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How Toronto's Jahkoy plans to become the male Rihanna

Del Cowie

Listening to the sincerity of R&B singer Jahkoy’s performance on his latest single “California Heaven,” from his brand new Foreign Water EP, you’d think the ode to the Golden State would have been written by a native son. You’d be wrong, however. Jahkoy is actually a Canadian R&B singer born and raised in Toronto, but as the song suggests, he is someone who is rapidly making himself at home south of the border.

“I was spending some time there,” Jahkoy says, of his previous stint in Los Angeles attempting to get his career off the ground. “I was there most of the year, but I wasn’t living there. I was pretty much in and out of L.A. and New York and Atlanta. I wasn’t really in one place. I was all over the place trying to kind of get a lot of things done at once.”

Hopscotching all over the United States paid off for the 22-year-old singer. Jahkoy is now signed to the famed Def Jam label and counts actors and influencers like Jaden and Willow Smith among his cadre of fans. Additionally, since he’s signed his deal, Jahkoy has played festivals like Osheaga and Pemberton in Canada as well as Lollapalooza in the U.S. and European dates this past summer. Jahkoy did move back to Canada after securing his deal, but now with his promotional duties for Foreign Water ramping up, the singer has moved back to Los Angeles. Despite this, he still maintains his familial ties to Toronto.

“I was a big troublemaker so I was moved around the city pretty often,” Jahkoy admits. “And so I grew up in the Jane and Finch area with my mom and I had my aunts and uncles in the Lawrence Heights area. So I was pretty much back and forth.”

The artist born Jahkoy Palmer soon diverted his energy into being a dancer and made his debut as a rapper at a York University talent show, assuming the name Raheem. Eventually he changed his stage name to his birth name just before issuing the 2013 hip-hop mixtape Dying to Live Forever. But it was attending a Disclosure show in Toronto that changed his musical outlook.

Jahkoy went to the show to see opening act Vic Mensa, but was entranced by the Lawrence brothers’ roof-rattling performance. “I had never heard of Disclosure at all and they had this sold-out show and it was beyond anything I had ever imagined for an artist to be.” Soon enough, Jahkoy tried his hand at being an R&B singer and began to consistently and regularly post music to his increasingly popular SoundCloud page (including tracks like “Odd Future” and “Smile”). One song in particular garnered more attention than others.

“It was actually “Still In Love” that got some attraction on SoundCloud and it got into the hands of many more than I even knew,” says Jahkoy. “Still to this day I’m finding out people they’ve been playing the record non-stop which is really crazy to find out. But it’s super awesome because I get to hear about people appreciating the music and just enjoying themselves with it.”

“Still in Love” alerted several labels to Jahkoy’s talent, eventually reaching the Def Jam offices. After meeting with label executive No I.D., he soon signed on. It’s been a quick ascent for Jahkoy, and he’s quick to point out he’s still learning.

“I’m not collaborating with anybody at the moment because I feel like I’m still finding my sound,” he says. I’m still growing as an artist and still finding myself vocally because I’ve only been singing for a couple of years and I was rapping before that. I still want to discover myself as an artist more and I don’t want to get into collaborating until I’m fully at the peak where I feel like, ‘This is me, this is who I am.’”

However, when he is ready to collaborate, Jahkoy has one artist in particular in mind.

“My manager always asks me who do I want to collaborate with and Rihanna’s one artist I would love to collaborate with sooner or later,” says Jahkoy. “I just love the way she goes about music and her approach and perspective because she doesn’t hold back anything. A lot of times people will say, ‘Oh Rihanna, she can’t sing that well.’ But what makes her special is her tone of voice, just her character and personality it comes out and it shows and so that’s what makes her a great artist.”

Jahkoy is effusive in his praise of the singer, taking note of her broad sonic approach. “She’s able to tap into 'Four Five Seconds,' which has the little country element. Or she has records like 'Work' that are super dancehall-influenced. I feel like there should be an artist that does the male version of that. But there isn’t right now, so I feel like potentially I could be that one.”

Towards that goal, Foreign Water presents Jahkoy experimenting with a variety of sounds. Aside from the reggae-tinged “California Heaven,” the project features acoustic, guitar-driven songs like “No Regrets” and “Selfish,” a Boi-1da-produced track. The latter song draws on the loosely ambient sound becoming synonymous with current Toronto R&B through Drake-associated producers like Boi-1da and artists like the Weeknd, Majid Jordan and dvsn.

“I switched the name to Foreign Water and that stemmed from a lot of interviews asking me where I’m coming from, you know, with the rising stars coming out of Toronto,” says Jahkoy. “They always assume there’s something in the water, so I used it like a play on words for my first project.”

While enthusiastic about the attention the city is getting, Jahkoy doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed with the "Toronto sound" tag.

“I try to step out of that world and just stand alone,” Jahkoy says. “I don’t want to be in the shadow of anything that’s going on. I just want to kind of have my own stance. I want to build my own empire. I totally love what’s going on in Toronto and it honestly it makes me so proud. I want to see my people grow and see my people make a statement in music today and lift the Toronto energy because right now Toronto is in a great place. They’re giving it a spotlight around the world. They want to go to Toronto, they want to see what’s going on around there. They want to visit the CN Tower. I totally love the spirit of that and I’m totally behind it 100 per cent.”

Purchase Jahkoy's Foreign Water EP here and listen to the release below. 


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Songs you need to hear: Jahkoy, "Odd Future"