by Janday Wilson
There are men and then there is Jesse Boykins III and MeLo-X.
These soulful, independent artists are unafraid to pour the raw content of their lives, good and bad, into their art and play in soundscapes that satisfy those with the most diverse of aural palettes. Most importantly, the solo artists have gained international adoration without compromising their freedom.
The tracks that singer-songwriter-producer-actor Jesse Boykins III, 28, ornaments with his lush vocals smoothly transport listeners on blissful auditory journeys through universes of soul, electronic-dance, and world music. MeLo-X, Boykins III’s friend of seven years, deftly raps over production inspired by the same musical influences. A man of many talents – a few of which include production, painting, designing, photography, DJing, and party throwing – MeLo-X, 28, is also your favorite artist’s favorite remix-er (just ask the divine Maxwell).
Their recent collaborative album Zulu Guru (Ninja Tune, 2012) is a sonic smorgasbord of Afro-Beat, West Indian rhythms, and electro-soul that features members of the Romantic Movement – their collective of musicians, rappers, poets, designers and singers – and offers their fresh, honest perspectives on romance.
In conversation with Transitioning Movement, the charming duo reminisce on the making of Zulu Guru, discuss their philosophies on claiming one’s destiny and the power of femininity, and share their hair regimens.
Do you have any standout memories from making Zulu Guru together?
MeLo-X: One of the cool things with that album was us actually being able to go on tour with it. That was pretty fun. We went to Australia, and London, and then we went to Africa so that was an amazing experience … [M]e and Jesse just have so much music together … that we were supposed to put that project out maybe two years before it came out. Having it done and being able to share it with the world is a really good experience.
Jesse Boykins III: I just remember trying to convince MeLo to write verses to all the concepts I came up with [laughs]… I remember coming in with concepts, songs and him telling me it was wack and me continually pressing him and convincing him and telling him stories. That part was pretty fun … and also having the Romantic Movement on the project as well was something that I wanted to do.
What is your most unique quality and how does that influence your music?
J: I’m a pretty good listener. And I’m pretty open-minded…nothing really surprises me. That [influences] me to write a lot braver in my songwriting. I don’t care or try to censor anything without talking about it. I don’t want anyone to censor anything that they have to tell me. I want reality and I won’t judge you for it…Whatever you want to tell me, I don’t care. You [might] have 7 baby daddies. Tell me whatever…If you give me the details in depth, I’ll understand. It might inspire something crazy for me.
M: I do have a thing where anything I release or I put out I kind of visualize the whole story of it and what will happen. I’ll put an mp3 out and I’ll be like, “Alright, this song is going to do this and that. I’m going to win a Grammy then I’ll tell my grandkids about it later and I’ll have the plaque on the wall in my dining room.” I always look at everything all the way through. I get very into everything that I put out.
So that is the philosophy you go by right? Be the God of your destiny. I read that you adopted that mode of thinking in high school. What was the first manifestation of that philosophy?
M: There were a lot of things – when I started to visualize things more so I could look at them and see them – [that] came to fruition…On the last track on my first mixtape, I was shouting out different places in the world. These are places that I’ve never been but … a year later I was going to those places. Things like that always happen to me.
Jesse, what are some of the surprising things you learned from interviewing women for Love Apparatus: The Documentary, which you are releasing with your third album, Love Apparatus?
J: The documentary is based on the emotional mindset of a woman. That’s pretty much, in a nutshell, what I learned about. The different aspects of a woman’s mind and how experiences affect certain decisions in life. You guys are heavily spiritual and really in tune with a lot of things with your femininity that we’re not necessarily – men – in tune with. So just understanding that, and appreciating that, and learning how to own that in myself. And be more in tune and more intuitive and more aware. It’s more so to educate the common man, the regular man on how hard it is to be a woman.
I have to ask you guys about your lustrous, glorious hair. Jesse, how long have you been growing your hair?
J: I’ve pretty much always had long hair. I usually just cut it and let it grow and cut it, but I’d say [it’s been] like 7 or 8 years I’ve had hair with length, so I can do stuff like braid [it].
And MeLo-X, I read you started locking your hair in high school?
M: Well, in ninth grade I had my own spiritual awakening of sorts and I started growing my hair. At first I had braids, I had long [hair] like Jesse’s. I cut it in 2008 and then I grew it again to get locs. Within the last 13 years, I’ve cut my hair once.
What is your hair regimen and what products do you use?
M: At first it was a bit strenuous for me because I like my hair to smell good. So I have to do a whole lot of things to make it smell good. I shampoo [my hair] with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap Peppermint…and then I condition it with Jamaican Mango and Lime Protein Conditioner. I wash it and condition like 4 or 5 times and then I tighten it, and I have my special oil that I put in it every day so that it could have an amazing smell [laughs].
J: I usually use peppermint shampoo to wash my hair and this garlic conditioner … I can’t really get to the detail of that.
It’s all good (laughter).
M: He ain’t trying to give away them secrets, you feel me?
That’s not fair, though. I feel like the natural hair community is generous. Everyone wants to know what everyone uses.
J: I mean, I do what everyone does. The twisties after you wash your hair or the French braid. I make sure I keep some stay in conditioner for a day or two. Nothing crazy. The thing … with hair is, the more you leave it alone the healthier it is.
At your shows, the crowds are crazy. So many beautiful women and so much beautiful natural hair. Which hairstyles do you like on women?
J: MeLo, why you all quiet (laughter).
M: Personally, I just like a woman to be comfortable. It could be whatever the hell they want. It could be some wild shit, it could be some cool shit. It could be no hair. It could be the longest hair ever. But if they carry themselves with confidence then that makes them stick out to me.
J: I don’t really care about how long it took you to do your hair. If you tell me it took three hours, five hours it’s not really a big thing to me…I’m more concerned about how you feel in your most natural form. How you feel with nothing done. I want to know that you’re 100% confident in who you are without all of the shenanigans…As long as you’re smiling, man, I’m good…I feel like women are…so self-conscious about looking a certain kind of way and paying too much attention to detail … [As] a man, we appreciate beauty in anything. Especially as an artistic man. I can find the most beautiful thing in the ugliest things.
Is there anything at all in your careers that you have achieved thus far that has surprised you?
M: If you want to keep it real, I’ll give you an up-to-moment [situation]. While I’m talking to you, I just got an email from my manager because one of my songs that I did with a producer named Machinedrum, this big budget Hollywood movie named Paranoia … used it for the trailer. It premiered last night on CBS. Being an independent artist and having your music in video games and trailers for Hollywood movies, that’s crazy [laughs].
Yes, Schwaza, for sure. That’s amazing. Congratulations!
M: Word. Thank you, thank you.
J: That’s super wavy. Being an independent artist, anything that happens on a scale like that where’s there’s no machine under you pushing it is always surprising. I got nominated for a Soul Train Award in 2010. That was pretty randomly surprising.
M: That was crazy.
J: We went to the Soul Train Awards. I ended up shooting a music video inside the Soul Train Awards. And I get to play a show in Moscow. When that happens, it’s cool.
M: Oh, poppin’.
When do you get to do a show in Moscow?
J: Next week [laughs].
Oh! Awesome! Does that happen often? You just found out about this?
J: Yeah, I just found out today.
M: It’s up to the moment with us, man. Every moment in the day, it’s something new happening.
This summer, Jesse Boykins III will be releasing a project, People or Purpose, which includes a series of cover songs, original songs and remixes. The newest EP from Paris 96, his group with Theophilus London, will be coming out in August or the fall. He promises that the eagerly anticipated Love Apparatus will be coming out soon. MeLo-X’s project GOD: HiFi, part two of a three-part series leading up to an album, will be coming out within the next few weeks. Check out GOD:LoFi, part one of the series here.
For more Jesse Boykins III: http://jbiiimusic.com/
For more MeLo-X: http://www.meloxtra.com/