When a new artist hits the scene, adjectives like fresh and honest frequently get thrown around when, in many instances, it’s more hype than truth. But that’s definitely not the case when it comes to Luke James.
And just who is Luke James?
He’s a singer/songwriter who truly embodies the honesty and fresh, organic soulfulness that’s been in relatively short supply of late in contemporary music. Now that sounds like a pretty tall order for a newcomer to fulfill. However, the New Orleans native is very much up to the task. In fact, you’ve no doubt heard his work: he co-wrote Chris Brown’s “Crawl” and has penned songs for Justin Bieber (“That Should Be Me”) and Britney Spears (“Kill The Lights”), among others. And his growing fan base includes none other than Beyoncé, who selected James to appear in her “Run the World” video.
James’ real-deal approach to music and—more important—the craft of singing are the main attractions on his upcoming mix tape and album of the same name: “Made to Love.” Both mark the singer/songwriter’s debut on Mercury/Island Def Jam via New Age Rock Star Records (NARS), the label helmed by award-winning producer Danja (Mariah Carey, Keri Hilson) and long-time collaborator / mixing engineer Marcella Araica (Madonna, Pink, Timbaland).
“This isn’t a fad for me,” declares James. “I’m willing to go wherever with this because music is everything to me. This is my world and how I see it. My music speaks for me in a way that’s relatable and truthful.”
“Honest is the best word to describe Luke,” adds Danja, who began working with James nearly four years ago. “Every message in his songs is sincere. And Luke’s voice is another obvious factor. Putting all of that together, he possesses a universal connection that touches everyone. He’s an undeniable force.”
That connection hits home on James’ lead single, “I Want You.” Packed with interesting breaks and tempo shifts, the sparse yet bright track pulsates with an infectious, hip-hop-influenced beat. That foundation provides the perfect complement to James’ pure, arresting falsetto as he sings: “I was just a broken record of one-night stands /Til you came along with your beautiful song …”
“It’s all about the voice,” says Danja. “And that’s what he’s captured on every record. Production doesn’t matter. No matter how sparse or grand I make it, he takes control and makes it about him.”
James’ innate talent as a singer/songwriter was nurtured in one of music’s legendary outposts, New Orleans. An only child, he grew up listening to a wide array of influences thanks to his single mother: everyone from Marvin Gaye and Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes to Willie Nelson and Alabama. James’ oh wow moment occurred when he was 11 years old and watching the amateur talent segment on TV’s “Showtime at the Apollo.” One of the contestants began singing Donny Hathaway’s version of writer Leon Russell’s “A Song For You.”
“I got chills,” recalls James. “And I get that feeling all over again whenever I think about that performance. At the time, I’d never said I wanted to be a singer; I just knew I wanted to entertain. And I’d never heard of Donny. But when my mother found her copy of one of his records, I knew then that I wanted to reach people that way.”
While in high school in 2001, James joined a trio that started performing around New Orleans, opening for such acts as Brian McKnight. That’s when James first met his longtime manager Frank Gatson. When things with the trio didn’t work out, James moved to Los Angeles after graduation—on the advice of Gatson—and began singing background for R&B singer Tyrese. It was through the singer that James met production duo the Underdogs and signed with their label as part of a singing duo: Luke & Q.
When Luke & Q decided to go their separate ways, James began honing his skills as a songwriter after hooking up with producer Danja nearly four years ago. Since then, he has collaborated on songs for Brown, Bieber, Spears, Keri Hilson and Brandy and worked alongside such other producers as Kadis and Sean and the Messengers. Inspired by those collaborations, he rediscovered his footing as a singer in his own right.
“I found the feeling again where I felt something fresh could come out,” says James. “Writing songs helped me figure out what my lane was as far as being a solo artist. And I’ve also learned something else: If I don’t feel it, I can’t do it.