One of Summer 1997’s defining anthems, bass classic “Love You Down” was recorded by singer/songwriter, INOJ, for the So So Def Bass All-Stars II Album. The song was a hit, spending 45 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. As Friday, July 28 marks the 20 year anniversary of the single’s release, we caught up with INOJ to talk about the song’s origins, fame in the 90’s, Jermaine Dupri, Aaliyah, not singing “My Boo”, and what she’s been up to lately.
Check out the newly launched https://www.inojofficial.com/. A special thanks to INOJ and Brandon Bailey of Two B Entertainment for making this possible.
In Hindsight: Who’s idea was it to cover Ready for the World’s Love You Down? Were you previously familiar with the song? Was the track specifically intended for the So So Def Bass All-Stars II album and did you think the record would be a hit?
INOJ: The way this song came to me was truly a divine effort. Let me set up this situation for you first. A year and a half before I released Love You Down I was signed to Dallas Austin’s label Rowdy/Arista in a singing group. The group for multiple reasons dissolved and each member went her own way. I was pretty hurt by the break up actually, so I decided not to pursue being an artist anymore, I was just going to focus on writing songs. One of the girls in the group had a friend that worked at a popular radio station in the DC metro area. In addition to making some of the popular remixes, he was also a music producer. His name is Charles Roane or Charles the Mixologist. She thought we would really hit it off so she insisted many times that we meet each other and finally we did. From our very first meeting Charles and I hit it off. We skipped the pleasantries and just started working. A couple of weeks into our new working relationship Charles asked me if I ever heard of bass music. Being in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area and previously Baltimore, we didn’t really listen to that much bass. I told him I knew some Luke Skywalker songs, like booty shake records. He was like “Yup that’s it and there’s a song called My Boo on the So So Def Bass All Star album, have you heard it?” At the time, I heard it maybe a few times. Well Charles was working with Lil Jon (Smith) and asked me to write to some of his bass tracks for the So So Def Bass All-Stars II compilation. We recorded a few songs together for the project and then Charles asked me a question that would completely change my life… “Would you demo a song for me?”. Neither one of us knew how that simple conversation would change the direction of our lives. Looking back on the situation, I can see how the group dissolving made room for my success and my group mate with her introduction to Charles directly contributed to my divine plan and I am very grateful! ..So I was like “Sure, what is the song?” He said the song is called Love You Down by Ready For The World. I was like “Yeah, I love that song!” I couldn’t really listen to RFTW when I was younger because of the lyrics in their song Tonight, but I listened anyway. So to answer one of your questions, I believe it was his(Charles) idea. Now regarding whether it would be a hit song, NONE of us were expecting that it would! Let me explain further. I finished what I thought was a good demo of all of our originals and the cover LYD. Well Lil Jon reached out after he heard the demo and told Charles he really liked it. Initially I was demoing the song for another artist, but when they heard my version of the song, they asked me to record it for the project. Charles expressed to Lil Jon that I wasn’t interested in being an artist and Jon informed us that this song would not be a single, so I didn’t have to worry about that. Boy was he wrong about that. I guess LYD went viral before viral was even a thing. No social media, no single promotion, just awesome DJs who supported the record and word of mouth. I took the long way to give you the answer but, the answer officially is no, we had no clue.
In Hindsight: When did you first meet Jermaine Dupri?
INOJ: The first time I met Jermaine Dupri was way after I recorded the song (Love You Down). I lived in the DMV area, (DC Maryland Virginia) and the So So Def team all lived in Atlanta. I didn’t come to Atlanta until the song started doing really well and they wanted me to record a video. My first or second night there, one of the label reps took me to a pool party. I’m not sure if it was Jermaine’s party but he was there and I met him that night, that was sometime in July, 1997. I can’t recall anything we talked about actually. I was a little distracted because I didn’t know I was going to a pool party, so I was not appropriately dressed….jeans at a pool party. Hashtag awkward.
In Hindsight: What was your life like when “Love You Down” began to chart? Do you remember hearing yourself on the radio for the first time? Any memorable performances?
INOJ: In 1997 between recording new songs I was working for Prince George’s County schools as a long-term substitute teacher. I was living in Landover, MD near the new Redskins stadium. The end of the school year was approaching and the CD was already released, think I bought it on cassette and CD actually. A few of the teachers I worked with knew that I recorded a song on the Bass All-Stars project and they shared my excitement just being a part of it. It was the middle of June I think and the students were getting out of school for the year. A few of the teachers jokingly said I guess we won’t see you next year, cause you are about to blow up. We laughed about that a few times and I pretended to “blow up” like I was a big star. Saying that out loud is giving me chills right now! I guess Love You Down was getting an unusual amount of spins right after I finished teaching school for the school year because I got a call from Charles. He told me that some DJ started playing the song and he shared it with another DJ and it was catching on around the country. It didn’t set in what was actually happening until he called me about a week later to tell me that So So Def wanted me to shoot a video for the song. My life changed in the blink of an eye because I was teaching school one minute and and the next minute, I was arriving in Atlanta in preparation for my first music video. While I was in Atlanta, I received word that the TV show Much Music wanted me to perform on their show in Toronto, Canada! I was like are you serious?!? From that point everyone called me Joni or Ayanna, now I had to get used to me responding to this new name that I never thought I would use, INOJ. That was my first show EVER! I had not ever performed anywhere and now I was booked on a show to perform Love You Down on Much Music in Toronto Canada?!? I made it through and figured it out as I went along, interviews and everything. I had a couple rehearsals with my dancers who were also featured in the LYD music video. Looking back I know it was better that I didn’t have time to think about it or be nervous, I just went with it, you know. About one or two days before the video shoot I was in a hotel with the stylist trying on different wardrobe pieces and all of a sudden Love You Down came on the radio. That was the first time I heard myself on any radio in my whole entire life and I completely freaked out ran in the bathroom and shut the door. Everyone with me in the hotel was like why are you hiding in the bathroom. I said “I can’t believe this is happening”. It was a combination of excitement, fear, adventure and utter shyness, as I have known to be sometimes. Regarding memorable performances there are so many, too many to count! But one in particular stands out. I was in Minneapolis performing with the Backstreet Boys. RL from the group Next was there and I asked him to come on stage with me while I performed my song Precious Love. He showed up at the perfect time but he started walking off before I was ready for him to leave. I ran after him and slid on my knees across the stage. The fans were going crazy with the dramatic exit, but my knees were on FIRE!!! OMG!!! That was NOT in the script lol!!! When I got up my legs were bleeding, but hey, I was committed. Very memorable to say the least. The first time I met Aaliyah was very cool for me. We later became friends as we performed a lot of shows together. In 1997 there were so many talented artists out and individually such musical diversity, and for some reason, it all worked together and we all shared the same stage. There was room for everyone to succeed during this time. I performed with the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC and Fergie when she was in a group called Wild Orchid. It was cool to see people branch out and do other things as well! I get excited when I see that. Of course later on I would be one of the supporting acts on the NSYNC tour.
Aaliyah and INOJ
In Hindsight: We mentioned My Boo earlier– How often are you miscredited with that song? Does it bother you?
INOJ: 1998 was the first time I think I heard someone mention that I sang My Boo. My manager and I informed them that I don’t sing that song. That’s Virgo from Ghost Town DJ’s. The person was like, “Oh, okay” and we didn’t think it was a big deal after that. When YouTube was created it gave fans a platform to post videos. One video channel posted My Boo and put my (album) cover from my Ring My Bell (recording) up for the cover art. The video played there at least 1 million times. The fact that the cover art says one title and the song another title would cause me to raise an eyebrow personally. You ask if it bothered me… I wouldn’t say it bothered me per se, but it was frustrating because I said “I don’t sing that song” so much and people still didn’t believe me. One fan wrote me back and said “You’re lying. You do sing that song. Look at your picture on this cover”. It was the same INOJ Ring My Bella(album) cover on YouTube page I mentioned. I just threw my hands up, like I am over it. I try not to disturb my inner calm with chaos, so I keep a very peaceful attitude generally don’t let many things bother me.
In Hindsight: Can you describe your relationship with other So So Def artists at the time? Were you performing together, hanging out with one another? Was there a “crew” mentality that say Bad Boy Records had at the time?
INOJ: Since I didn’t reside in Atlanta, I didn’t see many of the So So Def artists often, so hanging out was few and far between. Living in the DMV area, it was easier for me to travel to New York. I frequented Columbia Records a lot for this reason. Besides that, my manager at the time Daren Hall, also lived in NYC. Now when we (So So Def) did get together, it was a good time!! We did have a couple of shows together as a So So Def family which was very cool. I wasn’t officially signed to the label at this time, but everyone made me feel like family. One time sticks out in my head though. When I was leaving to go on tour with NSYNC, Kandi and a few members of Jagged Edge came on my tour bus to see me off. That meant a lot to me and I appreciated the support from my peers/label mates. I am not currently signed to So So Def but they will always be my family! I am very grateful for the opportunities So So Def, Jermaine Dupri and Lil Jon afforded me.
In Hindsight: It would be two years after Love You Down initially charted that your first solo album, “Ready for the World”, would be released. Was this planned? Do you think a different timeline might have changed your career? Am I correct to assume the title is a nod to the group whose song spawned your first single?
INOJ: Wow I didn’t even realize it was 2 years after the release of Love You Down. My album was not released in the United States until many years later. I heard that it would only be released in Asia while I was on the NSYNC. To this day I am still unclear to why the project was pulled from the US release. There are rumors circulating that it was due to an internal issue with the music group. Unfortunate, but why not Ready for the World 2.0 following Love You Down 20th anniversary due out July 28, 2017. The fans deserve it and why not 2.0 for late 2017/early 2018? In my experience, I have learned enough about validating everything that comes from the rumor mill. If I needed to ask though I am certain I could get a straight answer. Somethings are better left where they are though. To me it makes more sense to continue to build. You could actually build something better. Very observant on the title of the album! Yes I wanted to give a nod to Melvin Riley by titling the album “Ready For The World” because he is the songwriter of Love You Down. I also wanted to express appreciation because I was grateful to be a part of his creative work and wanted to salute him with the title.
In Hindsight: You’ve remained active in the music business, writing and recording (I really like My Love for You) — how do you view your past success and what are your hopes for the future?
INOJ: Thank you and thank you for noticing. I have released other songs through the years just to let the fans know I’m still thinking about them and released My Love For You last year, to continue on that trend. I have so much music that I have not released and I am thinking about sharing more of my art. My past successes make me feel accomplished, but truthfully, I feel I have unfinished business. There are so many things I want to experiment with musically. To say whether or not they will be successful or to make that the main focus to release music, would keep me from creating freely. Sometimes I need to express myself without being concerned whether I am creating a hit or not. In regards to writing, one of my goals was to write for Janet Jackson! That actually happened in 2007 on her and Damita Jo record when I wrote a song called My Baby along with Sean Garrett and Kanye West. That was pretty awesome for me. Fun fact, we wrote that song about Janet Jackson and Jermaine Dupri when they were dating.
In Hindsight: The “Love You Down Challenge” videos on YouTube are rapidly gaining popularity, with Guava Juice’s own video amassing nearly 2 million views in only 10 days. What do you think of Love You Down being used in this way and can we expect to see you partaking in the challenge?
INOJ: This is so crazy and the timing is absolutely perfect considering I am celebrating my 20 year anniversary for the original release of Love You Down. I am all for having fun especially in such a positive way and I am glad my voice could inspire so many to be so creative. So yes to your question, I will be recording a LYD Challenge video of my own. Now I have to figure out what costume I am going to wear.
In Hindsight: What would be on you Summer 1997 playlist?
INOJ: Before I give you my 1997 summer playlist, I want to thank you for the opportunity to interview and to share my story. I appreciate you and I wish you much prosperity in your endeavors. INOJ’s 1997 playlist…in no particular order, because I would shuffle. I am sure there are more that I would add to this, but here’s a sample:
(Editor’s note: If Your Girl Only Knew was included on this list, but is one of many Aaliyah tracks not on Spotify. Nobody is happy about this.)
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