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JoJo Is Reclaiming Her Time

When JoJo first emerged in 2003, she was just 13 years old with a fully formed sound that fit nicely into pop and R&B radio markets. So when her first single “Leave (Get Out),” from her self-titled 2004 debut, came on the radio, I, like most teens I grew up with, couldn’t believe that such a big voice could belong to someone who was just of junior high school age. As an empowering kiss-off in which JoJo chants “leave!” to a good-for-nothing boy who maybe didn’t return her MASH notes in math class, the song was rendered with such conviction that it turned the former America’s Most Talented Kids hopeful into a bonafide star, seemingly overnight.

Following a classically American rags-to-riches dream, with her mother managing her career, JoJo left the one-bedroom Massachusetts apartment she was reportedly raised in, and embraced the opportunities ahead. Her song “Leave” quickly rose to top the Billboard Pop Charts — making her, at age 13, the youngest person in history to do so — and ultimately selling more than four million copies worldwide. The precocious teen later gave interviews asserting her artistic confidence and newfound fame, once saying, “When I sing ‘Leave (Get Out),’ I have been through that. I think it is just a new generation, whether people are ready for it or not. Teenagers are dating. They go through things and that is really what it is about.”

She quickly followed up her whirlwind success with a breezy second single, “Baby It’s You,” a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards performance, and a high-profile opening slot on Usher’s Truth tour in support of his 2004 album Confessions. Then her second album, The High Road, arrived in 2006, with an even catchier, more emotive lead single than her debut. “Too Little Too Late,” a R&B-and-pop power ballad, was, like “Leave,” similarly about JoJo’s refusal to reconcile with an ex who left her wounded. Though it was slower to sell, “Too Little Too Late” surpassed the commercial success of “Leave” by charting internationally. The attention led JoJo, who had acted in smaller TV productions, to star in her first feature-length role alongside a young Emma Roberts in 2006’s mermaid-inspired teen comedy, Aquamarine.

But while riding high as her sophomore album sold more than half a million copies, this is where things get a little fuzzy. When she was writing and recording her third album, JoJo’s label, Blackground Records (the former label owned by the late Aaliyah’s uncle, Barry Hankerson) became embroiled in a messy legal dispute with the singer that would last years, as she sought release from her record contract. The proceedings would lead to demo leaks, numerous album delays, and a removal of her first two albums from streaming platforms. At one juncture, JoJo filed a suit in 2013 against Blackground and its subsidiary, Da Family, citing “irreparable damages to her professional career.” Since she signed her deal in 2004 in New York, when she was a minor, JoJo noted that New York State Law prevents minors from signing contracts that last more than seven years. The suit reached a settlement between both parties, Blackground was eventually sold and is now defunct, and JoJo, who never stopped singing, released coversone-off singles, and a raw mixtape in the middle of all this. But when she was finally free from her label, JoJo unleashed in 2016 what ultimately became her third studio album, Mad Love, on Atlantic Records.

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