It’s a common R&B show practice, the performer calling a member of the audience up from the crowd to dance for them. The performer, typically male, makes a big show of leading the fan, typically female, to some ideal part of the stage, where a chair or love seat waits, giving the illusion, both to the fan and audience, that they’re in a more intimate space and are witnessing an act the performer might sing about happening in real life. YouTube is a depository for clips of stars like Usher, Chris Brown, and Trey Songz hip thrusting and grinding their way through something between brolic lapdance and softcore Cinemax sex simulation. (Sample video title: Chris Brown Kisses Fan & Sucks On Her Knee On Stage In Detroit.) It’s not a new phenomenon—even Marvin Gaye began doing odd, audience-motivated strip teases during his shows near the end of his life. And it’s always sort of uncomfortable. What’s it like to make eye contact with Usher while he sings “Trading Places” at you while you “ride” him in front of an audience of thousands? The R&B lover man can leave no question as to his IRL prowess, but more often than not, these displays just feel extra.
A much more amusing and revealing alternative is watching Jacquees, Cash Money’s rising R&B bet, sing and sway for his label’s senior director of publicity, a kind, weary-looking older black woman, while she sits in an ugly upholstered office chair on a Tuesday morning in September. He’s playing selections from his debut album 4275, and singing along: “You know where your legs ‘posed to go,” except Vickie is more den mother than eager fan—the only place her legs are going today are pounding the pavement between various music outlets in New York, leading her diminutive charge through the press process. She raises a hand to her forehead in a theatrical pantomime of weariness and laughs at Jacquees dancing for her, like, Oh so you think you’re cute. He is, though.
Jacquees is 23 years old and you could fit him in your pocket. The way he sings, in his clear boyish tenor, about sex, love, and having fun, you want to put him in your pocket. In his size 8 Alexander McQueen sneakers he’s maybe 5’6”; you figure waking up in the morning he’s standing 5’5” in one sock. His smile’s megawatt, an advertisement for dental care and positivity, and the dreads he’s been patiently growing the past 12 years hang down well past his clavicles. He claims that he still smells like Hennessy from the night before, but that’s just charm; obviously he’s fresh. After all, his Avant-sampling single “B.E.D.” just went gold and he bought a mansion in his hometown of Atlanta in August, a fact the Shade Room documented as one of its #TSRPositiveImages. I dare you to watch it and not feel motivated to go get it after Quee pulls up in the tangerine Lamb.
“My mama got two cars, a house,” he lists off, very serious. “Both my sisters got cars. My auntie got a car and a house. My nephew got Gucci shoes, he ain’t nothing but two. My uncle just got out of jail. My grandmama still breathing God’s fresh air. She got dementia but she still breathing God’s air.” He’s rich, he says, and he’s done it on Cash Money, a label that, let Lil Wayne (and others) tell it, doesn’t always do right by its artists. Truly, Quee seems blessed and highly favored.
His connection to Birdman and Cash Money, and his striking physical resemblance to Wayne, means Quee constantly fields questions about the state of the label (they’re family), about Baby’s business practices (again, Quee’s rich, so he’s not complaining), about whether or not he’s met Wayne (he hasn’t). Any quote on the situation could make for a nice news headline, but the fact is, no one would be talking about Jacquees if the music wasn’t there. And the music is there. For fans of ’90s R&B, sweet bedroom music, the sound of a young man singing his heart out to enthusiastically and consensually get in some drawers, there’s no better new artist on the scene.
There’s a reality in which you know him not as Jacquees, the singer, but as Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax, slot receiver out of Decatur turned college phenom at Florida. (Quee is quick to point to his high school highlight reel on YouTube as evidence of his agility and skill.) Music was part of his after-school regimen too, which is why his coach would tease him that he was going to call up Jermaine Dupri if he didn’t do this or that at practice; but Jacquees didn’t know which path he would take. The decision was taken from his hands in the 10th grade, in 2010, when his coach left the team and his friend and teammate, Jacoby Campbell, drowned in an accident. “He died on the day I had my 16th birthday,” Jacquees recalls. “And then my coach left, and that’s how I gave up football. I was finna like, I’m just gonna go do this music s**t.”
He wasted little time, recording mixtape after mixtape to build a grassroots following. “I still printed out my mixtapes and handed em out, like they used to do,” he says. “Everybody think it’s all on the ‘net, but a lot people don’t know how to work that f**king phone. A lot of people still put that shit in the CD player.” His grind and sound caught the ear of Chris Brown, who executive produced his 2014 project 19, one of the few available on streaming services. (Jacquees says he would often rather put a project out for free and book a tour on the strength of that release, rather than take the time to clear everything.) An independent release, 19 debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart and led to his Cash Money deal.
“I still printed out my mixtapes and handed em out, like they used to do,” he says. “Everybody think it’s all on the ‘net, but a lot people don’t know how to work that f**king phone.”
His 2016 mixtape Mood is perhaps his finest work to date, the surest sign of his talents and sweetness. In the 21st century, there is a lot of successful, popular R&B made by men who seem lukewarm about pleasure and put this message across without traditional vocal chops (this is almost never true of female R&B performers, who are still expected to sing). Jacquees is not one of those individuals, and he knows it—at various points in our conversation, he sings from his catalog when this song or that song comes up. The message is clear: I really do this. Vocals mean little without production, though, and there too Quee is prepared. Working with his partners ForteBowie and Nash B, he’s developed a sound that’s both ’90s nostalgic and genuinely next level. For instance, “R&B N**ga,” from Mood, flips the Grammy-award-winning gospel group the Clark Sisters into something ecstatic. The eruptive final minute of that song especially, when ForteBowie brings the drums back and chops the sample up finer and stranger while Quee rups up and down the scale, is a highwater mark for bump-n-grind R&B in the last few years.
There’s depth to his music, too, and it oftentimes appears just as suddenly. Since You Playin, his 2017 mixtape, begins with a stream-of-consciousness opener called “Just the Intro,” where Quee offers some slick patter about his clothes, his cars, and his bachelor status, before he sings about his ambition and the various ways romance complicates that. And then he’s singing about his sister. “Got Hen in my system/I talk to my sister when I’m in my feelings/I figure she listen, I need someone to listen to me.” This sort of vulnerability, copping to leaning on his sister when he’s feeling lonely, is not the norm for the genre in 2017. An artist like Ty Dolla Sign sings passionately about his relationship with his incarcerated brother, but it’s in service of a broader mission of social justice. This moment in “Just the Intro” feels different, like you’ve been let in on something genuinely private.
The topic of family sends Quee racing. “We grew up around love,” he says, his words coming fast and moving from topic to topic like I need to visualize his entire family tree if I’m to understand how he’s cut. “I used to get up every morning at my Auntie house and be in the mirror trying to sing. My Auntie Red be like, ‘Quit it!’ Cuz I’d be up early, first one up, in the bathroom singing Temptations and Jacksons loud as f**k. Sandy, that’s my Auntie Red. My mom is Rosie Broadnax. My mama’s sister Stephanie and her brother Vincent. I have two sisters, Rossie and Miracle. Razie just had my nephew Rain. My godsister Tan. I’m super close with my sisters—we grew up together.”
Quee is the middle child, and though he likes to front like he ran things, it sounds like his big sister had the upper hand. He still depends on her today. “I talk to my sister when I’m in my feelings,” he sings. “And I really go talk to my sister. Real talk. See, for a n**ga like me, I need women in my life to tell me about other women. That’s the type of man I am. Even my little sister got game. She just turned 20 on Aug. 14, she finna be a teacher. She a junior at Spelman, and she get all As.” It’s telling that he alludes to his sister’s game but moves quickly to her accomplishments. He’s proud of her for reasons that have little to do with unfolding better game to get laid.
The idea of listening to the women in his life and keeping their needs primary isn’t just instrumental to his music, it’s shaped his entire worldview. “My mom went through a lot,” he says. “N**gas always wanna make a woman feel like how they mom felt, if she felt great. That’s how I grew up. The n**ga did my mama right, his name was Alfie—that’s my big sister’s daddy—and he got kilt. My mama used to talk about him and how he was. So I’d be like, ‘I’m gonna treat a woman like Alfie.’ My mama was so happy.”
He’s no longer certain what would make him happy, though, when it comes to love. “I used to have a vision of being married and having kids,” he says.
“But that s**t done left my brain. It’s f**ked up. If I could be with somebody, I know who I would be with—if I could be with her. I know the exact person.”
He plays coy about details, admitting it’s not someone he grew up around, that “she’s a special girl...just out here in the world.”
What’s keeping him from her? “Her,” he says, laughing. “It’s just one of those situations. I still probably wanna get married. But that s**t ain’t really in my head, unless it’s with shawty. If it ain’t that, I don’t want it. I don’t ever wanna trick nobody. I don’t wanna get with nobody and play with they emotions and know I ain’t really f**king with it. I don’t want nobody to be in love with me and I ain’t been in love with them.”
“So I’m just thugging it.”
When 4275 drops, it’ll be the grand introduction to the world of Jacquees. It features contributions from Chris Brown, Trey Songz, Jermaine Dupri, and Donell Jones. Jacquees may be 23 and on a mission of fun, but he’s an R&B head too; he could walk you through the tracklist to Where I Wanna Be right now, if prompted—the album came out when he was 5.
“4275 Wesley Hall Drive, Decatur, Georgia. That’s where I grew up, where everything started happening for me,” he says. “I gave me my first talent show over there, started taking music seriously. The album is not an autobiography, with me talking about my life. I’m just telling you how I’m cut.”
“4275 Wesley Hall Drive, Decatur, Georgia. That’s where I grew up, where everything started happening for me.”
The house is a wellspring of memories, good and bad. “My mama taught us how to not show people what you going through,” he says. “When I was in high school we didn’t have no lights or heat. But I was still the freshest motherf**ker in the school. We had the oven open. Heating up them pots of water, throwing them b**ches in the tub, taking baths—no showers. I don’t think I took a shower my senior year, unless I went to my partner house. Sometime you might not get all the soap off you, it still be on your neck and s**t. You might sweat and the s**t burn your eyes. We did all that at 4275.”
Walking around Decatur as a kid, Jacquees got told something he won’t forget. “This dude used to see me in the neighborhood and he said, ‘I f**k with you, man. You the littlest one but you always in the front.’” It’s still the case.