Vibrations, energy, waves and world soul: singer-songwriter Jesse Boykins III carries the hopes of many urban pop fans. He explains his constant quest for inspiration and musical progression (incl. free mp3s)
Jesse Boykins III is an unmistakable child of his times. From his flamboyant hairstyle and his unerring fashion sense to his edgy signature sound, undisputed soul affiliation and his mellifluous crooner voice – he combines antithetic qualities in his artistic persona, that possibly would have been thought incompatible for a black music artist 20 years ago. It’s this paradox that makes his art so powerful, crossing many genres, generations, lifestyles and cultures.
Blurring the line between urban soul, underground dance music and radio friendly hooks Jesse is in tune with the spirit of the times and taking the world by storm. He’s a confidently stylish Brooklyn hipster, modern street philosopher, beat-smart producer, cosmopolitan globetrotter and romantic R&B lothario in one and the same person. He thus makes up a new breed of soul vocalist/artist, one who is about to explore his own spheres in authentic music and self-expression.
After collaborations with Gold Panda, Bilal, Theophilus London, Madlib and other subculture luminaries the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter relinquished the production responsibilities to the hotly tipped producer Travis Stewart aka Machine Drum from New York. A clever move from the forward-thinking soul man, which continues his musical progression from the mostly balladesque downtempo love songs on his debut EP Dopamine to the futuristic electronic soul on his latest Way of a Wayfarer EP (including the elegiac Light To Dark. The expectations are high, as Travis is considered successor to the Timbaland throne. So far the two have released the prolific B4 The Night Is Thru and are currently working on Jesse’s third album Love Apparatus which is ought to be released by the end of 2012. We interviewed the charismatic artist to find out what the buzz is all about.
Jesse, you’re a multifaceted artist working as a composer, lyricist, performer, arranger, producer and vocalist. Which of these disciplines do you consider to be your strong suit? And which of these skills are likely to become your most profitable in the long term?
I would like to think that they are all a part of one another. I honestly get the same feeling from each field. They are all rooted in creating. I do enjoy performing and sharing moments with an audience, but I wouldn't be able to do so if I didn't create the music first. I am still growing both on the stage and with my creative process in hopes they will all remain profitable.
You grew up in Chicago, Jamaica, Miami and Brooklyn. How did that influence your style?
Transition became an aspect of me. As an artist I've always taken in my surroundings, made it a part of me and expressed it in conjunction with my past/present experiences. My style is heavily influenced by my awareness. I am my surroundings so to speak. And I adapt to survive.
Recently you've been traveling a lot: in which way does traveling inspire your work?
Traveling for me is like a painter going to the paint store to find a canvas and new colors to do a piece with. All places I visit influence me, further my emotional evolution and go into my art subconsciously.
You consider yourself a musical explorer – how would you describe the journey you’ve travelled sound-wise from your first to your latest release?
The journey has been a constant learning experience. My ears have evolved, and I appreciate a greater variety of styles of music/cultures since my first release.
What is the difference between the music you made back in 2008 and the sonic universe you’re in at present?
I feel as if it’s always been forms of World Soul. In 2008 when I released Dopamine and critics called it a Nu-Soul LP, I knew I was on to something fresh. Sonically I know my music now reaches a wider range of listeners, more cultures and a lot of different generations can connect with it. I am appreciative for that.
You are collaborating with Travis Stewart aka Machine Drum. What is it like to work with a producer who’s considered to be the next Timbaland?
Travis is one of the most talented, imaginative, and versatile producers I've worked with. He’s the new age composer/conductor and will be a legend soon. We are both on the same wave when it comes to being passionate about everything we put our names on, nothing we do is rushed or without care. I write differently to his production and watching him on Ableton is pretty amazing.
You've created the term Schwaza for your music, how do you translate it?
Schwaza transcends through more than just a style of music. It’s a lifestyle. Simply meaning positive energy, life lesson learned, and an amazing moment that you can't describe without saying it. I feel as if good music marks moments of realization. Schwaza is just vibrations, energy, waves, World Soul.
Talking about your musical education: were there any important mentors?
Shenita Hunt, my mentor in middle and high school always challenged me and thus advanced my musical progression. I can remember staying after school and doing vocal warm ups to strengthen my voice and my knowledge on the voice. When I got to New York City, Bilal was my voice trainer and he connected me with the spirituality in music and creating it. He also helped me gain more confidence in my craft.
How would you describe Bilal’s role for your career?
I just remember going through a lot when he started giving me lessons. I was 18 and my voice changed (late bloomer). I couldn't sing more than an octave and before I was singing 4 or 5 octaves. He gave me the confidence by teaching me certain breathing exercises that connect with meditation also. Slowly but surely through the years I realized his influence. Thanks to him I know the importance of passion, self-expression and honesty in my art.
Which fashion style do you feel connected to?
I think that your style should be a reflection of your personality. Hence I'm into style culture: Gypsies, Buddhists, Rastas and Zulu warriors. All the colours and meanings of their garments, which represent their beliefs.
What are your plans for 2012/13?
In the spring I am releasing a collaborative full-length album with producer/emcee MeLo-X & The Romantic Movement called ZuLu GuRu, I am also set to release a single with Full Crate from Amsterdam called Her Throne. Heading to Tokyo in April for Sonar, and I am going on a festival tour this summer in Europe. Also I have a solo full-length scheduled for late 2012.
Name your personal musical faves/current top albums or artists.
D'Angelo's ‘Voodoo’, Little Dragon's ‘Little Dragon’, Stevie Wonder's ‘Talking Book’, Pink Floyd, MeLo-X, Mara Hruby, MoRuf, Chris Turner
Any hot tips on this year’s newcomer?
MeLo-X, Mara Hruby, MoRuf, Chris Turner and THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT – a group of artists I have been collaborating with.
Finally – any famous last words (by another musician/artist)?
“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” Marcel Duchamp
You can download Jesse’s latest EP Way of a Wayfarer for free here and his single B4 The Night Is Thru here.