Taking the blue-eyed soul baton from Teena Marie, Jon B ushers us through the reign of LaFace Records. “They Don’t Know’s” iconic chords, cadence and crooning are reflective of the Babyface era. Up until the video debuted, people thought it was him.
When the visual for “They Don’t Know” dropped, it mind-fucked the entire year of 1997. The video starts with a pay phone, a concerned girlfriend, and her friends talking shit in the background. I can almost argue that this introduced us to what is now the modern day formula for the “hating ass friend”, my favorite R&B narrative. We have a leading man transitioning from player to boyfriend, best friends asserting assumptions as fact, and lastly a little pleading; I digress. As the video continues, the camera zooms in to Jon B *drops Flex bombs* getting a fresh cut from the barbershop on his cell phone. We cut back to his girlfriend who is caught between blind trust for him and her friends. All of this doubt creates the platform for the ultimate performance scene cracking the 4th wall a bit to assuage and convince us, the viewer. As his silky voice gives way to [my] runaway thoughts, Jon B emerges cloaked in 1940’s gangster wear to match his conviction. The slick aesthetics of the video established Jon B’s legacy making him a staple on the black lounge playlist to this day.
When this song came out, I was 10 years old. I could not relate to this but, boy was I singing my little intact heart out, loud and off-key. A couple years ago, I found myself being hated on like our leading man. Being applicable over 15 years later, makes it a classic. If you don’t know about Jon B, feel free to check out singles “Don’t Talk” and “I Do”.
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