Jean Deaux’s stage name was once representative of where she was in music.
Deaux, 24, was virtually unknown as a solo artist until 2018, when she released her debut EP, Krash. Before then, when listeners heard the Chicagoan’s voice, it was as a guest on Saba’s “Photosynthesis” or Isaiah Rashad’s “Menthol.” When they heard Deaux’s words only, her dear friend Kehlani was the one singing them (“Honey”).
Throughout Deaux’s work as a soloist and hired gun feature artist, her voice can be heard flipping instantaneously from the cadence of a seasoned rapper to the vocal grit of an R&B star. These artistic gifts have attracted co-signs from the likes of DUCKWRTH and Ravyn Lenae. After years spent writing for others, Deaux’s introspective lyrics, which showcase a level of self-reflection and realness unique to the artist, are helping her to break free from anonymity.
Empathy, her daydream of an EP, released June 14, is the latest chapter in the full story of Jean Deaux.
“I didn’t feel pressured by [creating this project], I just felt all I have to do is make myself proud,” Deaux tells me over the phone. “And all I have to do is show my self-growth, show my progress. And people will hear it.”
Empathy is the result of a newly-molded perfectionist giving her audience every bit of herself over seven tracks. Deaux is vulnerable, and she ignites her insecurities for the sake of self-reflection. She doesn’t want only to share her inner feelings, though. She wants listeners to realize their own.
“There are a lot of things that I don’t know,” she admits. “There are a lot of things that I will never know probably until after I die. Maybe I won’t even know them. But the things I do know and have learned, I have to cherish and share with the world.”
And now, the world will be able to cherish them, too.
My full interview with Jean Deaux, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: You’ve said musical comparisons often discredit the artist behind the original work. Is Empathy pushing you further away from artists who people initially compared you to?
Jean Deaux: I feel like comparisons, for upcoming artists, are very hard to hear. Because you’re just struggling so hard to carve out your own lane, and then somebody pulls you down to somebody that you don’t even listen to. I don’t think I would be as offended if people were to listen to my music, and they could pick up on my influences. It’s better to ask people about their influences instead of comparing them.
Before releasing your debut EP, Krash, you drew a lot of attention for your guest feature work. Did your work with others change your approach when it came time to create for yourself?
With Krash, I had to prove myself. With Empathy, it was like, I’m in the room now. It’s like being outside of an exclusive club for years, and you see all your friends go in, and you walk up to the door like, “Hey, we’re friends.” And you’re just standing outside, and people are like, “Who the fuck is this?”
With Empathy, I had the feeling that I was in the room now, like what am I going to say? I didn’t feel pressured by that; I just felt all I have to do is make myself proud. And all I have to do is show my self-growth, show my progress. I said I’m not settling anymore, and with Empathy, every single breath, voice, word, anything I did not like had to come out before we turned everything in.
Upon its release, you emphasized how Krash was about failure. Is Empathy about success?
Empathy is about taking the necessary steps toward success. There were just so many instances with Krash where I settled, and I just wasn’t happy with [the project]. And when this project [Empathy] came around, I made a commitment that I was not going to settle, not going to do anything less than what I love and what I feel confident standing by. I’ve noticed this in the difference between how people responded to Krash and how people are responding to Empathy. Ultimately, there will always be a theme of growth between all my projects, no matter what I do. I’m always going to be succeeding and failing and repeating.
On “Break Time,” you reference God quite a bit. How does faith tie into your music, especially this project?
I have to believe in something more. Empathy is such a God-body feeling. Especially thinking about Empathy and “Break Time,” there are people that lack empathy, and those are usually people that are not together in their brains. God is the thread that ties every single thing together. There are a lot of things that I don’t know. There are a lot of things that I will never know probably until after I die. Maybe I won’t even know then. But the things I do and have learned, I have to cherish and share with the world.
“Anytime” highlights the eternal dynamic between you and Kehlani. You have co-written tracks like “Honey,” too. How many years in the making was this dynamic?
We were internet buddies. Early in my career, I came to LA, and I had a bunch of technical, financial, and family difficulties. I was literally stuck in LA. I called all of my friends, and they either were not in LA, or they couldn’t do [anything]. And I just DM’d Kehlani on Instagram. It turned out she was staying with her uncle, and he was out of town for the whole week. We just connected right away. I feel like everything we’re doing now, we’ve done since we first met.
We co-wrote “Honey” together. I was in some of the While We Wait sessions, and I’m still doing stuff for her now. She’s just always shown and proven herself to be a real friend, and we’re sisters now, and I’m the auntie to her baby. It’s been a few long years, but it feels good to come full circle and to be making music together.
Last question. What do you hope Empathy projects into the world?
I hope people start being a little bit more considerate. With Empathy, it wasn’t just about what I needed from other people; it was about what I needed to bring to other people. I hope that beyond people enjoying the music and getting the vibes or whatever, that they start being introspective with themselves and not just demanding the things they want and commanding those things into their lives. I want people to be thoughtful and listen to the words and sing them and interpret what they mean to them. That’s what music should be… I want to be putting the real into my music so that people hear [it].