With a breathy voice and funky style, it’s no surprise that UC Berkeley alumnus Jhameel has been compared to a modern-day Prince. The 23-year-old — a former member of the ROTC program and of co-op Casa Zimbabwe — attributes his experiences in the military and in Berkeley to the start of his career in music, self-producing and self-directing his music videos. Through his genre-pervasive sound, emotional lyrical overtones and vibrant art concepts that accompany each album release, the multi-instrumentalist and multilinguist uses music as a source of self-expression and as a means of altering perception. Having previously collaborated with Hoodie Allen on “No Faith in Brooklyn” and Girrafage and DWNTWN with “Move Me,” Jhameel has accumulated an online following of thousands, with singles “Bernal Heights” and “The Human Condition” topping the Hype Machine Popular Charts.
The Daily Californian spoke to Jhameel about his musical convictions, experiences at UC Berkeley and his third album, Lion’s Den, which comes out May 7.
Daily Californian: Could you explain your name, “Jhameel?”
Jhameel: So, I had it legally changed many years ago, and in Arabic, it means “beautiful.” And that means, well, at that time, I had a lot of things about myself that I had a hard time accepting — about my life and about my circumstances. But the name is sort of a reminder that you have to go beyond accepting bad things in life — you have to go further than that, and then see them as beautiful.
DC: Could you describe a little bit of your UC Berkeley experience studying and majoring in Arabic?
J: I graduated (from) Berkeley in two years, so I didn’t have a super long experience, but the most important thing I got from Berkeley was a sense of self-affirmation. It’s a very individualized school. It taught me to seek out my own opportunities — my own wells of knowledge. I really liked the environment — everybody’s so free-spirited, and that really affected me. Because I was in the ROTC program at Berkeley training as a military officer, I had this crazy side-by-side lifestyle of being in the military and being in Berkeley.
DC: How did you, at one point, choose music over the military?
J: I’ve always made music, I’ve always recorded it — that’s been a really natural part of my life — but I didn’t expect to do it as my main thing. (Laughs.) But once I had experienced the military, it made a lot more sense that it was what I loved. I went to Fort Knox for training, and that was the first time I was exposed to military culture and political culture. It showed me that there’s people, highly ranked, making decisions that, sometimes, I don’t agree with. And that made me more passionate about the things I’m passionate about. It made me feel like music, on a certain level, is a great tool to share your convictions in an easy-to-consume way.
DC: Describe your music to us.
J: Minimalist pop music.
DC: You have an interesting tribal take in your music videos and album art concepts. Could you explain this to us?
J: So I have a team — they’re all from Berkeley. I have a manager — his name’s Ryan — and a videographer, Kasper. We sort of think about ways to control perception and get people’s attention. So, the paint, fur, feathers — it’s sort of a way to dissect the way people perceive Asian Americans as artists. It’s sort of a way to disarm people — all sorts of people from any background. And instead of putting attention on one thing, we’re putting attention on another. It helps widen perception of Asian Americans in media. We want to be a part of that conversation, but we want to do it in a new way.
DC: Are there any artists you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
J: There’s a rapper, Rockie Fresh — sort of a new guy I’m trying to work with. A dream collaboration would be with Macklemore, Drake or Ellie Goulding.
DC: Do you have any ambitions for your music?
J: I want to get to a certain point with my music that I could not just share my convictions, but I want to gain a certain level of influence, and I want to use that influence to do things I believe in. That’s my main goal. Music is beautiful. I love it — it’s my passion, but it’s more of a means for me to get to a certain place. I want to get into more, different fields — first, music technology. And later, I want to get into some politics.
DC: What can we expect from your new album, Lion’s Den?
J: Nine solid single-worthy songs, each one crafted with care and love and each with their own unique aesthetic.
Contact Tiffany Kim at [email protected].