Mexican-born R&B singer Frankie J. mingles Latin and R&B elements in his music, but the R&B notes predominate, illustrating how the face of R&B is changing to include all ethnic groups.
Frankie J. was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and lived there for the first two years of his life. When he was two years old his family moved to San Diego, California. The move was unexpected: he and his brother and sister were dressed up to go trick-or-treating for Halloween, and their uncle decided to take them over the border to the United States. Frankie told Colin Devenish in Rolling Stone that the border guard asked his uncle why they were entering the United States. "My uncle said, 'I'm just bringing my nephews to take them trick or treating.' They said, 'OK, go ahead,' and we never went back."
Frankie's family was musical: his father once sang in a band, and his grandfather played the violin for his church. One of Frankie's earliest memories, according to an article in People, is of "my dad waking up in the morning and listening to Spanish music on this old-fashioned radio." By the time he was six, he was imitating singer Michael Jackson's dance moves, an act that never failed to amuse his parents. Frankie told Sheila Bonds on The Pub Report website, "I would sing 'Billie Jean' and 'Beat It' and swore I was Michael." In an interesting twist, Frankie wore a sombrero for his impersonations, perhaps a foretelling of his later musical career that would mingle Latin and R&B influences.
When he was 15, Frankie tried unsuccessfully to start a solo musical career, billing himself as "Frankie Boy." He then signed a contract with Jellybean Benitez, who got him an audition with A.B. Quintanilla III y Los Kumbia Kings, a popular multiplatinum Latin music group founded by the brother of the late Tejano singer Selena. He won the gig and spent four years singing with the group before deciding to go out on his own.
In 2003 Frankie went solo, returning to his R&B roots with a debut album titled What's a Man To Do?. During an early gig at a shopping mall, he was mobbed by thousands of screaming fans. Frightened, he followed his agent's advice to start running, and tried to hide in a car. According to People he said, "The fans were shaking the car. It was like a movie." The most-played single on the album was "Don't Wanna Try." The video for the song had extensive play on the MTV network, but Frankie didn't really receive huge publicity until he teamed up with rapper Baby Bash and released the single "Suga Suga." This collaboration brought him widespread attention.
As part of the release of What's a Man To Do?, Frankie returned to his old school, Southwest High School in San Diego, to sing for the students. One student told Devenish, "I think it's awesome that he fulfilled his dreams and came back to play [at] his school." Frankie told Devenish that the warm reception he received was very different from his actual high school experience. "I was a nerd in high school," he said. "I loved studying."
In 2005 Frankie returned with a new album, The One, which featured R&B songs with club appeal. The album debuted in the number three spot on the Billboard top 200 chart, and within a few months had sold almost 300,000 copies. On the CBS News website, a reviewer commented, "Frankie's new album is pure unadulterated R&B, perfectly patterned for slow dancing with a special someone." The reviewer also added that Frankie's falsetto sound "puts him in the same general categories as Usher and Justin Timberlake." At the Commonsensemedia.org website, Kathi Kamen Goldmark wrote, "Frankie J. is a terrific singer of the teen-heartthrob variety, and the occasional Spanish lyrics add an extra layer of emotion and romance."
On the Rampway website, Andrea Washington wrote, "Frankie J. definitely delivers a second effort that makes leaps and bounds past his debut album." Frankie told Bonds, "I was really lucky to work with [producers] like Irv Gotti, Happy Perez and Mario Winans." One single from the album, "Obsession (No Es Amor)," was a remake of a song previously performed by a group called Aventura. Frankie's version hit the Billboard number one spot.
Washington noted that although Frankie is Latin and mixes Spanish and English in his songs, he should not be labeled as "Latin Pop," as the album is "pure R&B" Frankie appeared to agree with that assessment; he told Bonds, "Oh, I'm definitely an R&B artist. I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music but I was drawn to R&B." The album's songs are all about relationships, whether losing a girlfriend, choosing between a relationship and a career, or finding the right partner.
Although most of his music addresses relationships, Frankie told Bonds, "I don't really have time for that kind of stuff right now." Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he was chosen by People Espanol as one of the 50 sexiest people. When Frankie isn't traveling to perform, he spends time with his young son, Francisco III, who was born to his ex-girlfriend.
What's a Man To Do?, Columbia, 2003.
The One, Sony, 2005.
For the Record …
Born Francisco Javier Bautista Jr. on December 14, 1980, in Tijuana, Mexico; son of Francisco Sr. (a water company employee) and Alicia (a retirement home worker); children: Francisco Javier Bautista III.
Sang with A.B. Quintanilla III y Los Kumbia Kings, 1999–2003; released What's a Man To Do?, 2003; released The One, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Website—Frankie J. Official Website: http://www.frankiejonline.com.
People, April 18, 2005.
"Frankie J: Biography," Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/frankiej/biography (February 20, 2006).
"Frankie J Is the One," Rampway, http://www.rampway.org/article.php?id=437 (February 20, 2006).
"Frankie J: The New Face of R&B," ThePubReport, http://www.thepubreport.com/frankie_j.htm (February 20, 2006).
"Frankie J: The One," Popmatters.com, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/f/frankiej-one.shtml (February 28, 2006).
"The One," Commonsensemedia.org, http://www.commonsensemedia.org/reviews/review.php?id=3424&type=Music (February 28, 2006).
"Second Cup: Frankie J," CBS News, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/04/22/earlyshow/saturday/secondcup/ (February 20, 2006).