An interview with Boulevards
words by sammy maine
photography by sherazz balushi & ryan jenq
Over the past 12 months, Jamil Rashad has rediscovered who is he. Last year, he released the acclaimed ‘Groove!’ LP on Captured Tracks and while the songs leant themselves to the established funk of his Boulevards project, it’s only on his forthcoming record ‘Hurtown, USA’ that Rashad feels he has finally made a record true to his vision.
Growing up in Raleigh North Carolina, Rashad cites music as a constant presence throughout his childhood. His father, a celebrated R&B radio DJ, would play jazz, funk and soul in car rides home from school, on Sunday mornings while he cleaned up the house, on Saturday nights when he was fixing dinner. Rashad and his sister were given regular access to their father’s music collection – “as a kid, that’s like a gold mine” – with Rashad citing this immersion as something which helped to shape him both as a person and as an artist. “I can think of a lot of times where me and my dad, we’d just be jamming out. I remember we always used to sing that Gorillaz ‘Clint Eastwood’ song together,” he says, laughing over the phone. Rashad is speaking to me at 8am his time, yet he sounds attentive; animated even.
After signing to Captured Tracks, Rashad says things moved fast; perhaps a little too fast. He cites ‘Groove!’ as an album that was created for the label, adding that the process was a huge learning experience. “I think I got lost in the sauce with the last record,” he explains. “I was so used to making music for myself. I was so used to making music for what was true to Boulevards and Jamil’s identity and I felt like fans didn’t get to know me on the first record and people need to get to know who I am; not just Boulevards but who Jamil is.”
And so Rashad began the process of returning to the core of his artistic identity. He reached out to producers Rollergirl and Secret Attraction, he wrote poetry, he listened to those that had initially inspired him all those years ago – Grandmaster Flash, Prince, Rick James – he became vulnerable and in doing so, he slowly regained what it was that he loved about music in the first place. “There’s a sense of freedom and it combines a lot of the influences I had growing up,” he says. “People can hear the personality in this record more than they had in the last one – they can hear the heart and soul. I flourished more on this record because I didn’t try and hold anything back.”
The record is introduced with “Donezo,” with Rashad coolly opening the track with “you’re listening to 88.1 The Groove” – perhaps a nod back to his father’s career. While initially it seems he pleads with a lover over their crumbling relationship, Rashad quickly finds comfort in losing a person that is seemingly holding him back, with its boasting percussion giving rise to his spitting assertions. It’s a taster of the album’s lyrical and sonic juxtaposition – infectious, smooth melodies with themes that centre around failures of love and failures of the self. Party vibes with an exposed narrative. Tears on the dance floor.
“This record was about self reflection. It was about how I could become better for the next partner or the next friend. It was reflecting on loss and trying to figure out where I went wrong,” Rashad says. “It was addressing my failures in not being the best person I could have been. It’s driving through that pain. What I’ve always believed is that without pain, you can’t grow, so I’ve always felt like Hurtown is a place where you’re driving through to get where you need to be to be better. Driving through that, taking that journey and learning about yourself. Getting over that hump.”
To channel this emotional intensity, Rashad turned to the greats – Kanye West’s ‘808s and Heartbreaks’; Drake’s ‘Take Care’; Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’. He sought to create melancholy stories with upbeat instrumentation, so that listeners wouldn’t initially realise the song’s subject matter. However, while it was mostly a positive, reaffirming journey, the process of ‘Hurtown, USA’ was also a difficult one.
Rashad is currently in recovering and writing ‘Hurtown, USA’ pushed him to label personal relationships. He says there were points when this record drove him to insanity, describing it as an ‘up-and-down rollercoaster.’ “As you go through recovery, I’ve been taught to accept things, so the only thing I can control is what I do. The music that I create, I can control,” he explains. “I keep telling myself to stay true as a funk artist and to keep putting out music that I love and that I’m passionate about. I really wasn’t as passionate about ‘Groove!’; I’m more passionate about ‘Hurtown, USA’ than I’ve ever been about any body of work I’ve put out.”
This journey has also led him back to one of his other passions – running. Rashad recently completed a 10k and says that he has wholeheartedly fallen in love it all over again. “I’ve ran since I was 12 years old. I ran in college and middle school and high school and through those times, I felt like I wasn’t running for myself,” he says. “When you get to scholarships, when you get to teammates, when you get coaches, there’s so much pressure, it doesn’t become fun. When you have to run everyday at 2pm for practice, when everything is structured, you’re not doing it for yourself anymore.”
Through this pressure, Rashad quit running and found himself partying more and more. He lost the desire, he didn’t care but through his recovery, it allowed him to re-establish running as something he could do for himself. “When I did that 10k, my dad was there, he was the only support I had at the race and it was like old times – getting up in the morning for a race in high school and my dad cheering me on – so that was great,” he continues. “I remember when I was in the fourth mile at this 10k and I was by myself, there was a point where I realised why I loved running. I was running for myself. I wasn’t worried about time, about place, I was just there having fun. It was an emotional point for me. It’s a good way to keep sober and stay focused. It’s meditative for sure. It’s all about getting back to the things I love because there was a point in my life where I forgot about what made me who I was.”
‘Hurtown,USA’ is unmistakably a celebration of just that – of someone finding themselves again; of someone who is creating music on their own terms and free from the weight of expectation. “It’s about bringing that funk and I want people to just enjoy it and be able to connect with it and to drive to it and run to it and to groove to it. Some kid might need to hear this record through some situation,” he says. “This is what I do. I do funk. Funk is a way of life for me.”
‘Hurtown, USA’ is out December 8
Pre-order it here
Boulevards on tour:
12/15 – Knitting Factory – Brooklyn, NY
1/20 – Lincoln Theatre – Raleigh, NC