A musician who resists being earmarked, Jhyve bares his soul to find his voice.
It’s one thing for a musician to sign with a record label. It’s another for their music to be assigned a label.
Being earmarked into a single category or genre of music can serve as the artist’s launch pad, says Jhyve, an alumnus of First Up with RBCxMusic. “The most commercially successful artists, they kind of find their thing, and they just lean in.”
But other artists, he says, find categories “stifling because they can’t stray from a very limited understanding people have of them. There’s not a lot of room for experimentation.”
The Toronto-based artist readily admits he falls into the latter camp. But that hasn’t stopped him from bending the boundaries of R&B, a genre he is often associated with. It comes naturally to someone whose musical upbringing is more mosaic than a melting pot.
“Growing up, my parents played soul, soca, gospel, and blues. At university, I was exposed to everything from Ben Harper to Led Zeppelin. I first picked up the guitar to learn Wonderwall.”
The Juno-nominated musician weaves many musical strands into his recordings. In Better, major key melodies and 808 beats fuse pop and hip-hop sensibilities. (Hip Pop, anybody?) Rapture could have been written for Rufus Wainwright. And the guitar work in Mad oozes with Americana grit, something he said baffled a lot of his longtime listeners. “It bounced off the R&B playlists really quick because people didn’t know what to make of it.”
Then there is the matter of Jhyve’s subject matter. When he sings “I’m too cute to be your number two” in Optional, he delivers the bravado of Barry White and Mick Jagger. But swagger is replaced by self-doubt in Down: I can’t love you, Cause I don’t love me, This baggage I carry, Making me buckle my knees.
The spiralling depression Jhyve writes about in Down (off the Rapture album) stemmed from external pressures wanting him to narrow down his creative experimentation. “People had the idea I could be a black Michael Bublé. They said, ‘this stuff’s great, but let’s get a band behind you.’ But to be honest, nobody was looking for that in me, including me.”
Still, a lot of soul searching ensued for Jhyve. It led him to drink too much. Showing up to work became a chore. He sought help and, over time, found his way through this dark period.
“Things like alcoholism, depression, a lot of that comes from being at odds with truth. You have to find a way to reconcile what is happening inside and outside of you. For me, the key was really getting a sense of who I am as an artist and what I am willing to do as an artist.”
Down has ended up being one of Jhyve’s best-received songs to date.
Photo: The spiralling depression Jhyve writes about in Down (off the Rapture album) stemmed from external pressures wanting him to narrow down his creative experimentation.
“I thought people were going to listen to it and say, ‘oh, that’s weird.’ Instead, when they heard the self-doubt, the vulnerability, they said, ‘yeah, me too.'”
It struck a chord with RBC employees at a Black History Month gathering, which was especially meaningful to Jhyve. “There seems to be a lack of resources for some of the specific mental health challenges that people of colour face. Maybe it’s an immigrant thing, a cultural thing. And so the song is a calling out to the universe, an opportunity to draw attention to the need for more resources.”
His new project begins where Down left off. “The last album was about pulling myself out of a hole, the next one will focus on shedding the version of me that fell in the hole in the first place. In effect, it’s about going to war with one’s old self to bring about a new self.”
Thematically, it centres on habits, a subject of deep fascination for Jhyve. “Habits basically shape most of what we do, how we live. But most of them operate subconsciously. That’s kind of terrifying.”
Not surprisingly, the music will also mark an evolution from his current body of work. He describes the tracks as contemplative but presented in a way that feels more “bombastic and colourful.”
No release date has been set. “It will be ready when it’s ready,” says Jhyve emphatically. “Art is iterative. And the creative process is messy.”
It’s a method he has come to better appreciate thanks to the tutelage and mentorship he received as a First Up with RBCxMusic Featured Artist. “It was a learning opportunity for me, to sharpen existing skills, learn new ones. Now that I’m working on developing artists, I’ve come to appreciate how much of a knowledge gap there is for aspiring talent.”
He also benefited from the opportunities to take the stage. “At the end of the day, the essence of the artist is to convey a message, to see and be seen, and to stand in solidarity of an experience we can share with others.”
Jhyve is optimistic about Canada’s music scene, especially the role Black musicians will play in it.
Photo: First Up with RBCxMusic “was a learning opportunity for me, to sharpen existing skills, learn new ones,” says Jhyve.
“So many artists have come in the wake of Drake, which tells me our presence isn’t a fluke. Our contribution to music has largely been as creatives. But I think over time, we’ll see Black artists take greater industry ownership, become mentors to successive generations,” says Jhyve.
He adds: “RBC is investing time and resources and money to make sure other artists’ voices are heard. The bank doesn’t have to do that, but they are, and that’s cool.”
Follow RBCxMusic on Instagram for updates on when applications for First Up with RBCxMusic will open.
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