The early aughts are a contentious time for music: pop and R&B melded in a very specific way that you either loved or hated. The lyrics were fun and light, and most songs didn’t stand the test of time. But some artists that debuted in this era garnered young fan bases that stayed with them as they aged.
One of the best examples of this is JoJo. The 28-year-old’s self-titled debut album turned 15 this month, and it is full of quintessentially early aughts music. It is worth a revisit many years later, not only for the nostalgia of yelling “Leave! Now! Who?! Why?!” during the chorus of the album’s most successful single “Leave (Get Out).”
“JoJo” was released in 2004, when the singer was just 13 years old. The music leaned towards pop, but it had a bold and confident R&B influence that not many artists her age were utilizing at the time. Despite her young age, the singer established herself as a powerhouse vocalist with riffs and ad libs that recalled the likes of Mariah Carey and Aaliyah — who had been signed to the same label, Blackground Records, before her tragic death.
A track where her voice really shines is her cover of the SWV track “Weak.” On the soulful ballad, she shows off her range and agility. The five minute track has a mid-song modulation and has soaring ad libs on top of her stacked harmonies.
She also took on more mature content than many of her peers. “Leave (Get Out)” is about a cheating boyfriend. “Keep on Keepin On,” a ballad written solely by the young singer, is an encouraging track about persistence in the face of poverty.
JoJo also came off as effortlessly confident and cool. Tracks like “Breezy” and “Yes or No” would have fallen flat, or even cringe-worthy, in the hands of most 13-year-olds. The self-assurance and boldness necessary to deliver the lyrics in these songs seemed to just ooze out of JoJo’s being.
At times, it’s easy to forget that such a young girl is the voice behind these songs. Because of this, she was able to reach beyond the teen demographic and attract an older audience too.
This was what made the album a true success, getting certified platinum by the RIAA. The iconic single “Leave (Get Out)” was also a major success, peaking at 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching the summit of the Billboard Pop songs chart. She remains the youngest artist to accomplish this feat.
The success of “JoJo” lead to her second album “The High Road” — which features the track, “Too Little Too Late” — and a second career in acting. She starred in “Aquamarine” and the Robin Williams film “RV.”
After the release of her second album, JoJo went underground for many years. Due to trouble with her label, she was unable to release another album for 10 years. Throughout this period, she released two great mixtapes, “Agape” and “Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Eventually, through litigation, she was able to be let out of her contract and signed with Atlantic Records, where she now has her own imprint, Clover Music.
Her old label has chosen to keep “JoJo” off streaming services, but in an effort to keep her catalog alive and appease the fans who had been with her since 2004, the singer re-recorded her first two albums last year and released them on her birthday. The reissues feature slightly updated production and her adult voice, but keep the heart of the nostalgic tracks alive. I’d recommend taking a trip back to the aughts and checking out these albums this summer.