Picture: José James by Janette Backman
Picture: José James by Janette Backman

José James

When José James released No Beginning No End 2 (2020), a collaborative effort that paired the forward-looking vocalist with a global all-star cast including Ledisi, Aloe Blacc and Laura Mvula, it was apparent that the genre-defying artist was back to stake his claim as the jazz singer for the hip-hop generation. In that light his new project, On & On: José James Sings Badu finds James throwing down the gauntlet on the past 100 years of jazz singing while charting a path forward for the culture.

“It’s simple” James explains. “Jazz singing has always been about interpreting the highest level of standards of your time. And for my generation Erykah Badu has been one of the most innovative and incisive songwriters. Her work has proven to be groundbreaking in a social, musical and artistic sense.”

The album, produced by James with contributions from like-minded musicians Big Yuki (A Tribe Called Quest), Ben Williams (Kamasi Washington) and Jharis Yokley (My Brightest Diamond) investigates the breadth of Badu’s iconic catalog, from her groundbreaking debut album Baduizm to her contemporary masterpieces New Amerykah Pt. 1 and 2. But make no mistake: This is thoroughly a jazz album. Conceived in the spirit of Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, James artfully draws upon his experiences with modern masters McCoy Tyner, Robert Glasper and Flying Lotus to create a new sonic landscape through an improvisatory lens.

James also builds on his reputation as a modern jazz tastemaker by introducing featured horn players Ebban Dorsey and Diana Dzhabbar. “As an artist and performer Badu has consistently created opportunities for young artists both on and off her stage,” James explains. “It only made sense to include the next generation.” 


1. The internet is great. Sure there are some a**holes but there is beauty and connection there.

2. Books are better than friends.

3. Chocolate is better than vanilla.


1. What is the biggest inspiration for your music?

Life, people and world cultures. Trying to reflect and understand human truths.

2. How and when did you get into making music?

First by just listening to albums of all kinds and falling in love with the art form as a young man. Then I started to sing in the classical choir in high school and record to four-track for fun. I formed my first band at age 17 and started performing in Minneapolis. It was gradual.

3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time?

Marvin Gave – I Want You

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

Nirvana – Nevermind

Michael Jackson – Off the Wall

4. What do you associate with Berlin?

Cool bars, cool people, cool vibes

5. What’s your favourite place in your town?

Vroman’s Bookstore

6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?

Write novels

7. What was the last record/music you bought?

Joni Mitchell – Hejira.

8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Mark Ronson or Beck

9. What was your best gig (as performer or spectator)?

As a spectator, nothing will ever top seeing Michael Jackson on the “Bad” tour. As a performer probably doing my music with the 100-member Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Jules Buckley conducting. That or performing in Tokyo with McCoy Tyner.

10. How important is technology to your creative process?

Very! I use it at every step, from recording voice memos in my phone, making demos on Ableton and recording, mixing and mastering with analog desks. I love and embrace the process.

11. Please tell us, what the audience can expect from your concert in Berlin?

Every concert is unique and this band is very special. I have performed the music of Erykah Badu along with hits and favourites from my catalog.