Frank Sinatra once crooned, “I’ve lived a life that’s full. I’ve traveled each and every highway. But more, much more than this, I did it my way.”
John Drew Sheard II, who goes by the name J.Drew, can relate. The 28-year-old music producer, R&B artist, and songwriter, was born into music royalty and has been involved in the music business more than half of his life.
Sheard’s grandmother is the late gospel choir director Matie Moss Clark and his mother is Karen Clark Sheard of the world-renowned gospel group The Clark Sisters. Grammy Award-nominated gospel singer Kierra Sheard is his sister and his father Bishop John Drew Sheard Sr., pastors Greater Emmanuel Institution Church of God in Christ in Detroit.
You could say that he was destined to have a career in gospel, whether musically, following in the footsteps of his grandmother, mother, aunts, and big sister or teaching the gospel like his father. Instead, Sheard chose to blaze his own trail and do things his way.
“My parents definitely taught me to be humble and go hard at whatever I did,” said Sheard. “On our BET show, they kind of made it seem like my dad was forcing me to be a preacher but that was just for television.”
“My dad is not even like that and he is well aware of who I am and what I do. He just wanted me to not get too far out of the lines, to where I lost myself. Both of my parents support my career path.”
Growing up in a musical and religiously prominent family, gospel music surrounded Sheard, whether it was at his father’s church or hearing his mother and aunts sing to the heavens. Gospel music will always be in his bloodline. It is where he got his first taste of the business, producing his sister’s debut album when he was just 14.
But hip-hop and R&B was his first love and something he could not escape. Before he received his first drum machine as a child, Sheard was linking karaoke machines together to make R&B beats. Secular music has been his passion since he first heard it, even if people on the outside looking in did not agree with it because of his family’s legacy.
“When I first started, the first type of music I was doing was R&B and hip-hop music,” said Sheard. “I can even remember my dad playing Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind, and Fire in the house, or riding in the car, and I liked that kind of music. A lot of the backlash I received came from people outside of my family but I never cared about that. I’m building something great and my family supports me.”
When Sheard was a senior at Marvin A. Winan’s Academy of Performing Arts in Detroit, he was a standout on the basketball team and scored 53 points in his final high school game in 2008. He contemplated on taking a full-ride scholarship to play at Kentucky State University, walk on to a team at a school in Detroit, or pursue his music full-time. Then super producer Pharrell Williams gave him a call.
“One of my friends was playing my beats on Pharrell’s tour bus when I was in high school,” said Sheard. “Pharrell heard it and asked who I was. They told him who I was and he wanted to meet me at his next show. I went to the show and gave him one of my CDs. Jay Jackson was the A&R for Star Trak Entertainment at that time and he called me a few months later to tell me that Pharrell wanted to sign me as the first producer on his label.”
“I was a freshman in college when I got that call and I decided to sign with Pharrell. That was nothing but God telling me to go into music and to take my passion seriously.”
Sheard said he is not trying to separate himself from the family business, rather create his own lane and legacy for his own two children. His parents founded Karew Records (Karen and Drew) in 2009 and decided to pass it on to their son. It started off as a gospel label but has since been rebranded into an entertainment company. Karew Entertainment now specializes in clothing, music, and film, which is all a part of Sheard’s journey to carry on the Sheard name in his own way.
“I want to build my own legacy, how my dad, The Clark Sisters, and my sister built theirs,” said Sheard. “That’s what I am in the process of doing now. I have two kids and I don’t want my kids to go off what my mom and dad did. I want them to know what their dad did. Yes, I come from a famous family but I have begun the process of creating my own name and brand.”
Sheard is being honored by the Michigan Chronicle as a 40 Under 40 Trailblazer April 20, 2018, for his accomplishments in the music and entertainment industry. Life may not have taken him down the road many expected him to but he is blossoming into one of the top musical producers and businessmen in his age bracket.
“It means everything to me,” said Sheard. “I was born and raised here and my heart is in Detroit. As a musician, I’ve traveled all over the world but I always kept a passion for the city, no matter what country I went to. Just being able to receive this award for all the work that I’ve put in up to this point is a huge honor and just as exciting as winning a Grammy.”