Pulse of the Kingdom: A Conversation with Jekalyn Carr

Multi-hyphenate Jekalyn Carr discusses spiritual and sonic growth on her eponymous new album.

Jekalyn Carr is not new to this. Speaking and singing in church from a young age, her powerful voice has drawn the attention of many. Over time, she's used that voice to widen her scope, adding entrepreneur, radio personality, actress, author, and more to her list of achievements.

She received her first Stellar Award by age 16, her first Grammy nomination at 18, was the first Gospel artist to be inducted into the Women’s Songwriters Hall of Fame, and turned only 26 this April. As an artist who has accomplished so much already, she desires to keep advancing the kingdom through her numerous God-given gifts.

On the musical front, Carr returns with her new self-titled project, Jekalyn. The 11-song album shows her growth artistically, with multiple collaborations and the exploration of sonics outside of the traditional Gospel space that she has operated in previously. Ranging from fun, reggae-inspired tracks like “My Always” to battle cry anthems like “God of War,” the vocal powerhouse uses this body of work to share her testimony through a combination of diverse sounds and substance-filled lyrics.

Read BET’s interview with her below. Though this is not your debut album, it is your first self-titled album. You said naming it Jekalyn was inspired by your evolution, wanting the title to have a personal touch and your testimony. So, when looking at this completed body of work, what qualities does this album possess that are uniquely distinctive to you as an individual?

Jekalyn Carr: I think for me, it’s the fact that this album is literally my life story. Hence, me also naming it after my name, Jekalyn. Literally, every song embodies my testimony. It embodies my story. It’s just packaged up through song. Being able to express that is what makes this one different as well. Then, of course, wanting to not go the traditional route that I normally would because I realized over the course of four years that there’s just so much more in me. I wanted to make sure I expressed that on this album as well, but I still make sure the substance stayed there. This is also your first album in a while. How did that extended period of time play a role in the shaping of this project? What was God working in you and revealing to you over that period of time that helped inform the music on this album?

Jekalyn Carr: It played a huge role because, during that time, I was able to not just grow and evolve but I was also able to know what direction I wanted to go for this album. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m 1,000 percent spirit-led when it comes to what I do. I just feel like He knows what His people need. I just always want to make sure that I am available and open to what He wants, so during that time period, I was able to become more confident in embracing my growth and evolution. Sometimes, people will make you feel bad because you’re not where you were before. I had to realize that I can’t allow myself or others to hold me to a place where I no longer am. I’ve grown. There’s so much that has happened, and I wanted to show that through my music, so that time was very pivotal to me.

Gospel Music

Gospel Legend Erica Campbell Talks New Music and Starring on Season 2 of BET Plus’ ‘Kingdom Business’ This album contains many collaborations from Gospel artists like Kirk Franklin, and Kierra Sheard-Kelly, but also crosses over into artists like Papa San, Mike Teezy, Blanca and Elevation Rhythm, who expand the genre range. What inspired these collaborations?

Jekalyn Carr: Like you said, there are a lot of collaborations, and I’ve never really done a collaboration album before. It’s just been all Jekalyn. So, I literally studied the songs, and I would hear certain voices on them. Like on “Celebration,” I immediately knew who I wanted on the song. I was like, “I want Pastor Mike Jr. here, Mike Teezy here, Kirk Franklin right there.” I already knew that’s just what it was for me. Just hearing the voices and making sure that I was strategically placing everyone. As an artist who has more of a traditional Gospel sound, how has collaborating with this wide range of artists allowed you to step outside of that traditional space and reach more people of Christ?

Jekalyn Carr: I’m grateful for it because I have to also realize that my audience has grown a lot. Being able to tap into those particular areas and the different sides of my audience has been very fun. That’s the reason why I wanted to bring in certain artists. 

Also, not just because of that, but there are certain artists that my audience have waited on me to collab with, like Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Kierra Sheard-Kelly. We’ve actually collaborated before, but not on my song. Having Kirk Franklin and having Papa San on “My Always,” I’m like,  'If I’m going to take them to Jamaica, I gotta have that Jamaica sound.' So yeah, I studied every song and I really enjoyed it. I think it’s very fun to be able to collaborate with people who are also different and unique but great in their own right, and they just bring the vision to life. As an artist who has operated in the traditional Gospel space but is continuing to expand, what do you envision for the future of the genre?

Jekalyn Carr: I just want everybody to uniquely be themselves, embrace who they are and be confident in that. Your sound may not be the same as that of the next person; however, it’s impactful. Someone needs it. That’s what you have to realize. A lot of us may not be called to the same people, but as long as we’re reaching people, that’s what matters. That’s what I continue to hope that Gospel music continues to grow into. Even for people that will come after me, they will just be confident in their identity and their sound so people can be touched by what their assignment is. The lead single from this album, “I Believe God” just reached No. 1 on Billboard and Mediabase simultaneously. Your seventh No. 1 song. Congratulations! This song speaks about maintaining your faith despite circumstances. Throughout your journey, when your faith has been tested, what are some of the practices that you’ve exercised to keep your faith strong?

Jekalyn Carr: Let’s just be real and honest. Every season and every year of our lives do not look the same, but one thing we do need is God. I can say for myself that even during the process of working on “I Believe God,” my family and I purchased land. Like 120 acres of land in Georgia. They told us it would take 30 years to pay for it, but God blessed us to be able to pay it off in three years. And so, I say that because I want people to understand that despite what obstacles you face or what others may say, when you have God working for you, all you have to do is believe Him and not let what you see or hear veer you away from that. So, when I sing “I believe God,” I’m singing from a place of conviction. I know what happens when you believe in God. It’s that song to make sure that your faith doesn’t fail you, because the enemy’s ultimate goal is to make sure you don’t see the manifestation of your promise. So, he’s going to send stuff, send the no's, send the obstacles, and all that, but you have to continue to believe God through it all because, at the end of the day, He’s a man of His word. He’s going to do what He said. I know that was a little lengthy, but I got a testimony! You’re an artist who has a powerful voice, not just as a singer but also as a speaker and songwriter. How has your experience in speaking helped you find your voice as a songwriter and vice versa?

Jekalyn Carr: Honestly, the speaking has been very impactful because a lot of my songs were written from my sermons. So, you have “Greater Is Coming,” which was my breakout single that I released at 14 or 15 years old and my very first official sermon I preached was called “Greater Is Coming.” I’ll never forget. It was in Atlanta, Georgia, before I moved there. It’s very impactful because I want to make sure that I preach and sing with substance because that matters to me, and I feel like it will carry your song on for years. Both impact each other, but the speaking has played a huge part in my singing. So now, when I go places to sing, they say they want to hear that ministry side of me. And I love that because I don’t have to feel like I have to lay back a little bit, but people accept all of me and they want to hear it all. This album covers a range of topics. If you could pick one song from this project that you think is most necessary or needed in today’s climate, what would it be, and why?

Jekalyn Carr: Right now, I’m going to say, “God of War.” It’s just one of those songs for whatever season of your life because, at the end of the day, you always need the God of war, the God of battle, to win for you and bring you victory. We face stuff that we didn’t even know we were going to face. 

One thing I want you to understand from this song is that God delights in vindicating His children. He delights in bringing us justice and recompense. There was stuff that you were supposed to win years ago, but you never got that win. When you understand that the God of War wants to work for you, wants to go out there and bring you what is due to you, you sit back and let Him do it. Especially with everything that is going on in our world now, I think it’s very much needed. We have to continue to pull on Him so that He can bring us victory, because He's going to do it for sure. Outside of being a singer and songwriter and releasing great albums like Jekalyn, you’re also an entrepreneur, radio personality, actress, speaker, etc. As a multi-hyphenate that is involved in so many different areas, what are your future plans to continue to make an impact for the Kingdom?

Jekalyn Carr: I want to continue to do everything that I am doing and just continue growing in it. Of course, I’m a big fan of fashion and beauty. That’s another area that I desire to walk into. I just want to make sure I’m impactful in everything that I’m already doing. My ultimate goal is to make sure that I’m living in every single purpose that God has placed in my life because I don’t want greatness to go to waste, so I want to use it while I can.

Listen to “I Believe God” by Jekalyn Carr and more of the newest Gospel, Christian R&B, Christian Hip-Hop and Afrobeat on BET’s “Pulse of the Kingdom” playlist, now streaming on Spotify.

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