We rarely get an artist who touches right on the vein of the world today, tapping into it without stepping right on it. Frank Ocean did it years ago with Nostalgia Ultra and Channel Orange, blending a sense of hopeless abandon with a silver lining for tomorrow. But now that he’s retreated, the youth need another voice to lean on. Enter Jayaire Woods.
The 21-year-old vocalist from Bellwood, Illinois (right outside Chicago) made a splash earlier this year with two resonant, emotional singles – “toolong” and “2 shoes.” Splicing a path between rapping and singing, he caught me with his throaty, marble-mouthed voice, followed by his virtuoso grip on melody, which is displayed throughout his debut project TREES42MORROW, out today. He has melody down pat, but like Ocean, it’s his songwriting that sticks out. Hearing a guy say his heart is in shackles burns an immediate image into your brain, as does the repetition of the hook structure on “2 shoes.”
Last week we spoke with Jayaire over the phone about being a goodie two shoes, his early replication of Lil’ Wayne, and how he’s still working a day job as he tries to achieve his dream of becoming a professional musician.
WatchLOUD: How long have you been working on TREES42MORROW?
Jayaire: Five months. Somewhere around April or May.
What made you want to start putting together a project?
This is my first time in a studio on a consistent basis. The first time I went to a studio was a year ago in November. It was Classick Studios. That’s where I still go now. So once I got a job that was for my studio, I started going in March or April, and ever since I just been in there either weekly or biweekly. It was really just being able to be in the studio on a consistent basis to make enough songs that I want to make a mixtape with.
I’ve been planning this for a long time and I’ve had the name of the album since I was 18. I’m 21 now.
Your job was in the studio?
Nah I got a job at a warehouse in March and that shit was paying me good. That’s when I started going to the studio. I actually got fired in May though, and I didn’t have a job until September. I got a job as a mailman, so I work as a mailman right now. So it’s a very weird time period in my life.
This was my dream job, too, being a mailman. This is a career I wanted, but music was the dream dream, so it’s funny to have both at the same time, clinging on to both of them.
You said you’ve had the name of the album since you were 18. How’d that come about?
I went to a retreat called Trees For Tomorrow, but they just spell it different. You would do skiing, canoeing, that type of thing, but the basis of it was to just plant seeds for the future. I was a kid at the time, but they were talking about planting seeds for the youth, so I just came up with TREES42MORROW as in growing for myself. Planting seeds for myself in the future, just trying to grow as an individual. I touch on a lot of the stuff going on with my generation and myself.
Why’d you go to the retreat?
I grew up going to a summer camp every summer. I’m from a town called Bellwood [in Illinois] and from five to fifteen my pops ran a summer camp out here. If anybody ever came to Bellwood and they ask, “Do you know Mr. Woods?” one out of every three people will know my pops. So that was just some shit we did every winter.
What was it like growing up in Bellwood?
I moved here from the west side when I was five so I don’t really remember the west side, but from five to eighteen I lived [in Bellwood] and then I moved to the next neighborhood over, which is Westchester.
[Bellwood] was cool. It’s a neighborhood where mostly everyone from here has parents who are from the west side and moved here when they had kids. That’s how it was for me and like ten of my best friends. You get a lot of gang stuff…It’s a place where you gotta look for trouble. If you want trouble, you can find it, if you don’t, you don’t. So it was always a good place for me because I was pretty much cool for everyone. My pops was super known out here, I got a twin sister so she’s super known, and then I grew up playing basketball so I pretty much know everybody from Bellwood, so it was a fun experience for me. That’s why I cling on to it so heavy.
You’ve said you went to Columbia College and then dropped out?
I went to Western Illinois University my first semester of college and then I came right back home and went to Columbia, and I dropped out after that. I went there for a semester, so it was basically my freshman year but I switched about halfway through the year.
What were you going to school for at the time?
Journalism. I always been a writer, but school just doesn’t register with me.
Do you write your songs down?
Yeah definitely. I’m a writer and I always been a poet. I started doing poems before I started doing songs, so I write my music all the way through. Choruses, verses, all of it.
And how’d you decide to make the transition from poetry to making music?
It wasn’t even really a conscious decision. I was in fourth grade and me and my best friend wrote a freestyle to “Touch It” by Busta Rhymes, and from then on I was writing pretty much every day. I remember in ’07 I was a 7th grader, I was rapping just like Lil’ Wayne, and I took breaks from it, but for the most part I’ve been writing music for a long time.
I actually didn’t start using my voice or rapping out loud until I was 19. I went to a studio out in the south side and it was alright, but I didn’t like it. Then I started going to Classick and that was pretty much my first time ever rapping out loud, other than freestyles.
One of the things that really drew me into your music was the quality of your voice. It’s very unique. Do you have any traditional vocal training?
Nah. My family sings a lot! That’s literally all I can attest it to. Everybody in my family sings a lot. There are no professional singers in my family, but around the crib everybody sin my family sings. And I’m the one that doesn’t sing. I like voices too in music, sonically sounding good. And I know your voice can be an instrument, so with me I just made it how I like it. But I’ve never been a singer or anything, I just like melodies so it came from that.
You have this hybrid rapping/singing style. What do you like about each one individually?
Rapping is better to tell the story, and singing is better with the set up of the story for me. So on choruses I sing to give you the emotion of how I feel, the feeling of it. And then the verse I go more in-depth into the story.
Who’s your favorite vocalist?
My favorite vocalist growing up was probably Charlie Wilson. That’s the first album I ever bought, Charlie, Last Name Wilson. I like him, Cee-Lo Green. My pops put me on R. Kelly, plus me being from Chicago.
What do you think is the defining song on TREES42MORROW?
I’m gonna let the world decide. I got one, but I don’t even want to say it because I want everybody to decide for themselves.
You said you wrote “toolong” after you broke up with your girl, right?
Yeah, and everybody thinks I’m in love on that song, but really it’s just the thought of if we were at that point. It was more so me imagining us in a good space. We were in a super rough patch. We had broke up the week before that and then I heard the beat. It didn’t even really come to me in a deep way, that shit just came out.
And what about “2 shoes”? That’s a crazy song.
I didn’t make the song until this summer of course, but the theme of “2 shoes” has always been my thing. I kick it with, I wouldn’t’ say bad kids or nothing, but I do have friends who are influenced by different shit and I’ve always liked to consider myself the goodie two shoes because it’s a negative stigma around the word “goodie two shoes” and I just wanted to turn it into a cool thing. It’s not bad to not be bad, but when the song came around…most of my songs, I literally just hear the beat and then, shit, something just comes out. But that’s the theme of it.
And you said you lost someone in that song, right?
Yeah, I had a best friend, he died last Spring. That was like a brother to me. We grew up together, I met him in like third grade and we been cool ever since, so that was just a shout out to him. That was my dog.
Is there something you want to accomplish with this project, something you’re looking to achieve?
Not necessarily, I just want everyone to like it, or whoever likes it, I’ll be happy that they like it. And hopefully it keeps growing. But I don’t really have any super big aspirations for it. Now that it’s done, I’m just happy with it and really relieved, so I want everybody to just feel however they feel about it.