Jesse Boykins III is more than just a singer, he’s an artist. His music is appropriately dubbed “World Soul” by many, which is perhaps the only title (besides “schwaza”) that you can really categorize him under anyway. However, it’s best not to put him in a box, as he often finds new ways to transcend genres and sounds to create his art. His upcoming project with Melo-Xtra, entitled Zulu Guru, releases on October 15th. We sat down with Jesse to get the scoop on details regarding the project, working with The Internet and Kilo Kish, life as a visionary, and more.
For the people who don’t know, how did this project with you and Melo-X come about?
Me and Melo have been working together since 2008, so we’re frequent collaborators anyway — that’s my homie, that’s my brother. It was cool to make it conceptual and bring more value to it than making music just to make music. I always have been calling myself a Zulu Guru since I was like 21, before I really knew what I was talking about. It took me a couple years to understand, but as I was coming into my own as far as being a man and Melo is on the same wave. We’re also both a part of The Romantic Movement so it made sense.
When you guys are coming up with the concepts — whether it be the whole idea of the project or just the various songs– how do you bounce ideas off each other to bring the final idea to fruition?
Conversations (laughs). A lot of talking. That used to be the art of collaborating, you got to know somebody. If you worked with a certain producer, they were in the studio and you guys were listening to records and hanging out and becoming friends while you were making the music. A lot of times when me and Melo were coming up with concepts, I would present him with something and have a story to tell that’s attached to real life as to why I came up with that concept. He would find a story he could tell that was attached to it as well. There’s a lot of songs on the record admitting that as men, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do when it comes to catering to women and being a woman’s friend. These things that we’re realizing like, “Damn we want to live like this” so we put it in our music so we can live it. Fantasy’s cool, but reality connects with a lot more people.
You guys are releasing it through Ninjatune — how did that come about?
I played a show in Tokyo, Sonar Festival, and the cat who booked me for Sonar is a friend of someone who runs Ninjatune. I gave him my CD and I guess he listened to The Beauty Created album and loved it. They’re both from London. I got an email like a week later from Ninjatune asking me what I had coming up and if I would I be interested in releasing anything on Ninjatune. It happened just like that, real casually. I was like, “Damn, this is kind of random – but this is great.” Ninjatune’s a really powerful label. They have a really good powerful roster of artists that I listen to and that I like. Also, the history behind Ninjatune as far as being in the game for like 20 years. They’re one of the strongest indie labels that I know of. For it to happen like that, I feel like it was meant to be.
The cover art is by Dr. Woo, did you all work together on a concept?
Nope. That’s my best friend, he does all my creative direction, so he knows my vision before I know it sometimes– it’s kind of freaky. He’ll be on a wave before me. Like the logo is this necklace, which is his mothers that she got in the 60’s, which is an Ankh and a yin-yang together. I was like “Damn, that represents both nations – Zulu and Guru.” This is his, he was walking around wearing it, and we traded necklaces. And he started being into yoga and buddhism and I started getting into the same wave, but we hadn’t even talked about it yet. He was already living the Zulu Guru life before me, really, which is dope. Everybody in my crew, we pretty much live the same — Street Etiquette, Mara, Chris, MoRuf, Melo, Dynasty, Tre, Joe Kenneth. We all live the same way, trying to create, be passionate about something, live true to ourselves, be conscious of people around us.
What would you say is the specific goal for The Romantic Movement?
It’s nothing that I’m trying to market. I want it to feel like what it is. It’s real. Our main goal is to continue to release quality and challenge each other so we never let up. A lot of times as an artist when you become successful, you let up or your values change really fast when there’s no one around you to check you. It’s basically like a support team.
Going away from the familiar faces of your crew, I know you’re working with The Internet on music. How is that and how did that come about?
I know one of the managers of Odd Future. He was always telling me about them in like 2008, but they’re in LA, so I never really saw them. When I did go out there it was only for like 2-3 days so I didn’t have time. Then I remember I was looking for remixes for “B4 The Night Is Thru” and I really dig Syd The Kid’s production, she’s really really talented to be so young and really driven. I hit up my boy, who co-manages Odd Future, and I was like “Yo, can you reach out to Syd and ask if she wants to do a remix.” He hit me back like “Yeah, Syd’s a fan of yours. She listens to your music, her and Matt (Martians).” Matt [is] from Atlanta, so he was already up on my sound because a lot of people in Atlanta know my music. So I sent Syd the acapellas and she sent me back the remix in like 3 days or something. It was crazy. So I emailed her myself to thank her and over time we would keep emailing each other. When she would release something, I would acknowledge it. Then recently, July 3rd, I had a show in LA, so I went to their house on the 4th of July. Me, her, and Matt just ended up making music. Just chillin, vibin out, and I got on two tracks. It’s cool because it’s mad natural and they’re musicians, producers, artists– all these things that I am. Already on the same wave. The things they want to talk about, are the things that I talk about. Odd Future’s dope as far as the movement goes, but a lot of times I don’t really agree upon their message. But The Internet, I get their vibe and I know what they’re talking about and I connect with it. So it was easy to work with Syd and Matt. We’re definitely going to keep working together on more music.
So I read that you’re giving voice lessons to Kilo Kish now?
Yeah, Kilo Kish man. She’s dooope. I met her at my show in Williamsburg, I opened up for SBTRKT and they have the same booking agent, so she came to the show and I interviewed her for my documentary I’m shooting on women. I had already heard her music just through The Internet. “Navy” was the song that I heard and I was just like “this is incredible, it reminds me of Kelis when she first came out.” It’s kind of crazy because The Internet reminds me of The Neptunes. Me and her started talking and she said she needed a voice trainer because she wanted to start singing. So I listened to her “Homeschool” project and I hear her singing. She has a nice tone, she can deliver. So I started giving her lessons and it’s been good, she just dropped a song that’s she’s singing on for real (“Watergun”). It was up on Pitchfork so I was like, “Alright, well cool. I’m doing good. You’re doing good too.” I’m excited about her new stuff. We’re going to start working on music as well. It’s dope to watch her grow so fast and hit the stage and perform comfortably and all that– she’s so new to it.
You already have your next projects planned– are you always on that wave of being far ahead on projects way before you release them?
I’m a visionary, I can’t help it. I always map out things in my mind and come up with all these ideas constantly, for everybody. I’m the dude who just calls you up like, “You should do this.” Like, I remember I called Joe Kenneth like “Hey man, I had this dream that you had a book out. What’s up with the book? What poems you got? Bring ‘em up, let’s type em all out.” I stayed on the phone for three hours and we typed out the titles to all the poems he started and all the ones he got done. And I was like “Alright, it’s gonna be a two-sided book and you should do a photo story with it too. Get Andre Wagner to shoot it… Aight bet.” That’s something in me, I just can’t help. I like helping people, I like helping myself too. So I got the next two albums already thought of, as far as conceptually what I want it to represent and how I want them to sound. It’s just about experiencing living life until I get to that point where I actually create it. I like that feeling of stuff being manifested– speaking things into existence. Like Zulu Guru, I came up with that when I was 21. That was years ago and now, it’s real.
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