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Intersection of Life and Faith

Keeping up with the Joneses

  • Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 6 Jun
Keeping up with the Joneses
Forget about Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Tena and Ahmad Jones were the first hip-hop couple to ever tie the knot, and as vocal spokespeople for the unclassifiable 4th Avenue Jones, they're all right with that distinction. Except that the new incarnation of their group is now anything but hip-hop. They call it "hiprocksoul," a concoction that's evident in their latest CD, Stereo: The Evolution of HipRockSoul (Gotee). We sat down with the Joneses recently to discuss their new album, their ever evolving-sound, their marriage—and the fact that they don't mind if their music and show are viewed as one big, loud hip-hopera.Your new album is titled Stereo: The Evolution of HipRockSoul. Why?Ahmad Jones We're evolving, and we want you to go there with us. The basic thing we wanted people to understand was, this is not your daddy's 4th Avenue Jones. This is a brand new incarnation of what we wanted to do from day one. It took us a [while] to find our voice, to involve everyone in the songwriting process, and just make it a reflection of the band.You were a well-known hip-hop group. Have hardcore hip-hop listeners embraced your new sound?Ahmad Completely, which is shocking, because I thought we were going to get a lot of flak. But people have to grow with you. Anything that doesn't grow is dying. But we didn't want to die, so we knew we had to keep changing. I know a lot of people appreciate us for taking them further than they expect you to go.Tena Jones: Listeners a lot of times want to come out of their shell. Ahmad just got a call from a guy that's straight up hip-hop and he said, "I'm inspired to come out of my box. I'm going to do things differently. I'm going to try to evolve." And I think that's what music is here to do.What distinguishes you from other hip-hop-influenced groups?Ahmad We use a lot of guitar, and that's kind of odd, because a lot of rappers stay away from guitar tracks. [Their stuff] is more drum 'n' bass, Rhodes, coasting music. We go for broke, but it's funner to perform. We base the music off of the live show, not vice versa. So the audience tells us what works and what doesn't work. A lot of trial and error, just letting it marinate and building the sound organically.There's more singing than rapping on this album. Was that a tough transition for the two of you?Ahmad No. People would hear my demos and tell me, "You need to start singing!" And I would say, "Nah, I'm an emcee!" But this time I said, "Forget about what people are going to think." So I put my heart on the table and let it go.Before this new album, you had done an album [No Plan B, Pt. 2] for Interscope Records that never saw the light of day. Are you OK with that?Ahmad I always want people to hear what we had worked on so hard, but I'm happy it didn't come out on a mass level, 'cause I don't think people would've accepted this change as well as they have. Only a small group knows our old stuff. We're hoping once we get on mainstream radio with this, a lot of people will be hearing our name for the first time, without the baggage of them considering us a hip-hop group. We don't even consider ourselves that.So why did you part ways with Interscope? Ahmad Just a lot of drama. The guy who signed us, who believed in us and took us in, left to go to another label. When he left, the bottom fell out. The good thing is, we got our masters back, and we didn't have to pay for them because they owed us two records, so they were breaching [contract] in a way. We knew we were going to be all right. We've always had a tremendous amount of faith in God and our band and the fans.But that's a huge platform that slipped through your hands. Don't you feel like you're taking a step back now that you're on a considerably smaller label?Ahmad It was a huge platform, but if they don't believe in it, it doesn't matter. A machine is just as good as the people controlling it. We're on our own label [Lookalive] and we're with Gotee and EMI, and we love it.As I listened to your album, I noticed the interaction between you. There's a lot of bickering. What's up with that?Tena It's not that we bicker, bicker, and bicker all the time. But we're going to talk about the things that go on in our marriage. A song like "Sorry" does that. And people need to hear that.Ahmad: We need to keep it real and make music that people can relate to. I never want to be fake. We try to say things that are from the heart.You mentioned the song "Sorry," Tena. Does Ahmad usually wait to get the song written before saying he's sorry?Tena (laughs) No, he's really good about saying, "Sorry."Ahmad: I say "sorry" because I always believe in that. You mess up, and you get it straight immediately. Don't go to bed with problems. People are responding to that song because, how many times is it that all we need to do is ask for forgiveness?Tena: To me, forgiveness is a very big deal, especially in God's eyes. He says, "If you have anything against your brother, and you come and pray to me, I'm not even going to hear you." So if I don't get right, I can't talk to God. That's huge.Is it difficult to lay these frustrations out in the open? Somebody who listens to the album might go, "Whoa. These guys have issues!"Tena I think it's difficult for somebody who's prideful. When you don't have anything to hide, I don't think it's that difficult. You're comfortable with it.The MTV generation doesn't have a clue about honesty and marriage. Do you see yourselves as advocates for something like that?Ahmad No doubt, and we put a lot of emphasis on it. I make sure to say at every show, "This is my wife, Tena. We love each other. And this is our baby" [their one-year-old, Yeshua Ali]. The whole man-woman-child aesthetic, just having a complete circle, is what life is about. We've gotten away from life because we live in a climate of death. The more you can promote life, the better.Do you feel mainstream audiences might view that as uncool or cheesy?Ahmad It's what it is. I believe any time you believe in something, other people will believe it. But if you're trying to hide it and taking your ring off, people won't buy it if you don't buy it.Tena, the album is very theatrical in spots, quite dramatic. Has it ever gotten like that in real life?Tena You mean, as in shouting matches?Yeah.Tena Oh, yeah! Most definitely. It doesn't get there too often, but it has to happen because we're all human.Ahmad: As artists, we're naturally very opinionated people, we're both stubborn, we're not going to back down easily. That's our strength, but it's also our Achilles heel.Tena: If I weren't saved, it would be a lot worse.Ahmad: Yeah, 'cause she gets me cracking.Tena: Oh, I do not!Would you say Ahmad perhaps is focused on the business side of the Joneses, while you're trying to hold together the family aspect of it? Maybe there isn't a balance?Tena There's a balance.Ahmad: Sometimes when I come home, I'd be like, "Man, you can't wash the dishes?" And she's like, "Wash the dishes?" Stuff that everybody else goes through. She'll say, "You've been gone in the studio," but I'm so focused on my work.Tena: He's the workaholic. A lot of times we don't have time to just go out and hang out. Most of the time we're traveling or doing shows. So when we do have time, he's trying to kick back and watch The Contender, and I'm trying to go the Olive Garden, and he says he's tired. He's the introvert, and I'm the extrovert. I love people.I saw your concert last night, and some of your stage expressions looked like a play. Do you guys do that at every show?Tena Actually, I really was upset at him last night. We were with the baby, and it was just a stressful day. The baby was crying up until we got up on stage, and Ahmad was too busy to help me tend to him, so I was kinda stressed out about that. So we had a little dispute about it. [Ahmad] was really good yesterday, saying to me, "How are you?" Being real sweet. But I had an attitude. But I do the whole theatrical part at every show, but last night it probably came out real real because …Ahmad: It was real.Learn more about 4th Avenue Jones on our artist page, and read our review of their latest album, Stereo: The Evolution of HipRockSoul© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.