James Gardin’s year is off to a great start. He recently signed to indie powerhouse, Illect Records, had his single played on Hot97, passed HipHopDX’s Litness test, opened for GRAMMY-Nominated group KING, et cetera. James recently sat down with attorney, university professor, and contributing writer Timothy Welbeck to discuss his recent label signing, his new single (and its inspiration), his eclectic approach to music, his passion for service and much more. What follows is the better part of their conversation.
Timothy: So are promoters and concertgoers still looking for The Beard when they see James Gardin on a show bill?
James: (Laughs) I hope not. I think they are looking for the signature hair more than the beard, but the fade is so much more manageable. I might bring the beard back , but who knows it’s just hair.
All jokes aside, much has happened since we last spoke in this capacity. You have garnered more visibility and stacked more coveted opportunities: opening for KING and Open Mike Eagle, signing with Illect Records, passing the Litness test at HipHopDX, having Promised Land played on Hot 97, et cetera. How have things changed for you over the course of the past few years?
These past few years have been interesting. I’ve made some moves that make things feel much more attainable , but I’ve also learned that I have a lot more work to do. I think some of the looks I’ve gotten are very reaffirming that I have a voice that’s valued and needed. The DX Litness Test was really dope to watch in real time, and hearing my single on The Hot97 was surreal.
For those who are just coming along for the ride, who is James Gardin? What should one expect to hear from you?
For new listeners you’ll hear a lot of soul, melody, encouragement, and bars. I can guarantee you’ll hear something you relate to that will be helpful in your everyday life or just help you escape for three odd minutes.
That makes sense. Congratulations on the Illect signing. For some, the deal may have come as a surprise, while others say it seems like a perfect pairing. What made Illect the perfect home for James Gardin’s music?
I’ve known the homies at Illect for a while,and it just made sense to join what feels like a partnership with a label who’s already supported me. I also love that Illect believes in my vision when it comes to musical styling and releasing content.
Indeed. One of the things Illect said they admired about your catalog, and your overall approach to music making is your versatility; while your content remains compelling and authentic, you are not locked into a particular sound or style. How would you describe your approach to making music? How do you embrace the challenge of constantly evolving without loosing sight of yourself?
Not to be super deep but I believe once you stop growing and evolving your already dead. My musical pallet is crazy though. I could be listening to Kehlani, Odissee, Migos, or Kirk Franklin, I’m honestly everywhere with what I like. I love soul so that’s always going to be in my music but I don’t want to lock my self into just one genre so I’ve challenged myself to experiment as much as possible.
That’s dope. To that end, I heard whispers that you are churning out a slew of singles (i.e. Promised Land, Q&A Freestyle with J Rhodan, et cetera). What are you working on now? What is next?
Yeah the word is correct I’ve been cooking. I’ve been working on a lot of different sounding stuff. You might hear some pop, some trap, some disco. (Laughs) You never know. I know I’ll have something new soon but I don’t know what we’ll drop next just know it’ll be soulful and really dope.
Talk to me about Promise Land. How did the song come about? How did you develop the concept? How did you link with Terem?
So with Promise Land I think I was just talking with friends about what we want to accomplish and I noticed a lot of negative self talk. I’ve always been a dreamer of “impossible” dreams. I literally hate the concept of being realistic, because what’s real to me is real to me. So while talking to my friends, I thought about the biblical story of Joshua and Caleb and how they saw the Promise Land as being attainable while the other guys who surveyed the land were intimidated by the giants in the land. Like Josh and Caleb were like, “[T]hose giants look like bread, let’s eat fam.'” So yeah that’s how that song came along. I got connected with Terem through the label , and we’ve been cooking he’s so willing to not be bounded by genres as well so it’s been exciting.
Upon its release, you asked people to tell you about their promise land. What types of responses did you get? How has the song resonated with people?
I got a lot of wherever God places me type of answers . Which isn’t negative ,but I wanted to hear those incredible “unrealistic” promise lands. But we’ll take some baby steps. The response from the record has been really dope everyone’s been supporting and sharing it all around. I’m super humbled that people are rocking with it.
Speaking of your approach to music, and expanding your catalog, you recently on Facebook, you asked your followers whom they would like to see you collaborate with in the near future. Did you receive an overall consensus? Did any names surprise you? Were there people your followers did not name that you have yet to collaborate?
I always think it’s funny when artist do the who should I collab with post, because artist will put themselves in which is always slightly awkward. I did see a lot of Armond Wakeup who’s a label mate, I saw Propaganda, Shad , JGivens, John Givez and a lot of dope cats on the list. I think the most surprising that I think was a joke but I would if I could was Will Smith. I would most definitely do a record with Will Smith only if MikeWillMadeIt produced it. I think some people who weren’t on the list that I would love to work with are John Bellion, Chance The Rapper, Goldlink, NoName, and Raury.
Armond Wakeup, Shad, John Bellion, Chance, and Raury make a lot of sense. Last time we spoke, we discussed your numerous ways of engaging people on and off the stage. How have you continued that endeavor in the time since?
Sometimes I host shows and that’s been a dope experience where I can create dialogue. I was hosting a show a few months back where we had a open mic and I watched this girl get on stage to sing a Jill Scott song acappella. She’s visible nervous but while she’s singing I watch someone from the crowd hop on the keys , and someone hopped on the drums and then the base and as her confidence filled the room we all were effected. When I hopped on stage I felt like I needed to encourage her and let her know whatever told her she wasn’t talented or gifted was a lie.I want to create moments like this on stage more often. I do still want to have the whole crowd singing along to my songs but I want a much deeper connection between me and the audience.
Has Dinner for Two become a duet?
Not yet, but I’m looking . My phone number is 517 80… just kidding.
(Laughs) I ask because you have penchant for vulnerability in your music, and last time we spoke, you mentioned issues with committing. How have you reckoned with that notion? Will we hear some of that in your upcoming music?
I’m still struggling with commitment, but I’m a work in progress, so I’m not where I was. I think the first step is I committed to a label, does that count? I will definitely be working my issues out on records, it’s my most healthy escape so I’m gonna keep at that.
In Q&A Freestyle, you mentioned how Lansing taught you the flow. You have moved around a good deal being an army brat. How has the Midwest contributed to your music making, and your outlook on life? How do you fit in that scene?
The Midwest or Michigan specifically has molded me, built me up, and trained me to be the artist I am. I’m only where I’m at because of artist like One Be Lo, Buff-1, Invincible, Finale, and the list goes on. When I first started doing music I would go to every show I could, and study how these people would work the stage. I think what’s interesting about Michigan is everyone has at least one family member working in a factory so there’s a certain sort of working man/woman spirit and work ethic that drives the music. I don’t know if I necessarily “fit” in any scene but everyone accepts me if that makes sense. At this point I’ve graduated to be one of the OG’s so I have a lot of younger homies that I’m trying to help them skip all the mistakes I made and be on the fast track to a successful career. I hope I help them pass me so then they can hire me lol.
(Laughs) That makes sense. For those who may not know, where can we find more of your work? Where can we find you on social media?
They can hit me up on twitter at @JamesGardin, Instagram at @jamesGardinMusic, Facebook at @JamesGardinMusic, and snapchat you can folllow me at SnapGardin. All of my music is on Soundcloud, and all your favorite Streaming streaming services.
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