Interview: A Q&A with Jamil Rashad, a.k.a. Boulevards

As the son of a renowned jazz radio DJ, Jamil Rashad grew up in a musical household in which, a passionate interest in music was fostered and encouraged. And as a result, the young Rashad grew up listening to jazz, blues, R&B, and funk albums. However, interestingly once Rashad was in his teens, he became a self-confessed “scene kid,” and became part of Raleigh, NC’s punk, hardcore and metal scenes, which he has admitted have influenced his own songwriting and solo production work in some fashion.

After attending art school and playing in a couple of local bands, Rashad eventually found himself returning to the sounds that first captured his heart and imagination – funk. Rashad began writing and recording material that he has publicly described as “party funk jams for the heart and soul to make you move,” under the moniker of Boulevards. Naturally, based on the description of his own sound, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Rashad’s work would draw from the classic funk sounds of Earth, Wind and Fire, Prince, Rick James, Chic, the production work of Quincy Jones – most notably Off the Wall and Thriller-era Michael Jackson, as well as The Talking Heads and Grace Jones, among others. And importantly, with the release of the first three singles off the Boulevards EP “Got To Go,” “Sanity,” and “Honesty” Rashad has quickly put himself on the national map as part of a growing neo-disco/neo-funk movement that includes Dam-Funk, Escort, Mark Ronson (in particular, his mega-hit “Uptown Funk”), Rene Lopez (who, I think is sadly under-appreciated), and several others.

Speaking of those three singles – “Got To Go,” the EP’s first single is a straightforward, funky as hell, party jam comprised of a sinuous disco era-inspired bass line, layers of stuttering synths, Nile Rodgers-like guitar, a propulsive rhythm and taut, absolutely infectious hooks that are reminiscent of Prince, Rick James and Off the Wall and Thriller-era Michael Jackson – all while having a sweaty, urgent sensuality that subtly pushes the song towards the glorious (and pulsating) hedonism of Giorgio Moroder’s legendary work with Donna Summer and George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex.” However, ironically enough, the song manages to be both a sultry come on and a bitterly snarky kiss off towards the same person, a person, who the song’s narrator has started to realize wasn’t worth his time. But it also suggests a hook up that has gone so terribly wrong that the narrator wants her to just go – go now. “Sanity,” the EP’s second single continues the straightforward party-friendly funk of its predecessor, sounding as though Chic-era Nile Rodgers and Quincy Jones had collaborated together to produce Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall – in particular, Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough” and “Workin’ Day and Night.” EP closing track and last single “Honesty” is comprised of layers of wobbling and undulating synths and humongous boom-bap drums paired with Rashad’s sensual, come hither vocals singing frank and sexually charged lyrics that sounds as though it were drawing from the aforementioned George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex,” Frank Ocean, Steven A. Clark and Dam-Funk simultaneously.

With such a sound, it shouldn’t be surprising that Rashad has received attention from some of the country’s biggest blogs and publications including Complex, Spin, OkayPlayer, The Nerdist and others – with a number of them comparing the Raleigh, NC-based purveyor of funk and his sound to early-to-mid 80s Motown and 70s funk with an innate understanding of contemporary funk, soul and dance music. And it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s buzz building for Rashad’s full-length debut effort, which renowned indie label Captured Tracks will be releasing sometime in early 2016. However, before all of that Rashad will be embarking on a short tour in November to support the EP that will include two NYC area stops – November 18 at Mercury Lounge with Diane Coffee and November 19 at Baby’s All Right. Both stops should be guaranteed to be a dance party . . .

Photo Credit: Jillian Clark
Photo Credit: Jillian Clark
Photo Credit: Daniel Topete
Photo Credit: Daniel Topete

Boulevards EP Cover

I recently spoke to Jamil Rashad via email in this edition of the JOVM Q&A about how punk, metal and hardcore have influenced him and his songwriting and production approach; how Raleigh, NC’s T0W3RS is an artist that we all should be paying attention to – right now; how his goal is to make funky, party music for you to dance to (which I definitely approve of by the way); and of course, all things funk. Check it out below.


WRH: According to press notes, your father is a renowned jazz DJ, and as a result you grew up in a home in which a passionate interest in music was encouraged and fostered; in fact, you grew up listening to jazz, funk, the blues and R&B. When did you know that writing, recording and performing music was your calling? Curiously, did your father ever give you music industry advice or songwriting advice? 

Jamil Rashad: I started writing songs when I was about 12 years old. I used to write alot of poetry. To me, music is poetry. So I used to use those poems and turn them into to songs over instrumentals when I was kid. My father always told me if I wanted to be great I needed to study the best musicians. So I locked myself in a room and just read up on artists I liked a lot, listened to their music, and also write a lot of songs.

WRH: At one point, you became a scenster and found yourself deeply involved in Raleigh’s punk, hardcore and metal scenes, which apparently have influenced your own production work and songwriting — and which to some listeners would initially seem kind of strange. How exactly did your involvement in punk, metal and hardcore influence you and your production and songwriting? 

JR: Well I have always loved the complexity of metal and punk. I like the way the songs are arranged. Funk is complex as well. I loved going to the shows. The metal/punk bands have great showmanship and the energy is always at a high level. I always was inspired by that energy and put into the music I make. Just in a funky way.

WRH: How would you describe your sound?

 JR: My sound is me, its infectious, sexy, stinky, catchy, bouncy. Keep you moving always and singing the melodies.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now? 

JR: Right now I’m listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder, Doobie Brothers, some rare boogie jams, too many to name.

WRH: I’m based in New York and a great deal of my readers are from New York. Naturally, because New York is — well, New York, I think there’s this sense of people ignoring other cities’ music scenes, especially since almost every artist on the face of the earth has to stop in NYC at some point. Interestingly, I do know of one bands in the Raleigh-Durham area:  Airstrip, who had a couple of songs I wrote about some time ago. What’s currently big in Raleigh-Durham’s scene? Are there any artists in the Raleigh-Durham area that should be getting love from the blogosphere and aren’t yet? 

JR: Well, there is an artist named T0W3RS, who I love a lot. He is great. Watch out for him. His live shows are great. His songwriting is top notch as well.

WRH: Lyrically and sonically, the material on your self-titled debut is incredibly sexy. Each of the four songs all seem to be about hooking up with that pretty young thing that caught your eye at the club — and in at least one case, on “Got to Go,” the aftermath of hooking up, in which the song’s narrator is kind of sick of the person and wants them to get going. How much of the material on the EP is influenced by your own experiences and those of others? 

JR: A lot of the things I write about in my songs have happened to me. They have happened to my friends as well – women and men. I try to keep everything as real as possible with [what] I have been through or even the experiences I have supported my friends with in their relationships.

WRH: “Got to Go” and “Sanity” are my favorite songs on the EP. What influenced those particular songs? How do you know when you have a finished song? 

JR: I just want to make party funk songs. I do a lot of rewriting. My writing process isn’t normal. But I let Rollergirl, the producer of “Got to Go” have fun. I let Big Taste, the producer of “Sanity” have fun. My goal is make jams that are infectious and catchy but make you feel good on the dance floor. There is no real formula. Let’s just make funk jams that make you feel.

WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves? 

JR: Well, I’m still learning and growing myself. But I would tell anyone who is trying to be [a] full-time artist to surround yourself with great people. Believe in yourself, as clichéd as it sounds. Just like a lot of people who want to do this, there are things you want sacrifice. Have fun while wanting to be the best. Study artists, study yourself . . . Lock yourself in a room and write until you can’t write anymore. I love what I do, and every day I work hard to be better.

WRH: You’ll be embarking on a couple of live dates in November — and it’ll include two NYC dates  (11/18 at Mercury Lounge and 11/19 at Baby’s All Right). What should New York area music fans expect from your live set? 

JR: The funk! Bring your dancing shoes!

WRH: What’s next for you and for Boulevards? 

JR: Finishing the LP and touring a lot! Bringing the funk and spreading the funk to the people!