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Jesse Boykins III is making himself whole. Through four independent albums that are beloved by his cult following, he’s mined past experiences to make songs that chronicle a man navigating his way through the world and his psyche—building a reputation of being charming through his candor. But entering a new phase in his life, Jesse’s new album (and debut on Def Jam Records), Bartholomew, finds him using his art to become his best self.

“The people who are my fans, I’m sure that they’ll understand the sense of progression,” Boykins says to his fifth set. His is an alt-R&B sound and style (think luxe bohemian) that the industry just now is catching up to. “I’ve never been the type of artist to regurgitate anything or be one type of way. I just like to challenge myself.” And what he achieved is a concept album where he stars as Bartholomew, his ideal Jesse.

“In order to accomplish certain things, I think that you have to look at yourself as a hero,” Boykins explains. “Someone that you would look up to. That’s pretty much the psychology behind it. I finally caught up to that.” Bartholomew, the man, is as blunt as he is dreamy and explorative.

Speaking this freely, with comedic wit while being relatable is what Boykins is most proud of. “It’s not like it’s the craziest abstract thing,” he says. “It’s actually me being more human than I’ve ever been in my music or even in my artistic expression, and more raw. It’s funny that I had to become very whimsical, in a sense, to reach the most real me.” And all he had to do was ask himself one simple question, which yielded an immediate, fulfilling answer:

“You’re trying to be your better self,” Jesse starts, “and you think, ‘What would your better self do?’ Be as real as fucking possible.”

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