With one foot in the 70s and one in the modern urban streets, Jaheim Hoagland has become one of the brightest R&B stars of the 21st century, infusing the sounds of classic Chicago and Philly soul with a hip-hop attitude and in the process gathering a huge following of fans of both modern and traditional music.
Raised in the projects in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Jaheim lived a life where music was his first love and often his escape from trouble and personal tragedies. Jaheim experienced his first major personal loss at the age of two, when his father died. Over the next decade his single-parent mother (who tragically died in 1996) exposed him to the classic soul sounds of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, and he began to take to the sounds of the emerging hip-hop culture. The amalgamation - even struggle - of the two genres would become the centerpiece of future musical career.
By his mid-teens Jaheim began winning local talent competitions with his gruff, Teddy Pendergrass-like voice and word about this young talent spread. At age 17, his demo tape came to the attention of producer and Naughty By Nature member Kay Gee, who ultimately helped Jaheim obtain a contract with Warner Brothers.
With Kay Gee at the production helm and with both self-penned tunes and material contributed by a number of notable songwriters, Jaheim released his debut album, Ghetto Love, in 2001. It was a monster disc, spawning three major hits, "Could It Be," "Anything" and "Just in Case." Jaheim's affinity for old school sounds combined with his hip-hop sensibilities made him a bit of an anomaly, an almost contradictory character who would sing about "shorties" and "playas" over lush string sections and classic soul arrangements.
Jaheim's second disc, Still Ghetto, was even better than its predecessor, and boasted his biggest hit, the wonderful cautionary tale "Put That Woman First." It also made him a sought-after guest vocalist throughout the hip-hop world, his rough baritone providing soulful interludes to the album cuts of a number of rap artists.
Nearly four years passed before Jaheim released his third album, 2006's Ghetto Classics, which debuted at #1 on both the Pop and Soul charts. With perhaps Jaheim's biggest nod to classic soul, the disc sampled melody lines from classic pop and soul writers ranging from Gamble & Huff to Thom Bell to Gerry Goffin. As with its predecessors, Ghetto Classics was extremely uneven lyrically, often tritely covering the usual modern R&B loverman stuff, but also including moments such as "Daddy Thing," a fantastic tale of a man who becomes attached to his girlfriend's daughter only to have the bond broken when the child's Dad comes back from prison. While an awful lot of the music on the disc is borrowed from 30 year old soul songs, it is tough not to like great cuts such as "The Chosen One," "I Ain't Never" and the uber-infectious "Like a DJ."
Jaheim followed two years later with the more mature, critically acclaimed disc, The Makings of a Man. Again, it debuted in the top 10. In early 2010, Jaheim issued his most mature album to date, Another Round. It received broad critical acclaim and was considered by many to be his finest album yet.
Jaheim may not be the savior of soul music that many people want him to be, but he is an exceptional vocal talent - one of the best pure soul singers in modern music - and has done a credible job updating some classic soul sounds for younger urban audiences. And frankly, he's just fun to listen to.
By Chris Rizik