Home / Artists / Interviews / JJ Hairston touches on smash hit, hobbies & his hope for new album. | @JJ_Hairston
It’s hard to believe that JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise released its blockbuster single, You Deserve It, in the summer of 2016. Now, six months later, the track has morphed into the most popular song in Gospel music, enjoying repeat, radio airplay and heavy rotation among worship leaders, from coast to coast. It’s been a slow but steady incline for JJ & his faithful choir from Connecticut…from avid, young, Christians to purpose-driven and devoted adults.
JJ has embodied and embraced his role and transformation…from wild-eyed director of YP to full-time worshipper at City Of Praise Family Ministries…from ambitious artist to head exec at JamesTown Music. It’s been a fantastic journey that’s flourishing in some unexpected ways. With the release of the labels debut album, You Deserve It, now here, BlackGospel.com enjoyed an exclusive, eye-opening exchange with JJ that touched on his smash hit, his hobbies and his hope for the new album.
Christopher Heron: JJ, what gospel album were you blowing up in the car or at home in 2016?
JJ Hairston: My favorite record of 2016 was The Hill by Travis Greene. I messed up the CD, so I plugged it in the car. I love that record. So many great songs, Travis is a good friend of mine, but even if we weren’t friends, I really enjoyed that record.
Christopher Heron: I notice you’re a very dapper brother. Is there a specific designer or online store or a place you love to shop to get the goods?
JJ: Well Chris, you want me to give away my secret? I can’t give that away. Honestly, most of the stuff I get is from a stylist who takes care of me, but there is one store that I have in particular that’s my secret spot. They treat me pretty good. I’m going to keep it a secret.
Christopher Heron: Give me one activity that you love to do when you have time for yourself and the family?
JJ Hairston: This is funny because I always say I watch movies. But I think people think like, ’’Okay, so what? That’s no big deal.’’ I’m really a big movie guy. All the Marvel releases I’ve seen. One thing that I do that my wife can’t stand is I watch the same movie, over and over again. So movies like Rush Hour 1, 2, and 3, I’ve seen multiple times. So I’m really a movie guy
Christopher Heron: Have you seen Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures?
JJ Hairston: Absolutely.
Christopher Heron: Alright. You’re a movie guy.
JJ Hairston: My favorite was Hidden Figures. Fences was good, Moonlight was good, but I just thought Hidden Figures was a great movie.
Christopher Heron: Let’s talk about music. Congratulations on the blockbuster success surrounding the single, You Deserve It. Did you know right away that you had a special song?
JJ Hairston: It’s funny. You never know. When I first heard the song, I was in Kansas City and there was a worship leader, the pastor who actually sang on the song with me, Bishop Cortez Vaughn. It wasn’t a complete song then, it was just a chant, and when I first heard it, I knew it was special. When we finally recorded it, I never knew it would do what it’s doing now. There’s no way to measure expectation, so I couldn’t measure what I thought would happen. I knew it resonated with me. I have a good sense of what will resonate with other people, but I still had no idea it would bless so many people the way it has.
Christopher Heron: I initially thought the featured soloist was Jason Nelson.
JJ Hairston: That’s what’s funny. It’s Bishop Cortez Vaughn. It sounds like Jason Nelson. Bishop Cortez Vaughn is a singer out of Kansas City, Missouri. Very few outside of Missouri have ever heard of him, but he’s an awesome worship leader. He has this mix between Jason Nelson and Fred Hammond. Great style, so I knew I how I wanted to have him on the song with me.
Christopher Heron: What’s a pleasant surprise is your Latino version of the song, You Deserve It. What’s the inspiration for that?
JJ Hairston: The Spanish/Latino market has been so integral to worship, but it seems like the Gospel community hasn’t embraced them the way we should. The only one that really does is Israel Houghton, and because of that, he’s really gained their support. I knew this song was simple enough and was something that would resonate not only within our community but the Spanish community, as well. I know there’s a strong contingent in Africa who’ve already embraced the song. So I feel like it’s one of those songs that could translate to different nationalities. I really want to make it happen.
Christopher Heron: Your new album is your first release, under JamesTown Music. It’s a huge move launching a music label. Was this a business decision? Was this an issue for control of your music ministry?
JJ Hairston: Well, yeah. Youthful Praise has been singing and making music since 1999. They say the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. We wanted to continue to make music, but we wanted it to grow and Entertainment One has been very gracious to us. They’ve taken us to a certain place, where it was like, ‘’What’s the next step?’’ And for me, the next step was actually owning our own music, our own masters, having the freedom to do what we want and when we want. So they gave us a strong distribution system, and they’ve also partnered with us and helped support us in things we didn’t know. It’s been a really positive experience so far. You Deserve It is our first single and to have your first single on your new label hit #1 was huge for us, so we’re going to continue to grow by the grace of God.
Christopher Heron: What’s the biggest challenge as the CEO of your own label?
JJ Hairston: Well, I think there are so many things that you take for granted when you’re an artist, liking paying the bills, building relationships. There’s a lot you take for granted; you think things just happen. And now that I’m on the other side of the process, I see how much has to be paid, every change to the graphic designs, everything that you want to do, every place you want to go. Everything has to be paid for; everything is an expense. So those are things that I wasn’t aware of before, and now it makes me appreciate what major labels do to bring us as artists to where we are. But what’s also great is now I can appreciate every victory a little differently. Now, every small hurdle that you overcome is a larger hurdle when you’re doing it on your own. I’m really loving the process, and I’m going to continue doing what we do.
Christopher Heron: You’re now serving at City of Praise Family Ministries. How has that responsibility as Director of Music & Arts developed your artistry?
JJ Hairston: What’s amazing about City of Praise is it’s a church full of love, and anyone can come. It’s a large church, but it still feels intimate. There are people who I have the opportunity to lead worship for that I’ll never meet, and that has helped me to grow me as an artist. How to lead worship, even though you may not have a personal interaction with someone who’s part of the congregation…while you’re leading worship, you still want it to connect when you’re on stage. So it’s helped me to grow in my presentation, as I lead worship. You don’t want it to feel like you’re just singing songs, doing a quick set and leaving the stage. I want it to be an experience for all of us, not just for me, not for those who are just in the audience, but for all of us together. And I think City of Praise has helped me to grow in that way.
Christopher Heron: People are going to enjoy the new album. Is there a particular song that really speaks to you personally?
JJ Hairston: Yeah. There’s a song that’s on the deluxe version on iTunes called, Great And Mighty God. That song, we did before with Deon Kipping on the I See Victory (Deluxe Version), but it was kind of weird because it was released after the CD only online, so a lot of people didn’t hear it. So we re-did it, and on the night of the recording, there was no expectation with this song. We just did it, and then there’s this flow o worship that just happened in the house, something that none of us were expecting. When I listen back to it, I can still feel that same feeling I felt that night. That song to me, is one of the most impactful songs on the album.
Christopher Heron: My final question is about the title. Why was You Deserve It the appropriate title for your new release?
JJ Hairston: Initially we were going to say something about the fact that Youthful Praise celebrates 15-years as a ministry. We were going to talk about the journey but then after we thought about it, we understood all glory really belongs to God. I tell the choir all the time, “there are so many choirs, the only difference between us and them is the platform that God has given us.” I believe He continues to honor us with that platform because He knows that we use it to give Him glory and He’s the one that deserves it. So I felt this project is really just summing up the fact that He deserves the glory for everything He’s done through us and for us over the last 15 years. We’re dedicating this project to worshipping God, not to celebrating ourselves or any milestones or hits, we’re just giving God glory for everything He’s done through us and for us, and that’s why we named the CD, You Deserve It.
Tags @JJ_Hairston Bishop Cortez Vaughn City of Praise Family Ministries eOne Music J.J. Hairston James Town Music Jamestown Music JJ Hairston JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise You Deserve It Youthful Praise