He could say salty things about his experience in the industry. But handsome soul newcomer Governor Washington Jr. (he goes by just his first name) stresses over and over again, "I'm not mad."
So what if a potentially lucrative partnership with celebrated producer Dr. Dre fell through? So what if he's recorded three albums, and only one, Son of Pain, will see the light of day next month?
"It's in me to not let the system beat me," says Governor, who's calling from Washington. "I'm a ball of energy. My will is strong. You don't like that, I'm like, 'Let's try this.'"
The Charles City, Va.-born son of a preacher man, who performs on the main stage at the African American Heritage Festival on Sunday evening, has been toiling in the music biz for about six years. A small-town boy with big-city dreams of becoming a singing sensation, Governor, who doesn't divulge his age, turned down an opportunity to study at the Berklee College of Music. Instead, he formed a Jodeci-style group called Case Closed and headed to New York after high school graduation. But nothing happened, so the unit broke up.
Undeterred, Governor hustled, signing an ill-fated independent deal and doing session work. In 2001, he met the production team Trackmasters and hip-hop rapper-mogul 50 Cent. They all worked on cuts together, combining Governor's urgent, gospel-drenched vocals with 50's gritty raps for a prospective album called The Best of Both Worlds. That record never came out. However, in 2002 Trackmasters oversaw a similar collaboration between Jay-Z and R. Kelly, also titled The Best of Both Worlds. It hit the streets that March and swiftly sold a million copies. But, again, Governor isn't mad about it.
"That was out of my hands, man," Governor says. "It just made me focus more on what I wanted to do."
Through 50, the 30-something singer-songwriter met his business partner, Jacques "Haitian Jack" Agnant, who negotiated a deal with Atlantic Records. Soon after making a cameo appearance on Santana's 2002 album, Shaman, Governor flew to Los Angeles and started recording with Dr. Dre. The two ended up finishing a dozen songs. But Atlantic and Interscope, Dre's label, couldn't agree on business terms. So the partnership was severed, and the album was shelved. At this point, Governor was fed up and wanted out of his contract. But Atlantic executive Craig Kallman had an idea: align the soul singer with the label's most marketable hip-hop star, Atlanta's T.I.
"I was not mad at being placed with T.I.," the artist says. "My uneasiness came from the business side. I was uneasy that Atlantic didn't feel I could go out on my own. It was the easiest thing to do as far as Atlantic was concerned. And T.I. is a [cool] dude. He was the last stop. We weren't forced together. I was forced to choose that outlet to get people to gravitate to my music."
Governor says the association with T.I.'s Grand Hustle clique hasn't affected his approach. But the hip-hop influence definitely runs throughout Son of Pain, which lands in stores July 18. It's in his stream-of-consciousness-like delivery, as if Governor is freestyling the lyrics of betrayal and love lost. There's little melody. And the tracks are dark, spare and bottom-heavy, akin to the productions found on albums by Jay-Z or T.I.
Lyrically, Governor keeps things raw and intense. He even covers (albeit self-consciously) Donny Hathaway's 1973 blues-in-the-night tearjerker "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know." "This album is an expression of all the pain of being in love, of being the average working man on the street," Governor says. "I'm about venting for you."
Son of Pain almost begs for a reprieve, a song that isn't so earnest and wrenching, something a little more reflective of the laughing, easygoing guy on the phone.
"As life progresses, my [lyrical] topics will change," Governor says. "I'm sure a lot more joy will be brought into my life. But this is my reality for a reason. I don't try to figure out life anymore. Whatever destiny brings, bring it on. I don't stay mad long."
See Governor on the main stage at the African American Heritage Festival in Camden Yards, 333 Camden St., on Sunday. His show starts at 6:40 p.m., and it's free.
Main stage schedule
6 p.m.-6:25 p.m. -- Sankofa
6:25 p.m.-6:40 p.m. -- Movido
6:40 p.m.-7 p.m. -- Organic Soul Contest winner
7 p.m.-10 p.m. -- Doug E. Fresh and the Old School Hip-Hop All-Stars (Big Daddy Kane, Whodini, MC Lyte and Biz Markie)
12:30 p.m.-1 p.m. -- X-Faction Dance Company
1 p.m.-2 p.m. -- Taron Woods
2 p.m.-3 p.m. -- Soular Evolution
3 p.m.-4 p.m. -- Kevin Marshall
4 p.m.-5 p.m. -- Soft Sheen Carson/Vibe Model Contest
5 p.m.-6 p.m. -- Groove Stew
6 p.m.-6:45 p.m. -- Eric Robeson
7:15 p.m.-8:15 p.m. -- Fertile Ground
8:40 p.m.-8:45 p.m. -- Jameirra Vessels
8:45 p.m.-close -- Erykah Badu
1 p.m.-1:40 p.m. -- Thomas Williams
2 p.m.-2:30 p.m. -- Black notes
2:50 p.m.-3:30 p.m. -- Minister Guy Robinson & Friends
3:50 p.m.-4:30 p.m. -- Taron Woods
4:50 p.m. -- Big Jessie Yawn
5:50 p.m. -- Choir Boyz
6:40 p.m. -- Governor
8 p.m. -- Chaka Khan
Note -- Schedule is subject to change. For more details on the B stage and Children's Corner stage schedules, visit aahf.net. Festival runs tomorrow through Sunday at Camden Yards, 333 Camden St. Free.