MILA J’s confidence is conspicuous. Instead of shying away from who she really is, she capitalizes on her true self: fearless and resilient. No filter. Her devotion to music was destined. Born Jamila Akiko Chilombo, Mila J was raised in a multi-cultural and multi-talented family. Her father, a musician himself, introduced Mila J to music at 2-years old when taking her to her first concert: Prince. From the knee-high age of 5-years old, Mila J, embraced her innate creativity and pursued the arts. Her parents – Christina Yamamoto and Dr. Karamo Chilombo – enlisted her and her sisters in a range of dance classes at All That Dance in her birthplace of Los Angeles. “I knew I wanted to be a performer. I fell in love with the stage through dance,” she says. Mila J is heavily influenced by Janet Jackson: “Janet Jackson was the first performer that I saw live. When I saw Janet, I knew that was the kind of artist I wanted to be. Her innovation, her dancing inspired me.”
Through Bobby Ball Agency, Mila J took on auditions and struck a guest appearance in Prince’s 1991 music video for his single, ”Diamonds and Pearls.” She and her sister Miyoko, who alongside Paulette Maxwell were in a three-girl group at the time called Innocence, caught the eye of music executives. With their spark being obvious, they were aligned with management and underwent a name change & eventually became known as “Gyrl”.
Gyrl signed to Universal Music Group’s MCA/Silas Records in the late 90’s. Mila J’s inimitable vocal prowess, and admiration towards TLC member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, drove her to take on the roles as both rapper and singer while in Gyrl. “I gravitated towards TLC, especially Left Eye because she had such a unique voice. They were different. They were tomboys. You could, and still can, relate to each one of them for different things,” she says of TLC.
“Even though we were really young, we were on a 52-city tour. It prepared me for everything that’s happening now. It taught me about the music business and work ethic,” Mila J says.
After charting on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart with singles as “Play Another Slow Jam,” the group experienced interchanging of members and creative differences. Gyrl disbanded after a few years, and Mila J took time to focus on a career as a solo artist. “Everyone was different ages, and in different places in their lives. It was a mutual disbandment,” she says. “I had spent the majority of my life in groups. This time I wanted to do it on my own, and find my identity as a solo artist. I took the time to develop myself as a solo artist.”
In 2006, Mila J returned as a solo artist and quickly began crafting her solo album, “Split Personality.” She signed to Motown Records, under the direction of label executive and trail blazer, Sylvia Rhone.Due to internal shifts in Universal Music Group, “Split Personality” was placed on hold indefinitely. Being the strong-willed and sanguine being she is, Mila J grasped the act as a blessing. She took a hiatus from the music industry to focus on herself.Mila J returned rejuvenated, and noticeably more comfortable in her own skin. She playfully took on a new moniker, Japollonia, for her self-titled 5-song mixtape.”It was just something I felt like I wanted to do. I’m the kind of person that goes with my gut, and I wanted to give my fans some music from me. Songs that I felt best represented me as an artist.” The mixtape garnered over 700,000 downloads, and turned the heads of tastemakers and label executives alike. President of Motown and president of urban music/co-head of creative at Universal Music Publishing Group U.S., Ethiopia Habtemariam, re-signed Mila J to Motown in 2013. “Motown felt right because of our history, and also because of Ethiopia. She believed in me, and encouraged me to be who I am.”
Mila J’s honesty is at the core of her appeal and what binds her and her unwavering, growing fan-base. Her upcoming debut EP, “M.I.L.A.,” which stands for “Made in Los Angeles,” re-introduces Mila J through themes that define her: loyalty, love, and simply being the around-the-way girl she is. It’s slated for an September 2014 release.The project features guest appearances by B.O.B (“Champion”), Ty Dolla $ign (“My Main”) and Problem (“Pain In My Heart”).
Her sultry leak single, “Smoke, Drink, Break Up ” finds Mila J detailing her addiction towards a dysfunctional relationship. She lets her guard down on the R&B ballad “Times Like These” which features the singer/songwriter flexing her velvety vocals to claim her commitment for her lover. She holds nothing back.”I’ve never been one to filter who I am. I’m comfortable with myself, from my image to my music. I’m not suppressing who I am, for anyone. I’m free, and I’m staying free. Tomorrow’s not promised, my main goal is to be happy.”