From jazz to hip hop soul, the voice of Leah Jenea is an old soul with a trap flair

1 min read

The 17-year-old wunderkind with a multi-octave range, Leah Jenea, sings like she’s been here at least twelve times.

Already, she has opened for a list of top soul artists like Musiq Soulchild, Vivian Green and Bilal, but cannot even legally drink. Performing in major venues around her hometown of Newark, New Jersey and in the tri-state area, Jenea branched out with the 2017 release of her debut album LIFE WTR.

The album showcases her complex musical style that she calls hip hop soul, but her selection  on LIFE WTR invokes reminiscent sounds of a jazz era gone that somehow sound-clashes with 90s hip hop. Picture Sarah Vaughn sharing a spliff with Queen Latifah’s character from Set it Off. It is gritty, yet refined, and introspective and refreshing.

Last year, Jenea’s voice caught the ear of Wayne Winbourne, the Executive Director of Rutgers University Newark’s Institute of Jazz Studies. So impressed by her voice, he requested a copy of  LIFE WTR for the institute’s archives.

Leah Jenea. Photo credit: Jenea’s IG page.

Music in The Bricks

People think that life after Lauryn Hill in Newark would be bleak. Quite the exception. The city churns out people in the entertainment industry more so then it did when L-Boogie rocked the mic. Also known as, The Bricks, Newark’s signature is its music scene starting around the 1930s when jazz artists performed at Black venues in the area.

New York is considered a jazz hub, but many jazz clubs that were top ranking were restricted to white-only membership. Although the artists were Black, popular clubs practiced segregation. As a result, artists found their way to Newark, a city with a budding nightlife and performing arts scene on the Black side of town.

Building onto that legacy, people like Jenea continue. She received some of her performance chops by participating in the Lincoln Park Music Fest, one of the top, free, outdoor musical venues in the northeast. A three-day event that features gospel, house music (a New Jersey staple) and hip- hop, Jenea sang there several times, but in 2017, she was a marquee performer for the festival’s Jazzy Soul Series.

Getting ready for her second album and dropping potent singles along the way, like Perfectly Imperfect, a song in which a portion of the proceeds goes toward autism awareness. Currently, she is finishing production with Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature.

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Kim J. Ford is a curator of dope hip hop stories.

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