JJ Hairston talks about Miracle Worker, beard & wardrobe, future collabs, worship in Africa & more! | @JJ_Hairston
It’s been an incredible journey for JJ & YP over nearly 20 years, beginning in Turner’s Faith Temple in Bridgeport, Connecticut, culminating in recent years as an internationally known ensemble that’s sung for celebrities and earned coveted Stellar Awards.
With the release of the new Live album, Miracle Worker, it was time for BlackGospel to speak with Hairston about the evolution of his music career, his collaboration with other artists and his growing traction among the millennial generation.
Christopher Heron: You’ve got an incredible beard. Facial hair, especially beards are trending. What do you do to maintain that beard and is it a winner with your wife?
JJ Hairston: Oh, yeah. It’s my wife who made me grow the beard. I was cool with having a baby face but she made me grow it. I use beard oil, wash it, and comb it out. Beard oil and combing it out is what I do.
Christopher Heron: You have a tremendous social media presence. Is connecting with fans something that you personally enjoy or do you see it as part of the process to being a successful artist?
JJ Hairston: I really enjoy posting. It’s funny. When we first started recording back in the late 90s, if it wasn’t for sites like GospelCity, BlackGospel and Gospelflava, we really couldn’t connect with our audience. Now you have access to the world just by posting on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter. We have a huge following in Nigeria because of social media and YouTube so that’s why we love to connect using these platforms.
Christopher Heron: I’ve got one more light-hearted question and it revolves around your impeccable style. Your wardrobe is second to no man inside or outside of the church. Do you have a magazine or an online blog that you like to follow that keeps you in the style loop or do you leave all your fashion demands to a stylist?
JJ Hairston: That’s a huge compliment coming from you because you really keep your clothing game tight. I leave it to my stylist. I would prefer being left to t-shirts and jeans. My wife and I both depend on our stylist. She also styles for Anthony Brown. We love what she does for us.
Christopher Heron: Let’s talk about the album. Miracle Worker features an array of artists, from Kimberli Joye to Darell Walls to Tim Godfrey. Are these friends of yours or is it about matching the right voice and spirit to the right song?
JJ Hairston: It’s a combination of both. I have a special connection with artists like Travis Greene, Todd Dulaney, Darrell Walls and Tim Godfrey, all these people are good friends of ours. I kind of know what songs will connect with them and I put them on songs accordingly because we’re friends and I know their style. It’s easier to mix friends with songs, as opposed to someone who we may admire but we’re trying to figure out where to fit them in.
Christopher Heron: I remember discovering the title track, Miracle Worker, over a year ago when Rich Tolbert, Jr. first released it as a single. How did that single eventually find its way onto the new album and Rich as part of the Youthful Praise family?
JJ Hairston: Youthful Praise has known Rich for a while. He’s originally from the recording group, Livre. We’ve done a lot of concerts with Livre, we’ve always loved them. Rich recently started real worship at Love Fellowship Tabernacle Church in Brooklyn and we’re closely connected with Bishop Hezekiah Walker.
We really loved the song, Miracle Worker, we’d seen him perform it in different places. One time we saw him sing Miracle Worker, and I said, “We should record that song together.” Of course, Rich was very excited about the idea. Now we have churches all over the country singing that song. It’s really been a blessing.
Christopher Heron: Tell me about your choice on where to record the album.
We recorded half of the album in Nigeria. The culture of worship in Africa and Nigeria specifically, is so intense. We’d start a song and It didn’t take a minute for them to learn it and start singing with us.
JJ Hairston: That’s what we loved about recording in Africa. We’ve been to Africa over the last year, maybe 4 to 5 times and every time is an overwhelming worship experience, so we wanted to bring that back here to the U.S.A.
The other half we recorded at my church, City of Praise. I just love my church. It was an amazing night. We had close to 10,000 people there. We did our recording and then right after that Kirk Franklin did a whole concert. It was an amazing night.
Christopher Heron: A trend that I’m seeing is the collaboration between African & American Gospel Artists; Israel Houghton, Tye Tribbett, Michael Stampley, Todd Dulaney, Vashawn Mitchell and now more recently you teaming up with Tim Godfrey. From your travels to the motherland and from your experience working with African gospel artists, what are you experiencing from this collaboration?
JJ Hairston: I think we in America have a misconception of what the music scene is in Africa. When you think of Africa, many of us in the U.S. assume it’s just one big continent. We visited all these huge churches in Africa that are technologically more advanced than many of our churches in America.
What we wanted to do was to be able to break that stereotype that many of us have about what the African culture is. Tim Godfrey was at an event we were at in Africa, a couple of months ago. His whole presentation was how it’s supposed to be. It was so amazing. They give God their best.
Another thing that happens in Africa that doesn’t happen here is Gospel music is part of pop culture there, as opposed to here where pop and rap is the dominant culture. Gospel is the culture. You walk through the airport and they’re playing Gospel music.
Christopher Heron: What are you sensing is the distinction between worship in Africa versus worship in the USA?
I think that their worship experience is that much greater because it gets much more attention and because they’re so much more confident about they’re walk with God.
JJ Hairston: I think that their worship experience is that much greater because it gets much more attention and because they’re so much more confident about they’re walk with God. What I also noticed about Nigeria specifically is that they don’t have a middle class. Either you’re very wealthy or you’re not doing well.
But when you go to church no matter what class you’re in, you’re worshiping together. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a mansion or a little hut, you’re giving God praise with the same passion. And I think that’s why it gets so much attention there. What Cardi B is in America is what the Gospel artists are in Africa. That’s how huge it is.
Christopher Heron: Is there one artist in the future that you would love to collaborate with or record with, past or present? And is there a choir you wish you could direct, besides Youthful Praise, as a fan?
I want to record with Israel Houghton. He and I are cool. We have a great working relationship, but we’ve never recorded anything together. Next time.
JJ Hairston: As far as choirs, I have so many in mind. The Tri-City Singers will always be my favorite Gospel choir. The sound, the presence, everything is just perfect. If I go back, there’s also The Whitfield Company. That’s where I first learned what choir music was.
Christopher Heron: You left a universal impact with the last album and song, “You Deserve It.” Is there one song that people need to hear on the new album?
JJ Hairston: I would honestly say Miracle Worker is the song that is the foundation for this record. You Deserve It was our worship offering to God. Miracle Worker is the song because we believe in God to do what we’re asking him to do and we’re praising Him because He’s the only God. We’re praising Him because He alone has the power to do it. The simple declaration that we believe in Your power is a strong statement because so many people don’t believe. We want to give faith back to the church.