Whether you know Jharrel Jerome through his Emmy-winning turn in Netflix’s When They See Us, his role in Oscar winner Moonlight before that, or his recent leading role in Prime Video’s I’m a Virgo, the actor has been one of the brightest young stars in Hollywood over the past few years.
Jerome has his sights set on music with this fall’s four-part project, Someone I’m Not. He released the first part, Rap Pack, in August and the second part, Trip Pack, in late September. The other two projects, Love Pack and Trap Pack, will follow, forming Someone I’m Not as his debut album in late 2023.
“I think a lot of the reactions I’m getting were what I expected,” he told Blavity in a recent interview about folks’ reactions to his music.
“First of all, I didn’t put too many expectations in my head. When it comes to me and the music, I have such a personal ease about it, in terms of just letting it out. I’m not looking for anything much. I’m just following my passion. When I’m 45 years old, I don’t want to be thinking, ‘Damn, I used to like rapping. I never really rapped.’ I want to just say, ‘Hey, I dropped some songs for people,’ and I did my part, in terms of my passion. In terms of the reactions I’m getting right now, [I’m] definitely getting a lot of great reactions, and I’m getting a lot of curious reactions.”
Jerome counts hip-hop greats as his inspirations.
“I’m from the Bronx, and I grew up with a young mother, so she was only playing ’90s hip-hop, and late ’80s hip-hop. I grew up on Slick Rick, Big L, LL Cool J [and] Big Daddy Kane. And then I transitioned to falling in love with [A] Tribe [Called Quest] and Eminem and Kanye [West]. I really come from the conscious storytelling side of hip-hop and its roots, but I love the new style too. I could play trap music all day. I could bump Future. I could bump [Young] Thug, but my heart really shaped its love for hip-hop through artists like JAY-Z and Nas and Kendrick [Lamar] and [J.] Cole. And so when I was in high school, it was Kendrick and Cole all day. I think that’s what shaped me in terms of how I want to approach my lyricism, how I want to approach my flow, my cadence [and] characters on the mic. Kendrick and Eminem and Andre 3000 are artists who have played multiple characters on the mic. They never named the characters, but they all played different characters with different cadences. I’m very inspired by that, as well.”
The entertainer admits some folks have been confused by his musical efforts, but not necessarily in a bad way.
He explained, “I’m getting a lot of confused fans. I’m getting a lot of people who are like, ‘This is hot, but what is this?’ I’m getting a lot of people who are like, ‘I love this, but don’t leave the acting,’ or ‘OK, so is it just the music?’ There are a lot of questions going on right now, and it’s a big reason why I even took this long to package my music and let it out. I care about it so much personally. I knew that I would confuse fans, so I wanted to make sure that when I was coming out, I was coming out the way I wanted to and just letting it all fly.”
It was a fortunate coincidence Jerome planned to have this music drop when he had to stop working on acting projects because of the SAG-AFTRA strike. A lot of the music he recorded was years before this.
“All the videos that you’ll see coming out, that I’ll be putting out, I shot all that last year, last summer,” he said. “It may look like I just put it together in the last few weeks and let it out, but this has been a process that’s been over a year in terms of how we release it. It’s been over four years in terms of me making the music. Out of all the records you hear, for example, I made ‘Chinatown’ in 2021. I made ‘The Cycle’ in 2021. I made ‘Mobb Shallow’ in 2022. I made none of these songs this year. It is serendipitous that the Hollywood industry’s going through what it’s going through because I already had a busy year. I was working on a project throughout the entire year, and when the strike happened, obviously, it put it on hold. That hold was just that wake-up call for me and my whole team. It was like, ‘Hey, look, we got all these videos that we had made and we were getting ready to get it going. We didn’t know when, but this is the time. We have all this open space.'”
For those who may think Jerome plans to put his prolific acting career on the back burner, that’s far from the truth. He says he wants to fuse all of his passions, so he keeps his name for music instead of having a hip-hop stage name.
“I do have two passions in my life,” he shared. “Acting…I’ll never leave it. I’ll never go anywhere. I want to do movies and TV for the rest of my life. I want to direct one day. I’m in love with Hollywood and the idea of creating characters. I’m going to always do that, man. But in this little lull, in this quiet period, this was the perfect time to wake my other passion up and just let it all out and get it all out. By November, I’ll have 16 songs out. People are like, ‘Alright, this is cool, but what’s going on,’ especially because of the work I’ve done. I’ve done some heavy work that has cemented the idea of me as a very solid, dramatic actor in most people’s heads. So when I come around and I’m trying to rap and have fun on the mic, it could be a hard challenge for people to grasp, but I love the idea of that challenge. I always have.”
He’s also inspired by multihyphenates such as Donald Glover and Lady Gaga, who seem able to do it all. As Jerome explained, “It almost seemed like he [Glover] never put pressure on either career, he just always did what he wanted to do and created the art that he wanted to do. And he has excelled in both fields, in my opinion. A trajectory like that is what I look up to. I feel like he’s allowed the idea of no limitations and no limits. I think Tupac would’ve been, had he lived longer, would’ve been the first artist to have successfully done music just as well as he was successfully doing film. I think Pac was a serious actor. I think he was only getting better. I think that had a different side of Hollywood would’ve allowed him in, which I think they would’ve been like, ‘Alright, he’s done with the gangster stuff,’ maybe, and [they’d have] let him into big Hollywood movies. They would’ve. And he would’ve been a star, as well as the best rapper out.”
Jerome continued, “When you see A Star Is Born, you’re watching that like, ‘That’s Lady Gaga, I know all her music.’ But you get so lost in her character because she didn’t come to set for the money, she came to set to tell a story. And I think that’s so inspiring. I think Kendrick [Lamar] could do it, too. Even that small role he did on Power blew everybody away. You could tell he didn’t show up to just be Kendrick on set, he showed up to transform. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
For him, the acting and music work hand in hand. But after the release of his music this fall, Jerome has his eyes set on something else than just a new level of fame.
“I’m just easing into it,” he admitted. “I’m just letting it all come to me. What I think will happen is that it won’t necessarily be I’ll have this mass audience of fans as much as I’ll have a certain respect inside the music industry that I’m looking for. And with that respect in the music industry, it’ll allow me to be in rooms with creators and writers that I’ve never had the chance to work with yet. All of the songs that you’re going to hear, I’ve done by myself with creatives that I have met locally and personally in my life in the past four years. And these creatives are all incredibly talented and I want to move up with them. These are people you’ll click and be like, ‘This is somebody new crafting this sound with Jharrel.’ I want to take that very small, tight group and start entering different rooms and different studio sessions. I’d love to just sit as a fly on the wall on a Kendrick session, on a Cole session. Not even say a word, I’m in the back, just looking, jotting thoughts down. I want to meet The-Dream and listen to him write a hook for me real quick. You know what I’m saying? I want to experience that side of the industry.”
And though that’s the goal, he’s not in a rush.
“I’ve been building the acting career, and I’ve just been doing all the music stuff independently, solo. But I want to take what I’ve built as an individual and take it into rooms with people who can grab my style, grab my sound, and help me grow it into some great music. For me, it’s not like, ‘Yo, give me 10 million fans. Give me streams. Let me get on top of the billboards.’ I’m not in a rush at all. I want the respect first. I want to do the heavy lifting and the dirty work. And then come two, three years from now, you start seeing me up on billboards, and you start being like, ‘Oh, this makes sense.’ Hopefully.”
The above interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.