As Jahkoy plays his wistful acoustic track “No Regrets” at VIBE’s New York office, the Toronto native makes it clear he’s all about love and happiness in the R&B terra. “People really look down on love because there are so many other artists promoting the art of being a player and being in the moment,” he says. The track is just one of many love notes to the world on his upcoming EP, Foreign Water. “I just want to bring back love into our daily lives.”
The 22-year-old has always been a fan of slow jams. From 90s legends like Lauryn Hill to Canadian treasures like Shawn Desmen, the singer isn’t clawing to nostalgia, but trying to bring the best elements to listeners today. Born Jahkoy Palmer, the singer actually jumpstarted his career as a rapper with the stage name Raheem. “I wanted to be one of those guys who had a really cool name,” he explains between laughs. “But when it came to branding, when you would Google ‘Raheem,’ it would come up the Raheem from Juice or Do the Right Thing or Raheem Devaughn, so I wasn’t able to sit in my own world.” His world later proved to be songs about relationships, growth and internal struggles. Hypnotic and honest, his voice echoes the airy soul chords the genre has comfortably rested on over the years. Tracks like “Odd Future” and “Still In Love” provide a bridge between what the genre was and where it’s heading. As his presence on Soundcloud grew after the 2015 releases of Forward Thinking and Temptations, he signed to Def Jam earlier this year.
But a label, cosigns from Jaden Smith and monumental Soundcloud views aren’t the things that bring Jahkoy pure joy. Smiling from ear to ear, the singer says the attention his city gets thanks to acts like Drake and The Weeknd is something that he’s proud of. “It’s really really dope to see Toronto get the love it’s getting now,” he said. “People didn’t really think of Canada at all. No one cared what our provinces or states look like. Now, they’re anxious to want to go there, they want to come and see that the hype is about. People are coming to Toronto and getting into writing camps and really exploring that side of the music world [here].”
His new project Foreign Water hitting the web Friday (Oct. 28), lays out the blueprint of his journey so far and gives R&B fans a new favorite act. Check out our chat with the promising artist in the gallery above.
What was the meaning behind the name Foreign Water?
It really grew from my experiences over the past few months. I’ve done a lot of interviews and people ask me ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘Where is this music coming from?’ I’m from Toronto, born and raised just like The Weeknd and Drake. People want to know, ‘Is there something in the water?’ So I used that to be a little play on the situation, foreign water.
What do you think you can contribute to R&B today?
I wouldn’t call it R&B, I just wouldn’t label it. It’s so hard to label music right now because of technology and the way that it’s grown. We have software that creates crazy sounds, you know. So with these sounds, we’re able to bend and create so much more.
It’s almost like we come up with these happy accidents because we have so much access to sounds and I feel like that’s where I want to take these things. I want to take them to a whole other level, somewhere that it’s never been. We listen to a lot of the urban music and how it’s become pop. There’s a lot of pop elements. Wouldn’t it be cool if we took pop music and added some urban elements? Little things like that, people aren’t really trying to do. So it would be cool to step into that world. The first to try it. Everything I’m going through right now is trial and error. Moreso than any artist, we try and try until it’s right and that’s what I’m going through right now.
What are some of those errors?
It’s when you’re creating something that no one has never done before. It makes you question, how do you bring your own perspective to that world of creation? We all know how we say things, but no one knows better than you. So it’s like, ‘How do we deliver for everyone to see what you see?’ We just kept trying and until we started getting little, little ‘w’s’ until we get that capital ‘W.’
I bet it’s difficult. Everyone has their own variation on love, so it’s like, ‘What can I do to put out my story?’ I saw for your project, it took you two years to do? Let’s talk about that.
I was still discovering myself, two years ago was when I started making this music– or this sound with music. Every day I was trying to figure out which way I wanted to take this. There are so many different lanes, especially when you can create a sound from scratch. I’m still new to the scene and finding my voice and what’s comfortable. Now I have a vocal coach where he helps me take things to the next level and being able to like push and sing to my full potential. [Pauses] I was in a relationship and I was trying to sing to her. I was trying to sing with her to impress her. All the songs I’ve heard as a kid were about embracing love and making a family and that kinds of stuff. A lot of the ‘love songs’ you listen to now, they’re very lovely, but they don’t press on more than just the moment. It’s all about loving in the moment with no thoughts of a future. I want to be able to bring things back to that. I still feel like love is very important. Yes, our lives are fun and full of thrill, but we’re going to have to come down from that. Whatever goes up, comes down.
Your journey has taken you to some interesting places so far, including a friendship with Jaden Smith. How did that happen?
When I first moved to L.A., I had been there for five days and Jaden reach out to me through his cousin. I got the message, ‘Yo, Jaden and I listen to your music all day long, come to this address.’ Reminder, I was in L.A. and I didn’t know where I was going, where I was thinking or doing. But it was cool. I met him and his cousin and ever since then it’s been really good energy. We made plans to work on projects together.
How was working with Schoolboy Q for your single “California Heaven”?
It was pretty crazy since I haven’t gotten to meet him yet, but I will when we get to do the video shoot. We did the record and my A&R sent it to his camp and then we weren’t sure if anyone was going to get on the record or even like it. The next day, they heard from Q who said he really liked the record. It kinda just happened in a few days. It felt really good to get that West Coast co-sign since heaven is somewhere in California [laughs].
How cute. Where else can heaven be if not in California?
I wanted to clarify the meaning of the song first. I feel like wherever or whoever makes you feel like you found your purpose, must be heaven. When I was in California, I found my purpose; things started working out for me. That felt like heaven to me.
Heaven is in chicken parmesan, music…[pauses] Heaven is in anything that makes you feel alive. I wouldn’t say a specific thing since there are so many things that bring excitement to life. You learn something new every day.
When I came back home, everyone already saw what I was doing, and that’s the focus of this project. I started from Toronto and here’s everything in between.
What are some other things you want to explore in your music?
Probably all the things that go on in the world and the anxieties of social media. It’s so hard to keep a healthy medium when there’s so much negativity being shown. I just want to bring back love into our daily lives. People really look down on love because there are so many other artists promoting being a player and being in the moment.
I grew up listening to records I can still jam to today. When you go back and listen to older records and they give you that refreshed feeling still it’s like, ‘Hey, turn that up!’ People aren’t really interested in making music that lasts. As I keep creating music, I’m still finding my aesthetic. I was shy, not really posting pics but I really want my fans to take this journey with me as I’m growing. That’s one of the reasons I love Kanye West. I remember when he first came out on “Through The Wire” and to see all the success he has now, it’s like I grew up with him. That’s my dude out there! [laughs]. So I just want my listeners to have that experience with me. Hopefully, I’ll be around that long.