Serve: New Indie Artist Jermaine Dolly Tops The Digital Charts with “You”
You may know Jermaine Dolly as the self-professed hype man for Philly-bred gospel artists Prayz-1 and Tye Tribbett. Well, he recently stepped out to start working on his highly anticipated solo project. After Jermaine Dolly released his first single “You,” he hit #5 on the Billboard Digital Gospel Charts and #3 on iTunes. Heed magazine caught up with him as he rides the wave of his breakout success and kicks some knowledge his forthcoming project Serve!
Alisha Jones (AJ): Congratulations on this new chapter! I have had the pleasure of observing your ministry for several years – first with Philly-bred gospel artists such as Prayz1 and then Tye Tribbett. It so great to see you stepping out and doing your own thing!
You have made your mark supporting other artists. What have been the benefits of supporting their ministries as you develop your craft? What are the lessons you have learned?
Jermaine Dolly (JD): For one, I believe in Matthew 20 talks about one way to success is to Serve. You know, throughout the years I didn’t really look at it as serving until I got deep into my Word. Back then, when I was ministering with Prayz, I got to go to people’s churches and stand on people’s chairs and ROCK OUT!
JD: (laughs) You know, we were on a different wave back then. Nobody was rapping and singing. We were doing that in ’05, ’03. I was just hyped to be a part of that – something fresh and something new. I was also a hype man that could sing. And so I just jumped on stage and just rocked out.
I always wanted to be a rapper anyway. I wanted to even hold the mic like a rapper. I was just hype doing that! And with Prayz, he is really into his Word. Like he knows the Word front to back and he don’t curse. When I met Prayz, I could cuss. I could… I was a very, very good curser…Very, very good curser. But under Prayz1, the band members would always say jacks like “That crazy as jacks.” So I didn’t want to be the only oddball cussin’. And so under Prayz I stopped cussin.’ I started taking my word seriously – not too seriously but you know… (laughs)
Then we met Tye Tribbett and he asked to exchange numbers. Off of that I was like, Tye Tribbett wants my number? Yeah! I was hype off of that and when Tye was going through I would text him randomly once a month. Like “Yo, you good?” It caught him off guard because it was coming from me. We weren’t cool like that. I was texting him to see if he was good.
Some months later, he asked me to be on Celebration of Gospel with him. That was my first gig with Tye. And I sang with him for 6 years. Just being under Tye – He really knew the Word too. When we would talk on the plane, with the group or just in regular conversation, his examples would be Bible stories. Again, like with Prayz, I didn’t want to be the oddball cussin,’ I didn’t want to be the oddball who didn’t know my Word. Everybody had Word references. Everyone knew their Word. I got deep in my Word and just serving…
Working with them, I learned how to have stage presence. I learned how to work sound check. I learned how to be my own artist by watching and helping others. Helping others, helped me.
AJ: Hmmm. It’s good to hear black men talk about the discipline that they have observed in their brothers. We don’t often hear that. Especially when it is your time to shine, we don’t hear folks who know the importance of talking about other’s witness. It is good to hear you say that.
So, what is your musical background?
JD: Well, I first started playing drums when I was three years old, when I got a drum set. I had good rhythm. I was just mocking this drum player at church, so I could play drums… but my mom wanted me to play piano. I’ve been playing piano since I was six. Singing is on my dad’s side. He is a crooner. My brother sings too. My dad plays guitar and piano and so when I was growing up, my brother and dad would play all the songs and I would try to get in. They could play by ear really good. But me – I really wasn’t that good. They would overlook me. Like they would turn my keyboard all the way down… they would play for hours and hours. That motivated me a lot to know how to play. Now, none of them can beat me.
They both sing… They’ll tell you that I can play keyboard better than them but they would never say that I can sing better than them. I’d hear my dad talking to some friends and they’d say, “Who do you think sings better, you or your son?” And he would say, “Who do you think he got it from?” He will take that to his grave and that’s what’s up. Yeah, the musical background is on my dad’s side. My musical background is there.
I grew up listening to gospel. And my grandmother was an evangelist, my granddad was a deacon before he died, my godmom is an evangelist, my mom was a deaconess and so growing up we stayed in church nonstop. My grandmom was a well-known preacher. She stayed with preaching gigs. She used to do revivals. I stayed in church and so I learned devotions. I was always in devotions I was always listening to Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Daryl Coley, Mississippi Mass Choir, Rev. James Cleveland, Rev. James Moore, The Gospel Keynotes, The Williams Brothers, Bebe and Cece Winans, and The Winans family. That wave of gospel music that we don’t really hear today… I grew up on that music.
My dad wasn’t really in the church. He would listen to a lot of Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, The Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald, the soulful James Brown, Chaka Khan & Rufus, all of those artists.
I watched BET and MTV. I listened to Jay-Z and Kanye back in the day. I have all that in me. Now I have Sam Smith, James Blake, and Emily King.
And then hanging with Tye, I listened to a lot of CCM: Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Planetshakers, and Kari Jobe. I have all of that in me and in my own my music I just put it all together. I’ve got a lot.
AJ: I am glad that you shared that gospel repertoire because folks in the industry have been talking about how performers who are trying to get in the industry have no idea of Christian repertoire from before the last ten years such as The Winans, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, or Daryl Coley. All they know is what is on the radio.
JD: Yeah, they have no idea. The funny thing is I learned that at twelve. It was me and my best friends were at Red Lobster with our moms. We were just singing a song. They said, “You really know how to sing.” I was like y’all can’t do this. I was just mocking Daryl Coley!
I was singing in my falsetto and have been singing in it for years. I started singing in falsetto before I started singing in my full voice. I would sing “Blessed Assurance” in my falsetto at 17 years old.
AJ: It is so sad because people miss out on great music that they can incorporate into their own material. Everybody is trying to reinvent themselves when there is already so much music they can use.
So, I’m sure this is an amazing moment for you – receiving all of this notoriety. I know that you have been performing “You” for a bit. People have been anticipating this song. Tell me about your single and your forthcoming project Serve.
JD: I mentioned that my dad listened to a lot of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway– style songs. That music was a big influence. Mind you, I have been singing falsetto since I was little. My falsetto is way stronger than my full voice. I can do more in my falsetto. I am big fan of Bilal, Maxwell, D’Angelo, and Prince. They have great falsetto.
When I met Tye, he put me on to CCM music. A lot of their songs exalt, adore, and love God. I was not thinking about writing a hit with “You.” I wasn’t like that with any of my songs that are coming out. It was just a medley in my head for real, for real that I cam up with in my room. When we were travelling, I told one of my roommates that I was gonna make a falsetto song. I want to take the blueprint of CCM and how they exalt, my dad’s 60s and 70s music –you don’t hear that music anymore – I am gonna put those together with my falsetto and make a song.
I first sang “You” 33 weeks ago. I had just stopped singing with Tye last May. I got my band together and I planned to rehearse once a week, for three hours. Last year, was my year of preparation. God was just telling me to prepare, prepare, prepare. I didn’t know what I was preparing for but He said prepare. I was like alright… cool, say less.
So, I got my band together and from to May to August we had no gigs lined up. My homey John Braves told me he was having a heart music concert and that we should do it. It was my first time doing “You” at the show and it went crazy in there. And I put a clip of the video on Instagram and it went viral. I was getting gigs just from Instagram. Everybody wanted to hear the song. On Instagram, I had only posted 15 seconds but everybody wanted the single. I was getting gigs from Instagram because everybody wanted to hear the song. I had over 200 gigs from that one clip.
We went into the studio… finished the song. Decided to drop it on a Saturday and since nothing is released on Saturday… all the attention was on it.
AJ: What is the message that you want people to take away from your project?
JD: It is about God getting the glory. I have seen in gospel music that God is being slowly taken out of these songs. I heard Donnie McClurkin say that the reason why Andrae Crouch lasted so long was because he kept Jesus in his songs. Everybody wants to say “God” and “Lord” in their songs… Who is your God? Who is your Lord? When you sing about Jesus Christ there is no denying who you are talking about.
If you put God first you will never be last. In “You,” I say Jesus over 200 times. We released it without marketing and PR. I look at it like Jesus is my PR, Jesus is my marketing, Jesus is my record label.
Stay connected with Jermaine Dolly:
Twitter – @maine030887
Instagram – @Hello_Dolly24