We spoke to JMSN about his past in the industry, collaborating with other artists and more.
JMSN is in his own lane right now. In fact, he’s occupying a complete road to himself. The r’n’b singer has become an indie-favorite, with three projects under his belt, Priscilla, Pllaje, and most recently, the Blue Album. Each album has a very distinct JMSN sound and style, with layers of instrumentals that build on top of each other, culminating in something truly spectacular. JMSN’s vocals play masseuse, creating a cathartic experience for the listener. That’s just JMSN’s style. There’s no minimalism in what he does, his visuals are in tune with his album sound and art, he’s got a bird’s eye view of a concept that completely surrounds any album he does.
With the Blue Album in heavy rotation since it dropped late last year, and JMSN’s name continuing to gain notoriety, we figured it was a great time to hop on the phone with the Detroit-born singer and find out more. We dig into his evolution as an artist, his affinity for Justin Timberlake, his imprint White Room Records and more.
HotNewHipHop: Hey, what’s up?
JMSN: Hey, how you doing?
HNHH: I’m good, I’m good. So you’re settled in waiting to start your set?
JMSN: Yeah we just soundchecked.
HNHH: Cool. So I wanna start with Christian TV. I know you’ve re-invented yourself a little bit within the music industry. You had Love Arcade, Christian TV and now JMSN. What kind of sparked the transition from first a group, then a solo artist as Christian TV, and then finally JMSN. How did that evolution happen and how old were you when you started out in the music industry?
JMSN: When I first started as Love Arcade I was probably 16-years old, so it was something very kiddy I would say. I just got a band together and we were just trying to figure shit out.
HNHH: But you guys were signed at 16?
JMSN: Yeah, signed at like 18. Then Christian TV was another...just thing, all of these things were just me listening to everybody around me about what they thought I should do. When I finally stopped listening was when I made JMSN.
HNHH: It seems obvious that how you are as JMSN, you’re the most comfortable in your music and who you are--
JMSN: For sure.
HNHH: When I first discovered you it was as Christian TV with the song “Girl I Used To Know,” which I mean, I saw you it perform it in Montreal.
JMSN: Yeah well that was the start of JMSN, that was when I had brought that stuff the label and I was like, 'this is what I wanna do,' and they were like, 'well we don’t wanna put this out'. So I went and put it out myself.
HNHH: Ahh, 'cause I was gunna say, that song kinda hints at the direction that you ended up going, like, it’s not exactly the same as Priscilla and that stuff but I could see that it was the beginning.
JMSN: Yeah, 100%.
HNHH: Your Motown deal, did they just let you, like it was all good?
JMSN: Yeah, yeah they did.
HNHH: Okay so then you started fresh as JMSN- You’re Christian Berajshi. Do you separate who you are as JMSN from Christian or is it all the same person to you?
JMSN: I mean, yeah, I guess. I’m Christian, JMSN is just me as an artist. It encompasses the artist I am and the kind of artist I am. Christian, that’s just me doing normal shit.
HNHH: As JMSN, you’ve released three projects. The main thing that I really like about everything you do is that the production is very elaborate, and it’s always super layered and intense. When I saw you in Montreal you had a semi-live band, the drums and the bass. When you record in the studio, cause I know you produce a lot of your own shit, is it just you playing a bunch of different instruments like a one-man band?
JMSN: Yeah I produce all of my own shit. There’s a lot of different layers that come into play, but whatever I can play I’ll play. If it’s good enough it’ll stay, if not, I’ll get someone else to play it better.
HNHH: So the dudes on tour with you, they also record with you in the studio?
JMSN: Yeah for sure.
HNHH: Okay cool, and like I mentioned, how “Girl I Used To Know” previews the direction you ended up going with your music. Do you have a lot of relationships that went bad or is it just one in particular that was the driving force behind your entire sound and subject matter?
JMSN: Yeah, I think that was Priscilla. And that was the first real relationship I had ever had and the only one that I ever had. I’m still now trying to figure out what I want do and shit like that. I know it seems like most of these songs are about girls, but there’s a deeper meaning to songs even if they’re saying like ‘she’ or ‘her,’ there’s an underlying problem or underlying thing it could be about. Even though it’s about a surface situation, there’s a bigger purpose to the song. And I hope that people see that, and I feel like they do, and that’s why they’re drawn to what I talk about in my songs I guess you could say.
HNHH: Yeah I see that, and even in your latest album, you did, more obviously, you strayed from the topic of love and women, like “Money (Ends).”
JMSN: Yeah there’s still hints of that, and right now there’s still parts of my life in that situation that I’m tryna figure out. I’m in a weird place when it comes to that. I wanna write about it cause I want what I think I should have when it comes to love and shit like that, but I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for. I’m not pursuing it so much right now, you know what I mean. I’m pursuing to figure myself out right now and that’s kinda what I’m writing about right now. Cause I have to be happy with myself for somebody else to be happy with me. It’s kinda like that “Love Myself” song from Pllaje, “If I don’t love myself how can I expect somebody else to do the thing that I can’t do myself,” that line resonates still with me, so I’m tryna figure that out.
HNHH: Yeah…I’m just thinking, ‘cause like the three projects that you have released you could basically listen to them back-to-back-to-back and you’d have a cohesive listening session right there. Do you think about that, like do you think about your last project and how to tie it into your next project?
JMSN: I don’t, but I think that happens naturally, cause it’s all genuine and it’s all what’s going on with me. Stuff flows together and it comes in waves, you don’t just all of sudden switch over to some other shit, it’s like you ease into the next thing. And you’re still you, you’re always gunna be you so somehow it all connects.
HNHH: There’s still progression with the Blue Album, it sounded different but it’s not…
JMSN: Yeah, for sure.
HNHH: I was actually wondering why you dubbed it Blue Album, I know it’s a self-titled album but you also referred to as the Blue Album. Why blue, what’s the idea behind that?
JMSN: Well, it’s because it was blue first of all, and the reason why it was blue is because…The red [was] for Priscilla, which represented like, caution, danger, urgency. It's a different feeling, blue, I feel like it's more easy, wavy. So that’s why I made that that color, and I guess there was always a plan of these colors. Pllaje was grey and white and black, it kinda represented that middle area, that plateau, and that’s why it was called 'Plateau,' it felt like standstill, there wasn’t any color in that. It all goes into this big picture, I guess you could say, that I am always thinking about. I feel like your life is comprised of many parts that maybe could be applied to colors, applied to anything, happy, sad, angry, anything.
HNHH: Yeah, that’s something I actually wanted to talk about- your visual aesthetic. For anything you put out there’s always a well-defined, I guess, visual aspect to it. Like with the Blue Album, all your visuals were this ironic informercial thing going on. Is that all your ideas, or do you have someone helping you create the concept behind everything?
JMSN: Well, I mean, most of the stuff is my idea but if somebody has a good idea I’m not like, ‘no we’re not using it cause it’s not my idea.’ Like I’ve had friends that had video ideas and we’d take it and run with it. It’s just about somebody who sees the direction and understands where we’re going with it, and if they have something that’s in line with that, yeah we’ll do it. It’s gotta be cohesive as a unit. And then the next album, I’ll figure out something else to do video-wise and music-wise, but I feel like everything has to be cohesive when it’s time to put it all together.
HNHH: Yeah. I’m sure you’ve received these comparisons before, like to Justin Timberlake. I found with the Blue Album I noticed it the most vocal-wise, nothing to do with the production or anything. I know you did a cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” for P&P, would you ever try to do a Justin Timberlake cover just for random fun?
JMSN: Whaaa..no probably not, cause he’s...I couldn’t do it like him.
HNHH: Do you like him?
JMSN: He’s too good, I couldn’t do it justice. Or maybe we’re just too similar voice-wise. Granted he’s a good singer, he’s a classically-trained, good singer. I’m just winging it. [Laughs]
HNHH: What other music do you listen to when you’re not listening to your own music or creating your own? Like do you draw from indie or rock, or is r’n’b, what’re your sources?
JMSN: Everything, it’s all across the map. I’ll go from Fleetwood Mac to Keith Sweat to whatever, Michael McDonald, it’s from everywhere.
HNHH: I’m not sure what happened with your situation as JMSN, but now I know that you have White Room Records. Can you tell us about White Room Records, it’s your own imprint right?
JMSN: Yeah it’s me and an artist called Pearl, a producer. And I’m tryna get this singer called Alcordo. We did ten songs that I produced and we’re just trying to figure out the logistic of when to put it out.
[The song below features his producer Pearl and the singer Alcordo]
HNHH: So you wanna grow that roster, that’s gunna be your baby for the foreseeable future.
JMSN: Yeah for sure.
HNHH: Speaking of producing—you don’t really collaborate that often, I don’t think. On your albums it’s all you, and that works just fine. But what goes into your decision when you decide to collaborate? You were on Boldy James’ mixtape, and I feel like, I might not be right, but when you feature on a song you also produce it- is that always the case?
JMSN: Nah it’s not always the case. I think what makes me wanna do a feature or something like that is that I have to be a fan of the artist first, and a fan of their brand and what they represent. It’s as simple as that. And after that, it’s like does it make sense musically? Cause there’s stuff I’m a fan of, I know could never work. I’m not gunna go and get on a Lil Wayne song or some shit, stuff like that wouldn’t work.
HNHH: Do you turn down a lot features?
JMSN: I mean, I try not to turn down stuff a lot, but sometimes you have to. I try not to turn it down…I’ll just more of, not bring it up [Laughs].
HNHH: [Laughs]. Okay well, when I saw you in Montreal, you heard the crowd, they were chanting ‘Jesus,’ except in French. Does that happen a lot at your shows?
JMSN: Yeah sometimes, sometimes. It happened last night. That was another Canada show too, maybe it’s a Canada thing.
HNHH: That’s funny. Do you care at all about your fashion and what you wear, or is it an afterthought?
JMSN: Umm what do you mean?
HNHH: Well, like, at the show you were rocking long johns and a thermal sweater. Do you actually care about the way your clothes look and what you’re wearing, or it’s just, you need to wear clothes and that’s it?
JMSN: Well my thing is just doing what makes me feel comfortable to do what I have to do on stage. I like how I dress, I’m not saying...But I do like to wear stuff I don’t think anyone else would wear. I’m an artist, I do that. I’m definitely not trying to be anything that anybody else wants me to be or anybody thinks that I should be—or the norm for r’n’b singers. I’m not gunna go wear big chains and aviator glasses and a fresh hat and kicks, that’s not me. I’m never gunna be that, and I love that. And I think that’s an admirable thing when someone doesn’t care about how they should look or how they should make music- were here to push the envelope as artists, at least I believe.
HNHH: Mhmmm. Did it take you awhile to transition to JMSN and find that super lush [sound]. Your sound is so intense, did it take you awhile to curate that and make it perfect?
JMSN: I still don’t feel like it’s perfect I’m still tryna figure it out. It did take me awhile to figure out what kinda music I want to make. Not even what kinda music, but figure out where I’d do well, where I'd excel. That takes a while in music, and that’s your journey, figuring out what you’re good at it. And then spending time to get even better at that. JMSN was where I kinda figured out where I stood with stuff- and now I’m just tryna make it good [Laughs].
HNHH: So now you’re happy with who you are as JMSN, I don’t imagine you’ll go through another stage in your career.
JMSN: Musically yeah, I mean as you noticed the Blue Album is not the same as before it…
HNHH: Yeah, but moniker-wise.
JMSN: Yeah I’ma be JMSN until I’m not, that’s all I can say.
[We were briefly disconnected at this point]
HNHH: Hey, I dunno what happened, we just got disconnected- I was just wrapping up, but a few final questions. Everything that you record, do you do it in Detroit?
JMSN: No I live in L.A. now, I’m from Detroit, but I moved to L.A. when I was like 20, 21 so I’ve been in L.A. for awhile now.
HNHH: You like it there?
JMSN: Yeah, I love it there for sure.
HNHH: Okay cool. What can we expect from you in 2015, now that the Blue Album is out, are you working on anything new or is it just touring and that kinda stuff?
JMSN: A lot of touring and a lot more videos, and yeah of course, I’m always working on new stuff. When that will be done…I dunno. We’ll see, when I feel like it’s ready.
HNHH: Cool. Well it was nice finally talking to you
JMSN: Yeah thank you for taking the time.
HNHH: Have fun on the rest of your tour, I’m not sure how many dates you have left.
JMSN: We have about a week left.
HNHH: Then back to L.A. and music?
JMSN: Yeah make some more music, and then we go to Europe
HNHH: Oh shit yeah, it’s true I saw that. That’s crazy so you have a strong fanbase, their pretty loyal.
JMSN: Yeah it’s cool to get out and see that.
HNHH: Is that the first time you’re touring in Europe?
HNHH: Exciting. Well, have a good show tonight, I’ll talk to you soon.