Jesse Boykins III Hits the Streets of New York to Perform ‘Plain,’ Talks ‘Love Apparatus’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO]
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“I’m pretty different,” singer Jesse Boykins III says while running his fingers through his wild style hair. One look at the self-described underdog proves the sentiment to be true. In addition to his long locks, he dons his mother’s hand-me-down sweater and has his septum pierced — a far cry from the many muscle-baring crooners in today’s R&B landscape.
But his outside appearance isn’t the only thing that sets him apart. His third full-length album, ‘Love Apparatus,’ moves away from the pop confections on the Billboard charts and offers a meld of house grooves, funky rhythms and playful horns. Pair those sounds with Boykins’ breathy vocals and introspective lyrics and the result is an opus that serves as his personal musical journey.
“I don’t necessarily fit the status quo from what an artist would be in a certain world,” the 29-year-old tells The Boombox. “I don’t care though, it’s whatever to me. It’s my lifestyle, it’s my honesty and truth. When I say underdog, I mean in the sense of you put in a certain amount of work into something and then people go, ‘That’s cool but we like this ’cause it’s shinier.’ I don’t really care about shiny that much. I much prefer real.”
The Los Angeles transplant (he spends his time between the West Coast and New York) tapped producer Machinedrum to craft the soundscape for much of the LP, which serves as a follow-up to 2008’s ‘The Beauty Created LP.’ Songs like ‘Plain,’ an uptempo tune with an airy electro beat, find the Jamaican-bred soul crooner detailing the struggles of a past relationship.
“Everything I write is based off a personal experience, whether it be mine or someone else’s,” Boykins shares. “In the song ‘Plain,’ it’s acknowledgement. It’s not necessarily saying that it’s over, it’s just ‘OK, now we’ve acknowledged that things are going south. Now let’s put the challenges up and where are the solutions. This is how I feel.’ This is just my point of view. Maybe she felt like I wasn’t doing something enough in the relationship and she would have to give me that energy and let me know what I was missing. It’s me expressing the lack of attention or the lack of effort and growth as a union. That’s why I wrote it — to vent.”
Cultural appreciation (‘GreyScale’), a lover’s freedom (‘4 U 2 Be Free’) and the law of attraction (‘Make Believe’) are also topics that Boykins explores on ‘Love Apparatus.’ His subject matter may be intense but the collaborations are not.
“I feel like when you’re doing something conceptual it’s easier for you to do the whole project and everything be smoothly done when everyone is there from beginning to end. So when I’m collaborating on a one-off with somebody, I’m all about it. But when I’m thinking about what I want to communicate through the message of the music that I’m making, I don’t.
“Sometimes people’s different energies will sway my vision so it’s easier for me to just hone in on myself. Machinedrum and I started the album together. I have Theophilus [London on ‘Tell Me’]. We’ve done a lot of music together in the past. That verse is probably one of my favorite verses from him. Phonte as well [on ‘A Matter of the Heart’]. Same scenario. I feel like I’ve had enough conversations with them, they’re my friends, I know them so I knew what I was gonna get.”
Boykins wears his heart on his sleeve on the project, attempting to find balance along the way. There’s no filter on what he shares with his listeners and their discovery of his candor is part of the process. Much like how he operates in his own life, down to his sui generis clothing choices.
“I like discovering things and sometimes I’m fascinated with discovering clothing,” the bass fishing expert reveals. “That may be thrifting or calling my mom and being like ‘Ma, you got some old sweaters you don’t wear anymore.’ She lives in Miami so she don’t need sweaters. Sometimes I get lucky and my friend’s like, ‘My mom made this but I don’t like it’ so I’m like ‘I’ll make it work.’ It’s kinda like a Rasta lifestyle. It’s like whatever the land gives you is what you value and appreciate and you acknowledge. So that’s the kind of lifestyle I like to envision as far as who I am.”
The land has given him a global platform to share his talents, which have brought him as far as Toyko and South Africa. But Boykins doesn’t forget about his humble beginnings. A trip to London reminded him of his own early performances on the New York City subway system.
“That kinda made me aware of how cool it is to perform on the street,” he states. “I’ve actually befriended a few people in the subway system who perform all the time and have been for years and they’re always really happy because they actually get to do what they love. Sometimes they get paid and sometimes they get knowledge. I used to do it just ’cause it was fun. A couple of my friends would go out and we’d harmonize on the train and challenge each other, ‘I dare you to sing this song right now in front of these five girls on the train.’ Moments of bravery.”
Braving the elements comes with the territory too. Boykins took his vocal stylings to the streets of New York City on a windy spring day to sing his new song ‘Plain’ earlier this month. Like the title of the track suggests, the performance is stripped of an instrumental, drawing focus on his songwriting and lyrical skill. Experience his raw talent above.
Watch Jesse Boykins III’s ‘Plain’ Video
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Jesse Boykins Tour Dates
May 3: New York City – Irving Plaza
May 17: Los Angeles – Bootleg Theater
May 18: San Francisco – The Independent
May 21: Washington D.C. – The Howard Theatre
May 24: Philadelphia – Union Transfer
For more information on his upcoming shows, visit the singer’s official website JBIIIMusic.com.