José James already released his fourth album No Beginning No End, but is just beginning to get buzz after performing on David Letterman last month. He's not quite jazz, not quite R&B, but he blends both genres, including hip hop and electro, to make music outside of the box.
Born in Minneapolis to a Panamanian jazz saxophonist father and an Irish American mother whom he described as a "total hippie into folk and all that protest stuff," James was strongly schooled in jazz.
He studied at the prestigious New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, was a finalist in 2004's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocalist Competition, and recently toured with legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. He's also collaborated with electro hip hop extraordinaire Flying Lotus, giving him some hipster cred.
"A lot of people in my generation, we use hip-hop as a tool to compose," James told NPR. "And then it's the jazz training that let me turn that into a full song."
But like many artists, James doesn't want to be pitted into any one category. Although he recently signed to Blue Note (a jazz label), James produced, recorded and funded his latest album independently in order to highlight his broad musical range.
Evoking a blend of Robert Flack, Gil Scott-Heron, and D'Angelo, James is in good company with eccentric R&B artists like Frank Ocean and Miguel winning Grammys. This just might be James' time to shine.