While 2017 has been a huge year in music discoveries for us, few artists this year have intrigued us more than Jesse Boykins III. The Jamaican-American multi-hyphenate began his music career singing in a church choir at the age of 9 and a now, a couple of decades later, he's signed to Def Jam Records.
His latest project is Bartholomew, drawing on Boykins’ ongoing journey of self-improvement and visions of outer space. It’s a hybrid-genre epic, heavy on R&B vibes; the words trippy and celestial come to mind. If this description doesn’t convince you to give it a spin, perhaps the fact that he collaborated with the likes of Syd, DeJ Loaf, Noname, Little Simz, and Kilo Kish will.
We caught up with Jesse Boykins III to dig into Bartholomew, how his fairly nomadic existence has influenced him, what he’s learned from 2017, and what’s next.
What’s your earliest musical memory and how has it shaped the music you make today (if at all)?
I remember back when I lived in Jamaica, I must have been like 5 or 6. My older cousin was taking music lessons and I would tag along and sit in the back mimicking everything the teacher taught him. Then I would go outside and teach myself, or at least pretend like I was my own student; singing scales or tapping out different rhythms. It unknowingly taught me creative focus. I’ve kept that with me most my life.
What inspiration have you taken from Chicago, Miami, New York and LA respectively?
I feel like all my experiences from each of these places, including Jamaica, has taught me the value in being resourcefully fearless. I can’t remember a time in my life where I felt achieving something was impossible. I do remember making a lot of mistakes, but most of those mistakes ended up being blessings on many levels. Not only in my career but my personal perspective on life and human connection.
What’s the most important life lesson you learned in 2017?
I’ve learned a lot in my career, but this year I can say was the hardest for me. Going through so many transitions, like I feel most of us went through this year. I had to re learn a few things but most importantly was self-belief and discipline. Obstacles are always going to come up to distract you from what you know your true purpose to be. It’s just what you prioritize as important, and what you sacrifice to gain new perspective. That’s how you stay from getting jaded and taking anything personally.
Favorite musical discovery of 2017?
Myself. There's a lot of music being released by so many artists, but innovation and bravery is a rarity as of late. I have just taken this year mainly to channel and challenge my dedication to expression and vulnerable courage in art.
Is there anything you miss about being a part of your school choir?
Yeah for sure (laughs). I'd been a choir boy since 3rd grade. I miss singing our favorite songs on the bus rides to competition then getting on stage and singing classical music. Boyz II Men to Bach and then to Shai. I specifically remember being in a boy group called Perfect Gentlemen in high school and singing to all the girls on the bus rides to Orlando from Miami. We kept it PG though (laughs).
You’ve said before that you were your own biggest obstacle. Is that still true?
I have said that yes, but I feel I am in a new space. I am now my own biggest fan and my own biggest competitor. This sense of rivalry has never really been the main fuel in my engine. Lately though, I honestly have to show myself I am who I know I am - if that makes any sense.
Did any of the Bartholomew guest artists surprise you with what they brought to your music?
No, I am super grateful for all the collaborations. It was a really organic environment and we all respect and know each other on a genuine level to some degree. It’s more like a mark in history to me. Everyone on the album is a respectfully great human.
If Bartholomew was a film, who would direct it?
Ha! Funny you ask that! I wrote some words on a couple of pages that might be a script. Tell the hybrid of Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, [Jean-Luc] Godard and Jesse from the future to help me bring it to life. On a serious note stay tuned on that…
Conceptually, Bartholomew is about becoming your better self. How do you keep yourself on the right track on your journey of self-improvement?
I make sure I continue to give myself mountains to move. I may never move them but as long as that is the goal I’ll create some energy that helps me move a rock at a time at least. It’s about longevity for me, knowing all these ideas in my head can be made into real life changing entities is too powerful for me not to be on my shit. As long as I remember to shower, brush my teeth, tell and show the people around me I love and appreciate me when I can, I feel progress.
Do you feel like you have a signature sound? If so, how would you describe it?
My signature sound is soulfully free, genre-bending vulnerable dance-in-your-bedroom-naked music. I am big on showing all the dimensions light. My fans know what I stand for and new fans will know once they press play.
Do you have a lucky item of clothing?
I am not superstitious, but I do have pieces I feel bring me good energy yes. It’s the denim button up I am wearing on the cover of Bartholomew. Black Panther has a wavy ass impenetrable suit, Superman has a cape, and 'Bartholomew' has good style & good aesthetic.
How do you feel about New Year’s Resolutions?
I feel it’s important to challenge yourself and set goals that have a start and stop point. Resolutions are no different to me - as long as you know it’s a marathon and not a race. Set goals and know that some goals take more trial and error than others. The growth will show itself.
For more of our interviews, read our chat with Berlin DJ collective Keinemusik right here.