This affair between myself and Luke James began six years ago during an episode of 106 & Park (R.I.P). The music video for “I Want You” was premiered and immediately, I was hooked. This newfound obsession came with the wanting for him to gain as much exposure and success as possible, but, things haven’t quite gone the way I expected them to.
In the beginning, things were going just fine. In 2011, corresponding with the release of “I Want You” was his first solo mixtape “#Luke.” The project included nine tracks and out of the nine “Soldier,” “Made To Love,” and “Signs of Rain” are the standouts; along with “Evol ot Edam” (intro/outro) which seem to take inspiration from Janelle Monáe’s “Neon Gumbo” by reversing a section of “Made To Love.” The tape did a good job of providing new fans, like myself, with music along with keeping his name out there. He was also performing at various places and eventually landed a spot on the BET Music Matters Tour.
The next year saw Luke releasing even more music, with a new project “Whispers in The Dark” which was hailed as a “free album.” The free album/mixtape received critical acclaim from R&B fans, for good reason. From the bluesy sounds that are present on “The Blues” and “Be Bad” to the soulful sounds of “Mo Better Blues” and “Strawberry Vapors,” there’s something here for everyone. “Oh God” and “Hurt Me” both feature more modern production that not only compliment his vocals but will also make your head nod; I can’t forget to mention “Heart Beat,” this track may very well be the definition of sensuality.
At this point things were looking up for Luke James, “I Want You” was nominated for a Grammy, he was cast in the film “Black Nativity” and the Queen herself chose him to open up her “Mrs. Carter Show World Tour” – #Goals – his connection with Frank Gatson probably aided in that decision but ultimately it was a good look either way. The publicity received from being associated with Beyoncé is enough to assume that new music would be on the horizon, we just weren’t aware of how long the horizon was. The tour lasted for over a year without any new material being pushed and the window of opportunity was closing.
Eventually, however, Luke’s debut self titled album arrived. The lead single “Options” – that features an unnecessary Rick Ross verse, but thankfully there’s a solo version – was released. Songs like “Glass House,” “Dancing In The Dark,” “Exposé,” “Insane/Bombin Out (intro),” “TimeX (interlude),” and his cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” are all good moments. The album seemed to be released and then immediately forgotten about on his team/label’s part – not to mention the entire album was posted on YouTube before the RIAA actually counted views towards sales. Although I still enjoy the project, there seemed to be something missing from it as a whole, but for a debut album, it did a good job of itching the scratch that fans had for new music.
After the albums release there was radio silence apart from two songs, “Bad News” and the cover of Sade’s “Pearls” – both courtesy of producer TrakGirl. No new singles from the album were released, no new snippets appeared, nothing. Was Luke being Maxwell’s understudy for the role of the Deadbeat Dad of R&B?
It took a while but eventually, we found out that Luke would play Johnny Gill in BET’s Biopic miniseries “The New Edition Story.” It still feels as if this just premiered because the NE Fever is still real. The series premiered in late January of 2016 and the hype surrounding the cast lasted well after the three day special ended. Each cast member received more press than they probably ever have before, so once again it was only right to assume new music from Luke would follow – I’m really striking out at this “assuming” thing – but of course it would be too much like right to have a singer have music ready following such a successful mainstream project.
About a year and six months after “The New Edition Story” is when Luke and co. thought it would be the perfect time to release new music. “Drip” was then delivered to the world and it honestly was worth the wait. The song does an amazing job of capturing Luke’s soulful sound while feeling completely nostalgic without being “dated,” the lyric video also took things up several notches. I felt like a child who discovered D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” for the first time.
It seemed as if things were looking up – are you noticing a pattern? A remix for “Drip” was released three months later that featured rapper A$AP Ferg, and just like Ross’s feature on “Options” he added nothing to the song whatsoever. In late November of 2017 Luke performed at The 2017 Soul Train Music Awards, singing “Unbreak My Heart” during the tribute to Toni THE Braxton. While the tribute as a whole received complaints from fans, Luke hit a high note and all was right in my book. The troubling thing about his appearance at the show, for me, was the fact that he didn’t perform “Drip.” I feel as though that’s a testament to what ‘not fighting for your artist’ looks like. I can’t think of any reason why his team wouldn’t fight for him to perform “Drip,” especially when the remix was released a few weeks prior to the show airing. Luke also landed a spot on FOX‘s show Star.
When I talk about Luke James with friends who are also fans of him, it turns into a conversation that’s filled with “should’ve, could’ve and would’ve.” He’s been a solo artist releasing his own material for the past six years, he’s no longer a new artist and it seems like his label/team don’t know what to do with him. In an age where artists categorized as “singers” are turning to more of a rap sound, gangster persona I can see how it could be difficult to push Luke without changing the image of his brand to something that wouldn’t benefit him at all in the long run. When you have established artists like Usher, Tank and Chris Brown all adapting/chasing the sounds of the “Trap&B” crowd it could be easy to be swayed in that direction. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Last year we saw Daniel Caesar, DVSN, Brent Faiyaz and H.E.R. all establish themselves with projects that strayed away from the “Trap&B” concept, while receiving praise for doing so. Childish Gambino released an entire album centered around Funk, Blues and Soul while not rapping on any of the songs and “Awaken, My Love” is arguably one of the best albums to come out in the last few years; that’s proof enough that people still crave that sound no matter what’s deemed as “popular” at the moment.
It’s also troubling noticing that Luke hasn’t been on any other tours besides “BET’s Music Matters Tour,” “The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour” and Jessie J’s “Sweet Talker Tour.” Maxwell & Mary J. Blige toured in late 2016 with Ro James as the opening act, Tank also went on tour in mid-2017, to support his latest album “Savage,” that featured Sammie as an opening act. I’m not sure why the team is reluctant to just let Luke sing, it’s that simple. The fans are already present especially after the NE Story, the support is there, but it’s difficult to support an act without product and consistency. Luke himself even seems unsure of what will come next.
I know it’s a part of his social media handles but if they aren’t careful, a few years from now the question will really be “who is Luke James?”