Frankie J is a man who has a lot to be thankful for these days.
His second English-language disc, The One, just debuted at #3 on the Billboard albums chart, he's about to kick off a tour with fellow crooners Baby Bash and Natalie, and he got to roll around in the sack with a bootylicious FHM model in the video for his smash single, "Obsession." But the climb to the top hasn't been easy for the Tijuana, Mexico-born singer, who has struggled for years to break in the U.S.
"It's been a hard [road]. It's not a common thing for us Latinos to try and do the R&B thing, so it was pretty difficult," he said recently. "I had a lot of people tell me I couldn't do it, but when people tell you that you can't do something it only makes you stronger."
The 26-year-old singer struggled through a legal battle to emancipate himself from the Texas-based Latin-pop group Los Kumbia Kings in 2003, and said the experience has made him much savvier about the callous ways of the business. ("There are a lot of sharks out there that try to take a bite at you," he said.) He eventually won the court case and released his debut solo album, What's a Man to Do?, in 2003. His single "Don't Wanna Try" was a top 40 radio staple. But Frankie insists that his solo efforts were not always met with open arms.
"I once had an interviewer say to me, 'Shouldn't you be sticking to your Latin roots instead of trying to do something so urban?' To be honest with you, that made me mad, and I said a lot of things I shouldn't have said," he recalled. "I told him, 'No, this is what's in my heart, and this is what I want to do. Why are you asking me this question?' "
The singer got some good advice on how to deal with being pigeonholed from the Inc. boss and beatmaker Irv Gotti, who produced The One's title track (see "Frankie J Brings Obsession, Irv Gotti To New LP — But Not At The Same Time".) "We were talking about me being Latino and doing R&B, and he told me, 'You gotta follow your heart. If this is what you want to do, you gotta do it. People are going to expect a lot from you, and you just have to get over that hump.' " So what would he consider as getting over that hurdle? One word: Grammy.
"I still need to get that Grammy," he said with a grin.
Someone who never questioned Frankie's dreams — or talent — was his late grandfather, to whom he dedicated his latest LP. "He was the one who planted the seed of music in the family, and I just needed to give him something back since I couldn't when he was alive," he said. The singer still cherishes one of his grandfather's old violins that was given to him after his grandfather's passing, a gift that will eventually be passed down to Frankie's 4-year-old son, who has already begun to show an interest in music. "I've seen him singing these songs before, and I don't even know what he's singing," Frankie said. "He just goes into his own world."
Frankie's two-month spring tour kicks off April 29 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Once the trek wraps in June, he plans to release his second Spanish-language album in September, then embark on a world tour.