There’s an old proverb that says, “Watch the company you keep” — and Jacquees has seemingly lived by those words since discovering his talent at the tender age of 9. After all, very few artists can count R&B legends Jagged Edge as early mentors, who helped the then-budding singer develop his voice and hone his craft as he gained traction in the Atlanta music scene.
From there, Jacquees continued to keep good company, as his popular Quemix mixtape series and 2014 EP 19 — featuring Chris Brown, Trinidad James and Rich Homie Quan — put him on the radar of Birdman’s Cash Money Records, who signed the singer in 2014 thanks to a phone call from Quan’s father and manager Corey Lamar.
Following the success of his breakout hit “B.E.D.” and DeJ Loaf-featuring track “At the Club,” Jacquees returned to his roots on his debut album 4275, out now, which was inspired by his experiences and lessons he learned growing up and includes guest appearances from Chris Brown, Young Thug, Trey Songz, DeJ Loaf and R&B greats Jagged Edge and Donnell Jones.
Below, Billboard caught up with Jacquees to discuss his Atlanta upbringing and debut album.
You named your album after your old home address. What was it like growing up there?
I went to a lot of house parties and they were crazy — it was just fun. I always tell everybody: “Peace, money and violence” — you can really choose which way you want to go. I learned a lot from over there because that side helped me grow into the man I am today and I always wanted to go back and pay homage, pay my dues back to 4275 because that’s where I started dreaming, that’s where my dreams came to fruition. I started singing in that house.
I learned about life and love and just being a man. Every key that you need to learn in life, apart from the stuff they teach you in school, I learned from my mentors in the neighborhood because I used to be in the barbershop all the time. I grew up in a barbershop; Rick Bush actually gave me my first job, which was sweeping up the shop, and being around them just kept me motivated. It’s so easy to get caught up when you stay around those parts of where I grew up because there are so many people doing different things, so I learned how to stay myself, be brave, confident. I learned how to dream over there because my mother lost 4275 at one point and we gained a lot of gratitude for the smaller things in life.
What were some of the sounds you remember hearing in your household?
I heard everything from Earth, Wind & Fire to Ron Isley; a lot of R. Kelly, Jodeci, and a lot of gospel like John P. Kee, Kirk Franklin.
Do you grow up singing in the church?
I went to church a lot growing up — one of my grandmas went to Holy Temple, my other grandma’s church was Evergreen — and we had to go to church. I never sang in church, but my auntie and my mother were in the choir. Actually, my auntie used to sing with Shirley Caesar.
So when did you discover that you could actually sing?
I discovered my voice at 9 years old at school. Well, I really discovered it at home, but I took it to school and entered my first talent show when I was 9 years old at Canby Elementary School in 2004 and I won.
Wait, let me guess — you sang a Michael Jackson song?
[Laughs] I sang “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 — I had the whole outfit on and everything.
From this point, what was the defining moment that made you realize this could actually be a career?
Well, music was always the goal. I didn’t have a plan B. I played football, but everybody played sports because that’s like a pipe dream. I was on varsity and everything. I first got into the studio when I was 12, and when I first started to hear myself on the records being played back, I was like, “Man, I sound good!” I would just go to the studio and just sing Michael Jackson songs just to hear my voice, because it’s one thing to sound good singing out loud, but if you sound good being recorded, that’s another thing.
You recently posted a video of yourself when you were young, waiting to meet Diddy somewhere. What was that experience like?
I was waiting to meet Diddy because at the time, I was down with Block Entertainment and Bad Boy South, and I remember just trying to get around him when I was young. In the video, you can hear that I said, “I’m not here for no reason. This is legendary.” Fast-forward, I was with Puff the other night and I remember telling him about that specific moment and sent him the video and he was like, “That’s crazy, that’s just God’s plan.”
Puff is a legend in the game who has put up artists and did numbers and all that. I was a big fan of all the artists on Bad Boy back in the day, so it was just dope being in his presence and getting his opinion on my new album. He started groups like 112 and he has an ear for that, so I wanted to let him peep it out, and he rocks with the music. He wants to be on the next one for sure!
Your music definitely shows your love for the ’90s, old-school R&B, and on this album, you have R&B legends like Jagged Edge, then on “Inside” you interpolate Usher’s “Nice & Slow,” and then “B.E.D.” salutes Avant’s “Read Your Mind.”
When you listen to today’s music, it all comes from that era of music, so that’s why I listen to a lot of old music. There’s nothing wrong with listening to the old music and twisting it into your own. These little tributes, I don’t even try to do it on purpose, I just really have a love for that type of music and respect everybody that has come before me. I like to pay homage and I’m really a fan of all those people.
You have Jagged Edge on “Special” too. How’d that happen?
I’ve been working with Jagged Edge since I was 14, 15 or something like that. The twins, Brandon and Brian, they were always trying to help me develop my voice as an artist. They’re tough coaches, especially Brandon, and they were always rooting for me. When I got older, I wrote the record “Special,” and I just knew that they would sound perfect on the album and they just did it. We’re family, that’s one of the groups I’m super close to — like, I consider them family. Brian used to help me when I was 18 — I would go to his house to record all the time — and they were always trying to help me in any way possible.
— Jacquees (@Jacquees) June 6, 2018
What were some of the gems they dropped during your studio sessions with them?
They would always tell me to take my time; Brandon would always say, “You really can’t say any wrong wording in your music, it’s your music. You can say something that doesn’t make sense, but if it sounds good, keep rocking with it.”
What was going through your mind when you were creating this album?
I just wanted to make a classic album. I dropped, like, 10 mixtapes, so I wanted this to be special. I wanted to make this the best album I could make, be honest and just taking it up a notch.
Was there a song or a moment that made you feel like your album reached “classic” status?
Probably when I recorded “London” — well, I had a classic already, but once I recorded the last song “London,” I knew it was complete. There’s also a song on the album called “All About Us” where I talk about the process of making it and my journey; my 4275 intro is deep, you can hear my mom on there, too. The whole album is me telling y’all, “This is where I’m from, I’m the product of that environment and I’m just sharing my experiences with all of you.”
How did you link up with Chris Brown for “All My Life”?
We did that in 2014. I hit him up because Chris had me with him since 18, 19, I used to run around with him. I told him I needed him on a record and he said, “I got you,” it was that simple.
What’s the status of your joint project with Chris?
It’s complete. We can drop it any time now.
What does that project sound like?
It’s still R&B, but different from 4275, from the production to the conversations. Chris is trying to take me to a whole other level, we’re turning up.
You and DeJ Loaf had the hit “At the Club,” and she’s back on your album. What’s the chemistry like between you two?
We’re good friends. I think she’s a dope artist and we make great music together. She’s one of my favorite artists to work with because it’s just so easy and we’re real friends so us working together is easy and organic.
— Jacquees (@Jacquees) June 10, 2018
How do you build these relationships?
People just love me! I’m a genuine person, I’m like the kid that everybody loves — I’ve always been like that.
How did you grow and evolve as an artist throughout the 4275 recording process?
I’m a better songwriter and better singer. I never give up, I’m always trying to perfect my craft by keeping the pen to the pad, staying in the studio — I always try to complete a song to the end, no matter what.
Which artist is at the top of your collaboration bucket list?
I want to work with Lil Wayne.
Have you had a chance to speak with him?
Not yet. We haven’t crossed paths yet.
With your debut album finally out, what are some other goals you hope to accomplish in the near future?
I want to win awards. I definitely want to be credited for my hard work and dedication. I always wanted to win best new artist and R&B album of the year — those are two I want to win. Billboard awards, Grammys — everything. With this album, I want people to realize that Jacquees is great and he deserves to be a top dog in the game. I want them to say, “Man, he brought something back to the game that was missing.”