Jesse Boykins III is a name you should definitely be familiar with by now. The Chicago-born, now Brooklyn-based musician graced us with his first EP, DopaMine: My Life on My Back, back in 2008, giving listeners a taste of his smooth, electronic soul sound. Fast-forward eight years later and here we are still in awe of this guy's every melody. Since then Boykins has released three full lengths projects to date, touring the world and leaving angelic echoes in each venue played. With each work Boykins continues to stretch the boundaries of R&B by intertwining atmospheric, at times eerie, sonic arrangements with his honest, soulful verses and melodies.
The now 31-year old artist recently released his latest LP, Bartholomew—pretty much without warning, as is the way these days. The 17-track project arrives two years after Love Apparatus and boasts artists including Mick Jenkins, Willow Smith, Kilo Kish, Little Simz, The Internet, and more. This isn't the first time Boykins' projects have seen heavy collaboration: In 2012 he released Zulu Guru, a joint venture with artist and producer MeLo-X. The record symbolized a new wave of hip-hop music rooted in classic soul with accents of electro and Afrobeat. Most recently MeLo-X was propelled into the spotlight for his work with Beyoncé on "Sorry" and "Hold Up." (The pair ended up working together after Bey heard his little remix sitch Yoncé-X, resulting in the artist collaborating on visuals for her and Jay Z's On The Run tour. For Bartholomew, Boykins grabbed MeLo-X again, so we decided to bring the pair together for a little back and forth.Jesse Boykins III: Hi MeLo, how you doing today?
MeLo-X: I'm good. I've been cleaning. You know, y'all caught me in the middle of it. [Laughs.]
He was playing with a helicopter game, just flying a helicopter thing when I came in. He wasn't cleaning nothing. Anyway. Welcome to Los Angeles. How do you feel about Los Angeles?
I feel good. Came out here to work, and that's what I've been doing. Nonstop.
Can you say who you've been working with since you've been here?
Uhh, when is this coming out?
Man! Can you say, yes or no?
He's been working with a lot of famous people, because he's now inducted into the illuminati, since his breakthrough hit single called "Sorry" with Beyoncé off the Lemonade project, as well as film-scoring the whole short film that was released.
And I'm up for an Emmy, you know, little things like that. It's cool, it's whatever.
But then he had time to send me a track for my project, you know.
Yo, so wait. So, I've been listening to your project off and on for the last year. How does it feel to finally be out?
I feel like—I got mixed feelings. One, it's about damn time. And two, I'm kinda proud of myself, you know, for actually seeing through something I was maybe, I set the bar really high as far as what I was trying to do. [Laughs.] Very high. A lot of interesting energy on the project. A lot of great minds, and also a lot of busy people. So, to try and get everybody actually to give me enough time to genuinely put some kind of project together that made sense was a lot of work. You know, I'm independent out here. I'm not in the illuminati yet, you know what I'm saying?
Listen, I got a guest list of like three, I'll put you on the guest list. [Both laugh.]
This is like the SoHo house: they invite you, and you invite the homie. So we slowly inducting ourselves into the illuminati. I just want to let y'all know this. So, you know. MeLo's start was Lemonade. And my start is the Bartholomew projects. Gonna let y'all know how we're going the next couple months.
That's how you got all those artists on there. How you think you got all those collabs? Speaking of which, when I came to the studio—
My creative space.
Your creative space, where you were working on the project, you had a lot of photos up, a lot of lighting, and setting a certain mood. Is that something that you plan to release to your fans…
Yeah, packaging, that's funny. Yeah, I'm gonna make a photobook, but kinda make it look like—you know you go to your mom house with the homies, and then you go to the bathroom, you come out the bathroom, she's showing your homies naked pictures of you in the bathtub when you was three years old. So I'm probably gonna end up doing something like that online. Something interactive for sure. Something where people could like, add to the photo album as well, you know, be a part of the whole storyline of what I was trying to express [with] Bartholomew as a character, and stuff like that. So, for sure. But yeah, it was weird though. Actually walking in the studio everyday, and seeing all those old photos, and seeing pictures from college, and my transition stylistically, from do-rag to 2X tees, and field mob Timberlands, to Oxfords and…
The do-rag with the, what's the joint that had the—that had the shit—the loop around…
Oh, you're talking about my suspenders. [Laughs.]
Suspenders, woo!! Your boy, I can't even remember the word.
Yeah, that was—what? That was like '07, why you trying to bring up old stuff, bruh? We in 2016 man. Yeah, I've gone through a lot of phases as far as my artistic image goes. But I think I feel like I've figured it out, you know. I would say like, four or five years ago. I feel like we both kinda figured it out, 'cause you was—no, you was fly before me, actually. You was fresh, actually
I was just living life, bro.
No, no, you had the suits.
I was figuring it out.
No, you had the suits with the cheetah scarf wrapped around your mic. You know what I'm saying. And you had the bang, do the two-step thing. And you was wearing Adidas before everybody. You actually were on Adidas real hard. Like, Jamaican hard. You was going hard. That's true.
I shoulda got a check.
You shoulda got a check. But you gon get a check, 'cause now he illuminati, like I said before. So they gon come looking for you. Everything cool. So how you feel about the song you produced on Bartholomew? What's the story behind the track?
I was trying to just make some weird shit, and it ended up having some bounce to it. And I believe we was in New York—I forgot whose crib we was at…
You had played me a whole bunch of tracks that you intended on giving The Weeknd.
Yeah, that's what I was saying: I was making a bunch of weird shit, and then you heard that one, then you was like, I need that. And I gave it to you. And that was it. Then we orchestrated some greatness with it.
Yeah, then I tried to do what I do is, overthink everything, and try to make things way more, way more, way more impactful than they could actually be. So then I hit up Little Simz with all the bars. It took her like six months though. [Laughs.] I finally, I had to hunt her down. She ended up recording the joint in my room initially, writing the verse in my room, then going back to London, 'cause she was on tour, then going back to London, and finishing the verse at her house, and sending me the verse after. But it was kinda cool, she wrote the verse at the crib. We was all hanging out, it was a bunch of us. Luke [James] was there, [Kilo] Kish, she the homie, so she came through and she did her little thing on the joint too.
Who's on the ad-libs on there?
That's Trinidad James. He's legendary, man. I want to say that now. For everybody who don't understand the greatness that is Trinidad James, you will soon see. It's very interesting for a person, an individual like him, who's a character, to actually be taken seriously, but he has a lot to say, and he's very influential on some humanitarian shit. He does a lot for the community. And I don't think a lot of people realize that about him, 'cause they just stuck on that "All Gold Everything" which is a flex, and that's a lifestyle, the gold gang, that's his thing. But as far as knowledge of self and progression, he all the way on that, times a thousand, before anybody knew that about him. So I'm just glad.
We met up and wasn't even working on music, we were just building for three, four, five hours.
Right. Yeah, and that's what happened with the track. When I had the space, when I was recording, he came through, and he literally just played me 13 bangers. He just, it was just banger, banger, banger. And then I played him a couple of my stuff, and I had all these ideas, and he was just like, whatchu wanna do, you know. And it's real cool when somebody of that magnitude, as far as his songwriting goes, is just like, "Yo, I will do what you want me to do, you know what I mean, 'cause I respect your songwriting just as much." So, just to have his personality, his energy on the track—I mean, I feel like it made it a little bit more cinematic. So I think that's a good. See, the thing about MeLo is, I've known MeLo for so long. I've known MeLo since, like—MeLo used to come to my house with a bottle of sweet bitch, and a rap on songs, that we wrote songs together, but his verse would be like, 32 bars, and I would have to tell him, hey, that's too much bars for one verse, MeLo. I know you got all the bars, you know what I'm saying.
I was a bar guy. [Laughs.]
But I need you to break it down to 16 bars, so I can sing an 8-bar hook. You know what I mean? So we go back, back from then. And then Melo's like an amazing DJ. He probably one of the best DJs in the whole world. And I'm not just saying that 'cause I know him since 2007. I'm saying that because he's one of the best DJs in the whole wide world.
Keep going. [Both laugh.]
No, but I'm serious though! You know what I mean. And all styles of music. And you will get to hear that soon, because now he's inducted in the illuminati, and he will pop up on a whole bunch of credits and songs with a whole bunch of amazing artists.
Oh yeah, you don't even know. [Laughs.]
Not only artists like myself, but my peers that are a little bit more amazing than me. You got a little bit more, uhh, leverage right now, but, we gon get it right. I just wanted everybody to understand and know that we've been working at this for a very long time, and we're very focused young individual black Jamaican-American—prodigies. I don't know what to call us! We're fucking good, dammit! And you should press play on all our music, anytime you hear our name attached to anything, you should just fuck with it. Because we're gonna come with the real. Gwan true! Peace.