Words by Matthew Spence:
Expectation Vs Reality: Discovery Edition
(Think 500 Days of Summer…except less sad)
It’s open mic night; Love Don’t Cost a Thing style. The environment is as intimate as a Sade song on a calm Saturday night. The ambiance is more comforting than a soul sample Westside Gunn will use to brag, about slanging dope and eating pussy, over. From acoustic sets to poetry about a goldfish being lost, yet it’s in a bowl at home (get it—it’s Alan Watts’s level of depth).
Vast characters sharing their passions and joy; such a heavy spirit leaves me touched and yearning for more as the night ends. It was like “artsy crack.” So you know what that means? Correct, go to a gas station and look for Lifesaver Gummies, but after that, time for the Spotify and YouTube rabbit hole. Trying to find music and recapture the feeling. In the rut, I need to count my losses because everyone and everything I come across, I skip, like high school lunch, when it’s my least favorite day. Should I count my losses? possibly, but my optimism has a grip on me. Moments later and minutes past, my enthusiasm is getting lower and my urge to watch Craig of the Creek is getting higher. All of a sudden.
BOOM and BAM.
I came across a song that caught my attention. With drums so heavy that they make me wanna groove like Kanye (You know the clip I’m thinking of). It immediately triggers your instinct to groove as you prepare to listen to the bittersweet lyrics, such as “I think about how much I needed and you could not come through.” The song is BASQUIAT.
Now, I’m sold and curious to check out the rest of his catalog. Soon after, I was done. Rose pedals rained down on me softly, American Beauty style. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the artist: Black Hibiscus
Reality: An average day, musically curious on YouTube, looking at YMS reviews. BASQUIAT was suggested, and I was immediately hooked. Not the most exciting way to discover music, but the feeling still seeps through the music.
His debut EP 2021, Tangerine Days, contains 5 tracks that blend Bedroom Pop and R&B inspirations to create a well-put tangerine flavor for your ears. Contrast fits in between as the title track is a bouncier pop track while the closing track “Faceless” is stripped back and heavy on the content as you’re hit with the lyric “I’m just a nameless face in an endless sea of bodies in a dying land.”.
Navigate yourself to his debut album, 2022’s “The End of the World.” Funk, grooves, tales of love, and the hardships that come with them. Spliced in with the influence of one of his favorite movies: the 2000 classic and IMdb darling, City of God. Containing tracks named after main characters, such as “Lil Zé” and “Angelica.” It’s Indie-Soul that tries to scratch the back of your emotions in one way or another. 1 album and 2 EPs (including his more recent FAST LOVE EP), you wonder: “Who’s Black Hibiscus?” Well, well to get to know Black Hibiscus, we have to first meet the man behind it. JayJay Ugbe.
JayJay is creative in many directions. Making music, creating audio plug-ins (yes, you read that correctly), filmmaking aspirations (he just co-directed his first music video), and looking to design home goods and furniture. Take Donald Glover’s knack for doing so much and give it a 180-degree alternate twist. Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, he’d eventually moved to the US at 13 years old to attend school in Georgia. “[The move] was pretty easy, honestly; I always had a decent time meeting people and making friends. So once I made the move, it was pretty smooth.” Coincidentally, around that age, he began to invest time in learning “the universal instrument,” as Mac DeMarco describes it, the guitar. The world’s favorite feedback maker. “I started off learning covers off of YouTube. I knew some basic chords and cycled through those.” Add in some piano lessons in between, and he’d set himself up for the path of his future musical endeavor.
However, being a musician would have a delayed fuse, as wanting to become a musician didn’t detonate until more recently. ” I started doing COVID. Just in a way out of boredom. I went back home to Nigeria for COVID, and it was midway through my freshman year of college. I was doing online school, but, basically had a lot of free time on my hands. “Continuing, ” So I started making music, started on Garageband, then moved to Logic Pro. Eventually putting out stuff and slowly improving with each release”. However, don’t let the late bloom make you believe his heart hasn’t always been around the world of art. His appreciation comes from the real. ” I had a great appreciation for all these mediums: big fan of music, a big fan of movies, and a big fan of a lot of designers. So with all these things I wanna pursue, it’s from a place of appreciation. Knowing enough about a space and going, ‘If I were to do it, here’s how I’d do it’.
Now on an average day, I got to talk to Black Hibiscus and ask some questions because……….. simply, I wanted to! Uhhhh…. I’ll shut up, and you can read it now.
Black Hibiscus. How did you come up with the name?
That’s a funny story. It was during my Blood Orange obsession phase. As I was making my artist name, I wanted my name to sound like Blood Orange. Black Hibiscus, Close Enough.
Albums That Inspire You/Inspired You?
Negro Swan by Blood Orange, Green Twins by Nick Hakeem, When I Get Home by Solange, and Flower Boy by Tyler [the Creator]. Just so many albums where I understand the vision completely. With those albums, there’s a coherent story—sonically, conceptually, and lyrically. Everything about these projects came together in a way that I could understand and appreciate the artistry in them.
It typically starts with me on the guitar; I tend to just mess around. I have this nice process; as I’m rolling out a project, I’m immediately on to the next one. So the FAST LOVE EP just came out, so now I’m songwriting the next one. So if I’m sitting around and I have my guitar with me, I’ll just play random chord shapes, and every now and then something will stick. If that thing sticks, I’ll start singing along to it. I gravitate towards the stickiest ideas. If I come back to certain chords and melodies in my head, then I record it to a voice memo [to remember], and when I’m ready to start producing, I open up Logic Session. Lay down the guitars, and some drums and let it sit for a few weeks. Go from a broad painting, then start adding finer details until I’m happy.
As he continues, he points out that this is just one of his processes. Like life, getting to a certain destination isn’t always straightforward.
“Each process is different every time I do a project. I’m trying to find what’s best; I think it’s gonna change every time”
How often does film influence your songwriting?
I feel typically not; I felt I was very specific for “The End of The World, but aside from that, I don’t think I ever incorporated film. I don’t think that’s where the cross-pollination doesn’t happen, but it’s something I am trying to incorporate more.
Top Five Favorite Films? (Alliteration)
La Haine, City of God, Vertigo, City of God, and Under the Silver Lake
[However, coming up with that list on the spot was no easy feat for him, understandable though]
Define Your Sound?
I feel that’s something I don’t really think about. I feel with each project I do, I try to incorporate different sources of inspiration and style. A lot of the projects have a lot of “eras” inspiration. So it’s hard for me to pinpoint a sound for Black Hibiscus.
[It was this moment where he explained his idea for a future trilogy called: Black 1999, Black 2000, and Black 2001. A series of albums inspired by Hip-Hop and R&B of the 00s and 2000s. All I know is… I wanna hear that].
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist since your first EP to your latest project?
Definitely a ton; I think I approach art critically. It’s all about asking questions as you go along. With anything, there are key questions I have to ask as I’m making decisions. or making something. As I create something or play something, I can ask myself key questions and make decisions because I’m thinking about them critically. I feel growth in understanding of making and growth as a guitar player. Guitar playing is better, and vocals have gotten better.
However, while improving, he feels that his songwriting could use some tweaking.
“That right now, to me, is the weakest part of the music I put out, and that’s something I’m working towards on the next project I’m already working on. Improving and being more efficient with words. I think Frank Ocean is definitely my number one songwriter as far as wording goes. He’s not extremely hook-oriented; he doesn’t have a million of stuff you can just repeat back, but it doesn’t matter; everything he does is amazing. The amount he’s able to pack into accessible language”
From filmmaking aspirations to audio plug-ins and music making, You have your hands in so many avenues. Any particular goals regarding them?
“I tend to not think in that way cause I feel it allows complacency if you’re extremely goal-oriented. I think the goal for me is growth. The core motivation is to be performing at the highest level and executing amazing work”
What song of yours would be the best for a first dance at a wedding?
Honestly, maybe FAST LOVE!
Creative Burnout vs Imposter Syndrome, which affects you more?
Def. Imposter Syndrome. Even then, even in the past 6 months, I think I’ve gone through an immense amount of personal growth. I graduated college in May [of 2023] and moved to NYC in June [of 2023]. Just to be able to wake up every day, pursue music, and all these other things. Be in charge of myself. I think I’ve come to find myself as a person. And see myself more honestly, which can help you get over imposter syndrome. Creative burnout—I don’t think I experience it. Again, cause I have a more critical approach to making anything. It is hard to get burned out when you have a precise approach to things.
The Importance of DIY?
I think it’s important, but I think my perspective on it is changing a little, especially since I wanna do so many things, so at a certain point, doing every single thing yourself becomes nearly impossible. I think I’m taking a more directorial approach to creation now. All that matters are the ideas & where they come from.
Growing Pains is the album I’m working on right now. That’ll come out around mid-2024, then Black 1999 will be the first of the trilogy, and that’ll come out the year after. But it’s hard to call stuff. I think the next few years will see growth.