07/17/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Growing up the son of two
Pentecostal ministers in Georgia, Joe Thomas had to toe the line. "I wasn't allowed to listen to anything but gospel music in my parents' house," the R&B crooner, now 26, recalls. But his life changed in 1988 when he heard the rap song "Move the Crowd" by Eric B. & Rakim. "Ever since then," he says, "I was all about hip hop."
These days the former musical director of his father's church choir is better known simply as Joe. Although his first two efforts—1993's Everything and 1997's All That I Am—were well-received, neither scored popular breakthroughs. But his new album, My Name Is Joe, has gone platinum, "I Wanna Know" is a Top 10 single on Billboard's pop chart, and he sees a new beginning. "This album is like an introduction to my music," says Thomas, who lives in New Jersey.
But the son of a preacher man may be better known than he thought. Last year at an Atlanta restaurant, Mariah Carey
(who sings a duet with Joe on her song "Thank God I Found You") told him she was a fan. "I was shocked she knew who I was," he says, "let alone inviting me to her table."