Meet Jvck James, the new vanguard of UK R&B
We chat with the London-based artist following his Soho Rising tour across North America as part of our music series in partnership with Bowers & Wilkins
Monday 19 December 2022 By Rahel Aklilu Photos and Video by AJ Woomer
As R&B continues to storm the commercial charts globally, the UK has undergone a renaissance of its own. And one figure that has emerged as a leader of the genre is east Londoner, Jvck James.
Initially turning heads with a Colors performance of his debut single ‘Extroverted Lovers’ in 2017, the 24-year-old, born James Anderson, has maintained steady momentum over the past five years through a string of solid releases – including his debut EP Joyride in 2021 and, more recently, its 2022 follow-up On The Rocks. An ardent student of the old-school R&B that saw the likes of Tyrese and Boyz II Men singing in the rain, his own style is reminiscent of a time when R&B heartthrobs reigned supreme – so are his soulful vocals and seamless songwriting.
Among his influences are powerhouses such as D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill, who are known as much for their penmanship and the vulnerable storytelling within it, as they are their distinctive voices. In fact, in true Gen-Z style, James is no stranger to speaking his mind. Part of his appeal is that he tells it like it is, whether it’s through honest songwriting or on social media, where he most recently called out the MOBO Awards for their nominees in the R&B category. In a thread that has since gone viral, he expressed his disappointment, explaining that artists like himself and his peers within the genre were ignored, despite selling out shows and growing a global fanbase.
Born into a church-going Jamaican family in Newham, east London, James was raised on a gospel diet. ‘I feel like growing up listening to gospel was the best foundation as an artist. There’s an undeniable spirit of feeling that I want to recreate in my own music,’ he says, referring to the idea of music being a form of worship. It influenced him enough to accept that singing was the path for him, despite growing up in an era where hip-hop was the favoured genre among his peers. ‘I remember being in school and toning down the fact that I loved singing so much to protect myself. I kept it on the low [from people I actually knew] until my videos started to go viral,’ he says with a laugh, reminiscing about his awkward pre-teen years.
Still a natural introvert, James prefers to let the music do the talking. He describes his style of lyricism as ‘honest’, drawing from lived experiences as a twenty-something navigating life and romance in a big city – be it trying to find ‘Love In The Club’ (in a nod to the King of R&B, Usher) or manoeuvring through a situationship in ‘Friend Of Mine’. After all, he credits his ability to speak candidly about the complexities of love to the years he spent overhearing the likes of Destiny’s Child and Aaliyah playing from his older sister’s bedroom.
As someone who loves music in all its forms, James doesn’t believe in limiting himself to one genre – especially when it comes to finding new sources of inspiration. ‘Although gospel and R&B will always sonically be at the core of what I create, I’ve been taking in other music to inform and propel my own, whether it’s Imogen Heap or Tame Impala,’ he says.
His next project will be an experimental one. In the past few months, his Soho Rising tour has taken him to six cities across North America, each with their own musical identity – from Nashville, Austin and Miami to New York, Chicago and Toronto. ‘It was such a vibe to be performing and interacting with intimate crowds, and being able to talk to people about my music directly,’ he says. ‘I want to explore other facets of life and get more personal.’
Looking to the future, it’s clear to see that the growth of UK R&B is safe in James’s hands. Although, with a mission to ‘preach love and joy’ through his music, who knows where his creative journey might take him – both sonically and geographically – but we’re on board for the ride.