The time couldn’t be riper to celebrate one of the more gifted young voices leading the R&B genre today. Luke James is his name, and he recently released his self-titled debut album (Island Records). If you haven’t heard his signature song from 2012, “I Want You,” then do yourself a favor. Prepare to be awed by the command of his vocal range. “I Want You” is just the beginning of what should be a long and amazing career for Luke. He has released a couple of mixtapes/free albums in recent past, with Urban Adult Radio being most supportive—moderately rotating songs such as the bedroom ballad, “Make Love to Me,” and last year’s mid-tempo buzz single, “IOU.” James can also be heard on Robert Glasper’s recent Black Radio 2 album with Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion) and Lupe Fiasco on the song, “Persevere.” Another under the radar fan favorite is the vocally potent “Just Might Die” which Luke premiered on the inaugural episode of Real Music Live, (NBC, December 2012).
Luke James stays busy, seizing on many opportunities to augment his career. As a songwriter he has co-penned tunes for Chris Brown (the hit ballad “Crawl”), Justin Bieber (“That Should Be Me”) and Britney Spears (“Kill the Lights”). In 2013, Luke accompanied Pop mega-star Beyoncé on tour as an opening act, while some of his most documented performances have been on specials for Black Entertainment Television, such as the BET Honors (2012) where he premiered “I Want You” in front of an audience that included First Lady Michelle Obama, and Black Girls Rock (2012) where he performed alongside R&B crooners Eric Benét and Anthony Hamilton for a soulfully-stirring rendition of New Birth’s “Wild Flower.”
Luke is excited about the new project and the growing reaction to his current single, “Options,” featuring Rick Ross.
AMALGAMATION: What can audiences expect from the upcoming album?
LUKE: You can expect a very mood-driven album. It’s very thematic in every sense of the word. From the highs to the lows, these are my experiences I’m conveying. Music is somewhat of my way of writing a journal. It will contain some upbeat and mid-tempos to some slow and straight vibe records. It’s going to be self-titled with roughly 13 songs, including some bonus tracks.
Are there certain songs that you love more than others?
I can’t say I love some songs more than others but I do love certain songs more at different times of the day, if I can put it that way. For instance, there’s “Exposé (Wait a Minute)” which I can’t wait for everyone to hear. There’s a song like “Dancing in the Dark” to “Timex,” and “Insane.” They’re all records that mean something personal to me. They all have their special time in the day and mood to hear them.
Who are some of your collaborators?
I pretty much wrote everything on the album but I worked with guys like Danja, The Alliance, Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly.
Your records tend to be big productions. Is there a signature Luke James sound?
I think there is. It’s definitely evolving. I guess there is a specific thing when I listen back to my music. I can hear my isms.There is no glass ceiling. There’s no telling where I can go. My love for music is in all genres from Country and Folk, to Bluegrass and Blues, to R&B, Soul, and Alternative. I just want to ensure that as I pursue my artistry, that I keep people open minded to what I do. I also don’t want to play any games with the listeners. I want them to know who I am and what kind of artist I am. I am a thought-provoking artist. I am an artist you feel – not only do you hear it but you feel it and it makes you think. That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave. I want to feel as if I’ve said something…more than what the norm is.
Talk about your new single, “Options,” which is a uniquely dark song, both musically and lyrically? Even Rick Ross’s phrasing was distinctive.
Although it’s a moody kind of record, it feels urgent. Rick Ross’ approach was his own, and I guess that comes from hearing the record and feeling compelled to collaborate.
What has your breakout record, “I Want You,” meant to your career?
It’s the reason we’re speaking today. It’s opened the door for a lot of opportunities, and for people to look in my direction. I’ve toured and traveled the world, and sang in front of Black excellence. It’s moved people to fall in love. The song came from an honest place. I went into the studio to create a certain feeling. It was more an out of body situation because I truly had no clue of what I was doing. I had an idea of what I set out to do with the song but it was nothing like I originally planned. I guess it was a vulnerable movement that I was able to capitalize on and execute.
What has being on the Beyoncé tour meant for your career?
That tour allowed me to reach lots of people who may not have known me. It broadened my horizons. It allowed me to be in front of an audience that listens to more than just one kind of radio station or one style of music. I gained more respect and more fans.
Do you plan on hitting the road upon the release of the album?
We plan on hitting the road even before the album comes out. We plan on doing some shows here and there then putting something together that makes sense for me and my fan base; doing something that will allow me to grow and give people a chance to know more about me.
You really cut your teeth writing for other major artists. Are you still consistently doing that?
I haven’t too much lately. I’ve been collaborating with a couple of DJs but I’ve been mainly focused on Luke James. I want to hone everything I have into my own project and make it as great as I possibly can.
What do you think of the R&B scene today and how do you fit in?
I think it’s a matter of people understanding that not everything is the same. There’s traditional R&B, straight R&B and I guess what you would call progressive R&B; where it sounds a bit more experimental. But there’s nothing that hasn’t been done already – just a different style and take. I have this debate all of the time: R&B is going to always be around. You can call it Pop, Hip-Hop or Alternative or Rhythm & Blues. For me, all of that stuff is beautiful. I can try all of these different genres and styles as well. I just do music. I do what I love to do. And it just so happens that it moves people to love it.
How have you capitalized on being Luke James the sex symbol? Do you feel it distracts from the music?
It doesn’t bother me at all. It is what it is. I don’t particularly see myself as that. It is a bit odd but if that is what enables someone to turn my music on then fine. If they’re just buying into it for pure sex appeal, well, that’s good, too. Hopefully, they’ve gotten a message from what they’ve listened to. It’s opened many doors. It’s known that attractive always wins. I’m going to use what God has allowed me to have.
What are your thoughts from the Black Girls Rock performance in 2012 with Anthony Hamilton and Eric Benét? That was a powerful performance.
That was an amazing experience. I’d like to give a shout out to (Creative Music Director for Black Girls Rock) Kim Burse. Anthony Hamilton and Eric Benét are like the big homies. I grew up on them, honestly. To be up there sharing the stage with them, and for them to allow me to shine, was an awesome opportunity—especially to be the first man on the stage to perform for Black women and give celebration to them. I wish I could do it all over again, honestly.
Who else would you like to collaborate with that you have not?
I would love to collaborate with so many people: Beyoncé, Drake, Kanye, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper…
Explain your chemistry with singer-songwriter Stacy Barthe. You two recorded a hidden gem a couple of years called “Comfy Little Coffin.”
Stacy has a beautiful soul. Once I’m in her zone, she and I mix well. We’re both moody people. That was a great collaboration from like three years ago – a great song with a great feeling. She expressed what she really felt and I just came along for the ride.
Where has your biggest area of support come from: radio, touring, bloggers, or other artists co-signing you?
I would say going directly to the people through the internet. I’ve been able to get to the actual listener – the buyer, the consumer. Everything else has been gravy. At the end of the day, the people still have to want to eat the cake. The people have been my biggest supporters. Through word of mouth they have been noticing my talents.
What do you want to world to take away from Luke James?
That I’m a ‘loveful being’…and I believe love can conquer all.
Interview Conducted by David A. Mitchell