Hit The Floor Star Jonathan McDaniel Makes Music For The Geniuses

Jonathan McDaniel aka Lil J aka J has been a musician long before he was competing for Ahsha’s heart as German on Hit The Floor. After recording his first album at 15, Jonathan landed a recurring role on That’s So Raven, temporarily putting his musical aspirations on hold. Now, he’s getting back to his roots.

After rescheduling our original interview due to the fact that he was in the hospital, awaiting the birth of his first child–congratulations!–we spoke with Jonathan about his current project, a four-song EP entitled A Geniuschild Unknown dedicated to all the ’80s babies who aren’t afraid to create their own rules. Read on to find out what vintage sounds he was lucky enough to capture in the studio, and how his role on HTF inspires his musical output.

What is the meaning behind the title of your EP?
My production company that I just started is called Geniuschild, and that represents the era that I grew up in: the ‘80s. A lot of us that came from that era have always thought differently, thought outside the box, and tried to expand how they are as creators and artists. The reason why it’s called “Geniuschild Unknown,” is because I’ve been in the game for so long and there’s a lot of people who know me, but there’s a lot of people who have yet to get to know me as a musician. We dropped an EP only because we wanted to get the buzz out there, like a teaser to let people know that I am back on the music scene.

What kind of songs can fans–new and old–expect?
“Hit The Floor” was inspired by the show, “Ima Love You Down” is a remake of the Ready For the World record, and we were blessed to get lead singer Melvin Riley on the track with us, and “Like It’s Yo Birthday” is a feel good record–everyone always enjoys something that’s dedicated to them so they can feel special. Of course, the majority of the record is catered to my female fans. I have a big following from the females—which is never a bad thing –and I love to make records for them whether it’s love records, relationship records, feel-good records, whatever.

How did the Ready For The World remake come about? Were you eying the song for some time?
I’m an old school person; I grew up on the oldies: Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson. Records like that have always been close to me and I think the ‘80s and ‘90s was a great time for music. Growing up in that era, I’ve always been attracted to remakes of older records. [Remaking “Love You Down”] was actually my manager’s idea–he’s really great friends with Melvin Riley and has worked with the group throughout the years. The timing was perfect, Melvin gave us his blessing, and he flew out to Los Angeles to jump on the record. Now we’re working on the treatment for the video, so we’re really excited to be able to get back into the music world and hope that people are drawn to the music.

How was it working with Melvin? Were you intimidated at all?
Oh my gosh, no! Never intimidated, but just very excited. I felt very blessed to be able to have someone like him, who’s had hit records and made such a career for himself, be able to come on the record with me. When you go into the studio with someone like that you kind of want to turn into a sponge and really learn from them. That was my main objective. It was exciting to be in the studio with him; we had such a great time. We hung out, we took him out to dinner and drinks, kicked it, it was just a beautiful time.

We’re experiencing a resurgence of great R&B right now, whether it’s veteran groups like TLC coming back with new material, or artists like Frank Ocean and Miguel channeling that old-school sound. Who are you listening to right now?
I’m a fan of Kendrick Lamar, I feel like he’s really made a lane for himself which I really respect. R&B and pop-wise, I’m really a fan of Adele, Miguel’s a dope artist, he’s doing his thing for sure, Macklemore is really coming up in the game right now, and I really respect his direction. I think his record “Same Love” is going to win a Grammy because it’s such a great, feel-good record, and at the same time it’s very socially conscious. I feel like we need to have a lot more records like that–there’s a want for that in the world as far as people wanting substance. I also love fun. Their new album is amazing to me. I actually think that they should have won a VMA this year—I don’t understand how or why they didn’t win.

How do you foresee your approach to music changing now that you’re a father?
I’ve always been a person that’s trying to give substance-that’s never going to change. I’m always going to be put on records that are good for people’s ears, but there’s a big part of me that’s changing now that I’m a father. Not just in music, but in acting–the roles that choose—and I feel like it’s very important as entertainers, for those of us that do have kids, to be very conscious of what we’re doing in front of our children and how we present ourselves in front of our children, and to let them know that this is entertainment.
What made you decided to record a track inspired by your day job?
I was in the studio, I found the right beat, the lyrics flowed with it, but, honestly, it’s the storyline. They wrote a great storyline: a young girl trying to find her way in the world, while being pulled in so many different directions. That storyline is so key for a lot of young women; there’s a lot of women who want to be famous, they want to have the world at their fingertips, and a lot of them go about it the wrong way. Hit The Floor is showing that side, but it’s also showing the side of person who doesn’t have those intentions, who is a good girl, but is pulled into a world of money, sex, craziness, drama. At the same time, it reminds you to dance. When the hook comes on it just brings you back to that, and I really want people to be able to get on the dance floor and feel good.

I’m guessing Taylour Paige has heard the song?
Yes, she has. I asked her to be in the video [for “Ima Love Me Down”] and she said that she would be, so I’m very excited. For “Hit The Floor,” it would be great to get any of the cast members to appear in the video. Everyone that is a part of the show is very supportive, and I think a lot of that starts with our creator, James LaRosa. He really set the bar with how the energy should be both on set and off set. And I think that’s the reason why our show is successful and we’re so close as a unit and a cast. It starts with our captain.

To download a copy of J’s A Geniuschild Unknown, head over to iTunes.

[Photo Credit: Piotr Sikora/VH1]