Southside’s JusSoL On Figuring Out What Real Love Is
Written by Vocalo Radio on June 11, 2020
If you were a fan of our May “In Rotation” playlist, you already know who JusSoL is.
Her song “Heaven” was not only featured on our airwaves, but even got a shoutout on a Jill Hopkins Top 5 list! And while we’ve been obsessed with it, the R&B singer herself has been catching our eyes as much as our ears.
We spoke to her about the mp3 player that introduced her to ’90s R&B, what healthy love looks like, and what a fire track it would be if Drizzy himself teamed up with Chicago’s resident sadboi.
How would you describe your work in a few sentences?
I’m a really passionate and big-hearted R&B-esque artist who has a lot of feelings. I’m constantly translating those feelings into songs. My work is experimental, honest and really vulnerable. It’s like when you see someone drop their ice cream cone on the ground and they’re visibly upset, so you give them yours to make them feel better…you know what it feels like to lose something you really wanted.
Where in Chicago did you grow up?
I spent most of my childhood on the South Side of Chicago in the Rosemoor/Roseland area. Every day was an adventure – I mean that in the best way possible! I can remember opening fire hydrants when it got too hot, block club parties which featured a drill team and playing basketball in the middle of the street. It was just a community where everybody knew each other and watched out for each other. I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else.
How has Chicago’s music scene influenced the work that you do?
I didn’t really get into the Chicago music scene until maybe 2011 or 2012. Of course, I listened to early Kanye West, Common and Lupe, but other than that I was completely obsessed and consumed with 90s R&B and Neo-Soul.
However, once I took a deep dive into the different music that was coming out of the city I was wowed at how eclectic it was and how none of it sounded it the same. I was inspired to make music that didn’t sound like anything else – music that felt familiar but was different all at the same time, and I knew the only way I was going to do that was to be myself.
You used to perform under the moniker “Sunnie Storm.” What inspired the switch to JusSoL?
I just felt like I outgrew “Sunnie Storm” and I accomplished all I could as “Sunnie.” “JusSoL” is “Sunnie” 2.0 who’s a little older and a lot wiser.
Could you tell me a story about a moment when you knew you wanted to make music?
I was a sophomore in college and I was just sort of over the whole thing but I started listening to J. Cole’s mixtape The Warm Up. In the intro, Cole says, “When life takes you through more downs than ups/ Seems like it gives you more losses than wins/ But do you stand tall and be bold, or do you fold?/ Do you believe?” Those lines are what got me through the next two years of college without completely breaking down.
I realized in that moment that I really wanted to make music because I wanted to help people get through [it] too. I wanted to help people heal and do for them what those J. Cole lines did for me – give them hope.
What drew you to ’90s R&B? Do you have a favorite 90s song you still listen to today?
I blame my sister for my obsession because in high school she gave me her old mp3 player and it contained 85% R&B and Neo-Soul so that’s all I listened to! I think what attracted me to that particular decade of music was its romanticization of love and heartbreak. I was and still am a hopeless romantic and music like Lauryn Hill, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, SWV, Monica and Brandy just fed into my desire to be hopelessly in love.
As I’ve gotten older, I know that it isn’t healthy to romanticize love and heartbreak but whenever I play music from that decade it just takes me to a place where all relationship problems were solved with a little begging. I think one of my favorite 90s songs that I listen to a lot is SWV’s “Use Your Heart.”
You love your heartbreak songs (and we love you for it)! What do you think is so powerful about a good heartbreak song? What are some of the messages you’ve received from fans who’ve resonated with your music?
It makes people feel like it’s okay to feel how they feel. It tells them to not ignore those emotions – rather, feel them as deeply as possible and then let those feelings leave, because they won’t last forever. I’ve had fans tell me they find my music healing and that’s one thing that really warms my heart and pushes me to keep making the music I’m making.
You’ve said you’ve become disappointed with love in the past and now let yourself get lost in real love. Could you explain this a little bit more and how this shift has been reflected in your lyrics?
I feel like when I was younger I had unrealistic expectations when it came to love and that led to a lot of disappointment. As I’ve grown into the woman that I am today, I understand that real love isn’t about being perfect or about grand gestures and finding your “other half.” It’s about finding someone who understands you and who is your other whole.
I’ve let myself get lost in that version of love and let that guide my pen as well. Initially, my lyrics were sorta self-loathing and focused on holding onto the past, but once I understood how to love and how to love myself, my lyrics shifted to more self-love and focused on how to lovingly let go.
“Heaven” comes after your recent single “Devil” featuring The Honorable Hakim Dough! How did you two get in touch and what was that collaboration process like?
Hakim and I first met in passing through the Art of Culture Inc. (formerly known as Donda’s House Inc.) where we were both a part of the “Got Bars” program. But we really met when he was hired as a visiting studio mentor at Harold Washington Public Library YOUmedia where I’m a library associate. I help with music programming at YOUmedia, so we worked together on a lot of music workshops and became instant friends.
Hakim has a really beautiful spirit and it really translates into his music so I definitely wanted him to be a part of my project. When I initially wrote “Devil” I didn’t plan on anyone featuring on it, but then I thought about how smooth Hakim’s delivery and tone of voice was and I knew I had to have him on it. I sent him the song and he said he connected with it, then he added the perfect verse.
If you could have any collab on your debut album, who would you pick?
I feel like I’m going to get dragged for this but I would want Drake on my debut album because his music, especially his older music, is so emotional and I absolutely love it. It would be amazing to have a sadboy and a sadboi on the same track.
How is creativity helping you cope during the pandemic?
Creativity has really just allowed me to stay positive in the middle of all the craziness. It has really kept me grounded and brought me a ton of necessary peace.
What do you think is missing from today’s music landscape?
I think today’s music landscape lacks ingenuity, risk-taking, individuality and honesty. I feel like a lot of music being released today sounds like artists are playing it safe and they’re just imitating what’s popular at the moment. We live in a generation where you can drop a hot song one week and it’s replaced with another one the next, so it’s just a competition on who can catch ears the quickest, which results in a lot of, in my opinion, thoughtless and soulless music. I think we focus on everything but the music and we need to get back to having music in the forefront.
Who are your biggest influences musically?
My biggest influences musically are Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Drake , Sade and Prince.
What other mediums, genres, or art forms make up part of your creative identity?
I’m mostly a songwriter, but I am also a teacher/mentor which I believe is a really important art form. Also, I’ve recently fallen in love with creating digital art in Photoshop.
Before the coronavirus hit your plan was to release your debut album at the end of this year. Are those plans still looking like a go? What can you tell us about the sound and/or concept of the album?
Yes, before coronavirus I did plan on releasing an album later this year but I think I will be pushing the release date back because it’s my debut album and I want to do it right. I will be releasing a lot of ‘sadboibop’ singles this summer to prepare people.
The album is about proudly wearing your heart on your sleeve and getting knocked down by love. However, it’s also about getting back up before they ring the bell because it ain’t over yet; you got more fight in you.
What’s next for you?
More ‘sadboibops,’ collaborations (hopefully one with Drizzy Drake), and just continuing to use my music and platform to let people know it’s okay to get in your feelings and be vulnerable because vulnerability is a strength not a weakness.
JusSoL has put together a playlist of some of the most meaningful and moving songs in her life. Take a listen here:
Interviewed and edited for length and clarity by Shelby Kluver
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