Photo by Gabriella Ferrigine
Sep 27, 2023
From Virginia to Bed-Stuy, Jesse Boone remains ‘Close to Home’
The indie rapper’s new EP, out this week, encourages its listeners to reflect on their own private Classon Avenue
From across the table in the cloistered backyard at Café Calaca, an empanada spot on Franklin Avenue, Jesse Boone is explaining that he loves a challenge — even when he’s not entirely up to it.
“I came in here yesterday and the guy at the front was like, ‘Look, if you answer seven history questions correctly, you get a free pastry.’ And I get a kick out of stuff like that!” says the indie rapper, hip-hop artist and producer. “I lost — I actually did pretty bad,” he laughs, in a voice that is at once gravelly and smooth. “I got three out of the seven right. I was like, yo, how did I not know that AC/DC was from Australia?!”
But Jesse Boone is unphased, undeterred and unbothered, a 28-year-old expert in the subtle art of manifestation. This is a man, after all, who journals affirmations. But Boone also knows it takes more than hokey routines to get what you want out of life. The “100 percent optimist” is also a 100 percent realist and equally as sure of himself: Earlier this year, he left behind the comfort of a yearslong job at the streetwear retailer Kith to pursue making music full-time.
“The biggest lesson for me this year is putting yourself in a position to BUILD the life that YOU choose,” Boone wrote in an Instagram post announcing the shift. “Only you know what that looks like, and only you know what you have to do to go get it.”
On Tuesday, the Brooklyn-based multi-hyphenate dropped what he calls his “introduction letter” in full: “Close To Home,” Boone’s first EP under his given name, comprises seven tracks that pay homage to his roots and announce his arrival, not as a rapper with an alias, but as his most authentic self. “I wouldn’t be able to move on with who Jesse is without speaking on why I am who I am,” Boone says.
‘This is gonna work’
To hear his friends tell it, Boone’s self-assuredness is not a facade. He’s motivated — in an admirable, as opposed to annoying sort of way — and always has been.
“Jesse’s always had this super crazy faith and super crazy confidence,” his girlfriend, Mikayla Baker says. When they first met at 18, one of the first things Boone told Baker about his music journey was, “This is gonna work.”
“And not even to the point that it seems arrogant,” she adds. “It’s kinda like, you believe it. He’s got this sense of, ‘I’m pursuing this and I’m telling you it’s gonna work out. I feel it in my bones. I’m not saying it to boost my own ego — it’s what I’m made to do and it’s gonna work out’.”
It’s an unflappable approach that his friend and fellow independent artist Chris Goings says is a “foresight and discernment that not a lot of people have.”
“Anything is possible, in Jesse’s mind. He doesn’t like ‘no.’” On occasion, Goings watches old interviews and music videos of Boone (something he’s never admitted to his friend before). “He’s the same person,” Goings says. “He’s always been this driven, he’s always wanted it this bad.”
Boone first made a splash in March of 2017, when as a senior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, he became the first ODU student to perform at the Ted Constant Convention Center, an auditorium with a capacity of 9,000, as part of the university’s spring concert. Boone, who at that time had a humble following and was performing under the alias “Huey Supreme,” opened the show for Lil Uzi Vert, the chart-topping Philly rapper known for angsty lyrics and pumping his sound full of punk grunge-meets-drill beats.
“Without a doubt, that concert was my big break,” Boone says. “It helped me start telling the story of who I am.”
4 a.m. on Classon Ave.
Raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, Boone moved to New York in 2017, not long after that big gig. “I was starting to hamster wheel in Virginia,” he says. Though Boone will always love the slow, static hum of Virginia, and, of course, the full-bellied feeling of moments shared with his large family — Boone is one of 10 kids — the environment ultimately left him bereft of artistic inspiration.
He first landed in Harlem on 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, a brief but beautiful stint, before hopping boroughs to live with friends in Flatbush. These days, Boone lives in Bed-Stuy on Classon Avenue, which is also the title of the first track of “Close to Home.”
“At 4 a.m. on Classon Ave. is where it starts to make sense, it starts to take form,” Boone raps in the song, which has a hazy, nostalgic sound, as though he is reflecting on the past from an appreciative present.
“I wrote it at 4 a.m. on Classon in one shot,” Boone tells me back behind the cafe. It’s a soupy day, but Boone — clad in a thick black t-shirt — doesn’t seem to mind, perhaps owing to years spent fishing in Virginia’s subtropical climate.
“Basically, the song overall is just about where I’m at,” he says, skimming his hands over his ears, which are poked through with gold-studded diamonds. “Overall, it just speaks to being present, being still. It’s kind of all here with me — this is where I’m at, this is the way I feel, this is where I want to be.”
The entire EP — produced by Benjamin Bradley, with the exception of “Just Another Day,” by Nepa — is imbued with a simultaneously wistful and enterprising spirit. You can hear hints of his influences throughout: Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z, Andre 3000, Bob Marley. Boone’s voice has just a hint of Kendrick Lamar to it, tonally. His laid-back sound and buoyant lyricism set the listener at ease, making them feel as though they are in the company of an old friend making good on the “only promise” he made to you: “I won’t stop.”
“I’m a man of my word, this is a song for the world,” Boone raps in “Bussin.” Elsewhere, on “Love Me Now” and “Close To Home,” Boone exhibits a forward-looking mentality and a fierce self-love. To borrow from Yogi Berra, wherever he goes, there he is: “No matter how far I go, I’ll always find a way back home.”
Since setting up shop in Brooklyn, Boone has made a name for himself at popular venues like Baby’s All Right and Friends and Lovers, and has amassed nearly 17,000 monthly listeners on Spotify to date.
“This [Brooklyn] is really where I’ve been able to grab a footing and find intentionality of what I want to do and what I want to say,” he says. “Through Brooklyn and New York, in general, I’ve been able to expand who I am creatively. Brooklyn is extremely pivotal in who I am and where I’m going. It’s my second home.”
Throughout, “Close To Home” mines life’s interstices, the moments when window tints tumble and friends drop into chairs, laughing and passing cold drinks between fingers. It invokes early mornings and the soft, dull glow of street lamps at the corner of Fulton and Classon Avenues in the gloaming of summer nights. It reminds you that home is wherever you need it to be and that your path, to use his own word, is “undeniable.”
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