I was advised against it by everyone around me,” Josh Levi reflects. For the 21-year-old singer and actor, the decision to leave his former band, Citizen Four, was crucial. Earlier in our conversation he had professed his love for rockstars, and from Beyonce to Prince, his definition incorporated those who “go in the opposite direction without batting an eye.” Like his inspirations, Levi did just that: he called the president of the label they were signed to informing him of his desire to be a solo artist, and was in turn commended for his brazen approach and supported in the decision. “You have to be brave in this industry,” he insists, “I think people try to make it seem like you’ll fail by doing what’s best for you sometimes, but that’s the biggest lie.”
Levi is no stranger to the entertainment industry, having started acting in the Emmy-winning television series Friday Night Lights at just nine years old and later earning a spot as an X Factor finalist in 2013. The release of his debut solo EP, “DISC ONE”, however, is a step into new territory, an opportunity to showcase the independent vision he’s been cultivating. “It feels like an intro, a start to something new… Like they say in High School Musical,” he laughs, as we talk about the project’s inception. “I’m releasing something that represents me more than anything I’ve ever put out. It feels like I’m telling my story.”
The eight-track EP captures Levi’s multifaceted nature, demonstrating his versatility as an artist but establishing a cohesive sound that feels firmly his. Drawing from his personal experiences, “DISC ONE” resonates through its vivid, almost familiar atmosphere — feelings of nostalgia, longing and exhilaration almost tangible. Flitting between different genres, there’s essentially a song for every- one — from melodic, questioning love song “DON’T THEY” to the persistent beat and textured sounds of “WHITE LEATHER”.
Overalls by KARL KANI and shoes by ROMBAUT, necklace (with pendant) by ROOM101, chain necklaces by DALMATA, bracelet and rings by THE GREAT FROG and earrings by THE M JEWELLERS (RIGHT)
Overalls by KARL KANI and shoes by ROMBAUT, necklace (with pendant) by ROOM101, chain necklaces by DALMATA, bracelet and rings by THE GREAT FROG and earrings by THE M JEWELLERS
“Queen said, ‘No one knows what Queen means, because it doesn’t mean one thing.’ I remember really being inspired by that when I was creating “DISC ONE”,” Levi recalls, emphasising that he won’t be confined to one genre. “It’s unrealistic and unfair to ask people to fit into one title or one box. Being sonically inspired by all of the things that I’m inspired by, I’ve wanted to just break all the rules.”
“I just know that pop is popular, and I know that there’s a current conversation being had about Black artists being allowed to be pop stars,” he adds. “I think that’s such a great conversation, because to me that just says that Black artists are able to be popular. So I’m definitely intrigued by pop, and then also R&B is so familiar and soulful… There’s hip-hop, which I feel is also so much a part of who I am, and then there’s alternative and rock, which I also draw so much inspiration from.”
For Levi, growing up in Houston has also informed his eclectic identity as an artist. “My family story kind of distorted my perception of Houston for a long time, because I associated the city with how my personal life and my family and things like that transpired,” he admits, explaining how his love-hate relationship with the city has evolved over time. Now, he recognises its culture, hustle and grit as intrinsic to his sound and self, framing Houston as the place where he feels free.
While “DISC ONE” is Levi’s first completed body of work, he’s been dropping singles, videos and covers on his YouTube channel for years, all whilst studying for his degree. “long story short I decided I didn’t want my future title to stop at “successful recording artist””, he tweeted after graduating last year, “and I wanted it to be “smartest black man that josh Levi can be” so I got my bachelors degree of science in business and I graduated today.”
(LEFT) Trousers by GOODFIGHT, shoes by BOTH PARIS, necklaces (from top to bottom) by ROOM101 and DALMATA, bracelet by THE GREAT FROG, rings (from left to right) by THE GREAT FROG and ROOM101, earrings by THE M JEWELLERS (RIGHT) Shirt by THE INCORPORATED, hat by HARDEMAN
Trousers by GOODFIGHT, shoes by BOTH PARIS, necklaces (from top to bottom) by ROOM101 and DALMATA, bracelet by THE GREAT FROG, rings (from left to right) by THE GREAT FROG and ROOM101, earrings by THE M JEWELLERS Shirt by THE INCORPORATED, hat by HARDEMAN
It’s a goal that still drives the artist: to maintain control over his career path and extend his influence outside of the realm of his music. “I don’t want to just stop at creating music and creating art, I also want to shift things and be just as creative with business,” he explains. “Business models and business structures, having my own label or maybe a joint venture, and owning as much of my masters as possible — which I think is really important, not just as an artist, but as a Black artist.”
When I ask what direction Levi is taking his career from here, it’s freedom to create that he returns to. “I have long-term goals of just breaking the rules as an independent artist,” he says, “to break those barriers and accomplish things that don’t necessarily make sense as an independent artist — which I’ve also started to do, which is really dope.”
“We’re at a point now where each day is not promised and there’s so much happening, where you owe it to yourself to get as close to what you want in life as possible,” he underlines, coming back to the turning point of dropping “DISC ONE”.
“And so for me as an artist, I don’t have to compromise or change who I am just to be signed, or to have more this or that. I’d rather get what I want, say what I want to say and be who I want to be while I’m here — and it took me a minute to kind of realise that, to stand in that and to grow in that.”
(LEFT) Trousers and belt by KARL KANI, stylist’s own top, shoes by ROMBAUT and Josh’s own earrings (RIGHT) Shirt by THE INCORPORATED trousers by DSQUARED2, shoes by BOTH PARIS, hat by HARDEMAN, custom nameplate necklace and earrings by THE M JEWELLERS, necklace with pendant by ROOM101
Trousers and belt by KARL KANI, stylist’s own top, shoes by ROMBAUT and Josh’s own earrings Shirt by THE INCORPORATED trousers by DSQUARED2, shoes by BOTH PARIS, hat by HARDEMAN, custom nameplate necklace and earrings by THE M JEWELLERS, necklace with pendant by ROOM101