“I don’t know where we go.”
– Jelani Aryeh, Where We Go
When I call Jelani Aryeh, he laughs as soon as I’ve said hello. “Your voice is so much deeper than I expected.” he says, and I have to laugh too. It’s these moments of unguarded glee that show just how new he is at all of this: not just being a musician, but the attention that comes with it too. A week before this interview, when I asked him if he wanted to be profiled in Criss Cross, he asked me to email him the questions. Because that’s how he thought these things go down.
I’ve been a part of Jelani’s musical collective, Raised By The Internet for about six months, handling some production work. Of course, in that time, we’ve become good friends – how could you not be? He’s irresistibly friendly, and it’s definitely no ruse. In the middle of our phone call, he excused himself for a moment and started speaking to his younger brother, helping him find somebody in the house.
“I love my family,” he says as soon as he’s back on the call.
The 17-year old has just graduated high school early to focus on his music, after rabid attention from music blogs, most notably Pigeons & Planes. I try to joke about that, poking fun at how much they love him, but his excited smile is still audible in his reply: “I love them. They’re awesome”.
I ask about his high school, and he sounds a bit exhausted. “There’s a really hard curriculum there. It’s one of the country’s best schools, supposedly, and everybody there was this straight-A student, and everybody was so, so focused on their grades…” There’s a beat, and he adds “basic high school shit.” Suddenly, though, the light is back in his voice. “Everybody there loved me, though, everybody was my friend. I would say I’m a really friendly dude.” The way he speaks sparks some confusion: Cali-surf-speak without any of the signature slowness, effortlessly cool-kid without the signature complete lack of passion and interest. Is it a practiced ruse? I say no. This kid’s all real.
Listen to Jelani Aryeh on Spotify:
Read Jelani’s full profile and interview in the next issue of Criss Cross Magazine! Available January 2018.