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One of the secrets to transitioning from an aspiring artist to a successful artist is determination and that’s just one trait that 24-year-old singer/songwriter ‘Jae Ali’ has always possessed.
Jae Ali, who was born Carlton Watson Jr., on July 10, 1990, grew up about 30 miles south of Chicago where he was surrounded by old school music and jazz. It wasn’t unusual to see his mother watching Soul Train or to hear his father sing along to the radio during car rides.
Like most African American singers, Jae Ali, started in the church choir. His earliest memories were singing in front of a congregation.
“When I was four-years-old, I went before the church and sang ‘Go Down Moses,’ a solo, and my mama got up and said, ‘That’s my baby,’ and everyone was crying and just happy,” he said.
“That’s when I really decided, ‘Wow you can really change some stuff with music,’ like I understood at a very young age, you can make people feel a certain way with music and I knew I wanted to make people feel that way for the rest of my life.”
That wasn’t the only time he recognized the power his voice had on listeners. In the fourth grade, Jae Ali performed “Mama,” a 1997 song by American R&B vocal group Boyz II Men.
“I just remember looking up and seeing everybody crying and I looked at my mama and she was the only one not crying, she was just smiling; she had the biggest smile on her face,” he said.
Over the next two decades, Jae Ali faced doubt and discouragement from others, but he wouldn’t let the negativity hold him back. If he had allowed it to, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
Describing one’s style is always a little challenging. Jae Ali doesn’t believe he fits into one box. There is a lot of hip-hop influence in his music, but he doesn’t fall into just one category. He said that starting out, he was an R&B singer, but now, he admits that that label doesn’t always fit.
A close friend of Jae Ali’s coined the term “Sapper” to describe the young artist.
“One of my friends gave me the genre of being a sapper artist, like a singer and a rapper, because I’m not all the way singing in all of my songs,” he said.
Artists who inspire him include Kanye West, Jay-Z and Drake. Jae Ali admires Yeezy’s charitable acts and how he never neglects his home town Chicago. He respects Jay-Z’s hustle and his business model. And Drake’s lyrical composition motivates him to step up his own songwriting skills. The canadian singer, turned American hip-hop idol’s way with words intrigue Jae Ali. Listening to Drake pushes him to dig deeper with his own lyrics.
But other artists such as Stevie Wonder inspire him as well.
Breaking into the music industry is no easy feat, which is why artists must be hungry. Jae Ali has always been willing to learn and perfect his craft. He first picked up the pen and pad in the fifth grade and started playing around with words with the goal of creating the perfect hook. He performed at local events and in talent shows.
Going to college was the next step and he chose Columbia College Chicago in 2008 for its vocal music program, but he switched over to TV production. During his time there, he was able to network with other aspiring artists, as well as improve and strengthen his singing and songwriting. In 2009, he landed his single “Bet She Like It” on Power 92.3 FM. He was 18.
After that song, his career didn’t take off like he had hoped. The timing was wrong. After working on new music, while juggling his part-time job in the food industry, Jae Ali decided it was time for a change. In April of 2014, he took a train from Chicago to Los Angeles to stay with his cousin Tay Jasper.
“I went out there and I learned, I watched Tay, I listened to him make music,” Jae Ali said.
“From him I created my own little style; it didn’t really come out until a lot later, but Tay made me the artist I am today because it was him who kept telling me to write stuff over.”
While in L.A. he had to work for a rideshare company to keep money in his pockets, but eventually that wasn’t enough. After almost six months, it was time to come back home. His father came down to help him pack and the two drove back to Chicago in the vehicle Jae Ali had purchased while in L.A.
Returning home, wasn’t the ideal situation and Jae Ali said he battled depression. He couldn’t find work and his career still wasn’t going the direction he had imagined it to. At this point, it took friends like Patrice, who became his roommate and his sister Raven to lift his spirits. He had put a hold on music and wasn’t working towards his goal anymore.
Patrice introduced him to her friend Chris Chemistry, a beat producer, who eventually pulled him out of the rut.
“I got back to the point where I was making music again, but it still wasn’t good enough for me so I took another break for like a month and a half, I didn’t record anything, I was still in my feelings, I was really depressed about different things,” he said.
“Chris kept calling, like ‘Bro, just come to the studio, you don’t even have to record anything, just come hang out,’ he said I’ll come get you.”
It was after much persuasion, that Jae Ali once again become united with his love of music.
“When I was at the studio, it was my escape, I didn’t feel that pressure, that pain so bad that I had in my heart,” he said. “The music slowly started to capture me again. I slowly started to fall back in love with music.”
Looking back over the years, Jae Ali said that he has learned a lot. He isn’t as quick to give someone the benefit of the doubt. It only takes getting burned once to be more careful in who you trust. He said that he isn’t as naive about certain things he was in the beginning. He also recognizes that being successful takes time, lots of hard work and true dedication.