J Moss Interview
J Moss Hits the Highs & Lows of Why He ‘Must Praise’
By Shamerra T. Brown
James Lorell Moss is about a lot of things. First there’s his essential relationship
with God. Then comes his beloved, patient family (wife Melanie and sons James
and JaMel). There’s his much-sought-after production company, PAJAM. His
position as a faithful minister of music at his church. The ministry he manages as a
superfluous singer. Then there are his prolific gifts as a composer and arranger.
But above all that, Moss is a man about worship. After talking to him, there’s no
mystery about the object of this worship. Being the writer that he is, Moss is quite
expressive about why his entire life, everyone in it, and everything he does is
fashioned around honoring his Lord. When I first talked to Moss at the Super Bowl
gospel concert, I knew the 35-year-old had a lot of pertinent thoughts and
experiences to share that could only be captured in a more concentrated setting.
Walter Kearney, one-third of PAJAM’s powerhouse production team (which
includes work for Karen Clark-Sheard, Hezekiah Walker, Patti LaBelle and Kierra
KiKi Sheard), arranged for us to talk later in an extensive interview. The composer,
producer and artist behind the mega-ballad, “We Must Praise,” talks about family,
pouting, vulnerability as a man during intimate times of worship, and being a
James Moss: What is MannaScript all about? What does that mean?
Shamerra T. Brown: Oh you want to know about me and what we do?!? You want
to flip the script. OK, well about three years ago by the leading of God I started
MannaScript as a writing and editing company. About a year and a half in, things
weren’t going in a way where I felt that it was fully what I was supposed to be doing
with the company. It needed more of a spiritual and ministry-driven tone and writing
and editing for other people’s projects wasn’t quite doing it. I consulted the Lord
about it because I knew He wanted me to seek Him about specific instructions and
that He would tell me exactly what I needed to do … I had known probably since I
was in high school that I wanted to have a Christian magazine. But over the years,
that desire matured into what I now understand as a call of God. The name
MannaScript came to me about four o’clock one morning in early 2004. I had
been trying to come up with a name a few days prior and I wanted something with
the word “script” or “scribe” in it, so when I got MannaScript, I knew it was from
God, and that it was the proper name for the writing/editing company and
publication. We still do writing and editing for clients but the magazine began much
sooner than I had intended; because before that, I was working on a “safe” plan.
… “Manna” of course comes from the Old Testament. It is derived from a Hebrew
term which means, ‘What is this?’ and it was the substance that the Israelites
received daily from God, falling from Heaven, for their natural nourishment. So we
have fresh “inspiration” from Heaven, if you will, with each edition of MannaScript
… It is our endeavor that the content in MannaScript be spiritually nourishing for
our readers and even for myself.
JM: Wow, that’s awesome. I mean, that’s so big because anything that you do …
I’m in that same vein, any song that I do, it’s got to affect me first before I let
anybody hear it. That was big what you just said.
STB: Awe, thank you. Speaking of your songs, there’s one you did for Dawkins &
Dawkins, “Not Just Anybody” … you did this rap with the line, “I’m addicted to your
thang/Ignited by your flame/Ain’t no thang/Jesus you are the Source that makes
my heart bang ...” Do you remember that?
JM: [Laughter] Oh my God, yeah I remember that!
STB: At the time, I was going through a few painful, life-altering situations and I was
just beginning to fully experience the love God in a huge, personal way and that
love had gripped and overwhelmed me for sure. When I heard the lyrics, I was like,
“How did he know!?”
JM: Because that’s what it’s supposed to be. I think we all go through that
transition where we cross over into being born again. It’s explosive. My experience
like that was when I was 7. I remember where I was, what I had on, what everybody
had on around me. I was laid out. It was so overwhelming. A lot of people break out
in a dance and some people get knocked out. Mine was resting on my knees and
crying … it was an explosive experience and so I believe that came through on that
particular rap. That’s just how you feel about Jesus sometimes.
STB: I agree. J, what’s involved in the typical “smooth” production of a song?
JM: First of all, you have to have some direction. We have sort of a credibility now
where record labels are calling us to find out what we have for a particular artist.
When the phone call comes, we usually have about 10 songs that fit a singer’s
profile. So we send the songs out and they will review and approve. Then once the
song is accepted you may have to go back and tweak more. The song may be too
high for that particular artist, they may want to challenge us on the bridge lyrics, so
there may be some post-development. And then we get to a place where we
decide OK, this song is going into publishing mode and we need to add some
horns, we need to add some other elements to make this song bigger. A lot of
times when we’re doing demos, we’re just flying through them just to get the ideas
down. And then somewhere in between all that the artist comes in and lays down
their piece. Then there’s post-production where we fix or add the final elements.
That could be live guitar, additional vocals, and choir sounds. And we may have
the artist do overdubs as well. Then we get to the mixing of the production, which is
handled by Paul “PDA” Allen. Then from there, the song is shipped out to the label
and ready for mastering and then it goes into press. Now I’ve seen it take three
days and I’ve seen it take a year.
STB: Do you ever produce tracks with a particular singer in mind?
JM: Sometimes, like right now we’re writing for Byron Cage for his new live
recording, which will be at the Apollo Theatre in May. So when I’m writing I’m
thinking about him, but if the song takes a right turn or a left turn, then I’m going to
follow God and roll that way. If KiKi were coming up, we’d get into a more youthful
STB: It’s amazing that you, as a producer, just talked about taking a turn with God.
We wouldn’t automatically think that God is “fully” inspiring you all in the process of
making beats, you know?
JM: In Gospel music, you want to be open as much as possible to heed the voice
of the Lord. So when God says, “No I don’t like that verse,” even though you’re
thinking about KiKi, He may be putting a CeCe [Winans] verse on it. And if we
ignore that, we end up giving KiKi a CeCe song. That’s why we try to keep focused
and clean enough so that we can receive from God what He’s trying to say. So we
make sure that what God is birthing through us, that it actually gets delivered to
the right ministry. Whether that be a church, an artist, a commercial jingle, we use
that same formula for everything we produce.
STB: That’s good about being clean and ready. In a position like yours, you’re one
person, but God is producing substance in you for a mass group of people and so
it’s important that you, as the individual being used, have a clean heart and
integrity according to God’s standards. You have to be in a proper place internally
in order to be effective externally.
JM: It’s so competitive now. When you’re on stage, it almost seems like the
audience wants you to out-sing whoever was up before you. If you get caught up in
that, you’ll miss whatever God wants do. So we have to keep our minds clean and
focused, so we can say, “God, I know so and so just got off the stage (whether
they were good or bad), I still have to stay in my element so that you can use this
STB: Before J Moss Project, you were already a successful producer with PDA and
Walt, why did you all decide that James Moss needed to be an artist? Was it
something that was always on the backburner … did God initiate it?
JM: Well, when we started 12 years ago, that was our initial objective, to get me a
[record] deal. We were going to piggyback off that and see where the Lord would
take us from that point. We got the deal at the onset, but then the label got the
news that Karen was looking for a deal. So now, you got this brand new label that
needs a “Michael Jordan” and they have a nice young aspiring artist with potential,
versus a woman who is definitely going down in history as a legend. They went with
Karen, needless to say, and we were fortunate to ride on that album. And I think
she let me rap on a couple of songs. So the time wasn’t then. I couldn’t be the J
Moss that God needed me to be back in ’95. He knew that it was going to be a
10-year period before He thrust me out in to the masses. I just had to wait it out and
STB: What was that like to be producing, writing and singing on other people’s
projects, knowing that you were anxious for your time to come? I’m sure you were
being compensated, but I can’t imagine someone with all your creative energy at
that time not being able to put it down for yourself.
JM: Well it’s definitely something to deal with internally. I mean you feel like you
have that gift and you’re just as good as the next person, and a lot of times we get
real carnal and think that we’re even better. It’s rough, you go to sleep a lot of
nights feeling like “God, why not me, when is it going to be my turn?” And you
know, a lot of times He would tell me to hold on and a lot of times He wouldn’t say a
word. In the meantime though, I made sure I soaked up as much learning, wisdom
and experience as I possibly could. I never wanted God to see me not being busy
with the gifts He gave me. I wanted Him to look down and say, “OK that’s my boy,
he’s at least working, putting those gifts to use.” And so I just worked and did
everything I possibly could until it was my turn.
STB: Now that you’ve experienced the more public position of being an artist, do
you prefer staying behind the scenes as producer and writer only, or are you
comfortable with the limelight?
JM: That’s never comfortable because you’re always under scrutiny, and always
under the radar. Everybody wants to know what you’re eating, your shoe size,
where you live. I’m just a person like everybody else and that’s what I’m really
trying to portray. God has really shown me that we’re getting off into this celebrity
thing too much when there’s so much work to be done in the world. People need to
be able to see us as people just like them, with a specific assignment. And my
assignment is to be a minister through song. That’s really the kick that I’m on,
letting people know, God gave me a gift, but you also have a gift. I’m not better or
different than you, God is no respecter of persons. So I’m trying to flip the energy
from wanting people to leave me alone to saying, “No you can bother me, because
I really want you to see that I’m just like you.”
STB: Describe what listeners will hear on your new album, V2.
JM: It’s really fun. It picks up right where J Moss Project left off. A lot of people
were surprised at the success of that one, including myself. Of course we sat and
strategically planned to do all the things we needed to do, but it was up to God to
take that and blow it up. So V2 is just an extension of J Moss Project. We used the
same formula, the only difference was that I’m a different person and God had a
different word. So you will see the growth in J Moss, the growth in PAJAM, you’re
going to see us shifting in direction in what God has to say. And I had a little more
room to stretch out and be me with V2, and not be in the box so much trying to be
safe like on the first one.
STB: What’s changed about James Moss from the first album to now?
JM: Understanding a lot of it is not about me at all. God showed me a lot of things
between ’04 and ’07. He told me that He was trying to get me to a place where I
understood that this has nothing to do with me. He said, “Now I’m favoring you and
I’m blessing you and I’m giving you this assignment, because I’ve prepared you for
it and this is the script that I’ve written for you. But don’t ever think that it has
anything to do with you, or that it’s because you’re so good. Keep your mind
focused on Me.” And that’s how I live now. At concerts, you’ll see me out in the
audience mingling with people with no security. You know, when it calls for that,
and we need some people to help us out, we’ll do that. But I’m into letting people
see that I’m just like them.
STB: Yeah I was a little surprised when I saw you at the [Super Bowl] concert go
out and watch Tye’s performance from the audience. … Well actually, Yolanda
[Adams] and I were watching from the monitor when you were onstage and she
was supporting you, and then you went out to support Tye. That was cool.
JM: Well I’m glad you saw that and I know if you saw it, hundreds of people did to.
It's so good for people to see that togetherness among us.
STB: J, I know you’re a worshipper, so let me get your male point of view on
something. What is the key for a man opening himself to God in humility and being
vulnerable in the approach? Does it begin in his lifestyle/personality or is that level
of intimacy developed in worship and then walked out in his life?
JM: It’s real deep for a man because when you’re in worship, you have to express
in intimacy. And a lot of times, men have a problem with sharing those types of
emotions, very submissive, tear-jerk type expressions. So sometimes for a man
who may be at the beginning of his worship journey, if you will, it may be a little
difficult for him. But where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. You can praise
God the best way you know how. If that simply means closing your eyes and
thinking about God’s goodness, then you do that. If you’re one of those who likes
to get your dance on, then you do that. The point is, just don’t let worship pass you
by. There is no specific definition for worship. From a man’s perspective, it’s easy
to get caught up in, “Yo, I’m a man and I’m supposed to be hard so I can’t indulge
myself too much.” We have to re-collect ourselves and know that this is the love of
God we’re talking about. We’re not talking about love toward other men, or even
love toward a woman, this is intimacy with God. On some fronts it’s a struggle but if
you just realize what you’re actually doing from that man’s point of view, it’s not
hard at all.
STB: Talk about your role as leader of your household, the one who sets the tone
for your family.
JM: Everything is “live by example.” In order for my wife to have complete trust in
me, she has to see the proof. In order for me to get my wife to a point where I need
her to be spiritually, she has to see it in me. So everything about me in front of her
and my children is about example. OK, let’s take a left turn a little bit and talk about
me raising my two boys. There’s a certain way that I want them to carry themselves
as little black boys growing into young black men, and into full grown men. So
there’s a certain way that I walk in front of them, there’s a certain way that I want
them to shake hands, there’s a certain way I want them to stand in front of me and
discuss hings with me without looking weak and passive. So it’s that same thing
throughout my family. I want my wife to see that confidence so that she can trust
that I’m following Christ and leading this family the way it should be led. So
everything is about trust. If you walk upright, if you follow Jesus as a man, it will
definitely spill over and catch on with your spouse and your children also.
STB: What’s your favorite thing to do with your family?
JM: We have a theatre in the house that we just built and we’re so excited about it.
We’ll get the popcorn and go in there … the other day we watched Ant Bully. We
turned it up real loud like we were at the movie theatre, dimmed the lights, reclined
the chairs, and just had a ball. There’s no running out to answer the Blackberry,
there’s no running out for my wife to answer the phone about a property. We all
really just kind of shut the world out and say for the next hour and 45 minutes, this
is our time.
STB: Melanie is doing real estate now?
JM: Absolutely. God is blessing her. She just started her own company with a few
partners. They’re going through the city flipping houses and all kinds of other stuff
that I have no clue as to what’s really involved but she’s happy. And for many
years she was a housewife … but now that the boys are a little more independent
and into a routine, she’s starting to embark on her thing. She has a master’s
degree and so I don’t want to hold her back. And she’s really jumping on it and I’m
proud of her.
STB: What’s a challenge you’ve had that has led you to a level of humility that still
keeps you before the face of God today?
JM: I want to make sure you get this real good. On the first album, we had a lot of
success and God really turned things around for me and my production company.
God had blessed us with a song called, “We Must Praise.” It stayed at number one
for 13 weeks. We had all that success, and the whole year goes by and it’s now
Stellar Awards time. So we get the call that I was nominated for 10 or 11 Stellars.
We went through the entire list and the one that I really wanted was Song of the
Year for “We Must Praise.” The song wasn’t even nominated!
STB: You were crushed? Why?!? You had all those other ones!
JM: I know. But I think God made it happen like that for me. And the lesson I got
was when God said, “You put too much emphasis on that, J. If you’re going to be
worried about number-one status and the charts and selling a million records, then
I’m not going to be able to use you. Or, you’re going to be hurt a lot. Some of this
stuff is man-controlled ... I need your focus to be on Me. Don’t worry about how
many units you’re moving. Don’t worry about where you are on radio. I know you
have to keep up with it for your business, but the center of your focus should be to
be the best deliverer of ministry that you can be.” Though it was devastating, I see
the lesson in it.
STB: He broke you down like that?
JM: He broke me down! You talking ’bout a grown man crying?!
STB: What does J Moss do when he’s down? Do you immediately turn to God or
do you pout for a few days?
JM: Oh I’m a pouter, a big one ...
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