Writing hit records seems easy for Montell Jordan. It's earning respect that has proven difficult. Despite releasing four albums, all of which have been certified either gold or platinum, and having written for Sisqó ("Incomplete"), Deborah Cox ("Nobody's Supposed to Be Here") and others, the Los Angeles crooner is almost never thought of as a premier R&B artist.
Jordan's first single, the platinum "This Is How We Do It," sampled Slick Rick's "Children's Story" and turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The surefire party cut propelled his 1995 album of the same name to platinum status, but it also created a situation where Jordan was ridiculed by rap aficionados who didn't approve of his sampling the Slick Rick song and dismissed by a number of pundits who treated him as a one-hit wonder.
He's persevered, however, and has since recorded with LL Cool J, Redman and Master P, among others without gaining the acclaim most other artists with his résumé would normally attain.
"I can't even explain what it is for me to feel like time after time that I'm called just a 'one-hit wonder,' " Jordan said. "[No matter what I did,] it wasn't as big as 'This Is How We Do It.' For four albums, it's like I've been living in the shadow of the biggest record of my career. That's led to a lot of frustration."
That frustration gets voiced on "MJ's Anthem," a cut from Jordan's forthcoming self-titled album, due February 26. On the cut, Jordan addresses some of the naysayers, offering a side of himself that contrasts with his "have-fun" image.
"I normally don't express myself like I'd like to," he said. "I normally let people think [whatever they'd like about me]. I normally don't speak out or say stuff, where I'm pissed off or that I don't like how this is going down."
On the rest of the album, Jordan stays closer to more traditional loverman R&B form, even though the LP sees him exploring something he's never addressed directly: his personal life. Married for eight years and the father of a 5-year-old daughter, he's experienced several rocky periods with his marriage.
On the gripping "Are You With Me," he sings of going through a struggle with fidelity and how he mistreated the woman he feels God had given him as a gift. A powerful passage, this cut signifies Jordan's growth as both a person and as an artist, as he sheds the air of ambivalence that coats many current R&B records.
"This whole album is dedicated to me and my wife and the struggle that we've been through," he said. "A lot of the ballads on the album, other than the sensual ballads, talk about the mistakes that a guy made in his life, about not being true to a woman, about being lonely and dealing with issues that he has in his failures and his insecurities and the mistakes that he's made.
"It's about regrets, about the mistakes Montell has made," he continued. "I'm talking about how we've overcome barriers and obstacles. This album is a testimony for the place that we are in our marriage and in our life."
Even though the new album is Jordan's strongest artistic statement, he said his other work has been misinterpreted to a degree. He points to his most recent hit, 1999's "Get It On ... Tonite," the tale of a man who is having relationship issues and pursues a woman he encounters.
"The basis behind that song was that Montell's got issues in his marriage and that Montell's going through a struggle where he's got a girl but girls are throwing their asses at him all the time and he doesn't know how to control himself," Jordan said. "Because he's got issues, he's got to live out his life through a song and live out this false role of the man he's trying to be and the man that he's struggling with. Nobody goes deep enough to see what an artist's actually going through. That's why a guy like Marvin Gaye got so frustrated, because people couldn't fully see what he was going through, the torment that he was in until after he was dead and gone. Then we go back and listen to his music and say, 'Well, he had so many problems with drugs and he was in love with this or that.' We've got to look deeper beyond what a song is saying and see what the man is saying."
With Montell Jordan, the singer hopes to give people more than just music to listen to to pass the time.
"I appreciate the opportunity to be able to stand before people for a fifth time," he said. "I hope that this time when people listen to my project they'll come away from it not feeling like they heard a song that they like, but that they might know a little bit more about me as a person."