If anyone wants to know just how to survive twenty-degree weather while living on the streets of New York City, just ask Calico Jay. It was a cold February and snow had blanketed the concrete. You could find the young artist tapping away at the keys on his laptop in Grand Central station, creating a new song to distract himself from the blizzard outside. A few hours later, after the terminal would close its doors to travelers, he would relocate to a subway car for the rest of the night and repeat. That was 10 years ago.
Today, perched in a penthouse near Washington Heights, Jay makes it clear that he hasn’t forgotten the struggle. When a cold snap hits, he ventures back out into the ice and cares for the forgotten…the ones whose lives depend on the immediate and elusive ability to stay warm in a cold city. Then, after he has given all that he can spare, he goes back home and writes more music.
Calico Jay is not the product of some big production budget or overnight social media fame. His is a slow build, anchored in a love of seeing light overcome darkness. You can tell as much just by listening to a few of his tracks. A common theme, no matter the subject, is strength through adversity. It is that sort of strength that propelled him from the streets to where he is today, and it is that same strength that he has channeled into songs like “All of the Lights.”
A soulful voice soars through an ethereal array of background synths, announcing the beginning of an urban song with a trap beat that you won’t want to come to an end. Expertly nestled between the catchy hooks are verses that provide the listener a window into Jay’s unique perspective on life. Even after the final kick drum, there’s something about “Lights” that seems to linger on the mind. Maybe it’s the melody or maybe it’s the message.
Either way…it’s unforgettable.
That’s just one of the sonic jewels in Calico Jay’s newest set, Purple Rain & Yellow Gold – released last week on all digital platforms. Tracks like “Ice” and “Casanova” serve as a reminder that this artist can flow over hard-hitting trap beats like a seasoned professional. Classically melodic sensibility meets gritty edge on “Purple Rain & Yellow Gold,” the EP’s namesake. “Cadillac” brings us on a fast and furious escapade through modulating sine waves and a sea of bass only to leave us at the doorstep of another gem – “The Zone,” an R&B-infused ode to low-key stoners everywhere.
All in all, the EP can – and should – be played from start to finish. In the age of a seemingly endless cornucopia of singles, this compilation reminds the listener of a time when the world made a bit more sense. Most importantly, it gives us a glimpse into what we can come to expect from this rising star and from the future of music.