After several years of success as one of the most cutting-edge artists in contemporary gospel – including topping the Billboard Gospel Albums chart and going Top 20 R&B with his Grammy nominated 2007 album V2 – superstar singer/songwriter/producer J Moss made a personal decision to scale back the sonic fire and star power for which he is known to offer listeners a more intimate and introspective portrait of the artist – a stripped back production of repentance and praise he has chosen to title JUST JAMES.
“Every now and then a person gets to a point on their journey where they discover precisely what their trajectory is,” J testifies, “where you’re supposed to be or where you’re supposed to land. That’s what 2008 and 2009 has been for me. I’ve been through challenges that tested my faith, my merit, my credibility…even my will to live. There were times when I was at my human wit’s end and wanted to take myself out! In the midst of all that brokenness – a shattered heart and a shattered life – God picked me up and dealt with me one on one. He said, ‘That emptiness you’re feeling…that’s exactly where you are supposed to be. So many others are feeling that same emptiness, but I need you to be my beacon to show them how to overcome it.’ It was a life changing epiphany for me.”
The utter purposefulness behind the new material also stems from what J saw firsthand as an absence of material that spoke to his specific circumstance in the marketplace. “When I was down, I tried listening to the radio, thumbing through iTunes and going to Best Buy, trying to find some lyric or artist that could get me through my pain. I’m not saying that other artists aren’t writing good music, but I couldn’t find anything about MY situation. That’s when The Lord said to me, ‘The reason you can’t find a song that speaks to you is because you’re the one who has to write that song. Those whose marriages and relationships are being tried, you are the messenger I want to use to deliver that message.’ All of us have our niche to speak to. Smokie Norful has his people with ‘I Need You Now.’ Marvin Sapp has his people with ‘Never Would Have Made It.’ Kirk Franklin has his people and I have mine. God has pointed me to the ministry of speaking to people in relationships.
Two of the most salient tracks birthed by this new awakening are “Restored,” one of the CDs first singles, and “Rebuild.” “There was a period where I had really hit rock bottom, I felt like I had failed my family, failed God, failed the people that looked up to me…I was very depressed. When I finally pulled myself up off the floor – I just clung to the Word and dealt with what restoration was all about. That is when God told me ‘I didn’t allow you to fall to kill you, but to break the outer shell and rebuild you again better and stronger – from the inside. I allowed you to fall so that I could release you from all of the worldly fluff that had clamped onto your life and so I could rebuild you.’ That’s what I’m portraying in these songs.”
JUST JAMES also sparkles with the praise songs “Holy One” and “Sweet Jesus,” and includes the especially clever “God Happens.” “I wrote that one a while back as a spin-off on ‘something else’ that people are always saying,” J shares laughing. “I always try to counter negativity with positivity. Instead of just saying stuff happens – deal with it as it comes at you – say ‘God Happens.’ Because He does, we don’t have to deal with the short end of the stick. Man may turn his back on you, but God is always there for you.”
A deeply soulful highlight of JUST JAMES is the jazz-based “Anointing.” “Nat ‘King’ Cole sits at the very top of my list of all-time favorite singers,” J reveals. “‘We Must Praise’ from my very first J Moss Project had that kind of feel in the verses and I’d eventually like to do an entire record of those kinds of songs. Every time I listen to the radio everything sounds the same… With this big ol’ God we serve and this big ol’ world we live in, I know there’s got to be something more we can kick it about! The song ‘Anointing’ just came to me and talks about no matter how much people try to deny, go against or cover up The Word of God, it’s always here, sturdy and strong.”
While JUST JAMES is generally more worship than past J Moss offerings, it still starts off rockin’ with the opener “I Gave it Up,” one of PAJAM’s patented funky grooves of uplift. “Me and ‘PDA’ are always looking for a hot opener that folks can do their morning run or workout to. Lyrically it’s about where my life is now. I know a lot of people are looking at me wondering if I’m remorseful, changed or the same dude. I’m not out here on some completely brand new tip, that’s not the case. I’m saying God just shifted some stuff around me. I gave up a lot of people, a lot of things, a lot of behavior and a lot of bad decisions. And I ain’t going back there no more.”
Born and raised in Detroit, where he still resides today, J. Moss hails from gospel music royalty as the nephew of Gospel’s legendary Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, the cousin of her daughters – the inimitable Clark Sisters – and the son of Bill Moss, Sr., founder of the ‘70s Gospel act Bill Moss & The Celestials. Singing since the age of four, at his father’s insistence, J grew up in an environment where music was the focal point of life itself. After J spent time as a part-time Celestial, his father paired him with his brother, Bill Jr., in a group called The Moss Brothers, which continued for the next seven years, recording two major label albums. J’s parents and brother were all gifted keyboardists, so he naturally picked up the piano, eventually taking several years of formal lessons. His father also constantly encouraged him to pursue his songwriting skills. Having written much of the Moss Brothers’ material, he had become a skilled songwriter by the time he headed for college.
J attended Michigan State University for two years until his musical calling became his primary preoccupation in life. Enlisted by his college roommate to co-produce a musical variety show at the university, J realized in the process that he had a strong talent and interest in the music world “behind the scenes.” This led to thoughts of a career in production as well as performance. J did two solo projects on an independent Detroit-based label in the early ‘80s that were invaluable learning experiences in his development as a writer, artist and producer. It was also during this time that he was introduced to Paul ‘PDA’ Allen and, later, Walter Kearney – the other two thirds of PAJAM.
In 1996, J and his cousin Karen Clark-Sheard were both singed to Island/Def Jam Records. Though his album languished while Karen’s flourished, her success in turn officially launched PAJAM Productions, which handled four of her album’s songs. Clark-Sheard’s album rode the Gospel charts for the better part of the next two years, during which time J and his partners in PAJAM saw their own star as a production team begin a rapid ascent, contributing to projects by both major Gospel and secular artists. Through all the years of developing the PAJAM company, its own roster of stars (including the Stellar-Award winning male group 21:03), and what they call “PAJAM Insurance” (guaranteed quality music), they never lost sight of their goal to one day launch J Moss properly as the Gospel star they knew him to be.
Finally, in 2003, J and Paul wrote and recorded The J. Moss Project in a four-week outburst of inspiration. Soon after, J was embraced into the Gospo Centric Records fold where he also released the aforementioned Billboard Gospel Albums chart-topper V2: The Voice Returns in 2007.
In 2008, revelations concerning adultery rocked the life of J Moss. The scandal scarred J deeply, but made way for a more lasting healing that would change him forever” “You’ve heard the expression ‘play with fire you get burned?’ Well, in my case, that fire was an explosion… like a nuclear warhead going off! During that process, I hit rock bottom and was very depressed. I’d been through weeks of not being able to function – cut my grass, pick up my kids from school or try to be a good husband. My wife had taken me back after a short period of separation, but I still couldn’t function because I felt so bad. Those weeks felt like a lifetime…but God put all my pieces back together.
“My wife is the one who was really my support after she got over the initial shock of everything,” J continues to witness. “She’s the one who dealt with my pastor. After long prayer sessions, she came back to get me and said, ‘The Lord told me to stay and that there is a bigger calling for both of us.’ Ever since that day, we have been rolling. We have a better spiritual life, a better financial life, a better friendship and better as parents. My ministry is better and it’s been a wonderful change.”
Today, J Moss is touring the country opening for the legendary CeCe Winans on “The McDonald’s Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour,” and has had divine visions of embarking upon his own “J Moss Restoration Tour” which he envisions incorporating preaching and a full blown concert. J is also a judge on the Gospel Music Channel’s “Gospel Dream” program. Most profoundly, J has been called to the preaching ministry and is currently under training. Since becoming transparent about his marital misstep, J has been experiencing many remarkable blessings by being a blessing to others. “It’s been crazy,” he says. “On the road with CeCe, there’s a segment of my show where I just speak what’s on my heart and I’ve found so many people are crying out to The Lord about their relationships. Men are walking up to me after the service talking to me about the test of my marriage because they see my wife standing with me on stage in front of everybody. Even though we struggled, they see in us the hope that you can come back from trouble stronger and better.”
This newfound sense of humility is what makes JUST JAMES such a special recording in the ongoing canon of J Moss. Though he assures fans he will get back to the more electrifying side of his personality – he had to first settle down and get his life back on the right track. Regarding the simple yet revealing album and song title, J concludes, “PDA and I were on the phone and he teased me saying something like, ‘Wzup J Moss!’ I said, ‘Naw, man, I’m just James.’ Then, Paul got serious and said, yo man that would be a great album title.’ It represents a stripped down version of me – minus the bling, the hype, the phat beats, the cameos and the big budget recording I’m known for. We got back to the raw innocent experience that I started with and wanted people to feel again…the life according to J Moss as just being James.”