Awww man! With that foundation, it kept me on my toes. My grandmother always wanted to make sure that the church had a musician and that the church was never without a choir director, or whatever. She believed in raising us up in house and now I’m a product of that. Everything that was instilled in me at a younger age, at an early age, I use now. That’s pretty much the effect that my early religious upbringing has brought me to, from directing a choir all the way down to directing a band, so it was very influential.
Your mother is Lisa Simone, a singer, producer, and actress, and your maternal grandmother was Nina Simone, so with such a musical lineage in your family, did you always feel drawn to music or did it hit you a bit later in childhood?
I was always drawn to music and always had a natch for wanting to hear and explore new sounds and new vibes. Early on, I was a sponge, outside of what the legacy brought to me. I don’t know if that drew me to music even more than my legacy being what it was, because I didn’t really learn too much about my legacy and what I had to bring to it until a later age. But early on, I was like a sponge, with Motown and Donny Hathaway and just different bands growing up. I loved just the experience and lost myself in music. It was also just so therapeutic for me.
With regards to being a sponge and listening to and learning about so many different kinds of music, you have talked about how around that time you came to the realization that music was your calling in life. What was that moment like for you and just forging your musical path and sound as an artist?
I can’t really pinpoint when that moment was, because music has always been around me, but basically music led me to my mom. My mom gave me away when I was 6 weeks old to my grandmother on my father’s side. When I turned 16 I was playing for some conference or whatever, and long story short, there was a guy there who just so happened to be managing my mom on Broadway-she was doing Aida at the time-and they were asking about the young man on the stage and they were telling him a little bit about me. They just so happened to tell him that my grandmother was Nina and he was like “Wow. I was just with her daughter yesterday.” Long story short, that connected the dots!
Wow! That sounds like a really incredible moment and that you were in the right place at the right time!
Yes! Not only was it the right place at the right time, but I also chalk it up to the skill level at that time, because had I not amazed this guy, he would have cared less who was on the stage playing. It was just a testament of where I was and where I was going. That moment is instilled in me, because that was big. That was when I met my mom and so it just shows what music has done for me. Outside of how it makes me feel and how my music touches people, it just shows that music is what brought family together.
In what ways did directing choirs in church lay the foundation for you to become a full, well-rounded musician and a musical director?
It laid the foundation because I always had to be one step ahead of the rest. I had to always be a little bit sharper, a little bit tighter. And just doing it at an early age…they say you a master once you put a certain amount of hours into something, so still doing it at this age, I’d say I’ve mastered it. It gives me a sense of confidence. A lot of times, people be like, you know, “Why aren’t you nervous?”. And it’s like, because I’ve practiced and prepared for this for a long time, so why be nervous for something that I’m prepared for? I think that’s what it’s done for me. It’s given me a strong sense of confidence and wisdom and has enabled me to be in rooms and continue to stay in rooms, where that craft is now dying out. If you look at this generation now, a lot of kids ain’t really drawn to musicianship and bands and stuff like that, because that’s not what they hear on the radio. When we was a little bit younger, you know, the bands was prevalent, like James Brown and Michael Jackson had a band. Like, everybody had bands. Now, it’s just more digital. I believe that from me being in that class and that school, I offer something to this generation that’s dying out.
What can you tell me about composing your own music and sound starting at the age of 14 and ghostwriting for a family member with industry connections at the age of 15? What lessons did you learn early on that have helped you over the years or that taught you what not to do in the industry?
It helped me to go with my gut. Seeing that I had that connection at an early age-my uncle is really connected in the industry-I didn’t really have to have nobody over my shoulder, like “Do this and do that!”. My uncle really believed in me and whatever I brought to him, that’s what he was presenting. It helped me to hone and sharpen what I was doing. Yeah, but that’s pretty much what it is. I follow my gut. I’m not really worried about the dollar because I do this for the love, so I will probably make a different decision than the next man who’s probably making his decision based on “how much money can I make from this opportunity?”. It’s taught me to embrace every opportunity, as well, because sometimes the $1,000 gig won’t lead nowhere but with the $200 gig, you might get $200 to get in there, but once you get in there, you’ll meet the $1,000 or millions, billions, trillions, you know what I’m saying? It just taught me to embrace ALL experiences and to look at every stage and opportunity as the same and as something to be grateful for and look forward to.
You travel the world with your music and have used your music to uplift, encourage, and reflect the times while writing and producing records of all genres. What can you tell me about the message you hope to spread as an artist and connecting with people through music?
One message that I would definitely stress…it’s not my message, but it something I heard my grandmother (Nina Simone) say that I live by as an artist and a writer…is that an artist’s duty is to reflect the signs of the times. I always incorporate that into anything I’m doing. Even with my project I just dropped called “Man Down”. At the time I was in a lower place and was going through things emotionally, so I wrote that down and I put it out. Even if you’re not reflecting the signs of what’s going on in the world, you should still be reflecting what’s going on in your life. Just that reflection alone is something that somebody else can relate to, and the more somebody can relate to your music, the better the chance there is of them wanting to hear more from you and follow you and your journey.
You have talked about how you strive to uphold elements of Nina Simone’s legacy with a modern soul aesthetic and that people who listen to your music realize that you are your own unique version of her. In what ways do you feel that you incorporate her legacy into your music while also maintaining your own identity as an artist?
With her, I incorporate the love for this, the passion, the spirit. We touch on the spirit realm a lot through our music because we believe our music is touching the soul. I believe in just living in the moment and making sure that when me and the band are on stage, that we’re not just performing, but are giving the people an experience. That we’re giving the people a roller coaster. And at the same time, we’re touching your soul.
You are a solo artist and also perform with your band, WHODAT? Live Crew. What can you tell me about the band you play with and how you all came to play together?
Oh man! WHODAT? is a league of extraordinary musicians! Throughout the years of me doing this, I’ve maintained friendships and found extra musicians who were on the same path as me, doing the same things. Through the years we’ve been playing with each other. I’m talking, like, probably 10-12 years. All the musicians you’ve seen were off and on. But it was more so during the pandemic, where I put on a jam show just to give…you know, musicians weren’t performing and out doing a lot of shows because everybody was shut down. So, I threw a weekly jam session every Tuesday, just so musicians could have a place to come and network and have fun. All the musicians that came out just kept coming and people started asking if we do shows and all that. I’ve always had the name WHODAT? because, being a musician myself, with musicians we like to stay employed. Sometimes, you’ll have a band, but, like, my lead guitar player may play for another band real quick to make a couple of extra dollars. Sometimes people are not free or sometimes I may end up traveling to another state to where I can’t bring somebody with me. It might not be in the budget. So once I get to that state, I needed to find me a lead guitar player. So it’s like , WHODAT?. You always knew you was going to see somebody that was dope, but you never knew who it was. So that’s where WHODAT? came from. But actually, since 2018, it’s been the same members!
You and your band recently released the track “Even Now”, that’s kind-of about standing together even though there are always factors that aim to divide. What can you tell me about the inspiration behind that song and message of it?
“Even Now” was one of them spontaneous grooves. I was actually on my way to a live recording and I got a phone call about me having Lyme disease. I was going through something weird and my body was feeling weird at the time. I found out I had Lyme disease and I was a little discouraged, but at the same time I was one my way to do this live recording and had to get my spirits up so I could lead my band and we could have a good show. The lyrics just came to me, and even now God is with me and I don’t really got nothin’ to worry about. It’s really a song about, with a message of, faith and hope that in spite of anything you are going through, whether it be health-wise, physical, mental, whatever, you might feel alone but God is with you.