After the release of his Aura II EP back in 2017, budding R&B crooner ELHAE — real name Jaamal Jones — fell silent this past year. The 28-year-old deleted his Instagram and distanced himself from his growing popularity. "I couldn't post a photo of my dog without the public asking 'where the album at?' so that pressure became annoying," he said. "I just had this bigger mindset, and embraced the idea of falling off the map for a while and working on what's going to set me apart in 2019."
Both of ELHAE's major label projects, Aura II and All Have Fallen, were released relatively quietly, but each project showcased the artist's seamless ability to switch from sultry, radio-friendly R&B to deeply conscious Hip-Hop with the snap of a finger. "I kinda feel like I was one of those first few artists to have a [crossover sound] like that," ELHAE said with humility. With additional co-signs from Kehlani, Rockie Fresh, Eric Bellinger, and Ty Dolla $ign, the Atlanta native was quickly noted by many as a breakout artist to watch. "I feel this really about to be my year," the singer said of 2019, "we're locked and loaded."
ELHAE - Something (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Born in North Dakota but raised in Atlanta, ELHAE's mother, who was a singer in her local church choir, pushed him towards the gospel at a young age. "I didn't wanna sing for anybody," he said with a chuckle. "She was the one that said 'you're gonna do this and you're gonna be good at it.'" Even as ELHAE's passion for music began to take hold, he ruminated for a long time before embracing his talents. "Growing up you wanna be as popular as possible, so I kinda shunned it," the artist said. "Eventually I had to just be comfortable with who I was." The artist eventually discovered his moniker when he began writing music. "I wrote this verse 'every life has an ending,' and I don't really know why, but I just liked how it looked on paper. I was just playing around." Yet years later, ELHAE says his acronym now carries significant weight. "I've seen a lot of people come and go, and I've also just used it as a reminder to do the best that I can do," he said. (A few hours before this interview, ELHAE tweeted out the perfectionist in me will not let the smallest things get by.) "I think that's why I get a bad rap for not putting out projects when I need to put them out."
Now back in the spotlight, ELHAE is prepared to feed his starving fans. While he couldn't say much of his new project, he said to expect something this month. "It's a concept album, and it isn't something you're used to hearing from me," he said. "The sounds are all over the place, and I really just tried to push myself creatively." The singer did, however, tease a collaboration with Wale. "I've always been a fan of Wale, and I just felt like our sounds meshed together." He also said Danja, who produced Justin Timberlake's acclaimed Future Love/Sex Sounds, handled a lot of the project, as well as Rico Love. When pressed for further details, ELHAE hesitated. "I'll leave it for the tracklist review," he said with a laugh. Despite the compulsion to saturate the public with music, ELHAE's devotion will always be to mastering his craft. "When I leave this earth, I want people to understand and respect that this man took his time and understood quality over quantity," he said. "But I'm gonna shoot to kill this time around."
Mackenzie Cummings-Grady is a creative writer who resides in the Brooklyn area, Mackenzie's work has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, Billboard, and Metropolis Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @mjcummingsgrady.
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