Jharrel Jerome was one of the actors who portrayed Kevin in the Best Picture-winning 'Moonight'
You should know 19-year-old Jharrel Jerome from his stunning role in this year’s Academy Award-winning film, Moonlight — and just last night, he, along with Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders, picked up an MTV Movie & TV Award for Best Kiss. But now Jerome wants you to know him for his music as well.
Performing at Eclectic Cafe and Vinyl this Sunday at 7 p.m., Jerome has been in Charleston since January filming for the Stephen King show Mr. Mercedes, and he’s used his time here to get out and about, make music on days off, and meet new people, like College of Charleston students. “I’m still trying to live out my 19-year-old life, you know?” he says. “And I’ve just continued meeting the right people.”
So far, he has taken to the Holy City — a fact that has surprised him somewhat. “There’s so much culture down here, so much I didn’t know about. I’m from New York City, so when you’re coming down South, you have such a closed mind about it and I didn’t really expect to see such a vibrant community down here.”
One person he was lucky to meet is local promoter/publicist Aysha Meadows, who helped set up a show where Jerome can test out his new EP on Charleston ears. The title of the album is Moonwalk, and, yes, it’s an homage to Moonlight. “Ever since Moonlight happened, everything has changed,” he says. “My dreams are coming true and I just feel like I’m on top of the world, so it kind of seems like I’m moonwalking every time I walk now.”
Created with his producer and friend from Ithaca College, Tim Obzud, Moonwalk was written over the past few months — in between filming locally, jetting off to Los Angeles to accept major awards, and basking in the post-Oscars limelight — via FaceTime and recorded recently during a two-day trip to New York City.
Jerome says the five-song collection is meant to whet the appetite of his fans while he works on something a little more expansive and meaningful. “The new fanbase I’ve been getting through Moonlight, it’s been exciting me to the point that I just want to let it out," he says, "so I’ve actually been writing something bigger and something of substance that is very, very important to me.”
Jerome was born and raised in the Bronx, the birthplace of hip-hop, so he’s always been surrounded by hip-hop culture, which, of course, influenced his writing style. “I grew up learning the right side of hip-hop,” he says. “You can either learn the wrong side or the right side. But I definitely grew up listening to really lyrical artists like Big Pun and the Tribe and Nas and stuff like that, and I think that is what shaped me into wanting to tell stories rather than just trying to say words in a rhythm — rap became art and music, so that was something that I needed.”
Jerome wants to pursue a career that's 50-percent acting, 50-percent music — he just wants to be known as an artist, period — a great entertainer.
And since Mr. Mercedes was recently picked up for more episodes, Jerome hopes to further immerse himself in the local arts scene and to use his platform to give back to the community that has, thus far, been so welcoming. “Since two or three years ago, I’ve really been trying to take action in the communities I’ve been in, and I feel like art is the best way to heal what’s going on now. I think art is the best medicine,” says Jerome. “So whether it’s acting, music, dancing, or painting, as long as you’re telling your side of the story and trying to make sure that people are hearing you, I think that’s a big reason why I continue to write music, why I continue to speak and use my voice.”