On June 23rd, prolific songwriter, worshipper and revered recording artist, James Fortune, will release his much-anticipated 8th album, Dear Future Me (eOne). This breakthrough CD, certain to resonate with music fans of every persuasion, is the transparent tale of a man and his turbulent season characterized by separation, confinement and serious counselling. Unlike previous releases, Dear Future Me represents a catharsis of sorts for Fortune, enabling him to melodiously express his mistakes, speak to his shortcomings and declare his delivery from the mess that nearly marred his future.
Songs like I Forgive Me, Dear Mirror and I Wouldn’t LoveMe are tuneful testimonies infused with introspection and rumination. The album opens up James composing a lamenting letter, setting the tone to a deep album, designed to deliver much more than music. It is behind this backdrop that BlackGospel.com approached James Fortune with questions in search of answers, looking for a contrite Christian with lots to share. Surprisingly enough, James was open, honest and honorable throughout the exchange, pulling no punches, owning every mishap, while declaring a brighter and better Future Me.
Christopher Heron: What’s one really interesting thing about you that would surprise most people?
James Fortune: Well, for the last 11 years I’ve been a pescatarian, which means I don’t eat any meat other than seafood. So no chicken, no turkey, no pork, no beef for the last 11 years.
Christopher Heron: Was that inspired by healthy living?
James Fortune: It was a combination. Healthy living was one reason but then then I did some research, I saw a PETA video on how animals are treated and that made me look deeper into how meat is prepared, things that go into it, how they allow animals that are sick to be sold for meat. So it had a lot to do with health as well as cruelty that’s done to animals.
Christopher Heron: You’re a born and bred Texan. Is there any other state, city, or country that you love?
James Fortune: I would say Atlanta. They’ve been supportive as so many other cities. It’s a second home. Of course, one of my best friends in the world lives there, Isaac Carree, so sometimes we’re just hanging out. It’s not always work. I really just love the city.
Christopher Heron: You’ve been sporting the dome (bald head) for many years. When did you take that final step to embrace it?
James Fortune: In my early 20s. I was cool with it. I actually liked it better once it was all gone.
Christopher Heron: Has there a lot of people who’ve mistaken you for JJ Hairston? He said he got mistaken for James Fortune a bit.
James Fortune: No, that never happened until recently, probably about 4 or 5 years ago when I started hearing it more. That’s when people started making that mistake.
Christopher Heron: One last question. What’s one album released in 2016 that really resonated with your spirit?
James Fortune: I don’t know if it was released in 2016 but it’s Travis Greene’s album, The Hill. His song, You Made a Way, was one that I would have on repeat. The whole album for me was really special. It really touched me. The writing, the production, the way it was put together. That was my top album I had on repeat in 2016.
Christopher Heron: The album and title track is called, Dear future Me, what are you talking about?
James Fortune: I’m speaking into the future for everyone who’s felt like they no longer had a future. I think that’s one of our biggest fears. Sometimes, we’re thinking what’s the plan God has for us? Does God have a plan for me at all? Do I still have a future after a failure? Is there favor for me after failure? Is this the last chapter or are there more chapters to my stories? And if there are more chapters are those chapters going to be as painful as the ones I experienced in my past?
What I went through, in the last 4 years was one of those things that happens in your life that’s traumatic. We all have problems. We lose a job, or go through divorce. There’s so much hurt and pain and agony and trauma in a divorce. When you go through something like that, it’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. For me, it made me spend time with God, so He could show me that my steps are still ordered by Him, that nothing just happens. If we can have the right attitude, God will make those experiences work together for our good and for His glory.
Christophe Heron: What was the hardest part you endured these past years? Was the hardship that your life was being played out before the public or was pain tied to being separated from family?
James Fortune: By far, the separation from my kids and the divorce, the publicity are all difficult. But what’s tougher than dealing with the public is dealing with yourself. When you make a decision that hurts you, that’s bad, but when you make a decision that hurts everyone else, people you love and people you’re connected to like your children and your family, that’s the worst. When you realize that you’re accountable, that’s hard to deal with because you’re looking at children who are innocent, who have nothing to do with any of the drama you’re responsible for. Their lives are being changed because of it. That’s the hardest part. The public thing, that’s tough for anybody, but it’s not nearly as bad as having to look in the mirror and deal with yourself and the people and lives you’ve affected and changed forever.
Christopher Heron: You hear so much honesty and transparency in your lyrics Was that intentional? Did you have a story that you wanted to share?
James Fortune: When I went through counseling and therapy for the past three years, one of the most difficult things I discovered about myself was lack of accountability. It’s always easy to point the finger at other people. God had to check me and say, ‘’Stop worrying about what’s not true and let’s deal with what’s true. Let’s be accountable for what you did do.’’ As people, we spend so much time justifying our actions and minimizing our mistakes and never really dealing with our issues. We’re too busy talking about other people’s problems. We never take time to say, ‘’I need to look at me.’’ So as I was receiving counsel, I’m writing. That’s therapy for me.
So a lot of these songs you hear is me writing through the journey. When you take a song like Dear Future Me, you’re hearing some of the thoughts going through my head. Will I ever smile again? I don’t know. I’m not talking about the smile that we put on for Instagram. I’m talking about the smile that’s coming from the inside. So the lyrics that you’re hearing is me writing through the process. I sent the lyrics to my producer and musicians. It was this journal that turned into songs.
Christopher Heron: What were some of the most valuable lessons learned through counseling, on the road to recovery?
James Fortune: One of the things that helped me through therapy was the whole accountability message. Once I was able to take accountability for my own action it didn’t matter at that point what people had to say, it didn’t matter who didn’t forgive me. Of course, we all desire to be forgiven when we make mistakes or wrong decisions but at the end of the day I can’t control people, I can’t control them, I can only control myself. So when I was able to admit it out of my mouth and be able to say that over and over in therapy, I was able to break free because I realized God had forgiven me but I hadn’t forgiven myself so I’m carrying around a lot of shame, walking with my head down or walking around like I’ve got to apologize to the world.
At the end of the day, once I took accountability I was able to break free from shame, resentment and regret. I was able to begin healing. A lot of times we just move on, we’re good at suppressing things. But for me, when I was able to say, ‘’I was wrong. I made decisions that as a husband, as a man of God, as a father, I should have never done.’’ I was wrong and I’ve got to deal with it.” When I did that, I took accountability and started owning my own mistakes, it started healing me and allowing me to see that God had a future for me.
Christopher Heron: Would you say that you’re in a good place today?
James Fortune: I will say I’m in a great place. Going through divorce was difficult. You have people choosing sides, so relationships change, circles change, but I will say I’m in a great place first and foremost because of my relationship with my children is strong. That’s great and that’s something that was so important to me. To be able to still be with my daughters, my son, and to show them an example that you can fall but you don’t have to stay down. It’s what you do after you fall. I talked to my son and daughters extensively about everything, I let them know the good, the bad, and the ugly. At the end of the day, that’s not the end of the story. I wanted them to see their father may have committed mistakes but at the end of the day, he showed us that you can still get back up. You can be a better man and father than you ever were before and a better example of a man of God, just giving them a visual representation of what that looks like.
Christopher Heron: What is one takeaway you hope listeners will have after listening to Dear Future Me?
James Fortune: I want people to walk away from listening to this album saying, ‘’I still have a future and my future is brighter than my past.’’ I’ve been going to a lot of jails and prisons lately with this message. There are people who feel like they have no future. Their criminal records aren’t going anywhere. At one jail, one guy raised his hand and said, ‘’How do I forgive myself, how do I still have a future? Should I just say I forgive myself?’’ I said, “Forgiving yourself is verbalizing it. Don’t allow memories to produce pain towards your future.” That’s how I want people to walk away from this record. Of course they’re going to dance, they’re going to jam, they’re going to worship on some of these awesome tracks. But at the end of the day, I want them to realize ‘’This is James and he bounced back. He was wrong. He admitted he was wrong and he got up. He did the hard work, he dealt with himself. Not once did I hear him make excuses for his actions or blame anybody else for his actions. Instead he got up and God is still using him, so God can still use me if I make those choices too.’’