Donell Jones: Reflections of a Soul Survivor
By Souleo. Donell's laid-back demeanor, easy smile and cool exterior belie the fact that he's faced some heavy life challenges from surviving the streets of Chicago and battling alcoholism to protecting his career from industry politics. On his final "takeover" day Donell is ready to leave us all inspired as he recounts his 3 major survival tales. Read on as he opens up like never before about how his brother's murder conviction changed his world forever, how a DUI was his ultimate wake up call and the joy that comes with taking control of his destiny.
Survival Tale One: Getting Out the Hood
On how being a follower led him down the wrong path:
When you're a kid you follow the rest of your friends. I wasn't a leader, I was a follower. So running the streets was what everybody was doing, so that's what I chose to do. There's a lot of brothers out here right now that do the same thing. I think it's kind of stupid and ignorant. If you're going to be a follower you might end up dead or in jail. I watched a lot of brothers die.
On learning from his brothers mistakes:
I got a brother in jail right now because of it [the streets]. He's been there for 27 years and he went to jail for murder. That was a hell of a wake up call. I'm not going to say he took the person's life because that I don't know. But at the same time it could've been me or I could've been with him. So what if it was me and I'm in there, and I didn't get a chance to experience all the things I'm experiencing now? That would've just been a waste.
On how his brother inspires him to this day:
The people who died-their family loses a loved one but so do you. Sometimes I sit back and I think about all the things he could've did as well. It's like his life is wasted. He's probably going to get out at around 40 or 50 years old or maybe older than that. What could you do at that point? He don't know nothing but jail. He might be institutionalized. I wrote one of my biggest songs about him, "Life Goes On."
Survival Tale Two: Staying Sober
On the dark days of alcoholism:
I used to have to have at least about a 12 pack of beer and some Grey Goose everyday. My grandfather was an alcoholic, so I think that's what I got it from. I used to treat people so horrible. I was an angry drunk. I cussed mother******* out and I'd start fights. I just really made some bad choices. I caught a DUI 6 years ago and that's really where I had my turning point. I actually could've killed somebody because I was just that f***** up.
On the affect alcoholism had on his family:
My kids noticed and it [drinking] wasn't a secret. It wasn't something I was trying to hide. If I was at an awards show I'm getting drunk or if I'm just out and about then I'm getting drunk. But my children have always respected me. I never got questioned and they don't treat me in a certain kind of way. They respect me and that's how it should be.
On finding peace through sobriety:
The first time I went to rehab and stopped for a year. Then I ended up drinking again. The second time I just stopped cold turkey and I haven't had a drink since. My love for music helped me [quit]. I just wanted to get back to where I was and that's a driving force for me. Now everybody loves me to death and they see the difference. It's like night and day. I just appreciate the fact that they [family] were there to see me through it.
Survival Tale Three: Saving My Career
On how label politics and competition hindered his career:
I was on LaFace records first and then LaFace shut down. All the artists that were on LaFace records went over to Arista and then Arista folded as a company. Everybody from over there went to Jive. We didn't have any control over that. The reason for me starting my label, Candy Man Music was because I always felt like I was overshadowed and could've been promoted better. When you're competing for time with Toni Braxton, Usher, TLC, OutKast and Goodie Mob-it's like you got so many different artists that you have to compete against to get out on the radio and that was hard. That put a lot of pressure on me to make great music.
On not letting the challenges get him down:
My confidence was never shaken because I have a hardcore group of fans out there that really love my music and for me it's always been about the music. It's never been about me being a superstar because I really don't care about that s***. I want it to be about what I do musically and not what I do when I go out or other personal things. I'll leave that for the paparazzi and them other n*****.
On taking control and gaining financial independence:
Now with my label I get to make my own decisions. For me it's just a natural progression because I write and I produce my own material. If it was another artist it might be a little bit more difficult because they still have to go and pay somebody to make the record, but I do all of those things myself. So what might cost them a lot of money to do, I'm doing it myself. So if you have a dream you definitely have to make sure your dream comes true. Nobody's going to knock on your door and hand you anything.
Check out Donell's song inspired by his brother, "Life Goes On," here: