Jus Lovehall  in the shadows with a hat.
Photo courtesy of Jus Lovehall.

First Look Friday: Jus Lovehall is a Musical Loverboy

Rapper Jus Lovehall discusses recording out of his car, eating Bojangles with Phonte, All in Good Faith and more.

The vinyl collection in Jus Lovehall’s home studio is what you might call a tapestry of sound. Set against a beige wall, the set spans decades and genres, from Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness' First Finale to Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap. Nujabes’ Departure(Samurai Champloo OST) sits next to Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. It’s the stuff of a fine-tuned music nerd, but more than that, it’s a stylistic roadmap. Since he wrote his first verse — to Common’s “Nag Champa (Afrodisiac for the World)” as a 13-year-old — the Bridgeport, Connecticut. native has oscillated between boom bap, neo-soul and melodic trap to develop a cohesive fusion of moods and sonic textures.

“I try to take from all those influences I was listening to in the early 2000s, and I try to put my 2023 take on what those songs made me feel,” Jus, a rapper, producer and audio engineer, told Okayplayer. Nearly three years ago, he distilled parts of that artistic approach withStay Safe, an album coated in scat-rap flows, spurts of jazz-inflected soundscapes and lithe melodies. Created with producers Hirsh and Foolie $urfin, songs from the LP have collectively earned millions of Spotify streams, and a cosign from Phonte, who Jus calls a friend and mentor.

Now, Jus, days after appearing on Gareth Donkin’s “Don't Turn The Music Down,” is prepping for the release of All in Good Faith, his second solo project. Developed over the course of six years, the project features all the Native Tongues-inspired raps and wispy melodies that have come to define his style to date. It’s also got contributions from frequent collaborators Foolie, Tekowa Lakica, Addaex and Cee B.

Ahead of the release, he premieres “Mind Tricks,” a track that sees him reconnect with Foolie. Coated in gentle keys and flurries of faint falsetto, the song analyzes relationships of the past and present, whether it’s with others or himself. It’s as delicate as it is reflective, which is probably a good way to describe All in Good Faith.

Jus Lovehall & Foolie $urfin - MIND TRICKS (Visualizer)youtu.be

“I would say it's a mirror,” he says. “It's a mirror for me, but I think it could also be a mirror for anybody who listens.”

Chopping it up with Okayplayer for First Look Friday, Jus Lovehall discusses recording out of his car, eating Bojangles with Phonte, All in Good Faith and more.

The interview below has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Your name is a reference to Love Jones. Can you explain the meaning?

Jus Lovehall: “Jus” comes from my real name Justin and most of my friends when they're talking to me they just say, “Yo, Jus.” I feel like the names we have shouldn't be chosen. People choose that for you. They kind of make that happen, whatever nicknames you got. So “Jus” came naturally because I used to go by my initials, but the Lovehall part, it comes from Love Jones, that's the obvious one, the character Darius Lovehall. But it is kind of a two-way meaning. So it draws from Darius Lovehall, it's really drawn from Larenz Tate as a whole. Darius Lovehall in particular, smooth-talking, poetry, all types of shit. He was in a record store digging for vinyl, trying to impress Nia Long. Just that kind of smooth character that really would do it all for a woman and has a way with words. I kind of was drawn to that because my lover boy ass was like, “Oh yeah, that's me.” I really resonated with that. But I wasn't first introduced to Love Jones. The first time I ever seen Larenz Tate in the movie was Menace II Society. And as we spoke on earlier, I don't just sing, I do rap. I do speak for a lot of different people, different situations, different walks of life based on all the things I've seen and gone through. And O-Dog was quite the opposite of Darius Lovehall. He was reckless, he was ready to raise hell at any moment.

O-Dog was nothing but a product of the things he went through and was moving with survival instincts. And as much as I've been there with the love shit, I've been there with the life shit too. I've been in situations where I got to move with survival instincts. I've been in situations where I'm sure most of us have been in where we want to act on some of the things that O-Dog acted on in that movie. I speak of two sides of the coin, whether it's a location thing or just a mentality thing. When I came to a point of understanding what those movies meant and what those characters represented, I felt like to me that was kind of life right there in itself, kind of right there for you. You look at those two characters, I feel like at times, most of my days I feel somewhere in between.

You’re someone that pulls from some eclectic sounds across generations. On earlier songs like “No Peace,” it’s more boom bap. Then there’s some Kendrick Lamar on songs like “Stay Safe,” but on tracks like “Fold” you get into more melodic rap. And then “Mind Tricks” it’s softer R&B. It’s retro and modern. What made you swirl these aesthetics together?

When I create, it's definitely based off feelings that I feel before anything, but I just know that I'm telling multiple stories and with telling multiple stories comes different sounds with that. You watch a movie and you're not just hearing one genre across the board for the next two hours. It's a multitude of themes, of genres, of sounds, of feelings that make it all make sense. And when I look at just the people around me that I consider family and love and care for, and I look at my story and I think of all the things that I still yet to be told on my end and we get something new to say every day. I try not to even think about the sound per se and just go based off if I hear something and I feel something from it, it's coming from somewhere. It's coming from a real place. It's inspired by all the moments and people in my life. I have friends in the hood that might not want to listen to some Stevie Wonder-sounding stuff. I got friends that love that Stevie Wonder type of stuff that may not want to listen to anything with some hard drums and shit like that. But if I could almost be a bridge between the two worlds — that's why I said earlier why I feel like it's a privilege that I got to see both sides of the coin. Granted, it's unfortunate some of the things that it took to get to that place and from that place, but I'm ultimately grateful just because I wouldn't be the same person I am and I wouldn't be able to create within all different genres.

A few years back, you and Foolie $urfin got a lot of attention when you dropped off your Stay Safe album. But you’ve been quiet since then. What’s been the hold-up for your new solo project?

I figured we can't write about life unless we live in it. And I think because Stay Safe was written about a year-and-a-half prior to the pandemic, and I kind of write based off what I feel and real-life experiences and I know something that connected both Foolie and I, we was both going through our own things in love and in life that really helped [Stay Safe] resonate. That's kind of the basis of all our creations. And I've been working on this solo album for quite some time, I want to say since 2017, 2018. It's kind of just these snapshots of life where I've just really wanted to take my time with it. I struggle with perfectionism, but in that same breath, I'm heavy on just if I create something and three years later it gives me the same feeling I felt when I first created it, then I know I did something. And that's not to be ungrateful, the time we have on this Earth is not promised. I definitely understand that and anything could have happened between then and now. But I also just first of all, got all the faith in God. I got a lot of faith in these records that we create. So it is difficult in this time in this generation where we in a microwave generation, we need everything, all that instant gratification.

But I know that these songs [are] going to live far past our expiration dates and sometimes I'll sit there and think to myself, “What is the reason for any hiatus? Tomorrow's not promised.” But then I'm like, “Yo, if these records could really mean something to somebody or save somebody's life, that means the world.” I mean, I lost my brother in this music shit, man. He took his life in 2015, before he even hit 20 years old. And I think about what he could have needed at that time. I think of whether it is a heavy record or just something that feels good, I always think about my people that's not here on this Earth no more. What could they have used in those times of trials and tribulations? Just like I'm okay with a slow cook if it's going to mean something in the long run.

Back in 2021, Phonte gave you a cosign, calling you and Foolie $urfin’s Stay Safe one of his favorite projects. What was that moment like for you?

It's a crazy story but I’ll keep it brief by saying, bro, flowers, flowers, flowers to the Spotify algorithm. Because there's a world where he never hears anything man, at least up to this point. And he heard our record, played it for the wifey, played it for Pooh, played it for a few others, they all loved it. He was loving the record and he posted about it. The first time I seen that tweet, I was going through some pretty tough times and I'm pretty sure it was the anniversary of my brother Bugsy Malone passing away and it was like four in the morning, six in the morning. I just finished cooking up with my boy Addae at his place in Atlanta and I was getting in the car and I seen the notification. I'm like, “Yo, it ain't no way bro. I must be losing it man. I must be hyperventilating or some shit because it ain't no way. It's too early for this shit.” So I was kind of just like, whatever. And then I seen him Tweet about it and I was like, I literally had, I was in a hotel after I left my boys' crib and I had to walk out and just take a walk around the parking lot and just had a good cry man because yo, especially being raised by a single mother and not having a real-life father figure in my life, I would seek wisdom from a lot of these artists.

And I think you could probably tell by the names that I just, a lot of more introspective writers, people who look at life and talk about it, whether in a heavy way or in a fun way. I think Phonte does a beautiful job balancing the two. But just to know that he was on my side in any capacity was just crazy, man. But that's my boy man, that's really a true friend of mine and it's super cool. We done shared dinners together, said grace over some Bojangles. That's a trip to me. I tell him all the time, 13-year-old me would be running down the block screaming had I known that this friendship would even be a thing — that this mentorship would even be a thing. I have all the respect in the world for him and his family.

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Peter is a writer and editor who covers music, movies, and all things dope.