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Luke James On Love, Intimacy & Who He Is As A Lover

The R&B artist is baring it all and putting it on record.

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I'll never forget the day one of my best friends introduced me to an artist who, unbeknownst to me, would soon become one of my favorite vocalists from that day forward. It was about seven years ago, in the middle of winter and we were on our way to a kickback, comfortably packed in her car with a few of our mutual friends. She suddenly grabbed the aux cord and eagerly asked, "Have y'all heard 'Strawberry Vapors' by Luke James?" The rest of us collectively shook our heads and eagerly awaited for the sound to permeate our ears. "Just wait 'till you hear his voice," she warned. "It's insane." Fast forward to today and the word insane feels like a gross understatement to describe the musical gift that is Luke James.


It's about mid-morning when our call connects and Luke is surprisingly calm, cool and collected. There's some hustle and bustle in the background, which is understandable seeing as how in just a few short moments, he'll be headed to rehearsal and subsequently showcasing his God-given talents in front of thousands of adoring fans for an intimate concert experience at the House of Blues in his hometown of New Orleans. How does it feel?

"Magical," he admits honestly to xoNecole. "I'm feeling very magical."

And why wouldn't he? It's a blessing to be back in the city that not only helped shape his musical appetite, but a city that continues to show immense support and undying love. And as a thank you, James is inviting those same fans to connect with him as he soulfully and skillfully expresses his angst and his admiration over a prize we all are seeking but few of us ever really possess: true love.

Photo Credit: Alexander Black

At its core, James' sound is sonically superb. But at its highest? It's seductively sensual, commanding attention from your spirit, soul and body all at the same damn time. With a discography that boasts songs like "Make Love To Me", "I O U", "Exit Wounds", and "Drip", the "These Arms" singer 's voice carries and produces a feeling unlike any other. And his latest album, to feel love/d, is just another near perfect example. The album is a smooth culmination of easy mornings, lovely days, and late nights. It's the cool breeze that blows when the sun peeks out from under the clouds after a storm. The goofy dance you do with the person you love on a lazy Sunday morning and the soothing sway of a porch swing at dusk in the South. The nine-track love letter covers almost every emotion present when it comes to dealing with love and intimacy and is a solid nod to all things soul, funk, and R&B. It's also a timely treat for long-time fans who have been waiting patiently for the talented multi-hyphenate to bless us with something other than his impressive acting chops (looking at you STARand Little).

We got the chance to chat with the artist about all things love and music, and here's what he had to say.

xoNecole: A lot of your music comes across as very sensual and ethereal. Is that on purpose? How are you able to consistently channel that?

Luke James: Honestly, I try to live in the truth when creating my art. The end result is all God, I guess. I really follow the theory of some of the greats like Quincy Jones, and I just leave room for God. And I think that's what you're hearing.

'To Feel Love/d' is out. What’s your favorite song off the album?

You know, it's really hard to answer that. Each song marked a period in life for me and I feel like if I never had those moments, I wouldn't probably have this album. I wouldn't have this particular perspective on love, being loved, what it means to love someone else and what it means to receive love. So it's really hard for me to pinpoint one song.

I can’t be mad at that. So tell me, what’s your earliest or best memory of what true love was supposed to look like? 

I don't quite remember when my mother had me (laughs), but I'm sure that's when it happened. I think that's the truest form I've seen and felt throughout my life. My mom is the truest form of love that I've witnessed thus far from a human being. You know, for mankind, it's quite difficult because we're just 'know-it-alls'. It's really hard to just let the mind go and lead with your heart. But when you find someone who just can't help but love you, you know it. You can feel it, it's undeniable; it's everything.

Photo Credit: Alexander Black

"It's really hard to just let the mind go and lead with your heart. But when you find someone who just can't help but love you, you know it. You can feel it, it's undeniable; it's everything."

Speaking of undeniable, you have an effortless ability to make women feel all the feels when it comes to your voice and your sound. When you hear the word love, what feelings come to mind?

Well, trying to be as honest as I can right now: I'd say sadness and joy. Those are the two words that come to mind. You know, love is hard. But when you get past that place or find that place where love isn't hard--then you can find that joy. Because it's beautiful to surpass sadness with love and through love to find joy. For some people, love is giving up something in some cases. For others, their perspective is that love doesn't mean giving up something. And why should they? Why should they have to give up something for something that should be easy and open and receptive and uncompromisable and forgiving?

What scares you the most and excites you the most about finding true love?

The freedom is what excites [me] the most. When you have freedom, you have support and that's beautiful. What scares me about it, is maybe it not being equal. You know? Maybe I'll love a little less or love a little more than someone else. And that can be scary because how would you know? How do you gauge that?

When it comes to physical intimacy versus emotional intimacy. Which one, if at all is more important to you?

I think I'm more into the emotional part of it…

Why is that?

Because the physical is inevitable, but the emotional is not. If you can have both or work your way to get both, then it's beautiful. But I would start with the emotional aspect of it first and then the physicalities will work itself out. It'll be a lot sweeter, more profound and fulfilling if the emotional cup is full.

Who is Luke James as a lover?

Wow. I like that, that question is cool (laughs). Wouldn't that be a little narcissistic though? Because I could say I'm an amazing lover and someone else who's been around could be like, "Nah." I can tell you who I am to myself, like who I think I am.

(Laughs) That’ll work too.

OK (laughs). Thank you for that. I am--hard on myself. But I am also easy. I don't always see myself, but when I do, it's a breath of fresh air. I would say I am awesome, but someone else might say I am hard to deal with or indecisive. But I am kind. I am love-full, love is who I am; it is me. Maybe my empathy for what I feel in the world sometimes though, makes it hard for someone or for myself to even feel love. It's a lot, I feel everything.

Photo Credit: Alexander Black

"I don't always see myself, but when I do, it's a breath of fresh air. I would say I am awesome, but someone else might say I am hard to deal with or indecisive. But I am kind. I am love-full, love is who I am; it is me. Maybe my empathy for what I feel in the world sometimes though, makes it hard for someone or for myself to even feel love. It's a lot, I feel everything."

Being an empath, what would you say are your love languages? 

Communication and time. I'm not as open as I may appear to be. I'm pretty much isolated a lot, so giving my time is pretty valuable to me. And I'm sure it's valuable to my friends and the people who love me.

What do you know now about love that you didn’t know before?

I know nothing (laughs). I know nothing at all but I think that's a part of the beauty of that particular rollercoaster. You know love is up and down, round and round, fast, slow, high and low. Love is also alternating, it can change--and you can make it what you want it to be. But I also think love is honest. It's 100 percent honest, there's no bullshitting in love and when there is, you know it. Love will show it. It's a never-ending story, I'm riding through life.

What’s the biggest difference between the Luke at the start of your career and the Luke now?

I am not green. I am not moved by a lot of things. I'm unimpressed. I am not complacent. It's not about being able to just sing and write songs, or act—it's much more than that. There's much more to me. I think early on I was OK with letting people make decisions and drive the car. I prefer to sit in the driver's seat now.

To Feel Love/d is available to stream everywhere now and for more of Luke, make sure you follow him on IG: @wolfjames.

All images courtesy of Luke James

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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