Photographer: Noa Grayevsky
Styling: Jermaine Daley
Luke James is a star whose light is only continuing to grow brighter. In a comment on his VH1 Dear Mama performance, a fan perfectly summed up the effect of his je ne sais quoi: ‘Luke is the ex-boyfriend your grandma gives a lifetime invite to all the family functions.' This April, the New Orleans native captivated audiences as Trevor in Tina Gordon’s Little. The project made history as Marsai Martin, the film’s star, became the youngest executive producer ever at just 14 years old.
James’ credits are as vast as they are impressive. In 2014, the smooth beats and impressive vocals of his eponymous debut album debuted to significant critical acclaim, helping to cement his place as one of R&B's most exciting talents. On the silver screen he has garnered an audience for his work on Star and his portrayal of Johnny Gill in The Bobby Brown Story. The Grammy-nominated triple threat has also written bops for other music stars, including: Justin Bieber, Keri Hilson and Britney Spears' criminally underrated "Kill The Lights". James has developed a close relationship with none other than Beyoncé, opening for her Ms. Carter World Tour in 2013 and also appearing in videos for "Superpower," "Run the World," and the star-studded Destiny's Child number "Soldier." A mentee of record producer Danja, he wowed us during his participation in last year's Soul Train Awards cypher and the award show's tribute to Toni Braxton.
James spoke to L’Officiel USA to discuss his latest shoot with New York photographer Noa Grayevsky, his role in Little, and the plans he has in store.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I'm not exactly sure of the age, but it was definitely somewhere in my single digits. Music was the highlight of my life as a kid and still is. Hearing it was like electricity running through my body. It would stop me in my tracks or keep me geauxing. I knew that if it was inside of me, like it was in others that I admired, then I had to share it quite the same if not more.
Whatʼs one thing everyone should know about you?
I love, love, love—really love—what I do. I can do it all day and all night. Whenever...wherever. I don’t do anything where love can’t exist.
Where are you based right now?
Everywhere, to be exact. I’m a bit of an addict when it comes to light & rhythm. Wherever that is – is where I’ll be. As of right now: New York.
In this shoot with Noa Grayevsky, why did you go in this direction with these photos? The styling was inspired by the 90ʼs film The Five Heartbeats. Did that film have any significance for you?
That film helped curate my dreams of being an artist. I know I’ve watched that film more than 100 times, especially now that I just purchased a VCR. I found the VHS with original casing at a vintage sale and was flabbergasted that it was for sale. But I understand culturally that it has no relevancy to those who aren’t accustomed to our generous culture.
You seem very comfortable in front of the camera. What do you channel when you walk on set for a photoshoot?
God. (joke) But seriously, I just have fun. I tap into the mood and I flow like water.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role in Tina Gordonʼs film Little?
I play a guy named Trevor, who is adult Jordanʼs (Regina Hall) hopeful romantic lover and will bend over backward for her affection.
How did you approach the film in comparison to how you approach music? Is it difficult to switch back and forth? How are they different? How did you make that transition?
All of it is a conversation of feelings. The difference is I didn’t write the script. With music, it’s my pen, my vision, my direction. The only thing that could be difficult is time. Time to do everything. Both are complex art forms that deserve dedicated time.
What do you do in your downtime? If you have any...
Make love and not war. That’s getting harder to do these days. But I’m resilient.
Who inspires you right now?
My mother. She always has. Such grace. My friends. My team. Castmates.
What are some of the pillars of your music?
Funk, blues, soul, jazz, gospel, and hip hop.
We hear youʼre working on new music, what can we expect with this long-awaited project?
Projects. FREEDOM. Four years in the making.
What was the most unexpected part about taking on the entertainment industry?
Talent isn’t enough.
What does Black excellence mean to you in 2019?
What does community mean to you? What do you feel is your responsibility as a public figure in your community?
Love. Stay black and proud loudly.
You killed it in the Soul Train Awards cipher last year. What was that experience like?
Freeing. I had always wanted to do it since Inception. Shit! Ms. Badu, Robert Glasper, Thundercat. Fucking right! I’m grateful that producer Jesse Collins put me on.
Youʼve accomplished so much, what is left on your to-do list?
Stop global warming and the disrespect of my people and all.
Hair: Wade Lee
Makeup: Megan Kelly
Retouching: Amanda Unger
Shot at Urban Myth Studio