We all have dreams. We grow up idolizing certain individuals, watching them, trying to emulate them by conducting ourselves in their image. But for most of us, those dreams fall victim to a false perception of reality, thinking that our dreams are too ambitions, too unobtainable. Our childlike wonderment and creativity suppress into a conventional path because we’re terrified of failure—of not achieving those dreams.
For those who make it, those who reach the stars, they understand that the distance to prosperity isn’t linear. They undoubtedly experience turbulence along the winding road to success, but they refuse to let rejection or fear dictate their route. The self-assurance is too strong, and the dreams are too enticing.
Standing at the intersection of persistence and talent stands JAHKOY—an exuberant, confident 23-year-old poised to leverage his musical skill set for his dreams. His smooth, melodic voice and thoughtful writing style make him gifted; his relentless pursuit, reminiscent of a lion stalking their prey, makes him a star. His voice presents a palpable hunger that mirrors his unwavering determination. He thinks differently, he acts differently. And when someone is pursuing their dreams in a deafeningly crowded space, sometimes being different is the one thing that makes them noticeable.
JAHKOY's effervescent, infectious energy manifests in his personality and unique musical style. As a student of the game, his openness to inspiration has resulted in a genre-blending aesthetic that’s been chiseled by unconventional, influential hands. He frames his story-telling around Shakespeare’s coveted writing approach; he incorporates Pharrell’s transcendent artistry into his own musical method. JAHKOY and his journey are anything but formulaic.
Growing up in Toronto, he began his music career at the ripe age of 13 under the name Raheem. Years of introspection, rejection, failure, and growth tested his resiliency, but never broke him—his will is too strong to be compromised. He is an overnight success, 10-years in the making.
Although he was physically distant from the location that would convert his ambitions into a reality, that didn’t deter him—it motivated him. Obstacles and his appetite are directly correlated. Confident in his musical ability, JAHKOY made the ostensibly impromptu decision a couple of years ago to relocate to LA without telling anyone, and only knowing one person out there through Twitter. The dream was too real to deny. With a deep breath, eyes closed, faith, and a little luck, JAHKOY made the leap that many have made before. Unlike most, however, he's found success, and his grind will never stop. He will never stop.
Now, the Def Jam-signed artist is on arguably the biggest R&B tour with superstar Kehlani (Sweet, Sexy, Savage tour), and the talented Ella Mai. JAHKOY is having the time of his life, and it’s well deserved. Check out ZeusWolf's interview below with the charismatic musician to learn more about touring with Kehalni, his move out to LA, labels fighting over him, and more.
Hey Jahkoy, what’s going on man?
Hey brother how are you doing? I’m chilling, we’re in Nevada right now.
You’re on the Sweet, Sexy, Savage tour life with Kehlani right? How’s it been?
You already know! Man, it’s been amazing so far—so far so great. It’s been great because I’ve been getting to travel, I’m having that one-on-one interaction with the fans, and just the whole experience. I’m riding the tour bus with Ella Mai, which is awesome, and Kehlani is awesome. It’s just really good vibes all around because everyone is around each other, motivating each other, and going hard.
What’s the tour bus life been like?
Ah man, well so there’s about 10 or 12 bunks, and we’re all in this for the first time. Everyone on this tour, this is their first one so we’re all having that first time experience together, which is amazing because everyone is in good spirits, everyone is super energized. This is honestly one of the best tours we could be on this whole year, so we’re just killing it right now.
What’s been your favorite city so far?
So far it would have to be every city. As the show progresses—it’s crazy—it sounds crazy, but so far as the shows go, each of them get better and better. I feel more confident as the shows go on, and so I become a better performer as the tour progresses. So I guess my favorite show so far would have to be Sacramento, which was last night [laughs]. Basically every show is the best show.
I wish I could make it out to a show, but I think you guys already hit New York.
Man, yeah we hit New York earlier in the tour. But we’re going to be in the Chicago and Detroit area, so maybe you could pass by one of those shows if you can. It’s definitely worth it—it’s the youngest R&B tour out right now [laughs]. Nobody is as young as us, and doing it like us. We’re killing it right now! I’m so stoked by the experience because I get to travel with some of my favorite artists and my best friends, and there’s no greater feeling than that.
Before you started touring with superstars like Kehlani, you were grinding in your hometown Toronto under the name Raheem. Why Raheem, and what made you change it to your birth name?
Raheem is my given name from my family. I feel like in most families, they have a second [middle] name, so that happened to be mine. When I was branding myself back then, I wanted to use something other than my real name, so that’s why I went by Raheem. But then it became a thing where branding wise it wasn’t the smartest move, because when you google “Raheem” there are all these Raheems—Raheem DeVaugh, Raheem Stirling—that cloud over me. It was one of those things where I wanted to be found; when people search me I want them to just find me and no one else. That’s how it works now [with Jahkoy]—that’s all me! And that’s actually my real name—it’s not a stage name or anything. It’s dope. My mom named me after her friend in high school, whose name was Jahkoia so it worked out perfectly [laughs]. I can’t wait until there’s kids named after me!
I read that you moved from Toronto to Atlanta to pursue music, but realized it wasn’t for you so you headed out to LA without telling anyone, and only knowing one person out there. What went through your mind when you initially landed in Cali? And tell me about your first week out there.
It was so crazy, because I was spending time in Atlanta with my uncle who lives down there, and I wanted to get into an environment where I felt like I was prospering—taking things to the next level. Whereas in Toronto, I just got so comfortable and I knew the whole environment. I really needed to explore. I needed that adventure to discover more about myself, and I knew I would discover that in a new place. So when I went out to LA, I didn’t tell anyone. I just went—gone. I knew that if I told somebody, they would shift my decision, and I wouldn’t have done it. So I went out there, and I had one friend—a friend who I knew from Twitter [named Andrew]. Andrew is super supportive of my music, and he had a blog at the time that would always review my stuff—just very supportive. He lived in LA, and told me, “If you ever decide to come out, you’ve got a place to crash.” One day it just struck me to take that offer, and I was there the next day [laughs]. He picked me up at the airport, and there I was—just chilling out on his couch. I really had no game place—no game plan whatsoever. I had a few streams on SoundCloud, so there was some sort of attention, but nothing was really happening in real life—it was all on the internet. I felt that being out there would really help me out, and it did. Within five days of being in LA, Jaden Smith reached out to me saying, “Yo dude, we’ve been listening to your SoundCloud all day. If you’re in LA right now, come to this address.” If I had waited a little longer, I probably wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity. I made a lot of relationships through Jaden. We made a group called 1-2-3-4 Creations, that’s filled with a bunch of creatives: artists, producers, graphic designers, videographers. Everyone is just coming together to create. Then I started getting comfortable through having people around me who were helping me stay inspired, motivated, and hungry. At the time, I still didn’t have a lot going on except for my friendships. But this one time I went in for a studio session, and I recorded “Still in Love.” That song got a lot of attention, so that’s when labels started contacting me. I found myself in a tug-of-war between all these labels—I was getting flown out by Atlantic, Interscope, Warner, Def Jam.
How surreal was it having labels fight over you?
It was insane because everything happened within eight-months. It was so surreal—it almost felt like I was dreaming to be honest. But to have the record labels reaching out to me, and really understanding what it means to be apart of the industry opened my eyes to a new perspective on the way that I approach my music. But it’s totally in the highest spirits—I love everything that’s going on. More than anything, when I went to all the record labels, I almost didn’t feel connected. I felt that it was so business related. When it came to Def Jam though, it felt like a family—like I was entering a family reunion. Everyone was just waiting for me to get there, so when I arrived it was all full of love, full of excitement—great energy. More than anything, I absorb energy. It really felt like home. Even before signing, I was just chilling with Steve Bartles [CEO of Def Jam] playing ping pong—just hanging out. Having that one-on-one interaction is fresh, and feels real. Def Jam was strictly love. That’s how we rock it right now—to the stars.
That’s great to hear, and must be so validating. How old are you by the way?
I’m 23. When I first started making music I was about 13. They say it take 10-years to be an overnight success. The whole time I was boosting myself to get to this point—boosting, boosting, boosting. And here we are.
On your debut EP, Foreign Water, the first track, “California Heaven” ft ScHoolboy Q talks about California’s allure. What have been some of your generally favorite experiences?
One thing I’ve learned about Hollywood is that it’s an interesting place. I get to run into some of my favorite actors and entertainers in Hollywood/LA, and it’s really casual. Whereas I’m so used to being home in Toronto, and just idolizing them. Being in that space now makes me really feel like I’m apart of the game. It’s almost not watching anymore, and being apart of. It’s great to know that some of my peers are some of my idols. It’s sort of unreal, but I took the necessary steps to get here. I’ve now been able to experience the Hollywood nightlife, the parties on the hill—all that fun stuff [laughs]. I absorbed all of that stuff, and it definitely shaped a little bit of who I am. When I went to California, I started finding my purpose. To me, that meant heaven must be somewhere in California. I definitely would recommend to anyone taking a trip to California.
The “California Heaven” video is really well done. Were you inspired by other artistic mediums growing up?
Thanks, the video was actually shot in Malibu. But more than anything, my writing style comes from the one and only great Shakespeare. The way that I approach music is always related to the scenarios in his books. Some of my favorite books that he’s written—Othello, McBeth, Romeo and Juliet—have such a great approach to the story. What makes a good song a lasting song is the perspective, and I feel that the scenarios in music that tell a meaningful story will live forever. A song of my generation that I will listen to forever is Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” People approach love songs all the time, but the scenario, the approach, the perspective—that’s what makes a great song standout. My idols are some of my favorite writers [Shakespeare, André 3000, Kanye West, Pharrell].
One of your biggest influences, Pharrell, shared your career-catapulting tracks “Still in Love” and “Hold Your Hand.” What did that mean for you to have your childhood idol enjoy and share your music?
Bro, it was next level. It was also during the growing stages of Beats 1 Radio, so I got to be apart of that new wave [Pharrell featured “Still in Love” on his Beats 1 Radio station]. Pharrell sharing that track just lets me know that I have to keep doing what I’m doing. The next move is to actually get Pharrell on a record, so he can premiere it on his radio show [laughs].
You said that you always respected Pharrell for being in his own lane and stepping over music boundaries to create his own sound. How do you apply this creative process to your music?
Well the thing with me as of lately, is that I’ve learned to eliminate genres; I’ve learned that genres are dead. With the level of technology that we have right now, we can create so many different sounds. Now we’re fusing R&B with House and Reggae and a little bit of country—we just do everything. And when I approach music, I never try to cater to a specific sound, I just express myself however I’m feeling in that moment. So maybe it’ll be an R&B record, maybe it’ll be House record, maybe it’ll be a Reggae joint. A little bit of everything makes for a good playlist [laughs]. Good music is good music. Whether it sounds like this or like that, at the end of the day it all sums up to good music.
What are you working on now, and what can we expect from you next?
Right now I’m working on my debut album, Glory Child. I’m going to be on this tour for the next three months, so you can definitely expect some music videos coming from my Foreign Waters project, and lots of new music—potentially collaborations with Ella Mai and Kehlani. Who’s to say [laughs]? A lot of fresh, exciting stuff to come in terms of videos, music, and me as a whole. I’m going to take this to the stars!
Alright man, well best of luck with the tour, and thank you for speaking with me—I really appreciate it.
Thank you brother. More than anything I appreciate you calling.