The genre-defying artistry of Jesse Boykins III

Interview by

Lawrence Hazen

Photography by

Ian Clontz

Though he’s often referred to as an “alternative R&B singer,” Further resident Jesse Boykins III is the kind of artist who defies classification. Yes, he can be placed within the soul tradition, but his voracious aesthetic eclecticism ranges from afrobeat to trance, acid jazz to glitch, new age to hip hop and beyond, not even to mention his literary influences. Boykins’ latest, “Bartholomew,” was originally released on Soundcloud, then reissued on Def Jam when he signed with the major label in 2017. We spoke to Boykins during his residency at Further Timber Cove: The Expanding Artist, where he was working on writing songs for his next (unannounced) release.

Q: You move freely across a lot of genres, whether it’s hip hop or reggae or soul. How do you define what you’re creating—or don’t you?
I believe people are influenced by the things they enjoy. But as far as labels, I’ve always seen it like a crutch, specifically because I’m a black artist, so if I’m black then I get put in these categories. A lot of times it gets kind of confining, to be a black artist and to be soulful or to speak from the heart or to express emotional vulnerability. So, I never really looked at anything like that. I know the things that I love and they could range greatly. I could listen to Moombahton (a fusion genre of house music and reggaeton created by American DJ and producer Dave Nada in Washington D.C.) for six months and I could put it in my music, but I don’t ever really say that I’m an R&B singer, I’m a soul singer, I’m a jazz singer, I’m a reggae singer, I’m a rapper. I don’t know, I just like to make things. I like sounds. I like telling stories. I think it’s important to speak about connection and express my genuine honesty and perspective and admit mistakes and be human. That’s a thing that at least I respond to in all genres of music is the truth, and some sort of a testimony. So that’s kind of how I like to be.

Q: Can you talk about storytelling and how that plays into your work?
Storytelling for me is a very visual thing and I’ve always been very imaginative, and I’ve always liked to put myself in different people’s shoes and try to understand them in that way. It’s like tapping into something and then actually coming out of what you tapped into and being like, wow, I know what just happened and now I want to share it. So that’s kind of how I’ve always looked at it. But it’s also, how do you tell the story? What’s the focus? What’s the end goal of you telling the story? All these things matter, and you have to take them into consideration. I think the best stories are the ones that make you feel like you’re there.

Part creative residency, part cultural exchange, part immersive hospitality experiment, Further brings together artists, writers, scientists, artisans, farmers, designers and other place-makers.

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Tuesday, July 9th, 2019