Elhae’s name stands for “Every Life Has An Ending,” which is why he lives every day to the fullest. That means providing tunes for the masses to vibe to, relate to and remember. From the smooth sultry R&B to trap heavy bangers, real name Jamaal Jones does not miss a beat.
Exploding on the scene with his Aura EP in 2015, standout single “Situations” had every female singing along. The North Dakota-born, Georgia-raised recording artist has returned with his new album titled Trouble In Paradise, which took a full two years to complete.
L.A. WEEKLY: For those who don’t know, who is Elhae?
ELHAE: R&B singer, producer, songwriter, anime enthusiast, video game connoisseur, cartoonist. I don’t really draw cartoons, but I would love to think that.
Where do you fit in the realm of hip-hop and R&B?
It’s more leaning toward the R&B realm just because the sounds are so melodic, everything is dominantly shifted that way. There are some hip-hop influences as well, especially when I do the trap/R&B style. I’m a music-head, so I love to experiment with different instruments and chords. Try to create the melody first — that’s always big for me.
You relocated to Georgia at 4 years old. How has the A influenced your life and career?
It’s definitely musically and creatively shaped what I do, just because the sound. Everything is so rich and so vibrant out there all the time. Different artists coming up, I feel there’s more artists coming out of Atlanta than anywhere else. Definitely the culture has a big influence on my career more than anything. More than the sound actually.
How important is it to come to L.A. as an up and coming artist?
Well, L.A. is a vibe. I did maybe 80 percent of my album out here, because I wanted to catch a vibe. I catch a lot of inspiration while I’m out here just driving, whether it’s in the day or the night. L.A.’s always been a great place to create for me, I get a lot of energy out here.
At what point did you realize this music thing was forreal?
The end of 2015, I sold out a venue in London. I sold out one of my shows, and I never sold out anything before that. That was the first time I ever sold out a show and I was like “oh shit, this might work.”
Congrats on Trouble in Paradise! How are you feeling now that’s it’s out?
Relieved, more so because of the reception of it. The reactions are dope to see. You put so much time into these projects and you just at the end of the day accept it and love it for what it is. For me, I don’t necessarily create for people. I kind of try to serve myself first, and then hope it falls in line with the fans or touches them in any way. To see it doing that is the best feeling ever. It being out and out of my hands now is perfect, I feel great.
Why’d the album take 2 years to create?
Just timing. Everything is in God’s timing. At the end of the day, it’s making sure everything’s right. Sometimes, that takes a lot of time. Especially when you’re dealing with the music business, that’s the second half of that. ‘Cause the business takes a lot of time to get some of that stuff always worked out. The music is one part, but the business is a whole 'nother part.
Do you consider this one of your best projects?
Oh yeah, by far. Up until this point, it was always a timing issue where I felt like I didn’t have enough time to create. Whereas this time around, we just stripped — I wasn't on socials that much. We took a step back and tried to focus more on creating the best project we could. That in itself.
What inspired the cover art?
At the end of the day, I knew I had this story for it. I had this big idea and concept for it. I never thought of a cover until I reached out to my friend Rich. We had a previous working relationship years ago, and he ended up working with Cartoon Network. This was way before, we kept in touch. He was a fan of the music and always told me if I ever needed anything — and he did it free too. He did the cover for free which is crazy. I asked him, “Do you want anything? We’ll give you money bro.” He was like, “No, I just want to be a part of it. I don't care about any of that.”
That’s crazy. People spend their whole life on a cover.
And it’s beautiful. It’s a really, really beautiful cover. Shout out to Rich.
Talk about the features: Big K.R.I.T., O.T. Genasis, Wale, and Sevyn…
Of course, I was fans of these people before going into it, but it was more so do they serve? Do they make sense for the song? Once I was given some of these ideas, I knew for sure Wale was gonna be on “Still Mine.” ‘Cause he told me ahead of time, “if you ever need anything, just let me know.” When I created “Still Mine,” I knew I wanted him on it. “Sanctuary,” we were going through, trying to figure out who could sound great on that. K.R.I.T. stepped up and was like “I'll do it.” He killed it. My A&R Dallas knows O.T., he put that one together for me. I’m anxious to meet him in person, I haven't actually met him yet. He’s great. Me and Sevyn, we just homies. She’s amazing.
What is like working with Sevyn on the closing track “Moments”?
We worked with Harmony Samuels at his studio actually and created that. He produced it. We started it months before in July, then I came back in August. Me and Sevyn worked together a lot during that time. I was like “yo let’s go to Harmony’s spot.” I didn’t even really expect her to get on it. It was just a random thought like “you should get on ‘Moments’ with me.” She heard it and loved it. We actually ended up creating a whole separate part for her. If you hear the record, the first two verses were the original song, then when Sevyn came in, we decided to completely shift things and go a different direction.
You say “I used to be a player but I ain’t trying to play ya, just playing the game.” Can you touch on that?
That’s what I said? In short, it was more just me saying I’m done with the games. Just ready to settle down and commit. Stop BSing with you and hoping you do the same. I mean, that’s the name of the game. We all have our moments like that, but you gotta settle down one of these days.
You got a girl?
No comment [laughs].
Were there any artists on there you wanted but didn’t make the cut?
Yeah, there was a few. I had a large list going into it but you know, stuff doesn't pan out all the time and it’s all good. At the end of the day, the project ended up being what it needed to be, regardless of those people. I’m happy and satisfied with it, and the fans are as well. You can’t miss anything you haven’t had before.
Was that your mom’s voice on “Let You Pick,” telling you to get back in church.
Yeah, going into “Sanctuary” for sure. I reached out to her way early into the process of creating. I knew I wanted have her a part of it ‘cause she’s such a strong figure in my life. It was something I wanted to make happen, I just didn't know in what capacity. Then I created “Sanctuary” and felt it was fitting because she’s such a God-fearing woman. “Minister” would be a good word for her. She could impart some wisdom and wise words not only to me, but to the listener. She has a great understanding of trying to live your best life, so I wanted people to hear that. She came through in the clutch.
How do your parents feel?
It’s good. She just texted me earlier saying “Sanctuary” was amazing. My dad also is super proud. It’s always good to have the support from the parents.
You mention it was the most fun you had, why is that?
The beginning stages of recording, I took a week out and came to L.A.. We were recording in two different rooms. That was fun to just bounce ideas off of people, different writers and producers. Figure out what it was gonna be, what it was gonna become. That week, I got the name of the album, Trouble In Paradise, which is rare for me because I was always getting it after I create the project, but I knew I needed the title ahead of time to create this project and this narrative. It’s always fun trying to figure out what it’s gonna become, the inception of it.
What is it you want fans to get from your story?
Tapping into raw emotion and letting yourself go there. There’s too many people that hold stuff in and never get it out, but I try to create music that breaks that barrier. I try to break that wall that people have up and get down deeper. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. That’s why people connect with the music so much now, because it’s so relatable and so transparent.
What is your take on the music industry?
It’s like any big city. There’s good neighborhoods, there’s bad parts, too. Depending on your taste, there’s something for everybody out there, and that’s a good thing. But I’m just one man, so my opinion on that is biased. I like what I like, somebody else might like what they like. I don’t see the harm in either one of those opinions.
What did you do with your first advance?
I got a car and built a studio. A Benz. No mine’s still intact. We still good.
What are some goals you set as an artist at this point of your career?
Ultimate goal is to sell out tours, continue to create bodies of work that people deem masterpieces and love. That’s the ultimate success for me, ‘cause I can support my family. I can thrive off of just creating and touring, that’s my favorite thing to do. It’s cool if that’s all that happens for me right now. Of course as an artist, you want to be noticed for your work. The accolades are cool so Grammy's hopefully in the future as well.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Probably behind the scenes doing something with music or audio period. I went to the Art Institute for Audio Production. I was on course to do TV broadcasting and that type of ordeal, so something along those lines.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
Honestly, it’s when people come up to me and tell me how the music helped them, changed their life, save their life. I’ve had people say that they had diseases like cancer, and the music is one of the things that helped them get through that whole situation. It’s a very humbling experience.
Elhae plays with Jordan Wood, NBDY and PJ at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15 at the Troubadour.