Retro Neo: Jenevieve On Looking To Neo Soul’s Rich Past To Build A Future

Keith Nelson Jr. Keith Nelson Jr. is a journalist who has covered hip-hop,…
Jenevieve headwrap
Photo Graphic: Okayplayer

In the latest installment of our neo-soul series Retro Neo, Jenevieve delves into the underrated influence of Zhané, the artists she hopes to collaborate with, and gives an update on her highly anticipated debut album.

Jenevieve is one of those artists whose pillow-soft vocals belies the true weight of her lyricism. She creates a listening experience that is both revelatory and familiar. Take the simmering, Jean Beaz-produced “Medallion,” for example. In less than two-and-a-half minutes the 22-year-old songstress conveys the fear of loss, protecting what you hold dear, and the specter of gun violence with a hypnotizing lullaby voice. Similar to the neo-soul artists she grew up on, Jenevieve is making music outside of conventions.

“When Janelle [Monae] did ‘Tightrope’ I was like, ‘Yes, finally!’ She wasn’t showing skin and was very polished with a suit and tie,” Jenevieve told Okayplayer. “There are specific songs that scream at me and makes me feel good there are people out there that make me feel how I did when I was young.”

Even with only three songs officially released, Jenevieve has begun establishing herself as one of the neo-soul artists primed to lead the genre into this decade. Her “Baby Powder” video generated more than 11 million views on YouTube in her first year releasing music and she’s already prepping her debut album. In this latest installment of our neo-soul series Retro Neo, Jenevieve delves into the underrated influence of Zhané, the artists she hopes to collaborate with, and gives an update on her highly anticipated debut album.

What is your earliest connection to what you believed to be neo-soul?

My mom would always play Joe, India Arie, Sade, and Zhané. I had so many influences. I remember being really young in that Joe world where he was singing “stutter, stutter” and India Arie’s “Brown Skin.” I don’t even know how I remember that. I would ask my mom about it and she’d be like, “How do you remember that? You were like a toddler.” It’s crazy how it sticks with you. My mom is also European, so she listens to a lot of experimental European music. She put me on to Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. 

I don’t hear Zhané’s name a lot. Can you name me some Zhané songs that really connected with?

Of course “Hey Mr. DJ” is the jam and it’s been embedded in my soul since I first heard it. Then, there’s “Groove Thang” and “Sending My Love.” All of these songs just give me a fresh vibe and makes me reminisce on my early childhood years Listening to them also led me to discover other artists that I didn’t know about at first.

As you got older and started to form your own music opinion, what other neo-soul artists did you gravitate towards?

It was mainly Sade. Sade made me want to sing more. Obviously, I had Michael Jackson in there, and he has soul. There was a lot of A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, and Pharcyde. There was a mixture of a lot of things together. 

When you think of the neo-soul sound, what do you think of?

It’s like a coat of warmth. When I was going through things really young, I would always go to Lauryn Hill or just that vibe that makes me feel like I needed it. It is really therapeutic for me. 

Neo-soul finds the grandeur in the normal parts of the human experience. You do something similar with the metaphors in “Baby Powder” and “Medallion.” 

When me and Jean Benz collabed on these songs, I like to look at my surroundings a lot and feel that. A lot of people think I’m weird for that, but I like to feel my surroundings, put a lot of emphasis on it and remember it. 

Who from the new school of neo-soul inspires you?

When Janelle [Monae] did “Tightrope” I was like, “Yes, finally.” She wasn’t showing skin and was very polished with a suit and tie. I love The Internet’s “Girl.” There are specific songs that scream at me and makes me feel good there are people out there that make me feel how I did when I was young.

What was the first neo-soul album you fell in love with?

The My Name is Joe album was my everything. I still listen to it till this day. Songs like “Stutter,” “Table For Two,” “I Wanna Know,” and “5 6 3” were great songs for me. 

You’re a very mysterious artist where you’ve only put out a handful of songs in 13 months and rarely do interviews. In terms of the songs you put out, what is your creative process?

I just do it for me. Myself and Jean Benz, the producer I work with, makes music we love. I’m not like, “Ooh, such and such made this, so I’m going to make this.” If we do do that, it’s going to be from the past of what inspired us. I look to the past to get more inspiration because it made me feel different. 

What neo-soul artists would you love to collaborate with?

I love Syd. I love Willow [Smith]. There are a few artists I’d love to work with. The vibes will always be different. With “Baby Powder,” people think I’ll stay in that lane. I could, and that’s on the second album, but I can do different things. It’s going to be very experimental whoever I collaborate with.

Knowing your style, what is a classic neo-soul song would you love to cover that you feel you can give a nice spin to?

I used to cover Amy Winehouse’s “Stronger Than Me” a lot. I really love Erykah Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know.” I love that sandy, gritty vibe.

Which Neo-soul artist would you like to collaborate with and how would the song go?

There’s a few but if I had to choose today, Solange would be at the top of my list and definitely something vibey 

What do you have coming?

I played it for close friends and family and they can’t say what genre it is. I’m really interested in hearing what people say they think it is. I’m working on it and I want to put it out. It definitely has R&B taste in there and a little bit of pop influences. There’s a little bit of alternative. The album is going to come out mid-summer. I’m really excited. 

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Keith Nelson Jr. is a journalist who has covered hip-hop, technology, and movies/TV for VIBE, Revolt, Digital Trends, Flaunt Magazine, and more. Follow him @JusAire

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