UB Interview: Syleena Johnson Talks New Album, Daytime Show + Girl Talk with UB

Syleena Johnson is one of those undeniable talents whose unfaltering truth shines through every note she sings. Undoubtedly one of the best singers of her generation, Johnson has collaborated with everyone from Kanye West and Common to Anthony Hamilton and R. Kelly.

In recent years she has enjoyed mainstream exposure appearing on such television shows as TV One‘s “R&B Divas: Atlanta” and WE TV‘s “Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars” and as of September 2017, Syleena is featured on the new TEGNA Media/ TV One daily live talk show “Sister Circle.” Last month Shanachie Entertainment released “Rebirth Of Soul,” a recording that Syleena has long wanted to bring to fruition. Conceived and produced by her father, the legendary soul/blues singer and producer Syl Johnson, whose original hit version of “Take Me To The River” was covered by Al Green and Talking Heads. Everyone from Jay-Z and Kanye West to Wu-Tang and Usher has sampled Syl Johnson‘s recordings.

Recently Syleena spoke to Tishelle of UB. Syleena speaks about her new album “Rebirth Of Soul,” her daytime live show Sister Circle, tells us why Mary J. Blige inspires her. Syleena also tells us her only regret she has about doing R&B Divas: Atlanta and she tells us her favorite songs she’s recorded.

This month of December, UB is celebrating The Women of R&B and when this interview was wrapping, something else happened. An interview, turned into an amazing dialogue between two amazing women. A section we decided to call “Girl Talk.”


UrbanBridgez.com: Tell us about your latest project Rebirth of Soul?
Syleena Johnson: Rebirth of Soul is my remake album, with artists from the 60s and the 70s. It’s done with all live instrumentation. I also used artists from that time.

UrbanBridgez.com: What made you decide to work with your father on this release?
Syleena Johnson: Well it was my fathers idea. So I just went his way, because this is his era. I thought it was such a great idea because at the time auto-tune is on the rise. We kind of lost the authenticity of what real music sounded like. I kind of wanted to challenge myself as well. So all in all, it was a great idea and I’m very excited about the finished product.

UrbanBridgez.com: What goals did you have for the album when you started recording it?
Syleena Johnson: I wanted to be able to mimic the actual singing, runs and all of that on the record. I wanted to receive the actual energy of that era.

UrbanBridgez.com: Can fans expect a tour with the new release?
Syleena Johnson: Yes, my tour kicks off December 12th in Atlanta.

UrbanBridgez.com: What female artists inspire you?
Syleena Johnson: All of them. My favorite being Mary J. Blige right now, simply because of her sustainability. No matter what she goes through, she keeps moving and grooving. She keeps pushing forward and making great music, taking care of herself, her voice and her body. I just admire her so much.

UrbanBridgez.com: You’re great on Sister Circle, why did you decide to join that ensemble?
Syleena Johnson: Thank you! I feel like it’s the next progression in my career. I feel like this thing is something that God choose for me. Not me choosing it, but it chose me. I think he knows I have something to say, I’ve been saying things in my lyrics for years. And I think that he knows it’s time to have a platform where I can say a lot. And I think there are a lot of black people in the world who need to see their faces in a positive light on television. I’m hoping I can be a voice of relativity. Like I hope that people can relate to me and understand that even though I’m a recording artist and I’ve been around the world and all of that good stuff. None of that has anything to do with me waking up in the morning and being just like every other woman in the world. With the same worries and the same questions that women have when we wake up. Specially a woman with children, a married woman, I’m just aware of so many issues with women. I think that is why God gave me this opportunity to be able to encourage and inspire. That’s what I hope to do and I pray all of the time that God uses me to say all of the right things and uses me as an example, as a woman who has made mistakes in front and behind closed doors. But I kept moving in the midst of it all, and except my flaws and keep it moving. You know a lot of us don’t allow ourselves to except our flaws.

UrbanBridgez.com: That’s so true. What’s been the best part about filming the show?
Syleena Johnson: The absolute best part, is to be able to do it. I truly enjoy myself from the time I get there, till the time I leave. Sometimes I don’t want to leave, it’s just absolute fun. The make-up artists there start my day off and they are amazing. Hairstylist, amazing. We work with some of the best people that you ever could imagine. The production team, are excellent, excellent human beings. Everybody is just great people. My co-host, great people. I don’t wake up with an attitude, I don’t wake up with anxiety to go there. I wake up excited to be going there. That’s the best part, the opportunity every single day.

The biggest freedom that I have just recently encountered, is letting go.”

UrbanBridgez.com: Do you have any regrets about doing R&B Divas and what did you learn from that experience?
Syleena Johnson: Those are really good questions (laughs). Chile, but I do not regret doing R&B Divas, not one single moment. I think R&B Divas created awareness of the Syleena Johnson brand, more than there already was. I’m very grateful to that engine forever. I take that back, I do regret one thing. I regret the fact that what started off…well let me not say that because technically it didn’t start off strong. But our friendships, I wish that our friendships had gotten stronger. As oppose to weaker after the show. I think that and to compare it to Sister Circle, it is so important to have a sister circle. That’s truly what my co-host are and we’re not great all the time and don’t do things perfectly and we disagree. All of that stuff happens, but our hearts, our designs, are to where we will stick together.

UrbanBridgez.com: I see that, being that R&B Divas was that, divas and Sister Circle is more of sisterhood. As a fan and watching you were always very open, this is what it is and this is my life. Everyone doesn’t do that.
Syleena Johnson: And I do that on purpose. Now don’t get it twisted, there are things about me that I don’t share with anyone. But I want to be able to live out loud as possible because I use to really diminish myself. I use to dim my light all of the time so that other people around me could shine. So that other people would like me and so other people would not feel intimidated because I’m an entertainer, celebrity or whatever. So I would dim my light so other people could feel comfortable. I don’t do that anymore and I live on purpose and whatever it is, it is. And when you tell your truth, as my co-host Kiana says when you own your flaws, you can make your laws. So I know who I am and I know what time it is, and I bet you $100,000 there is a woman out there going through the exact same thing I’m going through and more than one. So I never feel alone behind it. So there’s no reason to hide the fact my son has Autism, or my husband gets on my nerves. What wife, does not have a husband who gets on her nerves (laughs). Or at one point we lost everything and had to build it up from the ground. That’s real life, there have been times when I didn’t know where the next dollar was going to come from. It’s just so many things that I am okay with and have come to terms with. Like living, it is what it is. What can I do, I can’t change it. But I can make it better and I can move on. I live out loud and this way on purpose because I don’t have to have the stress of trying to be this persona that I am not. That’s a very stressful thing to have to get up in the morning and have to put on a whole face.

UrbanBridgez.com: Your art is real, because we get to see it and live in it. Whatever you put out is just genuine and I think that’s why we are fans of you. Because you sing what you feel. Which leads me to my next question. Off the top of your head what are some of your favorite songs you’ve recorded?
Syleena Johnson: Awe man, let me see. I don’t know I have never really thought about this. But I’ll say there are two, Chapter 2 is a great album, I enjoyed creating the whole album. But there is a song called Time on Chapter 3 and Guitars of The Heart (Happy) on Chapter 2. Those are my two favorite songs that I loved recording. Like to the point that I would play them, over and over and over again. Those were my favorite records off those albums.

UrbanBridgez.com: Why those two?
Syleena Johnson: Well Guitars of The Heart (Happy) was originally a song about God. And it didn’t read that way, most of the songs on Chapter 2 were written about God. I created them in such a way that you would think that I was talking about a man. Some of them were about a man, but pretty much 85% were about God. My struggle as a christian woman being single in that time period. Just really basically love letters. Guitars of The Heart was a love letter. Now Time, I was actually in a relationship with a guy. You know that guy that be in your life here and there but you really be in love with him, but he doesn’t know that. He just comes in and out of your life a whole bunch. So that was my song to him to explain to him that. He was single as well, but he just didn’t want to commit. Now looking back at it now at 40, I realize he just wasn’t hitting on nothing. But at the time in my 20’s I just thought that he just didn’t want to commit and his time was more valuable than anything else he could give. He would tell me no he can’t be places, but he would send gifts. That’s not what I wanted, so that song was in tact because I was really in love with him. I even wrote about him in my book.

UrbanBridgez.com: Anything else you want to leave with your fans?
Syleena Johnson: You know people always say stuff like, stay grounded, stay true to your craft (laughs). Find a mentor, increase your social media presence, things like that to people who are up and coming in the business or their fans. Here is what I want to say today, I usually do words of the day and things like that all of the time. Because I do them for Sister Circle. I want people to follow us on Twitter, follow Sister Circle TV, TV One and Syleena Johnson (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) and check out my new website www.syleenamusic.com But I want to tell people, if it’s not going to matter in five years, don’t waste five minutes on it now. I say that because we have to be very cautious of our time now. We’re in a very strange time, we don’t know what’s going to happen. So my advice to everyone is to cherish every single moment. Live in the moment everyday and don’t sweat the small stuff. You can’t spend a lot of time thinking about small stuff. It’s crazy some of the stuff we sweat about. I know because I use to obsess over things all of the time. The biggest freedom that I have just recently encountered, is letting go.

UrbanBridgez.com: Yeah I agree, because I am learning to get out my feelings.
Syleena Johnson: That’s it!

UrbanBridgez.com: You have to get out your feelings and know that there is nothing wrong with that. Your feelings aren’t for everybody, you gotta learn what works and what doesn’t. Go with what works for you, some can take it and some can’t, regardless keep it pushin.
Syleena Johnson: Oh my God, you just said a whole word. You said a whole word!

UrbanBridgez.com: It’s a process.
Syleena Johnson: How old are you?

UrbanBridgez.com: 29 and I will be 30 in 5 months (laughs).
Syleena Johnson: You are blessed to be 29, let me tell you something. There are people your age and when I tell you, they marinate in their feelings. It blocks them from getting ahead. I know women like this and 30 is a great place, because you start to realize oh wow this doesn’t matter. You start to not care about stuff.

UrbanBridgez.com: Yeah, that’s where I am now.
Syleena Johnson: It’s very fun, isn’t it freedom?

UrbanBridgez.com: Just the last couple of days, I have been noticing stuff. Been in the middle of situations and just checking myself. Like girl, this could of went another way. I be over it.
Syleena Johnson: Yup!

UrbanBridgez.com: You gotta get sick of yourself, otherwise you’ll keep doing the same things.
Syleena Johnson: Say it!

UrbanBridgez.com: And I was so happy to be sick of myself before I turned 30.
Syleena Johnson: I’m so happy you got sick of yourself, before somebody else got sick of you.

UrbanBridgez.com: Well people have been sick of me and I had to get sick of me too. Or everybody is going to feel that way and you can’t continue to be around people and people be sick of you all of the time. You don’t want to be that person. I have been around older women, and literally have said I do not want to be like that when I’m their age. I don’t want to be that person, I want to start now because you can hold on to that and it can be like a cancer to you. If you do not just learn to just like, live.
Syleena Johnson: Oh my god, you should literally write a book. I know a woman right now, who is 39 years old. Who is absolutely obnoxious! You can barely be around her and she’s a professional in this industry. Her philosophy for being outrageous is this and this gets on my nerves real bad. I’m just keeping it real and I’m just being myself and I’m gonna tell it like it is. People who do that, get on my absolute nerve! They wear you out.

UrbanBridgez.com: I’m speaking it and dealing with it because I’m going through that now. Me and my little sister and she’s actually wise for her age as well, she’s 23. She be checking me sometimes, we had an incident and now we are able to check each other and speak to each other. I tell her I appreciate her for checking me when I do things that she doesn’t like. Because we don’t have enough people in our lives that are willing to be like listen, you bothered me when you did this. There is nothing wrong with self correction, you can say all of your life this is just how I am and people have to accept it. Well people really don’t have to accept it, then you have to realize you get back what you give out at the end of the day. So why would you want people to just take you being that way. I want people to see me as God has made me. Not with my attitude and things, I want it to be where there is never a question about my true characteristics. How I can be, is just that and sometimes it can be ugly.
Syleena Johnson: Girl, I want to put you on Sister Circle and let you just go (both laugh). It is so many women who do not speak like you. And they’re walking around ruining folks lives. Just getting on folks nerves. Do you know that they don’t think that and the problem is they don’t think that they’re the problem. In that, is what lies the problem. They have not realized that they are actually a problem. They think that their behavior is warranted and that you’re the problem.

UrbanBridgez.com: Like I don’t care if it’s your family, if I have to cut you off I will. In the meantime in between time, I can love you but I don’t have to have you in my life if you cause me pain. I don’t care if you’re my parent, none of that. Just get yourself together first.
Syleena Johnson: I am actually going to have to fire a person on my team, because they are that ridiculous. And it’s a woman and my entire team is black women. Like my entire team, from management, agents, they’re pretty much all black women. I maybe have like one white person, like my lawyer is a white man. Then I have a black male accountant. But the rest are black women and I am very very well versed in black women, because I grew up in a family with most all predominantly women. Like all women, all the time. One of them is sticking out and plaguing all of the rest of the women, because she gets on everybody’s nerve. And I wonder as you just said, if she thinks like that. Like are you hearing yourself, do you know how obnoxious you are (laughs). She’s the person, people avoid when they see. It’s bad, but the truth is she’s walking around 39 years old like it’s everybody else’s fault.

UrbanBridgez.com: I think they know though.
Syleena Johnson: I think that she knows, but she still has not come to terms that it’s her! She feels that it’s others that create the behavior she has. So her behavior is warranted, but when you evolve truly. You know that even if the outside entity creates turmoil within you, you know that you still don’t have to react to it. I’m gonna tell Sister Circle to make that a full circle…what are the boundaries for keeping it real? Are there boundaries of keeping it real? Because I can go all day on that. My pet peeve are people who keep it real. I absolutely hate them, they get on my nerve. Because people who actually do keep it real, you never hear about them talking about how they keep it real. It’s just who they are.

UrbanBridgez.com: That goes for everything. The things that are, just are. I think that’s what some people fail to realize, when something is it just is. It doesn’t have to be announced, it doesn’t have to be told, it doesn’t have to be pushed or any of that. Other people recognize it, before you have to say it. You know what I mean?
Syleena Johnson: I’m writing that down chile. I’m writing it down.

UrbanBridgez.com: It’s funny because I was saying the other day, you don’t have to make certain announcements. You will notice that people will feel that way, they will applaud you. We go so far to try to do things to get applauded for, but there are people who will applaud you for what it really is. Whether it’s good, bad or whatever, people are going to notice it.
Syleena Johnson: Yeah, they’re gonna know. You gave me all kinds of ideas. When you watch Sister Circle and you see that keep it real, know that was inspired by you (both laugh). It was so good talking to you and so refreshing.

UrbanBridgez.com: I have been a fan of your music forever, like I said we see you on TV & see how genuine you are but to have a conversation with you, I have so much respect for you. You are who you are, I just truly appreciate you. I really do.
Syleena Johnson: Thank you so much! And I am so proud of you being 29 and not being dingy (both laugh).


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