When she was called in November 2000 to replace Dawn Robinson in Lucy Pearl, the free-spirited Joi had to mold herself into someone else. Presenting someone else's words and thoughts hardly came naturally to the visionary Atlanta-based singer, whose The Pendulum Vibe (1994) and Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome (1996) LPs represent innovation, not conformity.
That's why Joi returns to her limitless sonic searching on Star Kitty's Revenge. Scheduled for a March 19 release, Joi's first album in six years includes rock, R&B, hip-hop and funk elements, fully representing Joi and her, um, "friend," Star Kitty.
"Star Kitty's like my extension of myself," Joi said. "She's finally getting to have her say after all this time, finally getting to be heard hopefully more on a mass level."
The success of like-minded artists Outkast may have opened fans' eyes and ears to the idea of rock-inspired black musicians who owe more to P-Funk than they do to Nirvana. Joi, however, knows she's not on Outkast's commercial level. As part of the music "business," Joi understands that she's got to sell some records and gain more fans in order to keep making music on a major-label. Therefore, she's tweaking her sound, much as Outkast did with 2000's quadruple platinum Stankonia.
"With this record, I do want to sell some albums, but I wanted to do that in a way that wasn't going to compromise the artistic integrity of what I've laid down over the past 10 years," Joi said. "I think that it's more balanced and more radio-friendly. It was done like that purposely. I went into it thinking, 'OK, I need at least three songs on here that are going to have some mass appeal.' "
To this end, the smoothed-out blues of "Missing You," the funk-soul of "It's Your Life," the slinky, libido-driven "Lick" and the percolating "Get On" have the potential to be hits, much more so than any of Joi's other adventurous work, both on this album and on her first two efforts. Elsewhere, Star Kitty's spiced-up cover of Bootsy Collins' "Munchies for Your Love" will appeal to those whose musical familiarity began before 1990.
Having grown up in Nashville, Joi moved to Atlanta in 1993 after meeting producer Dallas Austin, who wanted to record with her. It didn't hurt that then-hot singers Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat were based in Atlanta and that groundbreaking LaFace Records was starting to make noise in the industry with TLC and Toni Braxton.
The Pendulum Vibe and Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome eventually arrived as did a husband, Goodie Mob's Big Gipp, as well as two children. These developments, which obviously affected her career, didn't make Joi suspend the pursuit of her musical aspirations.
"There's no value to your existence if you deny your own dreams," she said. "It's not good, and it's not good for the people that love you to see you deny your dreams. It's cool for them to know that you'll give them up for them, and I think it's even cooler for them to see you loving them and pursuing your dreams. I think that's more powerful."
The latest installment of Joi's musical dream, Star Kitty's Revenge, marks another stirring, diversified journey of an innovative and ambitious artist. By refusing to get locked into a certain style, Joi continues living by her own mandate.
"The only thing that anybody that digs my music should expect is the unexpected," she said. "It's important to constantly evolve and reinvent and as you grow, let that growth be shown. That's life. Nobody wants to stay the same the whole time. That's boring."