Jesse Boykins III got every drop of life he could from his last album, 2014's Love Apparatus. Then he left his fans thirsty for two years. It seems like he's been teasing Bartholomew ever since, and today (August 1) we finally got to meet him. Bartholomew is at times a departure from Apparatus, but looks backward with a wink in moments when you need it most.
This go-round, the industry has gotten hip to our little indie secret, so we see features from Trinidad James, Little Simz, Willow Smith, Melanie Fiona and more. Many more. Almost too many? Let's get into Bartholomew, track by track.
1. "Earth Girls"
This title, plus the simple, repetitive piano melody, gives you the impression Bartholomew will be less atmospheric and airy than Love Apparatus. "They say women are from Venus, but I love my Earth girls," Boykins sings. But when the beat drops, you're willing to stay grounded with Boykins as he takes you on a tour of women he's met around the world, if that's what he wants.
2. "Everybody Shut Up" feat Isaiah Rashad
Classic piano meets hip-hop in this Robert Glasper-sounding song that encourages a "new-age Cinderella" to live her life and ignore what everyone has to say. The bassline is a pulsing heartbeat, compelling you to listen to vivid lines like "Chakras and chasers / lost in between two worlds." Jesse understands you, girl!
3. "Kumbaya in June"
Jesse is nearly unrecognizable in the first verse. There's none of the falsetto soprano we've been used to, as he sings in a lower register, initially. But "Kumbaya" is enchanting, especially at the end when it opens up into claps and ad libs. It feels like being on the beach at sunset, with the waves cresting and falling while you contemplate life. "Tell me how we got here," Jesse asks, and now I'm lost in thought, too.
4. "8 Day Weeks"
Distortion on the vocals gives this song an echo-y effect. like a voice inside your head. Listen closely: He's singing from the perspective of weed. "No they can't burn us down. ... Get your feet off the ground, ground, ground."
5. "Into You" feat. No Name
The steady beat of the metronome. The tribal percussion. Boykins beckons you to follow him somewhere mysterious and steamy. "Into You" is a bop, and No Name comes in so clean. She's a great complement, and the horns that sneak in on the tail end of her verse make it soar.
6. "I Need You"
This is the first track to elicit a mean body roll. You might even stick your tongue out and snap your fingers with it. You will sing along, instantly, to the refrain "It goes something like, I need you / You need me / We need we." And by the time he gets to the layered harmonies at the end? Forget it; you won't want this song to stop.
"Tomorrow" is fine. Sped-up drums give it that futuristic vibe, as the title suggests, but it's a little on the nose.
8. "Mean Girls" feat. Donnie Trumpet and J*Davey
You see the name Donnie Trumpet and expect that triumphant, Chance the Rapper feel. And this song certainly feels bright, opening with the proclamation, "When the summer comes around / When the summer comes around." Boykins being from Chicago and all, that steppers' groove finds its way in the mix from time to time. You won't mind.
9. "Indie Girls" feat. Kilo Kish and Little Simz
This track opens with Jesse saying, "Bartholomew raps, take 1," which is your cue that he's taking some risks on this one. He rap-talks with some assistance from his guests, and you're a bit apprehensive, but then he gets back to singing, in that distinctive tone of his, and you lean back and ease into it.
"No, I never been the one to be discouraged/ From loving you while you're learning you," Jesse sings, and we see him picking up on themes from Apparatus, being the observant and patient man who isn't turned off by a woman's idiosyncrasies; in fact he wants to help you see the beauty in your messiness. And does her accent just make Little Simz sound more dope? Or is she that good? Either way, it's a welcome feature.
10. "LARain" feat. Melanie Fiona and Trinidad James
This song gives you lush, '80s movie soundtrack realness. Trinidad James brings spoken-word vibes, Boykins kinda blends into the luxurious background, Fiona shines through with just enough panache, a little electric guitar kicks in, and it's an all-around foot tapper.
11. "Vegetables" feat. Willow Smith and Syd (Tha Internet)
Not gonna lie. This sounds like Kehlani's "You Should Be Here," which was a great record, so that's no dis. The surprise here is Willow Smith. When she steps up to the mic, it's like seeing your little sister grow up and get better before your eyes.
12. "Eye of the Gentle Tiger" feat. Audiopush
This is a song about sex. Audiopush sounds like Kendrick. Next.
13. "Solar Sisters" feat. Alex Isley and Bridget Kelly
Jesse's back to the distorted, singing-underwater sound on this one, so I assume it's about getting super high with a girl he's into. It's a nice slow jam, though. His guests come in at the end sounding whispery and riffy, like Alicia Keys, so if that's your vibe, you'll like "Solar Sisters."
14. "Nobody on Jupiter" feat. Dej Loaf
This is the most mainstream-sounding song on the album, mainly because of cliché braggadocio about how no one can please your body like he can, moreso because of Dej, but also because of the 808 pattern. You know, that one. Dej doesn't even spit a 16; she just kinda shows up, ad libbing and Auto-Tuning. And that's not a bad thing, it just means Boykins is getting those co-signs.
15. "LikeMinded" feat. Luke James
Motherf--ing Luke James is smooth as silk. His voice drips like water all over this song, which is complete with saxophone accentuations, because the saxophone means it's time for sex. Duh.
16. "Only Way" feat. Mick Jenkins
Come for the water droplets, stay for the... I don't know, actually. This isn't terribly memorable.
17. "No Worry"
A fitting closer, this one harkens back to "4 U 2 B Free" from Apparatus, as Jesse sings "So you can be free to be...so you can be free to be..." over the chorus. Here, Boykins is choosing a life of freedom over anything else. He tells his Intended she can be a dream or a nightmare — just don't be scared. Isn't that a good way to move forward through life?
Listen to Bartholomew in its entirety here: