By Dylan Deprey
A spark of inspiration can come from anywhere. No one really knows when the mythical bulb floating above their head will ignite, but for Jabril Yousef, it took around a thousand interviews and the ultimate need to truly express themselves for it to shine brighter than ever.
Before Yousef was operating as “Milwaukee Stories,” one of the city’s premiere independent journalism companies, they were a singer, a musician, a performer.
Yousef started piano lessons at 10-years-old, and sang in church and school choirs. They picked up a guitar at 14 and self-taught themselves the best they could.
“I had a fender electric guitar—had absolutely no idea what I was doing,” Yousef said laughing. “I learned some chords, but didn’t understand how to make music or songs yet.
There were some valiant attempts, nothing I would play for anyone these days.”
They had the lead in two musicals at Riverside High School. Ironically, the loving, free spirit portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Though music was their entire life, Yousef completely lost touch with it after high school.
Yousef worked for a social media firm, and as a journalist, before creating their own platform to showcase the city’s overlooked stories in underappreciated areas.
“I got a sense of what Milwaukee was actually like, versus what people in Milwaukee and around the county saw it as, and didn’t engage with,” Yousef said.
While the platform saw success, it wasn’t completely sustainable crowdfunding as a nonprofit and Yousef made the decision to call it quits.
Around the same time in 2018, they were starting to dabble with music again. It wasn’t the same as when they were growing up. It wasn’t about structure and repetition, it was about telling a story and creating a soundscape.
As they vibed in the studio with local hip-hop producer rapper duo, Pharaoh Mac & DMT, creating music was less repetitive and more of an expression. They eventually picked up the guitar again and started song writing again.
“Music is a way for me to make sense of what is going on in the world, what I’m encountering every day,” Yousef said. “It’s kind of a way to repackage the pain the world is in, and put it out as something beautiful.”
They doubled down in the song writing department during the COVID-19 pandemic. They wrote more than 50 songs over the course of lockdown. After reaching out to Isaac John, Pharaoh Mac & DMT’s producer, they picked from the batch to build their debut album.
They wrote the lyrics, progression and melody and then sent it off to John, in LA, who would then layer sounds from scratch based on the skeleton track.
“It’s been really fun, and wild,” Yousef said. “There’s been this kind of artistic explosion having to sit with ourselves, which has been challenging at times. I made some kind of quantum jumps, during COVID-19.”
Yousef is releasing their debut album, “WILD LOVE” on Tuesday, July 20.
“This project is a documentation of my self-love journey. It’s a group of songs about love and life, heartbreak and adventure. It’s all those things that make us human,” they said.
The first single, “ELECTRIC,” was an electro-folk-pop smash that dives into the spark between people. Whether its meeting eyes or a simple touch, they explore the potential connection that exists between people.
“It’s big for me to see potential in relationships and the possibilities a deep relationship opens up,” they said. “It sounds really happy and upbeat, but also kind of melancholy under the surface.”
Yousef released the second single, “BOXES” on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. It was a tribute to Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and the many others that pushed the boundaries and demanded basic human rights for the Queer and Trans community.
“People have tried to fit me into their BOXES of who I should be, what I should wear, and how I should behave. But we are the ones who choose how to most authentically live our truth and ‘we don’t need no BOXES, baby’!”
Yousef said the seven-track project is their way of translating the world’s pain and chaos into joy and prosperity. It was a dedication to the social justice warriors that have been fighting for equal rights for all.
They said it’s really their life, an album about a non-binary American of Middle Eastern descent navigating through this world we all live in.
“I’ve found a path and a valuable purpose. I guess you can say I’m trying to change the world, but really the vehicle I’ve chosen to do that is changing me. Just being who I am authentically in my life, and it’s hard because people might not understand or support me, but I found people that do support me, and that’s all I need.”
Yousef will host an album release party at Nō Studios on Friday, July 23.
For more information visit https://www.jabrilyousef.com/music