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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 STAR and 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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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