Rapper/singer ELHAE is bringing the rhythm and blues back to Atlanta. The North Dakota-born artist (and eventual Georgia transplant) — whose moniker serves as an acronym of “Every Life Has An Ending,” a phrase he wrote as part of a free verse in high school — weaves church-bred soul with unfiltered bars while pouring his heart on wax.
Raised in a spiritual household, the singer joined his mother’s choir while his military dad put him on to The Isley Brothers and The Police as well as gospel notable Kirk Franklin. He eventually gravitated to the sounds of Roc-A-Fella era Jay Z and other New York-based acts like Talib Kweli and Mos Def before getting into the South a la T.I. The 22-year-old blended his diverse influences into projects like 2014’s Her: Arks Fal and 2015’s Aura (inspired by a breakup with his then-girlfriend of two years that finds him channeling a mix of Drake and Usher). Both offerings illustrate his Rap&B duality — channeling Usher on “Situations” and Michael Jackson with groovy sixteens on “Halfway.”
ELHAE (born Jamaal Jones) recalls how it wasn’t always trendy in his school to pursue singing. “People looked at singers as church boys and no one wanted to be called a church boy back then so I geared towards rapping,” the 22-year-old said. His best friend in high school also introduced him to the art of recording music at a time when YouTube fame wasn’t a livelihood. He recalls, “Just hearing my voice through speakers was a golden moment for me.”
The seeds for another golden moment were planted when his manager put him in touch with Atlantic Records’ current A&R svp, Dallas Martin. Though ELHAE reveals he handed his CD to Martin (the A&R behind A&R behind K. Michelle and the MMG label including albums from Wale, Meek Mill and others) in 2013 to few results, the three-year stretch was worth the wait. “I felt he made incredible music and he had a vision on who he wanted to be and where he wanted to go,” says Dallas. “He’s focused and has an incredible work ethic and I feel he makes timeless music.”
ELHAE dreamed of being an Atlantic Records signee as a teen. “In high school, I was the hugest Lupe Fiasco fan and I mimicked him — I wanted to be him, I wanted to dress like him, I wanted my rhymes to sound like him. This was a guy that was very influential in my upbringing and come to find out he was on Atlantic [Records],” he explains. “T.I. was under the label at that point as well. Him being such a pivotal character in Atlanta and me being from that area, it was like I want to get signed to that label because my two favorite artists are under them.”
His hustle combined with soul-baring material soon found another fan in Warner Music Group’s senior director of A&R, Latoya Lee (Kranium, Kevin Gates, Trey Songz and Furious 7 soundtrack). “He’s an artist that speaks from his heart, which reflects genuinely, sincerely and passionately in his music,” she says of ELHAE. “Once he expressed to me that his vision was to be an artist with longevity, who made timeless music, I knew he was an artist I wanted to work with. I need to be a fan of anything I look to sign, and I’m an ELHAE fan.”
To usher in the era of ELHAE, he released his melodic new project All Have Fallen (carrying a lone feature from Kehlani) on March 11 alongside the Inception-inspired visual for its bonus track, the sexy bedroom jam “Love A N—a.”
“I just went with the feeling, whatever the beat gave me. I knew that the title would be controversial especially since my demographic is of all creeds and colors,” he says with a laugh, “but I always go with my gut when I have an idea with something and I think it paid off.”
ELHAE will also be headlining New York’s S.O.B.’s on March 30, opening for Rockie Fresh at The Roxy in L.A. on March 12 and will perform at various SXSW showcases. All Have Fallen is available on iTunes here.