Jai’Len Josey is one of the most unique and impressive talents we’ve come across from the new generation’s group of artists. Her music is packed with everything we look for in an R&B act: great songwriting, insane vocals, and real instrumentation. With the ability to produce, write and sing her own music, Jai’Len is an all around triple threat. Songs like “All Mine”, “When We Jump”, and “Good Soup” are the perfect showcase of these skills.
Fresh off of opening for Ari Lennox’s age/sex/location tour (who she penned hits “Pressure”, “Stop By” and “Gummy” for), Jai’Len is getting ready to release her second EP titled Southern Delicacy this Friday (April 14th). She shared with us who she worked with on this second EP, what she learned from her time on Broadway as Pearl in Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’m amazed by you, for real. I really think you’re outta here already. I can’t wait for the next five years to come because I feel like I’m gonna look back on this interview and be like “I was talking to Jai’Len Josey. That’s crazy.” How has the Ari tour been? You’ve been receiving a lot of love, how do you feel? Has it opened any doors?
Jai’Len Josey: The tour has been a big learning lesson, a big stepping stone for me. I’m learning how to keep my head on straight and not let outside influences or things that are actually happening in my life prior affect the show. I know this is gonna be cliché, but I’m learning how to switch to be the star in front of people and then go backstage and cry and do all my stuff like that *laughs*. I’m learning how to be an adult finally. I’m 24, so I’ve been an adult for a while, but this taught me time management. I’ve always known that you’re supposed to be on time, but like, it’s more imperative now cus’ you know your face is involved. This tour has really shown me that I’m not a kid anymore and it’s a blessing because I feel like I’m just moving into a different phase of my life. I’m really emotional today, because today’s the last day [of the tour], so I don’t know … it’s just a big round of applause for myself. Like an internal congratulations. I did something. I pushed through to the end and you know, that’s what big girls do. You push through any type of circumstance. I’ve been having boy troubles this whole tour. I usually have my dog with me. I don’t have my dog, you know what I mean? I’m trying to communicate with my family. Last year my grandfather passed away, so I’m trying to keep in touch with my grandma and make sure she’s good. It’s just wild.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I get you, I’m 24 too so I feel exactly what you’re going through adult wise. But with the tour and all that on top of it, I’m sure it is even harder so props to you. Let’s hop into your background. Tell me some artists and albums that got you started wanting to make music.
Jai’Len Josey: First and foremost, my mom was from Detroit, so they didn’t have segregated radios. Everything that she cleaned our house to was like Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks, Billy Joel, Elton John. It was just an array of sounds that was in my house. We could either be listening to Christmas music one day or R&B the next, and we’d be in the middle of June. I was very blessed that my mom had a very expansive musical vocabulary because now I feel I can say that I have a very diverse musical vocabulary. All of those songs really pushed me towards orchestral music. I went to Tri-Cities High School and in music theater there’s a thing called The Pit, and that’s where the orchestra sits. I would do my due diligence to go down there at any point in time just to listen to them play. When I ended up going on Broadway, when I wasn’t on stage I would be in the pit and I would just be listening to them playing. I just remember thinking, “Dang them folks can play”. I gained so much of a respect for instrumentalists and people who can actually play instruments. I play an instrument myself, I can sing. The voice is a crazy instrument as well. I can dabble on the piano, but nothing like these crazy guys and girls that I encounter who can play the cello and horns. I also have a huge respect for producers as well. When I write and I produce my music, I only produce it to a point where another producer can actually take it to the level that it needs to be. Someone having a musical ear to take someone’s idea that was in their head and transform it to something else, I have huge total respect for them. Getting back to my influences, I remember going on YouTube and just playing videos of the violin and the cello because I was afraid that I was gonna imitate somebody and sound just like them. I would just listen to the instruments and I would be like okay let me mimic that run that the cello does or that the horn does. Watching people do their covers of songs and then mimicking what they do with their instruments. I feel like that also was a part of my training, even though I’m musically trained, and that is what cultivated my sound.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me to your time on Broadway. I was talking to Haley Kilgore and we brought you up because I think you guys have this similar feel and background in music. You both are these vocalists from Broadway that blow me away. She actually was curious as to what your answer was gonna be to this question too. What did you learn from Broadway? What do you bring from there to your music and to the stage? Even more specifically, to this tour?
Jai’Len Josey: The biggest thing that I would say is that if you can’t perform your music, then it’s a wrap. The way that you captivate people with your lyrics that they probably haven’t heard before, and how you reel people in with how you walk across stage or how you connect with somebody, like with your eyes and the audience. If you are missing that one thing, it’s hard for people to … in my opinion the reason why I would go to a performance is to experience something, to feel something different, to leave changed. You want somebody to feel healed and you want somebody to leave changed. I always say if one person in the audience is changed, then the job is done. I learned from Broadway that it’s different being in an ensemble than carrying the show. Now I’m carrying my own set, and that’s a whole difference than relying on other people and other bodies on stage to push the show with you. Being by yourself, you have to make sure that at least 12 of them people in the front are captivated. You know what I mean? The performance aspect of Broadway is such a great teacher for me that I learned that the show and how you perform your music is one of the most important things. How you connect with people beyond just them having their headphones on is the next level. If you can connect with people through the headphones, great. If you can connect with somebody in person live and in front of them even freaking better. I believe that Broadway was such a great teacher to me for that, and I wonder what her [Hailey’s] answer was.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It was pretty similar. She mentioned learning how to reach the crowd and how to perform as well. she said. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about where you got your vocal ability from?
Jai’Len Josey: It’s crazy cause I don’t think anybody in my family can sing. Everybody in my family, they’re creatives, like artists. My mom’s a graphic designer. My grandmother can look at something and paint it. I got the vocal ability, and I was just a loud kid *laughs*. I was just really loud. I guess God was like, all right, she’s, you know, is she gonna be loud? Let’s just put a little flavor in it too. I also know that my mom said that there was a family member who could actually sing way way back, but it hasn’t been anybody else besides me. Her name is Melissa and she was my grandmother’s cousin I believe. I remember her when I was younger and then she passed away. I was in the choir once and then I had stage fright for a little bit, so it just didn’t work out for me, but I was always in the church and I was always listening to the choirs. My mom worked at So So Def as well. I think my voice came from the fact that when she was pregnant and she was at these album listening parties, that she would be standing beside the speaker and she could feel the music in her belly. So that’s where I think mine came from. Like I could say yes, the church all day and my voice is definitely influenced by it, I’m black at the end of the day. That is definitely a part of it. But I think it’s the fact that she was standing beside the speaker while she was pregnant and she was feeling the music in her tummy.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’m with you on that. It’s pretty amazing that you got the opportunity to work with Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox then, that’s full circle for sure.
This is a kind of perfect segue into you writing “Pressure”, “Stop By” and “Gummy” for Ari Lennox. How did you get in that position to write for her? Did the So So Def connection with your mom have anything to do with it?
Jai’Len Josey: It’s crazy cause when I met JD and B Cox, it was like “Oh yeah, my mom worked with y’all on the ground up”, and they was like, “Oh, that’s your mama? Oh my gosh, your mom!”. It was great, but that’s not it. I wish, and my mom wishes too, but no. I signed to Sony as a writer and I guess the way that “Pressure” happened was she just picked a handful of writers she liked and they chose me to go in, that’s the story I heard. I wrote “Stop By” the first time we met and it was with Jay White, the producer. I just wrote “Stop By” in that timeframe. Then we wrote another song that … I don’t even know where that song is. I think weeks later or months later, she called me at 4:00 AM and was like “Do you think it could come through?”, and me and Tayrn, we hopped in the car and we zoomed down to whatever studio Jermaine and B Cox was at and they were playing “Pressure” on the turntables, so we wrote it there. After that I just so happened to be in LA and Elite and Ari had asked me to come to the studio and then we wrote “Gummy”. “Stop By” was the first song that I wrote with Ari. “Pressure” was the second one. And “Gummy” happened shortly after. No settling happened at my house. I just sent a demo over. But yeah, it happened because I was signed to Sony. I really do wish that I could be like, “Yeah my mama had a hand down, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah”. I wish I could pull the nepotism card, but I am not a Nepo baby *laughs*. It is just a nice fun fact at the end of the day.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What did you learn from B Cox and JD?
Jai’Len Josey: I learned from JD and B Cox that the talent is gonna shine through. It kind of doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the game. You can see how long they’ve been in the game, talent supersedes age. Talent supersedes time. Cus’ they were going at it, they were on those turntables. I lost it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Was the writing what got you to be on the tour with Ari?
Jai’Len Josey: I mean, I think it helped. I really don’t know. I’m signed to CAA, which is one of the biggest touring agencies, and they definitely had a hand in it. I would definitely say that it was more of a boost, like if they came to Ari and was like, “Do you want this girl? it’s Jai’Len”, I’m sure. I have a really nice relationship with her. She’s so sweet to me. She’s like a big sister to me, so I wouldn’t doubt it for a moment that she heard and she was like, “Oh yeah, that’s my n**** ”. You know what I mean? *laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s dive into your EP “Illustrations”. It’s the type of EP you have to listen to straight through. I always ask every artist I talk to, were there some albums or artists you were listening to when you made it?
Jai’Len Josey: No… I was still on Broadway when I wrote and did the demos to Illustration. The only type of music I was listening to is the show music that I was currently doing while being on Broadway and other musicals. I had a whole playlist that I would just run back. At the time I was on Broadway, I think Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” and all of that was out and I was replaying it a lot. That’s the only music I really remember aside from musicals, but it was really just musicals. Things with big bands. I was listening to a lot of that. I was heavy on Cab Calloway. I’ve always been heavy on Cab Callaway, but Broadway just boosted it for me. I was listening to The Book Of Mormon, Waitress, Mean Girls. Hailey Kilgore and I were on Broadway at the same time, and I was listening to her show a lot. What was it …. “Waiting For Life”! That’s not the show though *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: I think the one Hailey was on was in “Once On This Island”
Jai’Len Josey: Once on This Island! Yes, I was listening to “Once On This Island” a lot. Please forgive me Hailey *Laughs* . I was just listening to musicals, musicals, musicals. Anything that had an orchestra, anything that had live music behind it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You definitely hear that in the EP. It just sounds so real. I don’t know if that’s the right word?
Jai’Len Josey: It’s real for me. This next EP, it’s just like that but a little bit more. I feel like a grown woman in the newer songs. So, you know, I had to pull out the big boys again and bring the orchestra back.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What’s the new EP sounding like? Can you say anything about who you worked with? Is it gonna sound like “Good Soup” in terms of the style?
Jai’Len Josey: I’ll say that it’s an array of tempos. I’m working with D’Mile, Bob Stevens … Bob Stevens executive produced my EP. Mike Barney, Timmy Mason Jr and Harold Lilly. I sent all my lyrics, my songs, and the stuff that I came up with to them and they sent it back. We finally finished the EP a couple days ago. It should be coming out pretty soon, mid April I believe. It’s not like “Good Soup” at all. “Good Soup” is there, but it makes sense in the flow, meaning that it has different pathways. I wanted to make sure the EP was a tribute to my grandfather. He lived so many lives. He was a Vietnam veteran. He was a grandfather. He worked at the post office. He was an usher, a usher board member. He was a great father and grandfather. He was the epitome of a good down to earth man, a great person. A great southern man, and he taught me southern charm. The EP is actually called “Southern Delicacy”. I like to say that, he taught me how to be a Southern delicacy in my own way as a woman, so it’s a tribute to my grandfather through the situations that have happened in my life and through music. Illustrations was the stamp like, “Oh, she uses live music.” but this one I think it’s gonna be like, “Oh, she uses live music?!”. There’s not a song on this next EP that doesn’t use a live instrument.
YouKnowIGotSoul: First of all, I’m sure your grandfather’s very proud of you, and it’s awesome to hear that you’re dedicating it to him. Second, I’m really excited for the EP. I didn’t know you had that much of a hand in your production. Tell me a song you had a strong hand in and how your process is for making these songs.
Jai’Len Josey: So basically I will go on Logic, and I will make the song. I’ll write the song, I’ll vocal produce the song, I’ll put the music behind it, but it’ll be a demo. So it’ll be like, “beep, beep, boo, boo, boo” *laughs*. The thing is I have a nice way around the piano, so it’ll be good enough that the producers can take it and then run with it. I have a very big hand in my music, it’s up to the producers to have an even bigger hand, you know what I mean? But, I definitely start the relay race.Even my last EP. It was a different process while I was on Broadway cus’ I didn’t know how to create the backing music. So I was beatboxing it and I was putting the beat together. The reason why “She’s Got it” starts off like “bum bum [acapella]” is because I did the music for it, I vocally produced it and I didn’t know how to put the music behind it. I had to make it with my mouth first and then put the lyrics on it, and then thankfully I just sent it off to them and they was like, well, we should just keep it. That was the only song that you could actually tell that I did the beat behind it first. But all of my songs, I have a huge hand in. “Can You Do It For Me?”, I did the baseline before they sent it off to a real bass player. That’s usually how it happens. I’ll do the melody for it, they’ll send it off to somebody who can actually, you know, make it real. So I have a big hand in my music, which is why I’m very passionate about it. The only thing I ask for is just to put me down as co-producer somewhere because my music means that much to me. It’s my sound and I just am thankful that I can find people who can cultivate my sound with me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’m pleasantly surprised. I really did not know that. Out of your discography so far, what’s one of your favorite songs that you’ve made?
Jai’Len Josey: One of my favorite songs would be “All Mine”. Then the other, it’s not out yet, but it’s a song called “Willie’s interlude” and it’s a tribute to my grandfather.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’m looking forward to Willie’s interlude. My personal favorite is either “When We Jump” or “Can You Do It For Me?” Props to you on all these songs, I really thoroughly enjoy them. I’m glad we could talk about them and know more about them cus’ it’s just crazy to me right now that you actually did all that.
Jai’Len Josey: Thank you so much, none of the music would’ve been possible without the producers though. So it’s like, I just start it, but they finish it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: No, absolutely. I’m sure they appreciate you appreciating them. Tell me about that song “Safe” with the Gospel artist 1k Phew. I feel like people are gonna overlook it. How did it come together?
Jai’Len Josey: That’s another Sony session that they put together. I’m also a woman of God, so I was like let’s write a verse for 1K Phew. I helped vocal produce it as well. I remember it being a very fun session, he’s very down to earth. He’s definitely from Georgia and he’s also a man of God. It’s fun to see the human or the regular aspect that you don’t have to be dressed up in no suit and you can come as you are, you know what I mean? He embodies that a lot. I don’t really have much for that song. I just know that it was a great song. We did a music video for it too. It was very fun … no, it was very cold. It was very cold that day *laughs*. But, yeah, I always wanna do music with him. The difference between writing for myself and writing for other people is that I’m the employee, so I have to be quick with it. I never really get the time to indulge in it. I indulged in the Ari session, but I still took like 30 minutes to get it done, which is pretty short.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Any goals you want to accomplish for 2023?
Jai’Len Josey: I stay with my mom, so my goal is to get my own apartment, which I’m thinking could happen pretty soon. But, my mom has always been the lady to be like, “Stay until you need to”. So it’s like why not? Life is expensive right now and it don’t matter what kind of job you got. If you have the ability to stay with your parents, stay with your parents. I want the music that I put out to be received really well. That’s another hope, prayer manifestation, wish and goal. I think I wanna hit at least 80k followers, you know, gotta also still be productive. I wanna hit more than that, but I’m starting low. Low expectations always work. I wanna have fun this summer. We’ve been working since January. I wanna get lit. That’s basically my goals for 2023, and to keep working. We’ve already got a whole bunch of stuff lined up. I’m about to release an EP in like two weeks. The reason why I strayed away from work-stuff is because the work is obviously gonna happen. It’s just rarely that we get the chance to enjoy the time that we have outside of work. My work goals, we’ve been accomplishing them and we’ve been checking ’em off the list, but it’s very imperative to keep reminding yourself to have fun while working at the same time. I wanna be surrounded by my family. I’m about to turn 25. That’s a goal to look back and be like I had fun.
Rapid Questions (Check video for full answers)
Favorite song right now:
“Smoke” – Victoria Monét and Lucky Daye
An album you’d pick if you could only play one for 24 hours:
Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
Dream collab with a producer:
Old-school artist you’d want to collab with:
New-school artist you’d want to collab with:
Someone you’d want to write for:
A song you wish you wrote:
“Jealous Guy” – Donnie Hathaway
Your favorite song to perform:
“When We Jump” – Jai’Len Josey
Your favorite Ari Lenox song:
An album you wish you were featured on:
Jaguar – Victoria Monét