JESSE BOYKINS III / by Olivia Seally

My name is Jesse Boykins III, I’m 29 years old and I was born in Chicago, Illinois and my childhood was spent in Jamaica, then Miami and New York. Now I’m here, in Los Angeles. I went to New School University for Jazz and I taught myself how to produce there as well. Five years ago I was in Bed Stuy, in a duplex brownstone, working on the album with Steve Wyreman and doing all the visual stuff with Dr Woo. When I was 21 I was working on an album called ‘My Notebook and I’.

All I did was make songs about this girl who broke up with me on Christmas.

I really was trying to write mean songs and I couldn’t; they all came out happy or apologetic. But that was my first release and people really responded. I was doing some shows in Brooklyn with it but I just didn’t want to perform those songs because I didn’t want to think about that heartbreak all the time. So I started a new album so people can forget about the first one (laughs). And that’s why I moved from Jersey back to Brooklyn. At the time, Machine Drum lived like four blocks from me, Theophilus lived like three blocks from me and Melo was always over at the house. It was a good crew and we would always make music together. So when I was in Jersey I really missed that community and had to get back to it.

I believe firmly in collaboration. I feel like that’s what the art of music is; being able to have a band and have different energies combining to make this one entity. I don’t have a problem producing my own stuff; I just never want my voice to be the only thing that’s expressed. I have a lot to say for sure but not only do I learn in the experience of collaborating with someone, but we definitely bring things out of each other. So although I have been collaborating with some people since 2007, I still love to bring in new talent. There are two songs off my new album, “Love Apparatus”, that are from producers who are just starting to have artists on the music they’re making. So it’s a beautiful thing, it’s empowering that I believed in them enough to make this song and to shoot the video for it, I like that feeling. If someone saw the potential in me and put me on even if I wasn’t necessarily ready yet, that’s an opportunity!

I did all right early on; I was an independent artist, shooting all my own things but would have videos on TV and was getting awards for things I didn’t even know I was nominated for.

The main thing I wish I knew earlier on in my career is the art of collaboration with brands,

like I did last year. It started by just taking a lot of pictures and conceptualizing ideas and then they’d meet me and I’d have more to talk about besides the music. Sometimes I would pitch ideas and sometimes get requests; brands ask me if I have anything on the table or any thoughts. For example, I’m doing a shoe collaboration with this Australian company who simply wanted to give me shoes because they were fans of my music. I’m like that’s cool and thank you! But I also have this book full of little shoe design sketches, can we try one of them?! So we actually started working on a shoe and he was really surprised because I had all the images, references, the year and the type of cloth etc. I really do the research, I’m always trying to show people mood boards (laughs) and people are pleasantly surprised that they can relate to you not only through the music but with something they’re just as passionate about too. 

FF- Do you consider yourself a freshman, sophomore or senior in your field?

JB- I would probably say a sophomore. Because I’ve accomplished a lot in my career and definitely on an independent level it’s been interesting the opportunities that come about and the respect I have from people in the industry and from fans. But I’ve never had access to my full potential. To sit in a studio and actually make a record and be able to say I want so and so on this song, or I want this live choir... you know, I haven’t yet been able to experiment whole heartedly with what I envision in my mind, as far as the music that I can really produce.

I definitely have a long way to go as far as people being able to hear what i hear in my head; my full potential.

I don’t want someone to just give me files and that’s it, I want the process to be organic from beginning to end and to have no limitations as far as what we can bring in. That’s pretty much all I need for the next project.

FF- In order to have that kind of access you kind of have to loose control. So what’ s been the battle for you

between being independent and everything that comes with being signed?

JB- Well I’m more of an artist that you would consider a risk when you think of business, because my business model isn’t scaled off anything that’s out. Just like‘Love Apparatus’sounds nothing like ‘the Beauty Created’. Some people that love ‘Beauty Created’ feel I should’ve just made another ‘Beauty Created’. But that’s not the kind of artist that I am. I’d like to definitely evolve. So when you get into labels and they’re like ok this sound is what’s hot right now, these are the people putting it out, so let’s get you on tracks and you’re gonna sell! But that’s not a guarantee and I’m the one that has to live with it, it’s my name that’s attached to it. So I always find myself having to dumb what I do down a little bit. But I’ve learned how to do it in a way that I want, so that’s fine. I think of myself as an intellectual, I like to express how I feel exactly how I feel it but I love having to find that balance too. And that’s the strangest thing about music; that relationship between what people expect of you and then what you give them. The fans expecting another ‘Beauty Created’ may have been partial to ‘Love Apparatus’ because it’s different and they haven’t been evolving with me. 

So I put myself in this position where I have to be a lot more patient. I had to push ‘Love Apparatus’ for two years before it got to where it is. But I don’t really have an issue with it because at the end of the day, it’s me! I’m pushing what I like.

FF- So I want to hear about the female project you’re doing and how random projects like this are related to your music. How and why did you decide to, instead of putting in the music, give women a direct voice with that project?

JB- I always go back to my childhood and think about how certain situations were handled. I felt like most men didn’t necessarily take the time out to understand women. So I thought that was how you’re supposed to be as a man. And then growing older and having to deal with my ego within relationships, I realized that’s not how you should be as a man (laughs). Often when a man and woman have a conversation it feels like a show because of the concept of attraction. So with the women’s project I interviewed women ages 17-65 and asked questions that I felt they were probably never asked before. The questions were: ‘What do you love about being a woman?’ ‘Long term lust or short term love?’ ‘Tell me the first time you experienced love and the feelings that come with it?’ ‘Beauty or danger?’ ‘Climax or balance?’ ‘Chaos or structure?’ ‘All the things you hate about a man?’ ‘All the things you love about a man?’ ‘What’s on your list of a paper perfect man?’ ‘When I sayLove Apparatuswhat’s the first thing that comes to your mind?’ And ‘do you like smiling?’ 

FF- Choose one of your questions that you ask on the woman project to answer yourself.

JB- Short term love or long term lust?Long term lust all the way!

Short-term love isn’t real, it’s your perception of what you desired from someone else but it’s not necessarily a development of something, it’s a fantasy,

like... you’re my boyfriend now so I love you! This is how I love you, I do this, this and this for you. Instead of being like cool we’re friends, we like hanging out, oh you did something thoughtful for me! Cool! Oh I’m thinking about you... that’ s cool too!I love that natural evolution of what love is. Definitely long term lust, because that is love; it’s one of the stages of it. It doesn’t have to be a sexual thing; you can lust after someone’s walk or how someone holds you and get that same fiery feeling from those simple things.

I started doing the interviews half way through making ‘Love Apparatus’and then came back to it and finished four more songs, so you can actually hear some of things I’ve learned in the process.

That album is now actually the process of what a

relationship is, even down to the track listing...

The first song (Greyscale) is about acknowledgement and saying that you’re open to things, the second song (B4 the Night is Thru) is about bravery, seeing someone that you’re interested in talking to and the third song (Created Beauty) is about fantasy, the fourth song (I Wish) is about actually becoming that person’s friend. The fifth song (Tell Me) is like ok now we’re friends but we’re lovers as well so it’s harder to communicate, and then the song after that is Show Me Who You Are; which is like let’s see how far we can take this passion. The song after that is Living Me, like ok now we’ve evolved in all these ways let’s find a way to coexist etc. I even used some of the audio from the documentary in the album because I really have learned from it. I can sit up here and say I read a thousand books, but no I have a lot of conversations and I catch references and am inspired and I enjoy the concept of sharing; I feel that’s more of a feminine thing, because it comes with nurturing; development and growth.

FF- What do you think are the qualities of a life well lived?

JB- An honest life is a well-lived life. And I don’t feel like a lot of people are honest with each other, or even with themselves. Challenge; it’s good to challenge yourself, especially in a time where everything is so convenient. And creative freedom! Because it’s therapy, happiness, bravery, courage and it could be in anything... creative freedom is like going for a walk and taking pictures of leaves if you want, if it makes you

feel good that’s what it is. I want to earn those privileges. 

you can check out Jesse's music here, and follow him on instagram. as told to: Olivia Seally // photos: Olivia Seally