Syleena Johnson (née Thompson born September 2, 1976, Harvey, Illinois, United States) is an American Grammy Award nominated R&B and soul singer-songwriter and actress.
Johnson took to music early, growing up not only with a musical father but also listening to influential artists such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Tina Turner, The Dells, and Mavis Staples. She would later apply her taste for soul music as a member of her high school gospel choir. Johnson attended Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois. Her music career was inspired by her music teachers, who are still working there as of June 2007. Johnson's road to music was hardly easy. Her father, Syl, was not encouraging, as his own lackluster success with his craft led him to think little of the music industry. On top of that, Johnson suffered from vocal nodules and had to go through speech therapy. And when Johnson was fifteen, her parents split up. Despite these setbacks, Johnson's relationship with both her parents and her music remained strong: she contributed as a singer and songwriter on her father's 1994 album Back in the Game. After having nodes removed from her vocal cords, she took two years of speech therapy. She has seven years of vocal training. That same year, Johnson began attending Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where she worked in classical and gospel choirs as well as jazz ensembles. Originally a psychology major, success at a talent show convinced her that her strength had always been in music. She switched to a music major and began recording her own songs. In 1996, she transferred to Normal's Illinois State University, and majored in music. In September 1997, Johnson met an assistant scout for Jive Records at a charity basketball game. That contact allowed her to send in a demo tape, which had an immediate impact; days later, she got a callback from a Jive executive with an offer for a deal. "That's a miracle", Johnson later observed. "Demo tapes don't get heard like that." The experience renewed her resolve.
Johnson (née Thompson) is the daughter of 1960s R&B Hi Records singer Syl Johnson and Brenda Thompson, who was the first black female police commissioner of Harvey, Illinois. Syleena has two elder sisters; Syleecia and Syleette. In August 2000, Johnson married former Illinois State University college basketball player Marcus Betts. Betts graduated in December 2000 and became her manager for her first two albums. In July 2006 she married basketball player Kiwane Garris. Garris, a fellow Chicagoan, is a worldwide journeyman basketball player, having played for various NBA and EuroLeague teams. On August 1, 2007, after forty-four hours of labor, their son Kiwane Garris Jr was born. On Sunday, February 6, 2011 she gave birth to their second son Kingston. He weighed 8 lb 5oz After playing overseas in Italy for nine years from 2001-2010, Garris returned home. Fall 2010 he become an Assistant Coach at Prairie State College. Currently he is the Assistant Coach of Mountain View High School Varsity Boys Basketball team in Lawrenceville, Ga. She is a member of Zeta Phi Beta sorority.
1995-2001 Before the Chapters:
Before being signed by Jive Records, Syleena made a number of assaults on the R&B music scene. In 1995, Syleena released an album with her legendary father Syl Johnson, This Time Together By Father And Daughter, featuring songs such as "Keep On Loving Me" and "Piece of the Rock". A rare video of an early song "It's On" has appeared on video-sharing website YouTube. Her official debut recording album Love Hangover was released on January 26, 1999. The album featured Johnson singing classic R&B songs such as "Love Hangover" by Diana Ross and "Baby I'm Scared Of You" by Womack & Womack. The album is hard to find, sometimes being sold at an exorbitant price on eBay and Amazon. Both Love Hangover and This Time Together By Father And Daughter, were released on the independent label Twinight Records. Not long after Love Hangover, Syleena Johnson signed a record deal with major record label Jive Records, and began writing the chapters of her life.
2001-2004 Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness,Chapter 2: The Voice & In between Chapters:
A hiatus from school in 1998 coincided with the collapse of her relationship with an abusive boyfriend. The ordeal gave Johnson the raw material for her debut album Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness, which traced a young woman's failed relationship and the healing that followed. Johnson's soulful rasp, reminiscent of old school R&B singers, set the tone for her confessional songs about the pain she endured in a bad relationship with a then-27-year-old man in 1997. Johnson grew from the experience and put it behind her, finding strength in a sense of forgiveness and from the spiritual guidance she says she received from God.
Johnson counted on her own honesty and real-life experiences to produce her compelling music. The young Chicago native confronted her own romantic pitfalls and coming of age story on her debut CD, which featured guest appearances by blues guitarist Buddy Guy and contemporary R&B artist R. Kelly.
Johnson wrote all the songs on her debut CD except her first single, "I Am Your Woman", penned by R. Kelly. Johnson began writing songs for her debut CD at age 20 in 1997 and sent her demo to Wayne Williams, V.P. of Artist Development at the Chicago office of Jive Records. He signed her and paved the way for the release of her debut album in May 2001. The album received much praise, but despite its No. 1 position on Billboard's Heatseekers chart the week of its release, the album was not a commercial success.
Jon Azpiri of All Music Guide gave the album 4.5/5 stating "Songs about breakups are a staple of modern R&B, so it's no surprise that Syleena Johnson has dedicated an entire album to a relationship gone wrong. What is surprising is that Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness is good enough to keep the listener's attention throughout... Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness is a remarkably polished effort and, as the title suggests, Johnson has only just begun."
Soon after, Johnson got to work on her follow-up album, Chapter 2: The Voice, which was released November 2002. Once again, the soulstress explored her personal feelings to find a thematic thread for the featured songs. This time, Johnson's shrinking self-esteem--brought about by the lackluster success of her first album and problems with her weight--provided the inspiration. Johnson realized that her strength came from her talent and her unwavering religious faith. Hence, The Voice is what keeps Syleena going. As with Chapter 1, Johnson got some high-profile help from Busta Rhymes and his Flipmode Squad, who contributed to "Tonight I'm Gonna Let Go", which got airplay at urban radio stations. The single also proved a success in the United Kingdom where it was a Top 40 hit; her first appearance on the UK Charts - she would later reach the Top 10 with All Falls Down, her collaboration with Kanye West.
'Chapter 2: The Voice' was recently voted #62 in a list of the best Soul Albums of the 2000s, ahead of fellow soul artists such as Jaguar Wright, Adele, Conya Doss, Ne-Yo and Faith Evans.
The December 2002 issue of Vibe Magazine gave the album 3.5 discs out of 5, quoting "Chapter 2: The Voice" as "...A distinctive sound, sometimes sweet, a little tart, and always strong..."
Mojo, in its February 2003 issue also gave "Chapter 2: The Voice" a glowing review - "...A coherent and engaging R&B album that explores love's vicissitudes with a confessional candour...Classy..."
In 2004, Johnson appeared on the MTV Video Music Awards to perform "All Falls Down", her chart hit with Grammy winning rapper Kanye West. Chaka Khan would also appear during the performance. The video to the song earned both West and Johnson four VMA nominations, including "Breakthrough Video" and "Best New Artist in a Video". That same year she also earned a Grammy nomination and appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. The song also brought Syleena to the attention of the public outside the United States. The song was a top 10 hit worldwide, including the UK.
2005-2008 Chapter 3: The Flesh:
2005 saw the return of Syleena Johnson with her album Chapter 3: The Flesh. The record's first single, "Hypnotic", featured friend/producer R. Kelly and rapper Fabolous. The single was relatively well accepted; the video for the single was played worldwide and was noted as being Syleena at her sexiest. The second single, "Another Relationship", became another radio single and a firm favorite amongst fans and critics. Johnson performed the song live at the Apollo, to a standing ovation. The album included Production from Hitmakers R. Kelly, KayGee, & Terence "Tramp Baby" Abney & the Platinum Brothers.
Chapter 3: The Flesh featured production and appearances from some of the most respected artists in the industry. Kanye West produced the heavenly "Suddenly (Bulls-eye)", which featured fellow Chicagoan Common. Further artists to make appearances on the album included Jermaine Dupri, Twista and Anthony Hamilton.
The album is Johnson's highest peaking album on the Billboard 200 chart, peaking at 75. As with Johnson's previous two chapters, she was again the victim of Label politics. Jive did not promote the album to its full potential, and many would argue they did not capitalize on the success of All Falls Down. Regardless, the album was still a roaring success with fans and critics alike.
Following the album, Johnson scored another Billboard R&B hit with Cam'ron and Kanye West on the track "Down & Out", which peaked in the Top 30. Furthermore, she featured on female rapper Shawnna's album 'Block Music', on the track 'In The Chi' and on DMX's album Grand Champ on the track 'Untouchable'.
Contact Music gave Chapter 3: The Flesh a phenomenal 5/5 review, stating "Third album for Jive from probably the most under-rated artist in the world is just what you expect from an artist of this quality... Quite simply for sheer quality this is one of the albums of the year."
2008-2009 I Am Your Woman: The Best of Syleena Johnson & Chapter 4: Labor Pains:
July 22, 2008 saw the release of I Am Your Woman: The Best of Syleena Johnson, via Sony Legacy. Johnson was not aware that a Best Of collection was going to be released, however she addressed her fans on YouTube saying that she was embracing the release as a way for newcomers to her music 'catching up' to her music before the release of her new album Chapter 4: Labor Pains. The album featured the singles Johnson released through Chapters 1-3, and further includes album tracks such as Chapter 2: The Voice's stunning "I'm Gon' Cry" and the simply beautiful "Still Open" from Chapter 3: The Flesh.
The album did not feature any new or unreleased music, the tracklisting shocked many fans as a number of fan favorites were not featured on the collection. It did however feature a commentary of her career thus far and information on Chapters 1-3 by "Dream Hampton".
Colin McGuire of Pop Matters stated "Sure, this is supposed to be just a hold-over release, keeping Johnson's fans busy until her next effort, rumored to be titled Chapter 4: Labor Pains, due in early 2009. But still, I Am Your Woman: The Best of Sylenna Johnson should be more of a reminder of an excellent career-so-far than a simple compilation of tracks. And yes, maybe some spots are missing (Chapter 2's 'The Voice/Intro' should have been considered, regardless of it being insultingly labeled as a simple intro), but more than anything, this collection is worth a listen. Because after all, as this release proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, it sure would be a shame if all Johnson was remembered for was a Kanye West hook."
Chapter 4: Labor Pains was released physically on January 13, 2009. The album is Syleena's first on her own record label 'Aneelys Records'. The first single to be released from the album was "It Is True", produced by fellow Chicagoan 'Toxic', who has previously produced artists such as Keyshia Cole and Monica. Due to lack of radio support the single did not appear on any of the Billboard Charts, however it was extremely well received by fans and critics.
The second single to be released from the album was "Shoo Fly", which immediately drew comparisons to the Jill Scott classic "Gettin' In The Way". The track, as with the debut single, was met with critical acclaim. Neither singles got the video treatment and promotion was minimal, which led to the singles and the album going largely unnoticed.
The album debuted on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Album Chart at number 42 following the physical release.
When asked behind the meaning of the title Chapter 4: Labor Pains Johnson said, "Chapter 4 is Labor Pains. As a punishment to Eve, He gave her labor pain. As a woman, in this world, we go through labor pains everyday. It's not just about having a baby. It's hard being a woman in our industry. We are expected to take care of kids and household, take care of our husbands, have a job, be adequate in performance, and just as good as the next man at our jobs. That's a lot of responsibilities, that's a lot of pressure, and stress for women. So that's basically what Chapter 4 is about. The album is also about love, and the good things that came of what I went through."
As 2009 drew nearer, Syleena appeared on a single with KRS-One, Twista and Crucial Conflict entitled "Self Destruction". According to Grant Parks and Coalmine Music, artists lent their lyrics for a cause they believe in with the statement "The time is now as we approach the holidays and a new year; it will give us all something to think about and reflect on loved ones that lost their life to senseless violent acts."
In February 2009, Johnson appeared on Maury to perform the song "Maury Povich". The writing of the song was inspired by the fact Johnson would watch the show daily during her pregnancy whilst working out, and a recurring theme within the show was that of paternity. Maury Povich commented that it was one of the greatest honors of his career to have a song written about his show.
In 2009, Johnson became a member of the 'Daughters of Soul', featuring daughters of soul legends. Fellow members include Lalah Hathaway, daughter of Donny Hathaway, Indira Khan, daughter of Chaka Khan and Simone, daughter of Nina Simone. The 'Daughters of Soul' have toured the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, France, and Indonesia.
Steve Jones of USA Today gave Chapter 4: Labor Pains 3.5/4 stating "Despite critical acclaim for her ongoing personal chronicles that began with 2001's Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness, the soulful Chicago native never found a mainstream niche. Unfairly, she's best known for Kanye West's All Falls Down.single, emphasis in original Here, with her gorgeous voice and evocative storytelling, she continues to offer some of the decade's most stirring R&B."
2009 will also see Johnson collaborate with Erick Sermon on a track called "Serious". The song is said to sample "I'm Gon' Cry" from Johnson's 2002 album, Chapter 2: The Voice.
2011-2012 Chapter 5: Underrated:
Johnson has released her album, Chapter 5: Underrated which features Toxic (the producer behind Keyshia Cole & Monica's "Trust", as well as much of Twista's work) and a number of other high-profile producers and artists.
The first single, "A Boss" (produced by Unik), was first revealed via her YouTube account on June 13, 2011 along with the official release date for the album (which is September 27, 2011). The song was released digitally on iTunes on June 21, 2011. The video for "A Boss" was revealed on YouTube on July 22, 2011. The official tracklist and the album cover were revealed via her official Facebook page on August 19 and 24, 2011, respectively. "Angry Girl" featuring Tweet was released as the second single from the album.
2012-Present: R&B Divas: Atlanta, 9INE & Chapter 6: Couples Therapy:
Johnson currently stars in TV One reality series R&B Divas: Atlanta. The show also features other established artists Faith Evans, Monifah, Keke Wyatt, Nicci Gilbert, Angie Stone, Kameelah Williams (of 702), and LaTavia Roberson (of the original lineup of Destiny's Child). Johnson is currently managed by DYG Management. September 23, 2013, Johnson and Musiq Soulchild released a duet album with entitled 9ine. This album was a compilation of nine reggae songs recorded in nine days. The first single from the duet album, "Feel the Fire", was released. In 2014 Johnson announced work on her 8th (9th including I Am Your Woman: The Very Best of Syleena Johnson) studio album Chapter 6: Couples Therapy, which is set to be released on October 7, 2014. The first single from the album, Perfectly Worthless, was released via iTunes on May 27, 2014. The music video was released on June 25, 2014 directed by Tangie B. Moore. The second single, "My Love", was released via iTunes on July 29, 2014. On September 15, 2014 the artwork and track listing was released for Chapter 6: Couples Therapy with 14 songs and includes featured artists Leela James, David Hollister & Willie Taylor.