JBL Emerging Interview: Aryeè The Gem embraces overthinking on ‘To It’

In this Emerging Headliner interview powered by JBL, Atlanta-based artist, Aryeè The Gem explains why being a self-confessed overthinker led to the biggest release of her career so far on her slinky R&B track, To It, which has seen her streaming and follower numbers soar.

Aryana Damesha Jackson is well aware she shares a first name with two of the most exciting pop and R&B stars on the scene, but with her slick R&B jam To It, Aryeè The Gem is letting the world know it’s her time to shine.

“People always ask me, ‘So what’s your name?’ I'm like, ‘My name is Ary or Aryana,’ and they go, ‘Oh, like Ariana Grande, or Ari Lennox!’” begins Jackson, who's a captivating combination of assertive and pensive during the conversation from her home in Atlanta, which in mid June, she says is already giving peak summer vibes. “That was always frustrating to me to explain to people: Yes, my name is Aryee, but you don't have to make that reference.”

If you’re wondering how ‘The Gem’ came to be incorporated into this rising star’s alias, she says it came to her after struggling to process the death of her grandfather at a time where she also found herself grappling to find a sense of identity.

“I was not in a good mental space,” she reflects, “and I felt a sense of disconnect from myself, but also, I was finding a new aspect of myself. This name came to mind, which was Gem Star, and I was like, ‘Okay, my name is Gem Star,’ and then one of my friends said, ‘The Gem!’. From there, Aryeè The Gem just made sense and I resonated with that. 

“My energy has always been a rare type of vibe and people always tell me that I'm like no other, so it felt fitting,” she states by way of explanation. “Plus, I didn't want to run from my name. Aryeè The Gem is such a standalone name and it does separate me from the other Aris, so I took that and ran with it. It allows people to see that, yes, she is rare. She is a gem. She is something that you don't normally see often and very valuable. I like that,” she smiles.

My energy has always been a rare type of vibe and people always tell me that I'm like no other.

Less than a year on from bursting onto the scene with her progressive soul debut Spring, the deep-thinking singer, songwriter and vocal producer recently returned with smooth R&B earworm To It – a song so infectious it racked up over 100,000 Spotify streams in a month and saw her listeners rocket from 4,000 to over 40,000. Jackson shares that she had a feeling this song would make an impact, but that the wave of online support has caught her off guard:

“I knew this song was gonna be special just based on how it made me feel when I was creating it,” she nods. “It is a very vulnerable song and I was speaking from a place of wanting to push through my obstacles. I knew it was going to be a special song because it was a special song for me, and when I shared it with my family, they would tell me, ‘Yo, this is my favourite song!’. 

"I feel it's relatable to where we are in the social climate with inflation and with all of the things that you go through as an adult, like relationship issues. People can really resonate with it. It's down to earth,” she considers. “People were able to connect with my story and see themselves within that – it has a universal understanding, you know? But I couldn't fathom this. I knew it was gonna be big, but I didn't know it was gonna impact my community in this way and create this much noise, but I'm so grateful.”

The song's lyrics touch on everyday worries of paying bills and not getting back to people, as well as struggling with feelings of loneliness and reacting to mounting social pressures. Speaking about the inspiration behind To It, Jackson reveals that it is inspired by one of her self-proclaimed character flaws: overthinking.

“At the time I was in a space where I knew that I needed to be creating,” she says of writing the song. “I always knew that music was my passion and my purpose and aligned with the reason that I'm alive. I was working this nine to five, and it was a struggle; I never really had enough money to take care of myself and just do what I wanted to do. 

"I started feeling the weight and the pressures of adulthood and relationships and not knowing if people want to be with me, because I've been single for about five years now. So it was about me wanting to build these intimate connections, but not even knowing that we're building from a solid foundation. I was feeling all of the weight of that, and I was like, ‘Let me just alchemise this energy and shift it into something that I know is going to help me in my future’. Even in the midst of all that I knew I had to stay focused and keep working really hard to get to this next level.”

Jackson acknowledges that one scenario where overthinking can be beneficial, ironically, is when it comes to songwriting.

“I'm a very particular person when it comes to the things that I say in my music, because I understand how much of an impact words can have,” she says thoughtfully. “As I'm writing, I'm always over analysing, making sure it makes sense and that the storyline is fluid in that it's comprehensive to someone who doesn't really understand what this is, because they haven't necessarily experienced it.”

I don't like to sugarcoat. I'm not making songs necessarily for other people.
I'm in alignment with my purpose and I'm doing what I'm supposed to do.

Listen to To It and you’ll catch a hint of Solange, Brandy, and yes, even Ari Lennox intertwined in there. Her love of R&B songstresses stems from her early influences; she grew up listening to artists like Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott on road trips with her mother, while a talent for writing became apparent in her childhood poems.

“I always knew that I wanted to do something that I loved, and music was the most consistent thing that kept me grounded in my life,” she recalls. “I took a lot of road trips with my mum growing up, travelling from Alabama to Wisconsin – that's around 16 hours,” she points out.

“She'd have all of these different CDs from artists like Teena Marie, Vivian Green, Jill Scott – all of the OGs that were really talking about love and that were expressing themselves in a soulful way. Those are the types of frequencies that motivated me to notice music that is created from a real place.”

Her family picked up on Jackson’s love of singing early on, encouraging her to sing for them at family gatherings:

“They were always playing music and saying, ‘We want you to sing. Sing!’ I remember one gathering they paid me to sing, so I was like, ‘Okay, this might be it for me.’ They went around with a little collection plate, which is hilarious,” she laughs, shaking her head fondly at the memory.

Produced by Trakmatik, who has also worked with the likes of Snoh Aalegra, Keyshia Cole, and August Alsina, To It is the first single from Aryeè The Gem’s upcoming debut solo EP, which is set to be released this summer via independent label Saint & Citizen Music. In terms of what she can reveal about the EP, Jackson says that it comes from a genuine place which sees her exploring the different facets of love.

“It’s all about reimagining what love and connection is with other people and with yourself,” she reveals. “This project gets pretty vulnerable. It's fun, it's unorthodox. The production is incredible. I collaborated with so many creative geniuses in Atlanta and I feel so blessed to be able to do that. People are really gonna be able to resonate with this – there’s a lot of different vibes on it. Ultimately, it's gonna feel like a hug, and I love that. We’re still working on the name, but I kind of wanna keep that on the hush hush until we’ve locked that in…”

I'm a very particular person when it comes to my music, because I understand how much of an impact words can have.

Jackson regularly performs all over Atlanta, but has become more choosy about the types of shows she’ll say yes to as she carefully considers the type of artist that she wants to be:

“Atlanta is a place where you can get a lot of performance opportunities, but as of right now, I'm getting more specific around the spaces that I want my art to live in,” she explains. “Although it's easy to just perform anywhere, I want to be more intentional with my energy. I remember performing at a space and there were around 30 other artists on the lineup and I didn't even perform until about 2am, and that's a lot. So I'm being more specific these days about where I'm performing and why I'm performing, but I definitely love to perform.’

Anyone seeing Jackson on stage will spot her JBL EON ONE compact portable PA that she’s recently started using:

“A lot of time I would have to borrow a friend's PA speaker, so getting this has really changed the game for me, honestly,” she says. “For performances now and in the future, and also just for practice, being able to have something that I can easily carry around and take where I need, and so I can be preparing for these performances, has been a game-changer. 

"The sound quality is top-tier,” she enthuses. “I'm blasting it in my room; I know my roommates are probably like, ‘Turn that down!’ but I really have been enjoying it. My music sounds super clear and fire on it, and the setup was so easy,” she points out.

“You take it out the box, you plug it in the wall and boom! That's about it! I love that it has multiple ways to connect to it as well, like via aux or Bluetooth. I really enjoy the fact that it's portable and that it has a rechargeable battery, so it doesn't necessarily have to be plugged in. That is the biggest thing for me because it's like, ‘Alright, maybe I want to do a little pop up performance somewhere just randomly,’ right? Now I can just take this and not even need to be plugged in, so it creates a sense of freedom and accessibility for many things. 

"It really benefits artists because not only can you play your instrumentation through it, but you'll be able to connect a microphone to it as well and play at the same time. This is a lifeline for an independent artist that is out there gigging and making money through music – this is one of the tools that you need; it’s a foundation. It's everything. It's the start.”

My music sounds super clear and fire on my jbl pa. The sound quality is top-tier.

For Jackson, music has always been a calling – a natural path for her to instinctually drive towards, and one where she’s carving out her own path and distinctive, independent sound. You won’t be confusing her with any other Ari anytime soon, and when it comes to her soon-to-be-released debut solo EP, rest assured, she’s getting to it…

“I feel like I have to tell the truth,” she shares as a closing thought. “I don't like to sugarcoat, you know? I'm naturally an open person and I love to share and express. This is a form of me giving myself in different ways. It always starts with me first. I'm not making songs necessarily for other people. I know that I'm in alignment with my purpose and I'm doing what I'm supposed to do,” she states. 

“It brings me peace to be able to open up and allow people to see me. It is a little scary because I didn't expect for my giving to inspire or to make people feel this way, but ultimately, I know this is what I'm supposed to be doing so I push the fear and the overthinking to the side. I'm here to help inspire people to open up, because we need each other.”