Born in Atlanta, based in Brooklyn, James Bambu makes music for dreamers. Coined one of the most unique singer-songwriters across the States, James radiates positivity and defines how R&B can quickly go from familiar to unfamiliar. Today, many know him for singles like “White Lines” and “Love Nest” as well as his stellar COLORS performance for “Succulent.”
Over the past several years, James Bambu has laid the groundwork with projects such as Soulo and Del Sol. His infectious smile and ear-grabbing vocals captivate audiences almost everywhere and James Bambu’s latest slew of singles have quite literally been none short of mindblowing. In 2020, he shared his introspective EP, Dialogue, which contains 10 songs that paint a portrait of one of Soul’s most incendiary voices come to life. Fast forward today, James Bambu has been steadily dropping songs and visual efforts here and there.
We recently got the opportunity to chop it up with James Bambu in regards to his Atlanta upbringing, navigating through 2020, and staying positive amid the global pandemic. Read the full conversation below.
Can you share a bit about your upbringing and how you came to be an artist?
I grew up in Atlanta, I was in marching band. As a kid, I drew and painted a lot until I found music. My mom bought me a keyboard when I was young and by the time I got to middle school, Drumline, the movie came out. Everybody wanted to be on the drumline and play the drums. I joined band on accident and basically, the band director picked percussion for me. I think that was probably the best for me because I’m a rhythm guy. When I got to high school, I ended up switching schools so I went to one that was predominantly white.
I didn’t want to join the marching band then because I come from where we dance and so on. Afterward, I joined the school gospel choir and my voice stood out to the girl so she made me the lead. I did and I was nervous, but I stuck with it. When I was 18 or 19, that’s when I started to record and try to do shows. I didn’t move to New York until 2016 so it was just a whole lot of years of me just doing music more lowkey. Everything wasn’t so based on social media for a long time so even back then, everyone was just focused on performing in the city.
Musically, who are some of your influences?
I have a lot to be honest. It’s like on one side, I grew up in Atlanta so obviously Usher is one. D’Angelo is another one that I appreciated as a kid. Those are definitely my top two, but I’d also say Stevie Wonder. Erykah Badu is definitely another one, but there’s a lot to pick from.
Last year, you dropped your project Dialogue—what all goes into making bodies of work like that?
A lot of those songs, I worked on with my homie Ian and I met him back in 2017. A lot of times, especially while we were working on the bulk of this project, I was going through a lot of shit. This is coming off the heals of me doing COLORS and Afropunk stuff. It was the first time after I started getting buzz and for me, I guess you could say things weren’t going the way I wanted to. But I mean, when do things ever go how you want them to go unless you’re Beyoncé.
It was hard, I was dealing with some real-life shit that had nothing to do with music. Just experiencing a lot of stuff at that time, I needed a way to express it all. Ian’s mom gave me a space in her basement because I wasn’t staying anywhere and we just worked on music for maybe a few weeks. When I went back to Atlanta, I had all this music so in a way, the project kind of sounds introspective. Mostly because I was dealing with a lot of things at that time like mental health and relationships.
You recently dropped your single “My Place or Yours,” can you walk us through the story of how that record came about?
I didn’t try to make it obvious, but it kind of is obvious. Whether it’s a main thing or a side thing, it always comes down to one question: should we do this at my place or your place? The visual in my mind is a girl walking through the club and everyone is looking at her, but she’s looking at me. I know what’s happening after we leave the club so at the end of the night we just have to decide whether it’s my place or hers.
It’s about sex, but I try to do it in a classy way. I tried to switch it up a little bit. That beat, my homie Latrell, already had it made. It kind of gave me a ’60s feel and that was the vibe I got from it, which is where I got that whole visual of the girl and club idea. I tried to make it like a 60s dance track type of thing.
Amidst everything going in the world around us, how do you stay positive and creative?
In order for me to stay inspired, I have to experience new things and that was probably the hardest part for me throughout 2020. I don’t the world has ever in our years experienced something like this. So basically, the only way I could stay positive is to stay inspired. It was hard to stay positive with not just the state of Black people, but politics and just everything happening at once. With all that built up, there’s no way that you can completely stay positive.
For me personally, I stayed inspired through sharpening new skills. Recording myself, getting the right equipment to do that, shooting my own videos, and pushing myself to do both at the level that I want to. Through me doing both of those things, making that “White Lines” video and recording “My Place Or Yours,” I felt fulfilled. I felt like I was learning something but also, I felt like I was putting in work.
In regards to music, can people expect anything from you within the coming months?
Honestly, a lot! I have been putting in that work. It takes time to see the fruits of your labor, but I’ma just say that. There’s definitely a lot that I got planned, and I know everything especially might not go exactly as planned with COVID, but I definitely plan to do some stuff this year.
If you enjoyed James Bambu, check out our interview with Kaleem Taylor.