This post first appeared on Vogue Uk

Currently you may know Jussie Smollett from his role as Jamal Lyon in Empire, but with his debut album, Sum of My Music, out now this is all set to change. Finding his voice with this independently released compilation, the tracks highlight Smollett’s silky smooth vocals and a range that takes him from R&B sounds right though to pop and a touch of Hip Hop.


The vocals clearly demonstrate his musical talent, but the visuals prove Smollett more than just a great singer/songwriter. The 35-year-old has a grip on the 360, and this is particularly evident in the video for the third track on the album, “Hurt People.”

“I knew the moment Jim Beanz and I wrote the song how I would visualise it,” Smollett told Vogue. “I said to him the night we recorded it: ‘I’m directing this and we’re shooting it in South Africa.’ I could see it in my head so clearly.”

So the California-born artist headed to South Africa to work with a cast and crew made up of entirely African creatives. “Every single designer used is from a black South African fashion house, every artist, musician, department head, every crew member is too and I don’t feel anything but pride in saying that,” he added. “We need to be celebrating all that we are and where we have come from. Keeping that connection from us Africans that were born elsewhere is a sin.”

The time spent filming the music video might have been Smollett’s first time physically in South Africa, but there was a feeling he had been there before. “It feels like all my life I’ve been waiting and working to get there. I had dreams of how it would be as if I had already been there… because I had,” Smollett explained. “Maybe not my body but my soul has. It was important to not go in with this pompous American attitude that we would use the resources, take from the land and the people, yet give nothing back. When we lose our people we lose ourselves.”

It’s this attitude that makes up the message the record promotes. “The whole Sum of My Music album is about just that. Not losing yourself. And ‘Hurt People’ in particular is about celebrating the breaking of the cycle, getting out of that mental prison and taking off for home.”

The journey to South Africa was particularly influenced by the Mandelas and their ability to have turned “hurt into furthering the fight for power and love. I think – as our mother – Africa should be celebrated. Africa is the original. The prototype. As are its people. When I think of someone who was consistently attacked and could’ve given in it’s Nelson and Winnie Mandela. This video is completely inspired by them.”

With the album completed, videos released and a profile as a musician picking up momentum, you might think Smollett’s excitement has already reached peak. Not the case. As he explained: “Just seeing it from the inception until now has been crazy and beautiful but the most exciting part is yet to come: the tour.” Although UK fans will need to sit tight for performances on British soil, he’ll take to the stage across the US before touring Africa by December. “I feel like the light at the end of every bit of it is singing it live for the people. I’m just grateful and excited.”

Smollett as Jamal Lyon in Empire.


Clearly a personal project of deep meaning, putting it out there will stir emotions for fans of his TV work and those coming to his creative output for the first time. How does this feel for Smollett? “It’s a piece of art and a piece of my heart so I can’t dictate what they’ll understand. It’s subjective. I would hope though that people hear my heart and bob their head in the process. That’s a good feeling.”

His Instagram – boasting an not-to-be-sniffed-at 4.2 million followers – might be littered with fellow famous faces, perhaps most impressively the Obamas, but if there were to be someone to phone him up and sing praises on the record it would fall to two names. “Two Queen Janets: My mama Janet Smollett (she’s my homie so she already loves it) and Janet Jackson (obviously).”

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