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Luke James Speaks on Connecting Through Music, Lessons From Beyonce and New Album [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Luke James
Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

After several delays, Luke James is finally gifting listeners with something they can feel with his self-titled debut album, arriving Sept. 23. For the New Orleans crooner, the delays have been a blessing, not a curse.

Rewind back to December 2011, when James broke out as a solo artist, dropping his free project, ‘#LUKE,’ as a teaser for his official opus, ‘Made to Love’– originally slated for a 2012 release. James’ ‘I Want You’ was a buzzworthy single and garnered a 2012 Grammy nod for Best R&B Performance. No official date surfaced for the official album, instead, another free effort, ‘Whispers in the Dark,’ followed. One fan heard that project and gave him the biggest opportunity of his career thus far –that musical admirer was Beyonce.

“I put out ‘Whispers in the Dark’ and she’s a fan of that and she’s just a great person and a big supporter and I guess she wants to see me win so it works out,” James tells The Boombox. “I respect her art and she respects my art and I guess it just makes sense to allow me to open up for her.”

James warmed up 16,000 to 20,000 people each night before Bey took the stage on the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour in more than 60 cities. Those were the biggest crowds he’d ever performed for.

During the tour, he also took notes on Beyonce’s work ethic. “I’ve learned [to have] no fear, stay consistent and stay your ground. What it is you do, no one else does. Just hone in on it and just get better and greater,” the 30-year-old shares.

Listen to Luke James’ ‘Options’ Feat. Rick Ross

Months after he finished touring, as rain clouds brewed outside on a June afternoon, James sits in a padded room near a piano and several members of his team at the Island Def Jam offices in New York City. He belts out lyrics that reverberate throughout the room. Rocking a black tank top, black jeans and sporting a curly high-top fade, the singer breaks from his crooning to speak to The Boombox about his new single, ‘Options’ featuring Rick Ross, and wearing his heart on his sleeve for his forthcoming record.

“I’m a man of simple knowledge / She’s a woman whose prone to violence / It used to be something beautiful / Red flags regardless / And love used to be our vehicle / But now there’s too much violence,” a lovesick James bellows on the piano-driven track as he asks for forgiveness.

“Basically ['Options' is] about two people making a life-altering decision and having options and either way they go, it’s going to change things,” James says of the track. Rick Ross jumped on the effort after he heard it. “Personally, if I wanted to have a feature on it, I would want it with someone who has a voice that people adhere to; someone people connect with and Rick Ross has that voice.”

James recently changed the name of his debut from ‘Made to Love’ to ‘Luke James.’ “I’ve been saying ‘Made to Love’ over the past two years and I’ve grown. I’ve just felt a different calling. Wasn’t sure what it was and just hanging with some friends it just rang a bell,” he explains.

The eponymous record will feature production from longtime collaborator Danja. The crooner adds that each song tells a story from a different point in his life. “‘Dancing in the Dark’ is one track. Basically the song is about connecting with someone mentally and you’re moved so much by the intellect that both of you want to make it physical,” James continues.

“‘Wait a Minute,’ which I consider my exposé, came from a place of someone asking me to make a decision; basically presenting me with an ultimatum and me just feeling the need to just lay it out on the table. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I tell you exactly how I feel. The song says ‘Wait a minute, dance.’ The meaning behind that is instead of telling me, show me,” he admits.

James has no problem being open on his tracks as he’s learned from all the greats. Prince, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Sade are the artists that come to mind first, when asked about his top five inspirations.

“All of the people that I’ve named, these people had artistry. They had a story. They had something you wanted to know about,” James states. “It was a movement. There was a connection. They were speaking about what was going on in the world and they were talking about what was going on internally within themselves.”

New artists, like him, are bringing vulnerability back to today’s music, he believes. For James, it’s about connecting with listeners. “It takes more artists like us to take a stance and then radio will eventually — because radio is a big part of it as well — radio shall adhere to it because the people will speak and say I want to hear substance don’t give me just novelty,” he says. “Give me something I can feel — that I can just ride home and cry to and fall in love to.”

At the end of the conversation, James requests two things from his listeners on his forthcoming record: “Be open-minded. Give me a shot.”

An audible trip through Luke James’ emotions seems more than worth it.

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