My Conversation with Montell Jordan

This-Is-How-We-Do-It-Montell-Jordan-Bestfan Last week Channel 328’s “Unsung” featured Montell Jordan. I never heard of Montell Jordan before watching the show, but I had heard what turned out to be a top hit he wrote entitled, “This Is How We Do It.” I only know of the song because it is used in a commercial by Jackson Hewitt’s tax service. “Unsung’s” story of Montell Jordan’s rise to stardom and his “fall” was riveting.

Montell was born in 1968 in South Central Los Angeles. His parents sheltered him from the mean streets of Los Angeles by keeping them either at home or in church. In church Montell sang in the choir. After graduating from high school Montell went to Pepperdine University where he graduated in 1991. Montell’s discovered the power of his own talent when he opened for a major artist and the audience went wild. It was then that he came to believe that he could make it in the music industry, both as a songwriter and as a singer. Someone else also believed in Montell and he soon signed with Def Jam Records, a recording producer that came to include Russell Simmons.

Not long after Montell began to record he met Kristin Hudson whom he married in 1994. According to Montell, he had heard that if you are a male performer especially, if you are not married when you enter the music business, then the likelihood of getting married become increasingly difficult. He would soon find out that being marriage would be equally as difficult even after attaining success.

In 1995 Montell released “This Is How We Do It,” as a single that skyrocketed to #1 on the Billboard. An album by the same name was released that went platinum. Montell recorded 5 more successful albums including music videos that started him down a road he came to regret. What he came to regret was how he would be lured by the explicit sexuality both in his song lyrics and his music videos with a bevy of half naked gyrating, sexually alluring women surrounding him. He eventually had to come to terms with his “unfaithful” behavior and confessed everything to Kristin. According to “Unsung” Kristin temporarily left the house rather than kill him. He then learned that lawyers and accountants he had hired and trusted had failed to protect his financial interests resulting in a bankruptcy. To settle an IRS debt he sold all the rights to his entire record catalogue for $600,000, including “This Is How We Do It.” Later song recordings did not “top the charts,” and Montell struggled with his career. In 2010 he left the music business behind—at least the type of music that had made him a star. Montell is now a praise and worship minister at a large Atlanta, Georgia church.

After I watched “Unsung” I was so irritated about yet another black entertainer who seemingly made millions (for somebody) but who ended up in bankruptcy. I Googled “Montell Jordan” and wrote to him at the church where he now serves as worship minister. I told him about my having watched the “Unsung” episode and asked if he felt any particular calling to advise new and upcoming artists about the pitfalls of stardom—especially the financial pitfalls. I asked him point blank if he had considered writing a book about the “business side of music.” I explained that I felt that too many black entertainers, including sports figures, fail to manage their finances, often leading to prison, Wesley Snipes, or otherwise flat broke—too many to name. I included my phone number and email address in the letter to Montell and dropped it in the mail. Around 3:00 p.m. today, my phone rang and I noticed the name of a church on the caller ID. I answered. The voice on the other end said, “This is Montell Jordan. I just received your letter. Do you have 3 minutes to talk to me?” I said sure, take as many minutes as you want.

Montell Jordan and I talked for 45 minutes while I mostly listened to him explain the business of music. What he explained was that both he and his wife were college graduates and were very careful with money and managing his career. He explained that he hired an attorney and a CPA accountant and trusted them to handle his family finances. Neither one did– and he and his wife ended up in bankruptcy. Long story short, Montell said that with long road tours, album deals and assorted other recording and songwriting arrangements, that the best of performers cannot possibly handle all the legal and accounting aspects of their careers. What often happens is that money that should be reported to IRS does not get reported, or something else that should be accounted for to the IRS, goes either unpaid, or ignored until years later after penalties amounting sometimes to millions of dollars have already accrued. What may start out as $50,000 of income that fails to get reported to IRS will languish for a period of years after which the penalties can accrue at $500 a day until paid. Add to this mix crooked managers and others who outright embezzle money from entertainers, or who otherwise make or recommend bad investments, and you can see how so many performers end up broke after rising to the top of their careers.

Montell then told me about how he came to the point where he had to make a decision to continue with the same genre of music he had been performing to pay IRS or turn his life over to Christ. He did the latter and is entrusting his complete financial restoration to God. He said that amid all the turmoil of his music career he had to restore his marriage because of his conduct while making music videos and touring without his wife. He and Kristin saved their now 20-year marriage and have four children—the oldest started college last week. Montell told me he is now 45 years old and has a testimony for anyone who doubts God. I shared with Montell that I too am born again and my testimony of escaping from darkness is equally as compelling.

Still, I had to ask Montell about how he is using “his Christian testimony” as a former top performer to benefit young artists who want the same type of stardom and success he had attained. I asked him if part of his testimony about God’s calling on his life would include something of a primer on do’s and don’ts about folks who manage the money side of young careers. I explained that being saved does not exclude becoming financially savvy or using his life’s story to be a beacon on light to the unwary. Montell told me he and his wife are currently writing books about their lives and how their marriage survived his early career, including a book he is writing entitled, “Becoming Unfamous.” What he said is that the entertainment business is almost too complicated for even the most intelligent entertainers to understand. He said, just as he had made mistakes to become famous, the lure of stardom often leads many performers to sacrifice personal values and proper financial guidance just to make it big. He said that he thought that a man named Bert Padell had already written a book about the ins and outs of the music business—then he added the best way to keep something a secret is to write it in a book. People don’t read—they still fly by the seat of their pants—to their ultimate detriment. I asked Montell how much money he thought his five albums had made—he said probably $200 million worldwide. He then explained where that money probably went as it filtered, sliced and diced within “the music production business.”

I enjoyed my conversation with Montell Jordan. I told him that I was almost speechless that he even bothered to read my letter and call me. He said some letters deserved a personal explanation to the writer and mine was one of them. Montell said finally that I could get more information about what he is doing musically by going on the Internet and searching “Montell Jordan, the Power of Music.” I already have.

Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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Wednesday Wisdom, {Music Corner}