1 NEW MESSAGE!
Easy now, don’t get too excited - it’s only indie artist spam. The new email rush is immediately replaced by mild disappointment…
Email Title: “OUT NOW … BRAND NEW SOUL TRACK “SEXY SISTA” BY JEVAN EVANS!!!”
The exclamation marks suggest urgency but the impact is stunted by the word Soul, because Soul, when used as the selling point in the title, has been endlessly used, abused and misrepresented so much so that in an email title it means nothing. It could be Jazz, Hip Hop, Pop, House, Dance, Electro, most of which, other than having a sung hook, have fuck all to do with Soul music … Betcha By Golly Blah. Wearily clicking the link to ‘Sexy Sista’ confirms the presumption of mediocrity. Two chords played throughout by a Fender Rhodes program. A meandering beat ripped from The Roots and an inappropriate lazy southern style rap to begin the verse – then the sung chorus…
“Sexy Sista … ebony skin so soft, Sexy Sista … without you I’m lost”
It’s not the lost soul brotha Evans’ fault. The process of spamming innocent, non-soliciting email account holders is commonplace in an American independent scene that values hustlers getting their grind on so highly, it’s sometimes regardless of the quality of art they’re peddling – the result? Ground-down soul consumers, having become immune to discovering new music the MySpace way, i.e., exploring unknown names, clicking on a link blind, with no point of reference other than the bio stating who they “sound like”, instead crawling back to trusted tastemaker DJ’s/Critics to steer them right. Years of wading through shit on CD Baby has finally taken its toll on the listener, who - forget cash - is having less and less disposable time. There’s no more patience for a have-a-go soul wailer to hijack 5 minutes of surfing minutes.
And it was into this now infinite indie space that a Jesse Boykins the 3rd promo email dropped, and was promptly junk’d. Yeah I know … my bad. But tenacity is persuasive. Logging on each day for the next 2 years the name kept appearing on the screen window - Jesse Boykins III this, JB3 that - via tastemaker plaudits for his self-released debut ‘Dopamine: My Life On My Back’ alongside striking images credited to a photographer called Tone. Then fans began posting his black and white promo videos, recorded on location in his homecity, the streets of New York, all with great song titles - an avalanche of critical proof and taste indicators suggesting that this Boykins geezer had his shit together. And you know that if an indie artist has got the trimmings right (packaging, marketing, look & website), even on a shoestring budget, that the music has every chance of being handled with the same care and attention. His 2nd album, ‘The Beauty Created’, confirmed the theory.
A gem of an indie soul album – Erro vs. Maxwell/ Dulcet vs. Velvet vocal style, underscored by an inventive, intricate, band played instrumental backdrop with ‘Voodoo’ blissed-out horn arrangements. The songs crafted by Boykins, penning lyrical poems like he’s the last romantic in Gotham, with the fan favourite “Amorous”, the gorgeous Isley Bros-style Atlantis ballads “Sunstar” & “Come To My Room” and the mid-tempo neo soul of “Fever” & “Shine”, finally switching to the contemporary Nuvo glam of the remix project and “Tabloids”, produced by ’84-through-a-‘09 filter virtuoso Machine Drum. In an age when nearly everyday, an original member of the soul generation transitions to the other side (RIP Pendergrass, Woodson, Goodman et al), Jesse Boykins III, at only 25, is offering hope that the Soul Man can continue long into this millennium. Not that he necessarily planned it that way.
“Sure, I guess I consider myself a soul singer, but really it’s just from the heart” says Boykins from a Café near London’s Kings Cross station, continuing, “you know anything could be soul in my eyes, that’s how I look at it but I definitely connect with “soul music” on a way more intense level. Although I love listening to a wide range of music the ultimate, easiest, simplest connection is if I put on some James Brown, I’m right back in the ‘70s, you know?” A decade Jesse never saw. Born in the mid-eighties, living in Jamaica until he was 8 years old, brought up by his Mum, moving to Miami, then on to Chicago (where his Dad lived) and finally residing in New York. It’s surprising, given his full name, with its nod to a proud line of Jesse Boykins 1 through 3, that Jesse Boykins the 2nd wasn’t around much. “Honestly, I really didn’t have anything to do with my father’s side of the family for 15 years. So I didn’t know what the 3rd meant, but my Mom was like “that’s your name, make sure in class you put the 3rd or I'm gonna punish you!” That’s why I stuck with it. I need to ask my Mom why she did that.” Jesse laughs for a moment, adding, “My Mom is a really firm believer in knowing who you are and in being grounded and having roots. I feel like that was one of the ways to teach me that. She was always about teaching a lesson, always about me knowing who I am and no matter who I’m in front of or where I’m at, what kind of country I’m in. She was always about being grounded and being an individual. Also, you don’t hear about a lot of Jesse Boykins the 3rd’s!”
After 15 years, Jesse asked his Dad about the name, “It’s funny how if you don’t see somebody for a long time but then when you do you have a really deep conversation, well me & my father have had a couple of those, and once I asked him what does the 3rd mean? But also, like “where were you?” You know all that crazy stuff that life is about. We’ve had that conversation a lot of times and they made me realize how I’m not similar in any way.” Jesse laughs. Like his Mother said, it’s important that Jesse is grounded. He approaches his music in the same way, trying to keep his lyrics honest. “My most personal song is ‘Think’, with the lyric, “I could taste the salt on her kiss.” Aaah man, I’ve got a couple I could say are my most personal. But I like to tell stories whilst I’m writing from personal experience, because we all experience something similar – even though you might think we’re all different, we all go through the craziest cycles but were all really similar across the board, all over the world. I just write what’s true to me, in the hopes that someone, somewhere will go “oh man, I felt like that 2 years ago … that’s crazy”.
Though Jesse has never experienced his name draped all over the gossip columns, which is the subject of “Tabloids”, and one of his best songs. “I really have no intention of being featured in the tabloids, that is not one of my goals in life,” explains Boykins, adding, “I guess it’s symbolic of having achieved a certain kind of success, but to me, artists like Erykah Badu, Bilal and D’Angelo have travelled the world and done shows in front of tens of thousands of people, without being in the tabloids. That’s success in my eyes.” The remix version of “Tabloids”, produced by Machine Drum differs from the rest of the largely self-produced Neo-Soul on ‘The Beauty Created’, beginning like a too-cool-to-dance-to DJ Spinna electro groove until the production quickly develops into full on Nuvo with it’s neon keyboard bassline & 808 beat, building to a euphoric crescendo. The internet leaked a snippet of brand new cut “Plain”, also produced by Machine Drum and set to be the first single from Boykins’ upcoming album ‘Love Apparatus’, which continues the Nuvo backdrop. Nuvo is the direction Boykins found himself heading towards for the whole album.
“I did the majority of tracks with Machine Drum, I think there’s maybe 4 tracks (produced) just by me, and this cat Phantom Lover did one – which is probably my favourite featuring Phonte – but the whole album is really ‘80s themed. I didn’t mean it to be like that honestly, I was coming up with the conceptuality of it whilst I was doing it. Some cats lay down the blueprint and are like “ok I’m gonna do it like this” but with ‘Love Apparatus’ everything was so natural. On the remix project (‘The Beauty Created’) I reached out to all the producers that had that sound, it wasn’t by mistake. Like I’m a big jazz fan, and there can be no vocals on jazz but the music has still translated that emotion to you. So when I gave those acappellas, I knew the outcome and I really appreciated producer Machine Drum. For ‘Love Apparatus’, I didn’t want to just put it in a box, I didn’t want to mess it up – I didn’t want to mess up the energy and the rhythm of it so this album is really forward. My songwriting on this one is not like your average soul songwriter and the music - as far as the machine drum’s production goes – speaks. Even if you don’t know the words, you could get the song sonically. But you’re gonna want to play it over and over, so you can finally understand what it is i’m saying. And once you figure out what I’m saying you’re gonna be like “wow, I get it now”
But thankfully there are several cuts still produced by Boykins - who being no slouch himself – has proven to be a skilled knob twiddler on the studio board. Not least on his deft handling of a handful of cover versions free to download from websites such as Soul Culture & Soul Bounce. Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Closer” works well, but the real killer is Boykins’ Neo Soul take on Mary J Blige’s R&B track “No One Else”. Recalls Jesse, “Soul Bounce contacted me to do the Mary joint for the tribute album ‘Men Love Mary’, so I thought what song do I connect with? And I decided to do “No One Else”, which is one of my favourites so I was lucky to have the opportunity to do it. I was in an attic in Oakland at a friend’s house,” he laughs “and I had to get it in before the deadline which was that day. So I listened to Mary’s version 4 times back to back, and I opened up a pro-tools session and started constructing the track. It felt so natural, I’m not the best musician but I can lay down an idea so I said to my band to play over it and when they sent it back to me I just started thinking “wow, I kind of like this better” because minus the samples, and minus the fact that everything was so compressed on that album it’s just a great song. And then when I started to sing those lyrics: “Many have called but the chosen are few, the best of the few is you” I was like “whoa that’s dope!” I think I never would have realized the potency of the lyrics if I hadn’t sat down and worked on that.”
An independent soul man that understands it’s all about the song first. There’s more to come from Jesse Boykins III – so move this indie cat to the junk folder at your peril.
“OUT NOW - SOUL ALBUM – ‘THE BEAUTY CREATED’!!!”
New single "I'm New Here" recorded in London and produced by Black Einstein, scheduled for release in September from all good digi outlets