If you’re a Jay Z fan you’ve more than likely heard him repping his new slogan #NewRules with veracity. Ironic as it is that one of the most commercially successful hip hop artists in the game is pushing this anti-industry motto. However, there’s no denying that indie rap is the new wave. With today’s technology, having major label backing is no longer a necessity to make it in the game. With social media and global marketing available at your fingertips it’s possible to stay self-sufficient in this new age of hip hop. So, we’re bringing you a new artist or group every week that really creates their own rules, and asking them how you too can make your own lane.
For this installment we’re featuring Jesse Boykins III.
Brooklyn based singer Jesse Boykins III has made his mark both stateside and abroad, having traveled all over the world performing original music and gaining thousands of fans along the way. His unique sense of style, both musically and fashion wise, captivates people and leaves a lasting impression. We sit down with him to gain insight on his own set of #NewRules.
Mass Appeal: Where are you from?
Jesse Boykins III: I’m from a lot of places. Jamaica, Miami and I’ve been living in New York City for about 10 years.
MA: How did you get your start in the music industry?
JBIII: I moved to New York when I was 17 years old after I was accepted to The New School where I studied jazz. That’s pretty much what got me started, as far as performing in New York. I studied under Bilal when I was about 17 until I was 21. After that, I had four jobs and I quit all of them and just started making music and doing shows.
MA: How did you book your first show?
JBIII: My first show was at this place called Remote Lounge. It was in 2007. It was my first show with a band doing original music. I was also in a dance group called Step at the time, and they had a performance and asked for an opener. So I put a band together and we put on a little concert. It was on the Lower East Side in a little shack venue, but it was cool.
MA: How did you get your band together?
JBIII: When I went to The New School, all of my friends were musicians. I went to music school so everybody played an instrument; I was one of the few singers there so everyone wanted to play with me.
MA: When you were starting off, how were you able to book studio time?
JBIII: When I was at The New School, I remember, our school was only on two floors — the fifth floor and the sixth floor — and there were about nine floors in the building. One of my friends came down to the sixth floor off of the elevator and I asked him where he was coming from, and he told me, “from the studio.” This was my junior year, and I was like “Studio? We don’t have a studio here.” And he was like “We do have one upstairs, you can just check it out and work up there.” It was this little room called “Audio 1” and I decided that it was my home. I would kick people out and stuff. That’s pretty much how I got into producing and engineering and just getting into different channels, not only just songwriting but also arranging. It was all thanks to “Audio 1” at the New School.
MA: How were you able to do your first music video?
JBIII: My first music video was for a song called “Tabloids” and we shot it in 2008. My best friend and still my creative director now, Dr. Woo, he went to Parsons School of Design, and was into film. I came up with this concept for this song, and fortunately we had a couple of friends who had cameras. They weren’t HD cameras or anything crazy, but we just went out on a whim and shot it in a day. We did some bonus shots and some b-roll the next day, and then he edited the video. We ended up submitting it to BET J at the time, which is now Centric, and it was like number two on the charts. We had no budget, I called the leading lady the day before to ask her if she could do it and she said she was down. Everybody in my band was in it. I just kept it in the family.
MA: What kind of shows do you give?
JBIII: It’s pretty intense. It’s a full band; drums, keys, bass, guitar, trumpet, and then background vocals and backing track and me. We go hard, it’s high energy. There are a lot of different styles of music that I like to balance out the emotion as far as the direction of the show goes sonically. I like to tell stories visually and have it be a little more theatrical. Not so much “cool guy” but more open and express the vulnerability of each song the best that I can. And, connect with the audience as much as I can, making sure that people who come to the shows never leave unsatisfied or never leave not amazed. I try my best to give that energy every time.
MA: Do you have a clothing line or any merchandise that you push?
JBIII: Actually, I just did a collab with this company based in Berlin where I designed my own shoe and my own traveling bag. It’s an oxford-style shoe, it’s coming out in June and the bag is also coming out at the same time. The bag is a duffel, book bag, briefcase kind of hybrid kind of thing [Laughs]. They let me do whatever I want. Merchandise though, that’s such an important thing. Especially if you want to be a brand and you want to last and give people things other than just music so that you can become a part of their lifestyle.
Funny thing, I was at a get together the other weekend and I met some cats from DC. One of them was telling me how he came across my music. I have promotional pins and trinkets with my logo on them. This guy had no idea who I was, never heard of me, but had one of my pins on his jacket for three years just because he liked the design. And so, one time this girl bumps into him and was like “You know Jesse Boykins III?” And, he was like “Nah, who’s that?” And she was like, “You’re wearing his logo” and he was like “I just thought it was cool.” When he finally heard my music, after bonding with this logo for so long, and then seeing my videos and seeing the logo on the videos, he was just like “Oh, man I feel like I’ve missed so much.” So, I think it’s really important to brand yourself as far as merchandise goes. And, be innovative with it. You know how cats have the G pens now, and all these different things; it’s important.
MA: Tell me about your record label.
JBIII: I started my own LLC called Nomadic Music in 2008, just to put out my own music independently, because I felt like a lot of music that I was making, the industry wasn’t really understanding where I was coming from. Just because I was so young, writing about what I was writing and talking about what I was talking about. I still feel so now, but it’s gotten a little bit more progressive in the mainstream world, which is cool for an artist like me, so they can finally put me in that box and I can finally be OK with it.
MA: So, how did you start up your record label? What was the process like for that?
JBIII: Aw man, it was a journey. It’s still a journey. Anytime you start a business with no experience and no knowledge of business it’s really just a trial and error kind of thing. And, I was so young when I started. But, I just got my tax ID number, filled out my paperwork, and all of my money. To be honest with you, I was hustling. I sold weed, so that’s how I started my business. My first album, the money that I had from selling weed, I put it towards mastering my record, and mixing it, coming up with the artwork and paying for that. Paying for the copies and making t-shirts. We were like silk screening t-shirts in my apartment. We would hustle, then go buy t-shirts, silk screen them, then go sell the t-shirts. And that was the wave, and I kind of had to stop that because my music started getting recognized a lot faster than I thought it would [Laughs].
MA: What advice do you have for someone trying to come up in the music industry?
JBIII: You’re always changing and developing who you are and your perspective on the world. You need to take as much time as you can to understand what phase in your life you are in so it can channel into your art in it’s truest form. I feel like the realer that it is and the truer that it is, the more people will connect with you on a long-lasting level. And that’s without the budgets, without the machine pushing behind you. Just be as real as you can be in your life and in your music.
The second thing I would say is, put yourself around like-minded people who have the same vision and dreams. Even if it’s not the exact same. If someone wants to be a fucking construction worker, if they’re super passionate about it, hang around that person. Put yourself around passionate people and make sure that you share your dreams and aspirations with them, and let them do the same. You’ll find that you’re constantly involved in inspiration. When you’re always around it, that means that you’re always creative.
Which is the third part, don’t be afraid to be creative. Don’t deny yourself of things that you envision because of how you think people are going to perceive it. My mom says, “Start chaos and then watch it build.”. But start with your ideas on a chalkboard, everything that’s in your head, you write that shit down. It can sound outlandish, but at some point it’ll make sense. You’ll start to see your path and what direction you want to go. If you have like-minded people around, then they can help you on that path, and then if you stay true to it, you’ll get more and more people who want to be around it.