The Second First Impression of Jesse Boykins III

The soulful crooner talks signing to Def Jam, embracing femininity and his latest record Bartholomew.

One of the year’s most intriguing new records isn’t all that new. Last Friday, Jesse Boykins III officially dropped Bartholomew, the Jamaican-American R&B crooner’s first release through his recently inked deal with Def Jam. The hour-long album plays like a hazy and immersive walkabout, teeming with soulful ponderings and funk-filled grooves at every turn. It’s also well over a year old, originally posted to Boykins’ Soundcloud in its entirety way back in August 2016. You’d think this sudden surge in attention over a long-completed project might feel a little weird for Boykins. According to the man himself, though, it feels more like delayed gratification.

“This is like a reawakening for me as an artist,” the 32-year-old tells me, over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “With the amount of work I put into Bartholomew—and all the other artists involved with it—it deserves more than just what I could’ve done for it.”


Those “other artists” he mentions are significant for a couple of reasons. Bartholomew boasts a killer guest list: there are a dozen features across its 17 tracks, including spots from Willow Smith, Trinidad James and The Internet’s Syd. The star-studded roster speaks, in part, to the reputation Boykins has built as a songwriter and collaborator since breaking into the industry a decade ago. “I feel like I’m the best-kept secret,” Boykins says. “I’d worked with all of these people on their music, but now they’re a part of something I did. ”

But what’s most notable about Boykins’ Bartholomew colleagues is that nearly all of them—from Smith and Syd to Dej Loaf, Noname and Melanie Fiona—are women. The gender imbalance was very much by design.

“I always talk about balancing masculinity and femininity,” he explains. “It’s key to have both. But for Bartholomew, I put masculinity off to the side a little bit. I tried to indulge in sensitivity and nurturing and all of the feminine traits that I feel don’t get highlighted or acknowledged enough. Society fucks up how women feel about themselves growing up then throws them away after a certain age—and that’s bullshit. I wanted this project to highlight female energy and all the magnificent minds of these artists I worked with.”


Boykins’ other main inspiration on Bartholomew? His move to LA, which came after spending the bulk of his adult life in New York. “New York is like a fight,” he says. “In a fight, you’re more likely to act in extremes. That’s just an innate thing in humans: If you push me against a wall, I’m going to resort to survival tactics. Everything in that energy is going to feel constrained. I love the music I made in New York, but I just understand it differently now.

“In Los Angeles, people smile at you. You go get a sandwich made, and they ask if you want avocados on your sandwich. You know what I mean? You get a cold-pressed juice everyday. People actually give you advice in the street, and no one’s trying to get one over on you. Artists are celebrated here. The sun is the ultimate healer—there ain’t nothing else better than that.”

All of that positive energy is present on Bartholomew. It’s warm and compassionate and heady, the perfect opening handshake for an artist ready to introduce himself to the world at large. Or maybe it’s a re-introduction. Either way, it’s a way to tell his story.

“What do I want people to know about me?” Boykins muses. “That I have a vast imagination. That I always strive for progression and effort in my art. And that I’m the underdog, just like they are.”





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