When Grammy-nominated singer Luke James released his self-titled debut album last month, the anticipation of fans (mainly women) was already at a fever pitch, and to many, Luke James felt like a dream fulfilled. A former back-up vocalist for Tyrese, and hit co-songwriter for pop stars like Chris Brown, Justin Bieber and Keri Hilson, James made the music industry take pause in late 2011 when his first video dropped for the mid-tempo stunner, “I Want You.”
A simple visual introduced the boyishly handsome 30-year-old singer/actor. His pleading brown eyes punctuated an intense, show-stopping voice that swooped to the heights of male falsetto power. This was no young lothario flexing his desire to out-macho the other young R&B dudes. James wasn't singing to you straight up that there ain’t no love from a ninja like him, performing a bit of slick reverse psychology, shooing and wooing you away simultaneously.
Openly, without walls, love is a theme that motivates and confounds Luke James just as it does for most human beings, and it brings out the soul-shaking mojo in his music. Many fans of the New Orleans-bred singer wanted to be that rain-soaked girl wrapped in the singer’s arms, or that beautiful chick with the baldie party-hopping with James under the cool Manhattan twilight in his “I.O.U.” video.
Over the past two years, life has been a whirlwind for James—touring with his “big sister” Beyoncé; opening for one of Prince’s storied NYC shows last year; being nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B performance for “I Want You.” Luke took a moment out of his super-busy touring schedule to chop it up with EBONY.com, sharing his thoughts about his new album, his bold tweet to director Spike Lee and his attraction to the allure of a strong woman.
EBONY: How do you feel about finally unveiling your new album?
Luke James: I feel relieved. You know, I feel like it’s been a long time coming so I’m just elated, I’m grateful. I’m happy.
EBONY: How long was the process of recording this album?
LJ: All of my life.
EBONY: Wow, when you say all of your life, what do you mean?
LJ: I mean, it’s everything that I’ve gone through since I knew that I wanted to do music. It’s just been me preparing for this album.
EBONY: Listening to the album, it sounds to me like the drama of an on-again off-again love affair. Is that accurate?
LJ: Yes it is. It’s definitely personal. Mostly everything I’ve ever sung comes from a personal place. This album is just pieces from my life and different things that I’ve gone through. Just finding myself and learning more about myself as an individual, as a loving man, that’s really what this is. I like to think of this album as a prelude to the story of Luke James.
EBONY: What was it like to find out you’d been Grammy nominated for a song off a mixtape? Can you tell me about that moment?
LJ: I was in disbelief. I thought it was a joke that it felt like everyone, even people [who were] not even connected, were playing on me. I was in the midst of traveling. I was actually rushing to pack to attend an album listening party for a friend of mine. And then rush[ing] to the airport, and I was running late, and I just assumed that all the text messages and all the missed calls was somebody wondering where I was and making sure that I was on time, and so I was ignoring them.
And when I had gotten to the car, I looked at my phone, and it’s just all these random texts from different people congratulating me on the Grammy nod. I was just in disbelief. It was definitely mind-blowing and gratifying and all of it.
EBONY: Did the Grammy intensify your music-making at all?
LJ: Definitely, definitely intensified it. It made me more confident as to who I was, and that I should continue to explore my creativity.
EBONY: Who did you discover in that journey of learning about “Luke James”? How would you describe that guy?
LJ: Vulnerable. Honest. Passionate. Open. Loving. Soulful. Strong.
EBONY: Tell us about the new album.
LJ: It is a moving forward, it’s progressive. Definitely a progressive sound. It’s full of feeling, you know? You will definitely feel that and get that. From the lyrical standpoint to even the musicality of everything and how I project.
EBONY: How involved were you in the production process on Luke James?
LJ: Like 95%. I have an idea of what I want to hear and how I want to hear myself and what I want to sing on. Just by being able to write songs with different people and work with different producers, it enabled me to just play around with different sounds, and even giving me time to really hone in on what it is I’m trying to do, what do I want to say.
EBONY: Any possible duet with Beyoncé in the future?
LJ: I hope so. Bey is a big sister, she’s a huge supporter. I mean, the whole Destiny’s Child family—Kelly and Michelle—they’ve always been great supporters of mine, in all my endeavors. So, definitely. The sky’s the limit.
EBONY: How did you originally connect with Beyoncé?
LJ: That happened through my manager, her creative director, Frank Gatson. He just linked us. Like I said, Destiny’s Child has always been a strong support since day one.
EBONY: What did you learn about Beyoncé from touring with her that fans might not know about her.
LJ: She’s human.
EBONY: Gotcha. Changing the subject a bit, what grabs your attention in a woman?
LJ: I love a very alluring woman. I love a strong woman. I love a woman that wanders, that just wants to explore. I just appreciate all the facets of a woman. There are just so many different things. On every level, you can get inspired by a woman.
EBONY: Are you a sex symbol?
LJ: I don’t know. I leave that up to the person that’s watching me. I like to think of myself as, I’m pretty comfortable when it comes to my sexuality. I guess, yeah, I’ve always been intrigued by the fairer sex, y’know? So I don’t know, it’s just something I like to bask in. I love women, and something about that power is just amazing to me to be around.
EBONY: Recently, you shouted out Spike Lee on Twitter, expressing a desire to work with him. What would your dream role with Spike Lee be?
LJ: I love the honesty of his movies, from Jungle Fever to Mo’ Betta Blues. I would love to do something of that sort, something that’s true and honest and meaningful. Even if it’s a biopic, y’know?
EBONY: Who would you like to portray?
LJ: I think of Marvin Gaye. I think of Al Green. I think of Charlie Parker. There are so many other people out there that I would love to see a glimpse of their story in two hours.
EBONY: Do you have acting chops?
LJ: Well, I actually did my first feature film last year, which was called Black Nativity, with myself, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Lattimore, Tyrese, Nas, [and] Mary J. Blige. Kasi Lemmons directed it.
EBONY: Where can your fans see you live?
LJ: Right now, I’m currently on a college tour, and shortly after that, I’m doing spot dates. So, my own headlining tour from Dallas to New Orleans to Atlanta to New York to Houston and just adding on more dates.
EBONY: What’s the Luke James experience like live?
LJ: Wow. W.O.W. Straight up.
EBONY: [Laughs] Would that be “wow” with periods in between?
LJ: With exclamation marks in between, like, five of ’em. That right there! [laughs] I’m very passionate when it comes to my music, and performing is, y’know, there’s only one other time when I feel the most free. And that involves me and someone else in the bedroom. So the stage is quite the same to me. It’s a liberating experience; soulful. Full of feeling. Excitement, you know. Passionate. Thrilling. And if you know [my] music, you really can bask with me.
Sun Singleton is a musician/editor/journalist based in New York City whose work has been featured in a variety of publications, including Vibe, Mass Appeal, Complex.com, EBONY.com, Bronx Biannual, YOYO/SO4 and BET Digital. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter at @sunsing.