Johari Noelle is one of the newer Chicago creatives that I have got in tune with in 2019, and when I heard that she was gearing up to release her new project Things You Can’t Say Out Loud, I figured why not bring her by the Lyrical Lemonade office for a brand interview? You can expect her to speak about plenty of interesting subjects such as the previously mentioned project, all of the talent that has come out of her high school HF, her strong relationship with her family, how Chicago has influenced her and her headlining show that will be taking place this week in Chicago at The Promontory. Learn a thing or two about Johari by reading this brand new interview below, and you can purchase tickets to see Johari live June 5th here.
Elliot: Before we dive into the questions, give our readers who may not be familiar with you a brief introduction of yourself?
Johari: My name is Johari Noelle I am a singer, song writer and actress from Chicago. I recently released two singles one of them is called “Show Me” and the other one is called “Too Much and I just released a new EP called The Things You Can’t Say Out Loud.
Q: What is your earliest memory of music?
Johari: My earliest memory of music is my dad honestly, he would always play music. Me my sister and younger sisters, we all lived in the city and whenever we would be cleaning he would be playing his records around the house, we really didn’t watch a lot of TV, we just listened to music. My father was a DJ in college, so in turn he was super big on us knowing and understand who certain artists were. He was, and he still is really big into house music, so we had tons of vhs tapes with mixes of house music all around our crib, whenever we would come home from school he would pop it in and we would listen and dance to it. Some of the artists that we were hearing included Parliament, Bootsy Collins, Crystal Waters, Kurtis Blow, Michael Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest, Dr. dre. It was just a ton of Soul music, R&B and hip-hop. Then my grandma was super big into church so on Sunday’s we got our dose of Gospel music, it was very diverse.
Q: How has the city influenced you as a person and musically?
Johari: The city has influenced me musically not to much, but the reception of the different artists that are here has definitely inspired me. There is a million different sounds and styles in Chicago and I believe that is what inspired me to go for it as an artist. You don’t have to have a certain look or a certain vibe, you can just do your own thing. The city inspired me in general because there is so much variety in the sense of how you can be in an extremely nice neighborhood then a few blocks over it’s terrible. It’s just a bunch of different cultures and energies when you come to Chicago you get so much variety and I think that’s what makes the city unique & special.
Q: It sounds like you are a very family oriented person, does that effect how you create music?
Johari: In a way, with that personal feeling you only get with family, I implement a bit of that into my music because it comes from a personal place. If you listen to my music you might feel like you know my situation or know a piece of my situation, and you can possibly relate to that with a situation of your own. We may not know each other personally but if you hear something I say and you can relate, that’s a win in my book.
Q: When did you first start creating music?
Johari: I started writing music when I was in middle school but I didn’t start recording until I was in high school. When I got into high school I had a group of friends they were rappers, recording all of the time and putting their music on Soundcloud, and after awhile they suggested that I try it out and make some music. I would go to there sessions and sing background vocals on their records and throw out ideas, just getting comfortable in that setting. I really starting to enjoy it, just seeing how they were growing and how comfortable they got over time, it was really inspiring for me. When I got to college that’s when I decided I wanted to pursue music, so I started putting covers up, on campus I would do all the open mics, showcases and really I just used college to trial and error the craft.
Q: You went to high school at HF (Homewood Flossmoor), an unbelievable amount of talent has came out of that school, can you speak on what it was like going to that school?
Johari: When I was attending that school I was very close with Femdot and Ohana Bam and they pushed me & encouraged me and many others to chase their dreams. Brenton (Bam) had a mic set up in his house, Femdot had one in his basement, so they would record all of the time. I started singing background on their stuff, which is where I met Shawnee who came to HF my senior year, and we did youtube covers together singing Frank Ocean, Lauryn Hill, etc. We are all still pretty cool to this day, I recently did the vocals on femdot’s record “Snow In July”, and me and Brenton have a ton of music recorded so we will see.
I think the music realm in HF is crazy, there is so many talented people to come out of their, I didn’t even know juice wrld went to HF he was a couple years younger than me. Rockie fresh was another artist to come out of that school, my cousin is a singer too that went there & she’s super talented.
The guy who produced my track “show me” went to HF years ago back in 2009 or something like that. Queen Key also went to HF and we had a ton of detention together, she would ask to borrow mascara in the bathroom before class. It’s awesome too because she has truly had that “I don’t give a fuck” attitude haha.
Q: How would you describe your music to someone who has never listened before?
Johari: The music itself is based around my own experiences, feelings, things that I have gone though, feared, gone through or felt. I would describe it was a mix of Soul, R&B and Pop it feels like it can fit in all of those.
Q: I want to ask how your college experience shaped you? I understand that you started writing at NIU
Johari: It was cool, when I first got to Northern Illinois University I met another rapper from Chicago named Matt Muse but I when I met him I knew him as Dexter. He was the president of organization called Expressions at NIU open mic that happened every Tuesday and he invited me to come, so I started going & I would mainly just sing covers. We are still cool to this day, he was just at my house recently playing some new music.
Q: I want to talk about “Too Much”, can you speak on that creative process, how did that record come about?
Johari: It was funny, I was looking for beats because I couldn’t get in touch with producers at the time, I was surfing through YouTube and I found a beat that stuck to me. At that time I was working a full time job at HM and my manager was only a year older than me, and our dynamic was very shitty because she wasn’t the nicest, other people would call it out but I would usually just never say anything.
Then one day she came at me sideways and all I remember her saying is “You don’t have to work here, if you don’t like it you can leave”. It was even worse because I had the four am to noon shift with her, so one I was tired, second off all I was the best sales person there I was a hard worker so it just seemed like she was trying to shit on me for no reason. I had already had a studio session booked right after the shift, I was stuck in traffic and I had this melody stuck in my head, it was the “If you really got a problem you should probably speak up”. that whole part I kept repeating it, I just couldn’t shake the melody & thought.
The whole ride I was piecing together the song and when I got to the session my engineer said “What’s up you don’t look like you had a good day” and I replied “no I’m pissed but I have a song”. Because I was originally suppose to record a totally different song that day, but I was like let’s just record it, It’s basically a song about having shitty boss. To a deeper meaning of just having someone that’s projecting that negative energy on you, when you sit silent for so long you become paralyzed and stuck, to avoid that you need health confrontation and to call that shit out.
Q: I also wanted to ask you about “Show Me”, how did that one come about?
Johari: My producer had reached out like “Hey I got some beats, I am going to send some over” and when I got them I was really vibing with them. So we booked a session and I showed him the idea I had for the song and he liked it, we recorded it pretty quick.
Q: Who are some of your biggest influences musically?
Johari: I have a bunch, but my top five is Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Amy Winehouse, Adele and Aaliyah. I loved Aaliyah’s softness and sweetness, she had this tender tone in her voice. The other artists that I named are very convincing in their music, they are trailblazers to me they created timeless music. That’s my goal as an artist, to create music that you can listen to forever.
Q: Do you remember the first album you ever bought?
Johari: It was 3LW self titled album with the red cover! I learned every single song on that album, I had a CD player and my grandfather was getting married and I took this flight, I had a huge case of CD’s with me and I set it down under my seat and I fell asleep on the flight while listening to the music. I woke up and we got all the way to the hotel before I realized that I accidentally left all of my CD’s on the plane, I was so devastated!
Q: If you could work with one person dead/alive who would it be?
Johari: For alive I would say Khalid, he has a great voice and I think we could make some great in your feelings ass music together. For the other end of the question, it would probably be Aaliyah.
Q: Are there any local Chicago rappers or singers that you have been listening to lately?
Johari: Smino’s not from Chicago, but I like his music a lot. I really like Chance The Rapper’s new record “Groceries”, it has grown on me a lot. That’s all I can think of off top, I haven’t got the chance to listen to any new music in awhile. Ravyn Lenae too!
Q: You were a contestant on the Chasing Destiny show, what was that experience like?
Johari: How that came about was I was in college and I was posting covers on YouTube & IG all of the time and someone who was producing for that show at that time followed me & reached out and was like “yo Kelly Rowland is looking for contestants on this show” and he suggested that I enter it. He connected me with someone from their team and they sent over the application, then they interviewed me, I had to submit a video of me singing. They ended up bringing me out to Atlanta to audition (they had auditions in three cities New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta) and there was about 600 girls in the room and a majority from from the south (only two girls from Chicago). Basically how it went was we had thirty seconds to go up in front of Kelly and wow her, we went up in groups of threes and it was simply just say your name and then go type of thing. I was singing after I introduced myself and then she was looking at me with this serious face, the other two girls went and they were very good, she was like “Thank you ladies, Johari I think you should stay”. That night it got narrowed down from 600 girls to just 43 of us. Long story short I got a call two days before Christmas in 2015 from Kelly so I am like freaking out, screen-shotting that I am on FaceTime with her, she was like “I hope you are ready, I hope you are excited, I want you to come out to LA and work with us”. So I took a break from school and flew out to LA and lived there for about a month while we were shooting the show. The rehearsals were super intense that’s something I will never forget, it went from 10pm – 4am, it was intentional because they wanted us to understand the life of celebrities and how they work nonstop and they don’t have regular 9-5 hours, so they were just teaching us that you had to be ready. The start of the day would include practice and work out, then vocals, dance and then group work to see how we would interact and work together.
After that they had the first round of cuts and I made it through, the second round of cuts I made it through and then on the third round of cuts I didn’t, but it was a crazy fun experience, I got to work with a lot of great people. I got to meet a bunch of individuals that worked for Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, most of the crew that was apart of the show were involved with them such as their choreographers, dancers, vocal coaches, etc. It was great working with those people, I really just made myself a sponge and I was trying to soak in as much as possible.
It was great I got to know Kelly she was very nice and very sweet and really open. It was something about me not knowing how to bowl one night that made us have a connection, the first nights of cuts they took us out bowling just to like soften the blow. I was on Kelly’s team but I truly did not know how to bowl, I was terrible and she helped me and said I’m going to take you under my wing, it was really a side of her I had never seen, it made me very comfortable and probably to a fault because I was like “Okay she likes me I am going to survive” hahaha. I feel like it all happened for a reason, I am still very close with the girls who ended up winning and they are still doing their thing but I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to grow in a group.
Q: I would love to talk about your new EP The Things You Can’t Say Out Loud, how long did it take you to record that?
Johari: I was working on music that would then become apart of this EP for two years, I recorded 20-30 songs over time, some I liked and some I reworked for awhile. I was working full time at the time but when I quit my job in job I told myself I was going to focus 100% on music, June of last year I quit and started going to the studio every day to complete all of the songs through. Once the songs were to my liking I listened through and picked the ones I felt closest too, I spent that whole summer performing these songs at Sofar shows, I would do about five songs per show and seeing which ones the audience enjoyed most.
Q: What is your favorite performance you have done to date?
Johari: My favorite show I did was the one time I got to open for sir the Baptist at Chop Shop. I covered Amy Winehouse’s song titled “Valerie” and everyone started singing along, the energy was insane and the sound in that venue was truly amazing.
Q: I want to ask about your headlining show in Chicago on June 5th, how are you feeling about that, are you excited, nervous?
Johari: Yes I have a show at The Promontory on June 5th in Chicago, I am excited because it’a a great opportunity and I am excited to share the music with people. Especially because I released the tape a few days before the show so I am eager to see if the crowd will be singing the lyrics, also the two openers I have performing with me are amazing & unbelievably talented.
Buy tickets to see Johari live here!
Q: What’s your favorite book?
Johari: It’s a book of poems by this girl named Rupi Kaur called Milk And Honey, I definitely want to get some more of her books soon.
Q: If you had to pick a few artists you’d like to work with in the future who would you pick?
Johari: Billie Eilish and Ravyn Lenae
What are you most excited for?
Johari: To see what collaborations come up this year, I want it to be natural & don’t want to force anything but I definitely want to work with other artists and build friends and good relationships. I am just excited to currently be in a different spot compared to last year when i was working a full time job with no music out, now I am about to release my first project so it just feels special. Maybe even releasing a second project at the end of the year but we’ll see.
I understand you’re also an actress, do you plan on doing more of that this year?
Johari: Definitely I am still with my agency, it’s been cool so I am hoping to get some more opportunities soon.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Johari: In five years I see myself with a decent body of work as far of music, maybe two of three albums in. I see myself touring and traveling, working with as many people as possible. I see myself owning my own place and a car, I see my debts cleared from student loans, I also see more listeners and legit fans who are into my music.