Jahkoy Palmer might think "heaven's California," but he still says there's no place like his hometown.
Jahkoy has joined a legion of Toronto artists making a splash internationally. The genre-blending singer and rapper has been dubbed one of Billboard's "artists to watch" and is currently on world tour with American singer Kehlani, playing to sold-out crowds around the globe.
He recently sat down with CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond to talk about his early years, his music, and Toronto's signature "swag."
Jahkoy grew up in Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood, where he started making music as a kid in his family's apartment and writing poetry at age 11. At first it was just for school, but he soon realized poetry could be a form of escape.
"I was a really shy kid. I wasn't able to really speak to people, so I found that [was] my way of expressing myself and getting my thoughts out," he said. "And through my poetry, people could really get a sense of who I was."
From there, Jahkoy started reading a lot of Shakespeare —a writer who had a big influence on him.
"The way that he told his stories and the template that he used to format everything is very similar to the way I write my music."
His family moved to the Don Mills-Eglinton area while he was in high school. Jahkoy attended Brebeuf College, an all boy's Catholic school, where his mother hoped he'd stay focused on academics.
"My mom was like no, no, you need to keep to your books, that's more realistic," he said. "But I just stuck to what my heart was telling me."
L.A.and Jaden Smith
At age 20, Jahkoy took a chance and moved to Los Angeles. He didn't have a game plan, he said, but he quickly started networking when he got there.
"Five days within being in LA, I linked up with Jaden Smith," he said.
"The summer before that year I watched every season of Fresh Prince from top to bottom. It's crazy."
People knew about his music from SoundCloud and started reaching out to him—and things started happening.
"When I went out to California I was finding myself in places and situations that were helping me grow as an artist. It was helping me discover things about myself that I didn't know I had within me," he said.
"That to me was like finding my purpose. And that's why I say heaven must be somewhere in California, because my purpose was finding heaven."
'Genres are dead'
Jahkoy says he taps into many genres in his music—R&B, reggae, house, some country. He doesn't think modern music can really fit into categories.
"I feel like genres are dead right now," he said. "With the technology that we have right now, there's so much fusion of sounds, it's like good music is good music no matter what."
Jahkoy's mother is from Jamaica and his father is from East Africa. He said his mixed background has given him a "taste of two different worlds."
"I get to infuse it into one blend."
He grew up dancing to Caribbean music at home, he said, which prompted his love of music and inspired the kind of music he wants to make.
"The music that I grew up listening to had that oomph...I was like I want to play that record at my wedding," he said, adding that a lot of today's music is "not in the greatest space."
"It made me feel at home... I want to bring that unity, that peace and that great energy [to my music]."
His hometown of Toronto has also had a big influence on his music, he said, and he's eager to introduce other people to the city.
"There's a certain swag that comes out of the city," he said.
"The industry is really getting a taste of Canadian music. We have a different approach and we're doing it well. I'm excited to be a part of that world."
"When I went out to California, I went in that space and I was so Toronto. Everybody around me could sense that I was from out of town.
"I'd say I'm from Toronto, and people were saying 'there must be something in the water.'"
Right now Jahkoy is on a roll. He released his debut EP Foreign Water last October, and superstars like Pharrell Williams, Drake and Elton John have been giving him props.
But Jahkoy said he's not planning on slowing down anytime soon.
"It's crazy. It just lets me know that I just have to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm in a good space and everyone can see that I'm super hungry for it. I'm not stopping anytime soon. This is going to go now until forever."