Luke James’s palpable love songs are taking us back to good ol’ R&B—and it’s about damn time. The Nola native first put his stamp on the industry as the pen behind tracks for Chris Brown (“Crawl”), Justin Bieber (“That Should Be Me”), and Brittany Spears (“Kill The Lights”), among other big names. It wasn’t until 2013, though, when James was nominated for a Grammy in the Best R&B Performance category (the only nominee without a full-length album), that he started to make some pitch-perfect noise of his own.
Luke’s sultry vocals and transparent lyrics—and evident gym membership—give R&B purists and swooners alike some much-needed rhythm at a time when, the state of the genre, considered, they’ve been dealing with a serious case of the blues. Last year, his talents landed him an opening gig on Beyoncé’s “The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour,” and these days, his charm and muscle-fit tees have earned him the focused attention of breakout U.K. songstress Jessie J. (Lets just say they’re an item.)
We caught up with Luke last month, during a promo tour for his self-titled debut album, to rap about life in New York, his buzz on social media, touring with Beyoncé, and, of course, the luring spell he casts on the ladies.
NYLON Guys: Seems like New York is rubbing off on you. Do you feel at home yet?
Luke: I definitely feel at home. There’s a vibe, man. I escaped L.A., you know. I’m from New Orleans, but I lived in L.A. for a very long time. And I escaped L.A. to come to this beautiful, dark place [in New York], and [initially] I kinda got lost. But I found myself here. So, I love it here.
NG: You seem damn comfortable according to social media. Whoever is taking photos of you on the train at 4 a.m., I hope, is 6’6” and commissioned for your safety.
Luke: There have been some times on that train when you can feel people watching you. My radar is getting good, though. When somebody notices me in the slightest, I can feel the eyes—boom-boom—as soon as they pass. And because I have these damn bionic ears, I hear everything.
NG: Like a Spidey-sense for famous people.
Luke: Yea, yea! And you can’t fall asleep on the train—I know, I can’t. People will try to take a picture of you. I saw a girl try to take a picture of me as I was just waking up. I opened my eyes for one second as she was whispering to her boyfriend. So, I took a picture of her.
Luke: There were a bunch of people, and she was trying to be sneaky through the people that were standing in front of us. I got a good ol’ picture of her. But she did post the photo of me sleeping. I was gonna post one—right back at you, too!
NG: You’ve developed a strong following on social media and seem to be transparent in what you post. Has that helped you connect with your fans?
Luke: Yes and no. I’m not as transparent as people may think. In the beginning, I guess, I was all about secrets and keeping my business to myself. But I hear it; I listen when people speak. They’ll say, “People can’t connect to you; they don’t know who you are,” and “You’re just this mysterious guy who posts weird stuff.” Well, that’s part of my identity. That’s kinda who I am. If you hang out with me, you might get my weird sense of humor. But also, I want people to just understand who I am so, when they hear the music, there’s a connection. I look for Instagram and Twitter to be that bridge, because that seems to be the thing that people read or look at most.
NG: The transparency comes across in your music, for sure. It’s on full display in “Exit Wounds,” especially. Who’d you write that song about?
Luke: Haaaa. Um, you know, there was a point in my life, hence the reason I escaped L.A.—I’ll probably write a song called “Escaping LA”—when I went through a very harsh moment. My life, relationship-wise, was just not good. Things started great and beautiful and then just turned very ugly. So, that song was created for such a moment, when, in the day, everything is all good and beautiful and poetic, and you hope the best for that person, and you become sad [about the break up]. But then, when you’re home alone by yourself, with all your thoughts—especially at night; it seems that’s the perfect time for those punk-ass demons to come out and fuck with you—it gets real. You have no time for being poetic and beautiful and kind. You seriously say, “Fuck you!” It’s that ughh! [moment]. Then you wake up and, you know, you relax.
NG: You toured with Beyoncé before releasing your latest album. I know you get a lot of questions about that, but it’s because that’s a fuckin’ big deal. What did that tour do for your career?
Luke: Shiiit, I gotta say, everything. It opens the door for a different demographic, a different genre of listener. Beyoncé is universal, and having your name next to that name is a privilege; it opens everyone up to really listen. It’s like a cosign. It’s like, with John Legend, when he first came out. Things would’ve been a lot different if Kanye never cosigned him. It kind of opened us up to say, “Oh, oh…oh!”—That’s, sometimes, how it works for certain artists. And it’s a big deal to be on tour and get that love.
NG: And, speaking of love and tours, you met your lady on that tour?
Luke: Well she’s my ex now. That song might come out next year, ha!
Luke: Yea, man, I did. I met a beautiful woman on that tour. You know, being on that tour, you kinda do the same thing. You lead a similar lifestyle. It just worked out. It was cool to see the world with somebody and relate with someone. We’d spend days with those beautiful people—24/7, actually. So, it’s kind of hard not to fall for somebody, especially if you’re open [to it].
NG: How do you manage showing public appreciation for the person you’re with while maintaining your female-targeted image? Because it’s the muscles and shit that bring home the bacon.
Luke: Ha, the fantasy, right? Well, you know, I look at that traditional standard of not revealing certain things to maintain the fantasy, but the truth of the matter is, all those women, they know I’m fuckin’. I gotta be doing something to come up with these songs. So, it may be a heartbreaker. It may feel like a heartbreaker. But it’s all in their head, and that’s all good, because I like to think of my music as an escape. So if they tap in so deep that they feel as though we are, or we can be—OK! Also, understand that I’m a human being. I’m gonna fall in love. I’m gonna fall out of love. I’m gonna have these moments when I show you Luke James Boyd. You’re not just getting Luke James.
NG: You do a lot of things exceptionally well. What's next on your journey?
Luke: I always say [that I’m] expanding my territory. And that’s the goal. But I’m honing in on music and doing the very thing that has gotten me in the door. Last year, I had an opportunity to act in a feature film [Black Nativity]. I’ve done a little modeling, and that’s all great, but right now, the focus needs to be, strongly, on music.
NG: You’re building a strong foundation.
Luke: Definitely! You know, brick by brick. And I want to take my time laying this one brick called music.