FLINT, Michigan — A yearning echoes from the voice of one of Flint’s leading men in R&B. On his debut single, Ou
, Thee Jernē
seductively speaks about a romantic encounter and the sounds that come from a lover’s lips during a moment of intimacy — one of many staple topics to sing about in the annuals of rhythm and blues.
He vocalizes matter-of-factly 'this what you/signed up for/when you walked through/my front door.'
Yet, in his day-to-day life, this yearning is an inward desire to become more vulnerable and authentic and tell stories of the human experience only explained through slowed-down arrangements, moody melodies, stacked vocals, and pulsating bass.
“I’m used to music that’s about love. I try to do music that makes people feel some way. Music that makes me think and gives me goosebumps. I believe that’s why I take to [R&B] as I do,” Jernē explains inside Pop Rox, formerly known as The Eberson, in downtown Flint.
He sits across from me as current and old-school rap, Hip-Hop, and R&B music erupts from the sound system. His demeanor is laid-back yet attentive, which speaks to his open-minded and inquisitive personality. His choice of clothing is also an ode to his musical preferences, with a sports bucket hat, white Champion windbreaker, black joggers, white sneakers, and a pair of circular black shades. It strikes a balance of wanting to be seen yet unsure what to reveal.
“I’ve been singing since I was six. I’m a preacher’s kid, so my grandmother was throwing me up there to sing,” he says when I ask about his gift of singing. But in a moment of transparency, Jerne explains that until recently, he was terrified and “fearful of smaller crowds because of the simple fact that [with fewer] people, it affects you more.” The intimacy and relational aspect of smaller crowds means an opportunity for connection, which, with a laugh, he admits is backward.
Flint R&B artist Thee Jerne takes a moment to check messages and emails inside Pop Rox in downtown Flint on Oct. 13, 2023. (Bryce Mata | Flintside.com)
However, R&B thrives on affinity, romance, nostalgia for past relationships, and hopes for future ones. And over the last few years, the public has seen Jernē perform at concerts like Antidote Fest
, shirt off, muscles showing, with backup dancers, and in intimate venues like The Local 432. So I had to ask, “Is this you, or is this a character you’re putting on?”
“I started building it all as a character. But then I realized, and the people around me helped me realize, that 'Jernē' and Rick are the same person. If you talk to my lady friends, they’ll be like it’s two different people,” he expresses and begins to elaborate. “I feel like that’s the life I live in. Some of the stuff that I write about isn’t always me. I can’t get every experience with love and life. Everybody isn’t comfortable being vulnerable. I want to be a person that is vulnerable for myself.”
With a creative name that “God gave me,” Jernē’s story is only just beginning. It starts offstage, growing up in Flint with a father who mostly listened to rap. His love for R&B came by way of his stepfather. In a pensive tone, he expresses that he’s still figuring out who he is “because I feel like I’ve discovered a brand new answer.” The answer is that in his personal life, he “loves more and listens more,” but with a swift change in voice, he acknowledges that he “has boundaries. Walls.”
“I started building it all as a character," music artist Thee Jerne explains, seated inside Bar X in downtown Flint on Oct. 13, 2023. (Bryce Mata | Flintside.com)
Through experiences with love, life, and relationships, those moments allow the weight of Jernē’s lyrics to resonate with his fans worldwide. “I feel like I’ve been a dog, and I’m tired of being [that]. I do want love,” and love is central to his music. It is what drives him to create.
“When I gave in and started releasing music, I was coming out of a situation where I was in love with somebody. [Now] at the end of all my days, I reflect, and it bettered my music. I try and capture reality. That’s the only way I’m able to write it,” Jernē says, leaning into the conversation. “I’m trying to show [that] love doesn’t come in one form. At the end of the day, it is me being vulnerable — it is my life that I’m sharing. I consider my music a diary, embodying what being a human is from my day-to-day life. I’m only one in a million, one in a trillion.”
Sharing his life is integral to his journey, reflected in his short, impactful discography. Collaborating with artists like Sway Montoya, Ace Gabbana
, Cameron Tyler
, Rkstar Billy, Jeff Skigh
, Nyota, and other Flint artists has allowed him to experiment and discover what the name Jernē means to himself and his artistry. However, many of his fans, including myself, eagerly anticipate his full-length album’s release, which is yet to be announced despite his numerous music features and performances.
“As an R&B artist, I’m not ready for an album because I’m not vulnerable enough. You and everybody else in the room has to be willing to be vulnerable. We all gotta be in the same frequency. An album has to be put together the right way so you can feel it. You should be able to come back to it later in your years and understand why I felt this way.”
“I feel like I’ve been a dog, and I’m tired of being [that]. I do want love,” states Jerne , pictured inside Bar X in downtown Flint on Oct. 13, 2023. (Bryce Mata | Flintside.com)
In this, Jernē comes alive as an artist and represents what the R&B scene in Flint has achieved and hopes to capitalize on. As the self-proclaimed “voice of the R&B army” in Flint, creating an album and releasing quality music takes on a greater meaning than his own success and fortune. It involves “a lot of R&B artists around here, both male and female,” and understanding that “it’s the comfort of being able to be vulnerable.”
Because at the end of the day, the goal is just that. And to those who’ve helped him and to whom he’s helped on this path, he offers this message about where he sees music moving forward and his gratitude for the experiences.
“I know what I want to manifest today: to give somebody the experiences I’ve had and let them know that I understand. I’m blessed because God allowed me to be around these other people. I thank you for trusting me in whatever way I may not know. It teaches me artistry and to be more vulnerable. It helps me speak to those who aren’t comfortable speaking themselves yet. Even if I never become a superstar, my goal is to put R&B on the map and give it the same recognition we’re giving the rap scene right now.”
You can find Thee Jernē on FaceBook and Instagram. You can listen to his discography online through streaming services.