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Johntá Austin

A prominent contemporary R&B figure who achieved his first major crossover hit in 1998 with Tyrese's "Sweet Lady," Johnta Austin is known most as a Grammy-awarded writer for Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" and Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You," winners of Best R&B Song for 2005 and 2006. In addition to these and other hits by singers such as Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, and Chris Brown, the ballad specialist -- also a producer and singer -- has made periodic moves as a lead artist. He was signed to RCA before he landed on Jermaine Dupri's So So Def Recordings, where he charted in 2006 with "Turn It Up." A long-in-the-works LP entitled Ocean Drive never materialized, but in 2019 -- 25 years into his career -- he finally released his first solo album, Love, Sex, & Religion. As a youngster, Johnta Austin sang in church and aspired to be an actor, and reached households across the U.S. through cable television, as a pre-teen newscaster on TBS and CNN, broadcasting from his native Atlanta. At the age of 13, he entered the music industry as an RCA signee, but the major-label deal fizzled out after his voice changed. Following a couple TV roles, Austin entered another door as a songwriter. Beginning in late 1995, he published songs recorded by the likes of Mona Lisa, Coolio, 702, SWV, and Dave Hollister. He had his first bona fide hit within three years for Tyrese via "Sweet Lady," a gliding ballad that peaked at number nine on Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart and almost cracked the Top Ten of the Hot 100. Austin was in demand for the duration of the next decade. Toni Braxton's "Just Be a Man About It" (number six R&B/hip-hop, Top 40 pop) and Aaliyah's "Miss You" (number one R&B/hip-hop, number three pop), among collaborations with numerous other artists across the pop-R&B spectrum, led to even higher profile work with Mariah Carey. Beside fellow composer Carey and close associates such as Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox, Austin co-wrote the four biggest singles off the 2005 blockbuster The Emancipation of Mimi. These included the number one pop hits "We Belong Together" and "Don't Forget About Us." The former crowned the Hot 100 for 14 weeks and earned Austin his first Grammy for Best R&B Song. (Billboard would later dub it Song of the Decade.) Roughly half a year into the Mimi campaign, Austin struck again with Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You," which topped the R&B/hip-hop chart and went number three pop. It also won the succeeding year's Grammy for Best R&B song, making Austin one of the rare songwriters with consecutive wins in the category. While Chris Brown ("Yo [Excuse Me Miss]"), Janet Jackson ("Call on Me"), Jessica Simpson ("A Public Affair"), and Bow Wow ("Shortie Like Mine") placed Austin-assisted singles in the upper reaches of the charts, the songwriter prepared a solo project, Ocean Drive, for Jermaine Dupri's Virgin-supported So So Def label. Three singles were issued, including the number 48 R&B/hip-hop entry "Turn It Up," but the album was delayed as Dupri and So So Def moved from Virgin to Island. Austin's new major-label affiliation yielded a fourth single, "Video." Ocean Drive, however, was ultimately shelved. Less active over the next decade, Austin added to his list of songwriting hits with Trey Songz' "I Need a Girl" and Mary J. Blige's "I Am," both Top Ten R&B/hip-hop singles in 2009, and Justin Bieber's "Never Let You Go," which narrowly missed the pop Top 20 the following year. Austin closed out the 2010s, during which he wrote for Ledisi, Luke James, and Monica, with his first commercially released solo album. The independently issued Love, Sex, & Religion arrived in 2019 with deep involvement from two of his longtime studio partners, Troy Taylor and Bryan Michael-Cox.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo


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