Country has Taylor Swift. Pop has Rihanna and now the gospel world has Anastasia and nothing will ever be the same. With guidance from former Def Jam Records executive James E. Jones (aka P.J. or Pastor Jones), the 21-year old Georgia peach is poised and primed to shake things up in the music industry as she prepares to release her debut CD “Where Life Begins” (Over & Above Music Group) in late summer 2013. “It’s time for something different,” she says of the project“ and this dynamic duo is bringing a slick urban Pop flavor to their inspiring gospel.
Jones, who worked with the likes of Mary J. Blige and Heavy D. during his days at Uptown Records, is producing the urban-pop flavored CD that is intended to establish Anastasia in the urban as well as the gospel music genre. The beautiful vocalist can hold her own with the likes of Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson. The first radio single “Nothing Compares” is a balmy, hypnotic ballad that can easily find itself in rotation on Top40, Urban AC or Gospel radio. The album is rounded out with a range of youthful flavors ranging from the infectious club vibes of “Reminisce” and “I’m In Love” to mellow sing-a-long chants such as “You” and “Lord, Have Your Way.”
Anastasia was born in Seattle, Washington but raised in New York until she, her younger sister and their health technician mother moved to Atlanta when she was ten years old. “I’ve always wanted to be a singer ever since I was a little kid,” she laughs. “I remember singing on the playground when I was ten years old. You know when you’re in school and sign your classmates’ scrapbooks? I used to write `stay in touch and cop my album.’”
Meanwhile, she was copping the rhythms of Whitney Houston and Anita Baker. “I like Kirk Franklin, Kim Burrell, Britney Spears, Rihanna. Kanye and Jay Z.,” she says. “I like all different genres of music.” She was home schooled during her teens allowing her a flexible schedule to pursue a career in R&B music. “I went to a bunch of labels when I was 16,” she recalls. “I even met Sylvia Rhone at Universal Motown and she told me I was the cream of the crop and that cream always rises to the top.” Alas, it was a bittersweet moment as Rhone had just signed a similarly styled artist and couldn’t offer Anastasia a deal at that point.
“It didn’t work out because that wasn’t God’s will for my life,” Anastasia concedes. “That wasn’t the plan that He wanted me to do. It took me a while but I had to understand and realize that you have to answer God’s call. When something is in God’s will He’ll open a door and let it happen but I came to the realization that I wanted to do gospel. I love Him so much that I would rather use my gift for Him in ministry than to use it for myself and what I’d rather do for my own selfish gain.”
This is where Anastasia’s uncle P.J. or Pastor Jones steps into the story. He grew up in the Bronx during the birth of Hip Hop in the 1980s and got his feet wet by producing rappers in the area. Then, he snagged an unpaid internship at Uptown Records where he was mentored by the founder Andre Harrell and a rising staff producer, Sean “Puffy” Combs. He worked his way up to Vice President of A&R where he executive produced movie soundtracks for hit films such as “The Nutty Professor,” “How To Be A Player” and “Rush Hour.”
In spite of his success, Jones felt a void in his life that wasn’t filled until he accompanied his aunt to a church service. During that spiritual meeting he found what he was looking for and says, “Christ filled that void.” He became very active in church and while he continued to work at Def Jam, Jones planned business trips so that he would not miss church on Sunday mornings.
Then, the unexpected happened. Jones went to Atlanta to shop for furniture to fill a new recording studio he was building there. The salesman prophesied to Jones that God was calling him to become a pastor. “I left the store crying,” he remembers of that day in 2003. “I didn’t even buy any furniture. I knew in my spirit that it was true but I didn’t want to accept it.” That aborted shopping spree was the spiritual turning point for Jones and he began to focus his mind on ministerial enterprises.
Jones founded the Rejoice in the Word church outside of Atlanta and in 2008 he launched the Over & Above recording label. Jones’ first project was to bring some of the biggest names in gospel together for a CD entitled “The Kingdom Vol. 1” that featured Mary Mary, Tye Tribbett and Dorinda Clark-Cole, among others. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums sales chart in 2009 and then Jones began to write and produce for a host of other gospel acts.
And then, one day Jones began to listen to his niece Anastasia with new ears. “She was singing around the house and at church,” he recalls. “I said, `wait a minute, you can sing’ so I took her under my wings and I had her do all the background vocals for Mary Mary, Tye Tribbett, Kerra Sheard and Dorinda Cole. That was her first time getting her feet wet in gospel.” Anastasia gives Jones props for educating her on the music business and for opening his doors to her. “He helped me cultivate my gift by allowing me to sing background with all of these artists so I can now go solo and do my own project,” she adds.
Now, it’s a family affair with Jones, who is like a surrogate father to Anastasia, pulling out all of the stops to launch the young singer’s career. This Georgia Perimeter College accounting major is more than ready to share her God-given music and also wants to create a platform to encourage young adults to remain chaste until marriage. It may be a rare viewpoint in today’s sex-crazed social climate but Anastasia is all about breaking barriers and drawing people to Christ. “I am in love with this project because it’s not traditional,” she confesses. “It’s something new and something fresh. I feel like we really need this because there are so many youth out there that need to be touched and they don’t have anyone or anything to relate to and I feel like I am that person. You can be unique. You can be fly. You can be classy and still be saved.”