When singer-songwriter and actor Luke James hit the scene over a decade ago, critics described him as a rising star with unlimited potential.
The song “Options” featuring Rick Ross from James’ 2014 self-titled album garnered a Grammy nomination — and then his music stopped, at least music distributed by a major label.
James shifted his focus to acting with roles on Showtime's “The Chi” and the movie “Little” with Issa Rae, among others. But now his music is back, and James says his latest album is the first time he's been able to create sounds that authentically reflect his true self.
His latest album “to feel love/d” is a musical reset in the six years since his last record release. He says over those years, he was searching for total love “not just with my art, but just in my life.”
“I found myself falling out of love with music and the whole rigamarole and whatnot,” he says.
So he broke up with Island Records, a move that led him on a path back to finding his creative freedom. Spending time with himself helped him naturally find that love he was craving, he says.
“Shine On” is a meditation on what love means — a futuristic sound that pulls from a chapter in his past. For James, “Shine On” is a memory of what it means — and how it feels — to give and receive love.
The song, he says, is “in some ways a plea for someone to feel OK to love me truly.”
James created “to be love/d” before the coronavirus pandemic began and before the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. As an avid supporter of social justice, he says he uses his art — music — as a way to instill empathy in listeners as humanity evolves.
Some of James’ influences, such as Marvin Gaye, made music during pivotal points in American history, such as the civil rights movement. Like others he admires, James wanted to send a message of hope in his music.
Queue “Gratitude,” a song that contains a message that many need in the current moment.
“If you're ever to wake up and see the sunshine, you're blessed,” James sings. “In the storm, in the chaos, if you still have your peace of mind, you're blessed.”
While writing “Gratitude,” James picked up the phone and dialed choir director and gospel musician Kirk Franklin, who is featured on the record, for some words of encouragement.
Franklin’s “voice of reason” has been a constant in James’ life. If he feels his connection to God is shaking, James turns to Franklin’s music and can “feel it through his music.”
As both a musician and actor, James says he’s drawn to art with purpose — one that tells the truth and advances the culture forward. He says he wants his work to spark honest conversations.
“Anytime I have an opportunity to do that, to tell the story, to shine light on a particular lifestyle that isn't quite celebrated in our time in our world,” he says, “hopefully I can help us get closer and connected to one another and evolve into a loveful space.”
This segment aired on October 26, 2020.