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CallmeIsrael: Protect Your “Energy”

Written by on December 1, 2021

South Side Chicago independent hip-hop artist CallmeIsrael hopes his music will let people know they’re never alone.

As both a dancer and musician, hip-hop has helped CallmeIsrael through discouraging times. He hopes his music will do the same for his listeners.

The artist released his first EP, 8 Counts and Bars, in 2012 under his former name “Jemenih.” At that time, he was living in L.A. as a hip-hop dancer and musician. Now, focused primarily on creating music, CallmeIsrael released full-length album Mind of An Introvert in December 2020 and his song “+Energy” was featured on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for November 2021. Reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar with laid-back lo-fi beats, CallmeIsrael raps about the struggles of being an introvert and protecting your own energy.

We virtually sat down with CallmeIsrael and to discuss the music video for “Energy,” his background in dance, keeping the faith and more.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tell us about your single “+Energy,” which was chosen to be featured on our “In Rotation” playlist for November 2021. What was the inspiration behind it?

“+Energy” is such a personal song to me … it came to me at a very pivotal point in my life, where I was finally ready to accept myself for who I truly was … 

To cut a very long story short, “+Energy” is about me realizing first and foremost that I have something special, an “energy” that is unique to me, and that a lot of people that I know or once knew only rocked with me for that energy. The song … is also about me taking accountability for and acknowledging that I’m a pessimist, and this pushes people away — and for me, it honestly pushed away all the right people, ‘cause what I realized was that those same people have never really reciprocated any of the positive energy that I’ve poured into [them]. 

And once I realized that, I honestly was brought to an ease, because, when you know you’re special and your spirit begin to tell you, “These people don’t value you,” but you keep deciding to pour into these people, you can’t be [mad] at anyone but yourself.

What do you most hope listeners will take away from the single?

You know, a very large part of being an introvert is self-discovery, because we spend so much time in our heads … But see, sometimes we forget how to be present because of that … So to those people especially, the ones who feel like they’re alone because of who they are … in the immortal words of Michael Jackson, “You are not alone!” And just like we learn to accept other people for who they are, we have to accept ourselves as well — and not dim our lights for others who can’t deal.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

How would you describe your musical style using only three words?

Technical, theatrical, flamboyant.

Tell us about the music video for “Energy” and the message it conveys.

My music video to my single “+Energy” was shot by ILIVProductions, led by cinematographer and director Quintrell Brown and his team … Usually I direct all my own videos, but this time I actually allowed Trell to co-direct this with me. We actually shot “+Energy” in two different locations [originally] — one at Lacuna Lofts [in Pilsen], the other a huge abandoned church in Gary, Indiana. However, we ended up getting so much footage that we couldn’t fit my original concept into one three-minute video … so I decided to use the footage from the church for a whole other video.

I literally sat and hand-picked almost every scene and from the raw footage [at Lacuna Lofts] and gave [it] to Quintrell to put together the visual that you see now. As far as the message of the video, there really isn’t one. There are spiritual symbols that I’ll leave for the viewer to discern, but there is no overall message … it’s just art. Nothing more, nothing less. 

What was your experience working on the video? (CW: blood)

The experience working on the video was honestly very tedious and a lot of hard work, but the actual shoot itself was amazing! The entire crew production and talent were so dope and professional, I couldn’t have asked for a better crew!

It’s funny, ‘cause the day before the shoot I actually had to rush to the hospital to have stitches inserted in my hand because I cut my finger on a sword in an antique shop in Chinatown while buying props for the video. It was crazy, blood was everywhere, but the clerk at the shop wrapped my hand up so tight I was kinda able to run the last two errands I had to run for the video before I actually took myself to the ER. Then from there I went straight to rehearsal, and shot the video the next day. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from shooting this video!

Photo courtesy of the artist.

The music video also includes several shots of contemporary dance choreography. Why include choreography? Do you have any dance background? Elaborate.

I love dance. Dance has actually been a part of my life way before music was … and still is a large part of my artistry today. It was actually my introduction to being a performer. I myself am a former professionally-trained hip-hop dancer, but I also dance contemporary as well. 

Dance is what actually segued me into music and made me appreciate it more. Before I started taking music seriously, I danced in a few groups in Chicago, Performed in the Bud [Billiken Parade], etc. When I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2014, I got more heavily active in dance. Even though I originally moved out there to further pursue a career in music, dance actually became pretty lucrative for me. 

I had so much access to so many amazing choreographers — including celebrity choreographer JR Taylor who became a good friend of mine. I ended up doing a music video for Gladys Knight, called “Just A Little,” and performed to sold out concerts of hers, including one at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve since stepped back from performing dance myself to focus more on being an MC …  however, the art of dance will always be a part of CallmeIsrael in some form or fashion.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

How does your faith tie into your music?

I feel like my music is directly connected to and tied into my faith. One thing that I feel like people will at least be able to walk away with when listening to my music at the very least is a new perspective. Whether on life, a situation, yourself or just music in general. Aside from the occasional turn-up record, I feel like I put a lot of my own personal perspective from my experiences in my music, [which] comes directly from my faith, my awareness of the spirit realm and how we are directly connected to it.

Before I was “CallmeIsrael,” I went by the name “Jemenih,” [pronounced “Gemini,”] which tied into me being a dancer and rapper at the time. [It] was a play on the concept of yin and yang. It spoke to me, being a rapper that was a choreographed dancer. It wasn’t until after I moved to L.A., in about [the end of] 2016, that I heard Father put in my spirit to find a connection to my people and the Bible.

It was at that time that I was having a “Job” experience in my life, to where I felt an “old me” die and a “new me” began to take over, and I changed my name at that point from “Jemenih” to “Israel” as a reflection of a truth Father had walked me into, in terms of heritage.

However, the name “Israel” itself has its own meaning — which is, according to biblical scripture, to wrestle with God and man, and overcome them both. At that time … the highest version of myself, or the “God in me,” was wrestling over the current but former me for control over my life and what direction it would go in. So I am “CallmeISRAEL” because I’ve wrestled with man and with God, and overcame them both.

You had a show with Sofar Sounds in Logan Square. How did it turn out? Did you enjoy working with Sofar Sounds?

I absolutely love Sofar Sounds. My show with them on Nov. 15 was probably one of my favorite shows, even though it was probably the smallest in terms of set and crowd! However, that did not hinder the energy in the room… people really took to my set. I tried something new with my band for the first time, with no rehearsal and no time to even practice before the show, and they went wild over it. We ripped that set! 

That was actually my fifth or sixth show with Sofar Sounds since September. And I love that you never know what to expect — and neither do the listeners. And I get to perform in front of a whole other demographic which only adds to my performance. Next month I’ll be performing at Sofar in Cleveland, Ohio — for the first time ever being booked outside of my city. Super excited. 

What is your favorite song to perform live, and why?

My favorite song to perform live would probably be “+Energy,” honestly. It’s the flow for me, and the vibe that me and my band set with that song. I have fun rapping that song. The energy I feel within myself and just feeling and knowing that every word will connect and resonate … with so many people makes me want to perform it harder. I can’t wait to get on a festival stage so I can really let go! 

However, I might have a new favorite after my show I had with Sofar Sounds on [Nov.] 15… I performed an original off my album, [Mind of an Introvert,] called “Blu Boy,” which is a collab between me and another artist who goes by Jack Social, to [the tune of] Jill Scott’s “Long Walk.” It was so groovy and gave me a whole new feeling performing that song.

What is one thing you like most about Chicago? Why?

My favorite thing about Chicago is probably the people… After living in Los Angeles for four years … you meet a lot of people from all over the world. So many different personalities, energies and an unfortunate, unhealthy amount of lost souls … There are a lot of disingenuous people out there, and the majority of those people aren’t even from L.A. Having to experience that for four years straight really made me appreciate the people of my city a lot more. Just how down to earth we are, more centered and just a little more real. That’s something you can’t substitute. 

Is there anything you are currently working on that listeners should look out for?

Yes! I actually have one final video that I’ll be releasing in a few weeks … to my single “Denim,” which I’m super excited for. I had a cast of almost 20 people, from friends to artists alike! The video was, of course, concepted by me, but this time I allowed myself to step back further from directing to focus more on being the “artist” and allowed my homie Lei’ Sean Brooks, shot by ILIVProductions as well. Other than that, just more shows. Again, I’ll be hitting Cleveland Dec. 14 and Atlanta in Jan. 2022, [both] with Sofar Sounds. More shows here in Chicago TBA. Mind Of an Introvert is still streaming on all platforms.

Follow CallmeIsrael on Instagram and Twitter, and stream his music on Spotify below.

Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

Introduction by Milo Keranen

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