't like the material he released prior. But then... I... don't know.

Thank Me Later began to showcase a side of Drake that either he hadn't become until then or he hadn't decided to show us until then. Granted, his life had changed by then -- lots of attention, money, travel -- maybe those things shaped his artistic voice in ways we can't imagine. He began to sing more, but I never felt that he was at his strongest doing so. I'd prefer him to rap because his wordplay is nice -- when he sings, it takes something away... lessens the impact. Look at Take Care -- the album is very good, but I think its context and concept would better suit a singer like The Weeknd or Frank Ocean. Bring all-the-way-rapping Drake back. One more album. Please.

 DEVAN BLAKE JONES

Devan Blake Jones, the singer who grew up in the church and now spends his time rocking with a twelve-piece ensemble, covering iconic artists like Fela Kuti, is cut from that same rhythm-and-blues cloth that made the greats who they are. His voice contains the grit of Gladys Knight with the soul of every other seamless crooner you can imagine.

Westword: Who are the artists that inspired your singing?

Devan Blake Jones: Brian McKnight, Mariah Carey, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, CeCe Winans, Kirk Franklin, Brandon Boyd.

What are your favorite songs to sing?

Well, I love to sing so many different types of songs, but I guess anything with free range giving me room to go off on my tangents. Especially anything with a live band. I love to perform live.

What are you currently working on that captures your vocal talent?

Currently I am the lead vocalist of Atomga Groove Alliance, a twelve-piece Afro-beat / Afro-pop ensemble with a full horn section. I also work directly as an artist and vocalist with Mercury Sauce, which has a great team of artists, like Jane Doed, Yonnas and Julie Zorrilla. Nathan Reid, who is the owner of the company, decided to start a series of "Live Living Room Sessions." You can see me perform live in the studio singing some pretty vocally challenging songs.

I also am working with a few different rappers in town, like Rockie and Furious Styles, to name a few on some of their albums. I sang the hook on Rockie's track "Stars," and we are going to be filming a video here very soon. Other than that, I am just trying to continue to work hard to stay relevant in the community. A lot of people associate singers with narcissistic attitudes, but I like to focus on the work aspect of things. As long as I'm working, I'm happy.

What do you think about Drake?

Don't get me wrong, I love Drake, Lil Wayne and Diddy, but I don't really love them "singing" so often. I feel like rappers today are slowly getting the American public who listen primarily to that realm of music, used to the sound of mediocre singing with no real emotion and no real imperfections. Artistic? Sure, but if we don't get the voices that move the heart back onto the radio soon, secular radio might end up in a place that is so digital that we will start looking elsewhere for emotional release.

 BMORE

BMore's commanding vocal prowess can be heard on his collaboration with local MCs like Rockie and Mr. Midas, among others; BMore is the most obvious line between R&B and hip-hop. Working on releasing a project of original material, BMore has emerged as a promising talent worth keeping an eye on. His voice is smoother than velvet.

Westword: Who are the singers that inspired your singing?

The singers that inspired me to sing would have to be Kim Burrell, Fred Hammond, also people like Rascal Flatts, the Eagles, Tank and my favorite, Trey Songz.

What are your favorite songs to sing?

My favorite Song to sing would have to "Rock it," which is my own song,, and a gospel song, "I Won't Complain."

What are you currently working on that captures your vocal talent?

Different vocal practices, Live performances, and just staying in the studio.

What do you think about Drake?

I feel like rappers trying to sing and vice versa is okay, if you can! I mean, Drake is good at both, in my opinion, but a lot of people aren't simple as that. I can contradict myself, because I also feel like if your heart tells you to sing, then go for it. So I guess you can say I have mixed emotions regarding that subject.

 B.BLACC

While you might think of B.Blacc as more of a rapper, he's a singer at heart. Heavily gospel-influenced, B.Blacc believes he was born with it. When he sings, he maintains a melodic, soulful tone, incorporating his spirituality in every note. B.Blacc is working on an album that will feature his singing exclusively.

Westword: Who are the artists that inspired you to sing?

B.Blacc: My favorite singers are R Kelly, Tank, Marvin Sapp, Fred Hammond and John P Kee.

What are your favorite songs to sing?

I love to sing "The Best In Me" by Marvin Sapp. Its inspirational and my testimony.

What are you currently working on that captures your vocal talent?

I am currently working on my first R&B project, Ready, that is about 75 percent complete, but will be well worth the wait. To be able to rap and sing is a gift from God, especially if you were born with the anointing. I think rappers who sing display their more sensitive side, which I think is a good thing, because trying to be hard all the time makes you look fake.

Everybody can't sing, but if God gave it to them, [they should] use it before he takes it away. I consider myself like a male version of Lauryn Hill or Missy. Drake has a good voice and could go either way, but I wouldn't wanna hear somebody like Ja Rule, 50 Cent, or Lil Wayne do a full R&B album. Wouldn't be good for their career. They need to stick to rapping.



Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music



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