Album Review: JoJo – Good to Know (Deluxe)

She was only 13 years old when Joanna Levesque aka JoJo stepped into the game. Her debut single “Leave (Get Out)” made her the youngest artist to reach number one in the Billboard Pop Charts, and boomed as a new artist together with her self-titled album from 2004 as well as her follow-up single “Baby It’s You” with Bow Wow. Her sophomore release “The High Road” from 2006 was able to hold a successful streak, especially with lead single “Too Little Too Late” that made it on the third place of the Hot 100, and in between starred in films “Aquamarine” with Emma Roberts, and with Robin Williams, Cheryl Hines, and Josh Hutcherson in “RV” (both 2006). Her early success, however, was halted thereafter, as troubles with her then-label Blackground Records put her in musical limbo where she after constant delays of music eventually fought herself out of her record deal, went to court, and after finding a loop hole in her contract was able to make a settlement that released her from the deal.

Stuck in a label without the possibility to release any music, she eventually self-published mixtapes and started touring again in the early 2010s to make up for the missed time while still battling in court. Her for free-released mixes like “Can’t Take That Away from Me” (2010) – a statement towards her then-label, and “Agápē” (2012) helped her to step back into the game, with ongoing fan support that she named her street team for their active commitment, including a #freejojo movement. Then finally, after getting rid of her former contract, she was able to put out her third major LP “Mad Love” via Atlantic Records, released ten years after her last studio album, and notable for catchy and straightforward “F*** Apologies”, featuring Wiz Khalifa. The album brought her back into the Billboard Charts at number 6, but as she wasn’t sharing a mutual vision with Atlantic, rather decided to create her own label imprint Clover Music and, as her first two records are not made available for download or streaming services, re-recorded both for her own label. Then in 2019, in her standalone single “Joanna”, she addresses her absence and criticism in lyrical form and reinvented herself for good – her first release with Clover in a joint venture with Warner Records, and after years defines her freedom to release and shape music of her own wishes.

This is then eventually followed by her 4th studio LP “Good to Know”, released in May 2020, with an acoustic version released in July, and a deluxe edition that followed after on August 28, 2020. A notable R&B album, the sounds that are used connect modern elements with urban pop reminiscent of albums by Ariana Grande (“Thank U, Next”) and Justin Bieber (“Changes”). For example in “Gold” – the fourth track of the physical and deluxe version – that reminds very much of Ariana with its mellow vocal ranges and rhythmic chill-out vibes that’s carried on in the cool and smooth “Think About You”. Some Rihanna-esque harmonies are brought in for “X (One Thing Wrong)” as well, as JoJo sings in a dragging mellow toned voice with heavy bass, giving feels as being in dark alleys of city streets at night. Moreover, “What U Need”, one of the more up-tempo tracks from the (deluxe) album, brings in some Justin-related beats in a catchy hook with some shoutout moments during the end of the song.

“What U Need” Official Video

What’s noticeable about “Good to Know” is not only the relaxing R&B waves but also the use of provocative lyrics. Just like in “Man” – a catchy and rhythmic highlight released as lead single – where she directly addresses her desire for a lover (“Damn, I’m gonna need a f***ing man”). Or in “So Bad”, a song about sex and cheating, that turns from light piano in full effects in the hook (notable for her nice vocal ranges that go up and down). That bold content flows right through the album and already sets the mood in one minute and nine seconds in “Bad Habits”, the album’s intro, singing “feed me love, sex, and drugs” to give “everything to forget all that I’m missing”. Probably almost too real moments of JoJo’s past of substance abuse that’s highlighted in bell-filled “Pedialyte” discussing her wild party life, that unexpectedly ends with haunted “take me” vocals and spoken raps. The album goes deep into the past and present, her way of just letting loose but looking for help as well, sharing a nice anecdote towards the ending of “Proud (Outro)”: “I remember that thing that you said in the car / When I was too drunk to get home from the bar / You looked at me and said, “You don’t know how special you are.”

“Man” Official Video

The ongoing sound of “Good to Know” is most definitely cool off R&B, wavy effects, and modern pop, like a summerish LA vibe. With racy content here and there, it has a few similarities to her last album “Mad Love”, but with the difference of A – more personal content, and B – more urban pop and R&B in the foreground. The dreamy “Kiss” connects with that theme, with easy guitar strings establishing a mood between a lazy Sunday or a quiet night. But not all tracks follow the same route when in-betweeners like soulish “Don’t Talk Me Down” or stripped down “Small Things” take a break from the album’s course, but somehow still fit in very well with the rest of the songs. The deluxe edition invites singers Demi Lovato (“Lonely Hearts (Remix)”) and Tinashe (“Love Reggae”) into the project but skips the rap parts in “Comeback”. The latter features Tory Lanez and 30 Roc in the regular version that brings in some flavor, making the track stand out more with the help of clever and smooth rap lines. But also a funny switch, when the regular edition adds “Lonely Hearts” without Demi but with her in the deluxe edition, and the other way around in “Comeback” – with Tory and 30 Roc in the album’s regular, but as a solo track in the deluxe one. Furthermore, as some deluxe versions are known to add some leftovers, this is though not the case with JoJo – the additional tracks like the before-mentioned “What U Need” or the euphoric and sweet album closer “In Your Room” bring some extra taste for the long-player. On the other side, the album stumbles upon similarities of other pop and R&B artists and also relies too much on modern sounds and heavy effects. Her harmonies though are on point. All in all, “Good to Know” offers slick beats and great vocal ranges, but here and there struggles to stand out. But after all, JoJo this time was able to steer her own musical choices, thus making it exciting of what’s to come in the future.

Highlight Tracks:
Comeback (feat. Tory Lanez & 30 Roc)
In Your Room

Full Track List (Deluxe Version):
Bad Habits (Intro)
So Bad
Small Things
Lonely Hearts (Remix) (feat. Demi Lovato)
Think About You
Don’t Talk Me Down
Proud (Outro)
Love Reggae (feat. Tinashe)
What U Need
X (1 Thing Wrong)
In Your Room

JoJo’s Uproxx mini-documentary about past struggles and her return

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