To self-proclaimed ‘Buddhist zulu warrior pirate’ Jesse Boykins III, music comes as naturally as his afro.
A graduate of the New School University for Jazz Performance, Jesse has had a colourful history in music, becoming a member of the Grammy Jazz Ensemble at the age of 16. His refreshing take on neo-soul mixes elements of electronic, house and R&B with smooth, soulful vocals, injecting a new energy into the usually more relaxed genre. His influences include everything and everyone from traditional Latin music to Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye. Based in Brooklyn, for now at least, Jesse’s personal style is best described as eclectic, mixing colours, layers, textures and patterns, a practice he also applies to his music. Jesse is currently working on a collaborative album with artist and fellow Romantic Movement member MeLo-X, as well as a documentary about one of his favourite things: women.
i-D online met JB3 for a chat before his show in Toronto to talk salsa, self-expression and the biblical character Samson.
Are you formally trained in music? I graduated from the New School University for Jazz Performance and before that I was part of the Grammy Jazz ensemble in California and before that I was classically trained and did a lot of opera planning and whatnot so yes, definitely. I play guitar and I play piano. I’m not that good though but I’m getting better.
How would you describe your sound? I’d say soul. Soul music in the sense that it comes from the heart and it’s passionate. It could be any genre but if I can tell that someone spent some time on it, if they really care about the message they’re giving the audience, that’s soul music.
What did you grow up listening to? When I was young, you’d be surprised, I listened to a lot of salsa, bachata, and merengue, because I grew up in Miami. Latin Jazz and Afrobeat stuff and reggae, of course because of my Jamaican uncles. And when I moved to New York I started getting into different genres like Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles and all these other songwriters.
Who are your biggest influences musically? Life. As an artist that’s what you do, you’re a sponge so you take in everything that you experience, that you appreciate, and it reflects in your art form. So I don’t necessarily know if I could tell you specific people. Maybe John Legend, his story is really cool, he’s a really intelligent guy and patient. Yukimi from Little Dragon, she’s really dope. I defintely draw a lot of inspiration from her. When I was growing up, a lot of the soul singers who were really talking about the things I’m talking about now, like D’Angelo, Eryka Badu, Bilal, and even if you wanna go further back, James Brown, the early James Brown and Marvin Gaye
What’s on your iPod at the moment? All my friends. The Romantic Movement, MoRuf, Chris Turner, Mara Hruby, MeLo-X, that’s really about it. I listen to a lot of Emily King too and a lot of Little Dragon. I’ve been trying to get on my indie rock wave too lately so I’ve been listening to the Rapture, Massive Attack, I’m slightly addicted to Kimbra and a lot of dance stuff.
Your 2011 EP ‘Way of a Wayfarer’ was entirely performed over producer Gold Panda’s tracks. How did that collaboration come about? Well it didn’t come about actually. What happened was he released an album called Lucky Shiner, and I heard it and I recorded my songs over it and then I reached out to him and he didn’t hit me back so I was sad, so my team were like, “you should put it out anyway”. So we put it out and a couple of months went by and we got some good reviews from people and finally when I was on tour in Europe last year, I was in Berlin and I got an email that was like “hey man, it’s Derwin aka Gold Panda”, and I was super hyped. So he reached out to me and told me he really appreciated what I did to his music and we talked about working together later on and hopefully that’ll come about soon.
Why did you decide to go in a more electronic route as opposed to classic soul production? I’ve always done electronic music, I just never put it out. The first album I did was an electronic album, I was 20 years old but no one understood it because I was this kid with braids singing about ointment and talking about all these crazy things and no one knew what I was talking about and so I held that project. Maybe I’ll release it one day. But music is all about experimenting and marking time.
You have a really interesting look. How does fashion influence your music? I don’t really care about fashion, more so style, which is self expression to me. I do what makes me feel good and what makes me feel comfortable. I feel like I must’ve been a Buddhist, zulu warrior pirate in a past life because that’s what I respond to. And I like mixing classic looks with something crazy and putting them together. Like wearing a dashiki under a button up.
Tell me about your hair… I feel like Samson. The biblical Samson. He was this real powerful dude. He was like a lord. And he owned all this land and he had slaves and he did all this agriculture and he cheated on his wife Delilah with a servant and she found out and cut his hair in his sleep. And he woke up with no hair and he lost everything. Boom.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m finishing up a record I’m dropping in October called Zulu Guru. It’s a collaborative record with MeLo-X and all the artists on the Romantic Movement are featured on a song. It’s a studio release, 15 tracks and then later on in the year I’m releasing Love Apparatus which is my third LP and I’m also shooting a documentary on women that’s going to be packaged with the album and I’ve interviewed 199 women so far from the ages of 18 – 70 from around the world. I’m shooting it, asking the questions, directing it.
Text: Hazel Ong
Photography: Seth Fluker