Kenneth Whalum, like all genuine artists, believes in himself. As he should. After spending years as a “side man” for Jay-Z, Frank Ocean, D’Angelo, and others, Whalum – an accomplished sax player – finally stepped out on his own last month with the release of his debut album, Broken Land. “This is a very personal project for me,” he says, and it shows. The debut, an immensely emotional journey with a sultry, mood-altering R&B vibe, is brand new territory for the passionate musician. And anything fueled by pure, unbridled emotions, deserves our full attention. So listen up, and read our conversation with Whalum below. –Maya Eslami
I believe so deeply in the reality of my emotions that I find a hard time releasing music until every single thing reflects the feeling. I did this with this album. I took the time to experience pain. I didn’t run from it. You hear that on these songs. You feel the heartache but you also feel the victory and joy that comes from those experiences. Sonically it is a very clear statement of all these things.” – Kenneth Whalum
WHAT YOUTH: Your debut album is incredibly personal – did the music come first or the lyrics?
KENNETH WHALUM: I think the lyrics came first but he way that I write is just by collecting my thoughts. Not necessarily in the form of a song at conception. So in a sense they are all birthed from the same place.
Was the process cathartic at all?
Yes I believe that anytime you’re exploring thoughts there is some relief. I experienced good and bad emotions while writing. But I think the balance of both ended up providing the desire to want to express these things honestly as opposed to trying to overly dramatize.
Where did you record? And did the location feed your urge to be more expressive?
I recorded in LA and while I was on the riad I did a lot of things remotely. Being in LA helped probably in ways I can’t put into words. Maybe having the sun and vibes of being close to the water sort of counteracted the heaviness of some of the content.
Do you think a setting can alter the end result of an album?
Yes, I definitely do think a setting can alter the end result. But ultimately I think that in each situation what’s meant to be will be. So no matter where you are is just how it was designed. And it was affect it in that way.
You’ve spent years touring as a sideman. What’s it like for you now, stepping out on your own?
It feels great because I always knew I wanted to step away. It’s not quite the popular decision when there are bills to pay to turn away concrete situations. But I believe in myself and my art. I know that things will be great.