One artist who’s been on everybody’s lips as of late is Chicago’s Jesse Boykins III. Heavily influenced by Bilal, the young soul singer has just released his new album, Zulu Guru, on which he worked closely with rapper MeLo-X. Beyond that, though, he’s in the thick of other collaborations, working with Machinedrum’s Travis Stewart, The Weeknd producer Zodiac, TokiMonsta, and Sinden. We caught up with Boykins to hear out his many goings on.
How did you come to work with MeLo-X on this album, and what did he specifically bring to the table?
We’ve always wanted to do something collaborative—more than just the singles we’ve been doing prior. It just felt like the perfect time to work on it because we both decided to take time away from our upcoming solo projects we had been working on. This was merely a dimension jump. We are both spiritual artists and have the same view points when it comes to living and how a man should live in this day and age. We just brought that honesty to the music.
Do you have any personal favorite tracks on Zulu Guru?
I would say “The Perfect Blues,” “Change of Heart,” “Strange ReCreation,” and “Schwaza Culture”—all songs I feel that have topics that weren’t really touched on in anything I have released thus far.
Any fun stories to tell us about making Zulu Guru?
Yes. The Romantic Movement is on it. Everyone in my crew made it on this album as a feature or a poetry performance. My family will be heard worldwide. Street Etiquette, Trae Harris, Mara Hruby, Chris Turner, Kesed, MoRuf, JoeKenneth, Dr. Woo, Dynasty & Soull, to name a few. Powerful Fun.
You’ve been working with Machinedrum on another record. Can you tell us more about the style and direction this is shaping to be?
I don’t know if I’m allowed, so I’ll just say if Phil Collins and Bob Marley had a baby and JBIII and Machinedrum had a baby and those two babies had a baby, it would be this album. Travis would agree. It’s very nostalgic of the ’70s and ’80s in a sense, but fresh and very conceptual.
What is that drew you to start working with Machinedrum?
We met in 2008 through a bunch of mutual friends and artists. We are both Pisces, so the connection was pretty natural and inevitable. He is just as passionate about music and the direction of music history as I am. We want to save the music, even if it doesn’t seem to need saving.
What other contemporary electronic musicians are shaping your sound at present?
Gold Panda, for sure. I’m also working with Sinden, and Shlohmo and Salva (at some point), not to mention the song I recorded with Zodiac and another soon to be released with TokiMonsta. All great creators in their own lights.
How did the Zodiac collaboration come about?
I’m a big fan of Zodiac ever since I realized it was him who produced a lot of my favorite tracks on The Weeknd’s House Of Balloons. I was also already a fan of Jacques from listening to Ango, who he frequently collabs with. We all have mutual friends, particularly Morgan Steiker. He linked us and made it happen—my Canadian connection.