By Clay Cane
“Continue to carry out the legacy of being a musician that represents real music,” is what the iconic Stevie Wonder expressed to up and coming singer-songwriter Josh Xantus. Catching the ear of the pitch-perfect Stevie Wonder is unheard of for a new artist. However, after one listen to the fresh sound of his debut album, Can I Live?, it’s no shocker the entertainment industry is taking notice of Josh Xantus.
At only 24, Josh Xantus, which means golden in French, has already caught the eye of Swizz Beats, Los Da Mystro and Ne-Yo. His original sound is heightened with the discipline of being a Julliard trained classical pianist mixed with the swag of a true R&B prince.
Josh’s musical roots have a unique start. Born to Haitian parents in Brooklyn, New York, Josh and his four siblings moved to Queens when his mother and father separated. His mother, a violinist, had a passion for music; however, like many single mothers, her aspirations were put on hold to raise her children. But, she never forgot the music. “One of my mother’s dreams was she wanted her kids to play an instrument so she gave all of us pianos. She couldn’t pursue music like she wanted to so in her mind it was a self-fulfillment for us to play an instrument.” Little did his mother know that she was cultivating the beginnings of a superstar.
Josh started playing classical piano at the age of six, learning the brilliance of Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. But it was Brian McKnight’s 1997 hit, “Anytime,” that would change the trajectory of his music. “That was the first song that really made me want to write a song,” recalls Josh. “I was just a kid, but I was with this girl and the song made me want to ask her these questions. ‘Do I ever cross your mind? Do you think of me?’ It was the first song I made a connection with it and I wanted to pursue music.”
Josh was ready to abandon classical for the smooth soul of R&B but his mother insisted that he not disregard the music he had mastered. Soon after, Josh was accepted to the prestigious Juilliard School for classical music.
Nonetheless, you can’t fight soul music when it’s calling. After completing Julliard, Josh attended the legendary Five Towns College majoring in jazz and R&B, which includes the alums Chrisette Michele, Nicole from Nina Sky and Adam Levine, the lead singer of Maroon 5. Still, Josh never forgets his beginnings, “I’m happy my mom pushed the classical music—it’s why I am where I am at now. At the end of the day, you’re either meant to do it or you’re just trying.”
Josh Xantus is certainly meant to do it. As a new artist, he has already been the opening act for Fabolous, Busta Rhymes and Ne-Yo. Now, he is on the heels of explosive success with his debut album Can I Live?(Capital/EMI). Signed to M USA Entertainment, Josh was the first artist to be signed and one of several developing artists to make their big break in 2011.
Can I Live? includes production from Swizz Beatz, Refugee Camp and Los Da Mystro, who is known for his work with The-Dream. “It’s a story, it’s an audio novel,” explains Josh. “It’s about making choices and whether or not they are the wrong choices—can you live with it?”
The raw and infectious “I Don’t Care,” his latest single, pairs Josh with Wu-Tang Clan alumni Ghostface Killah. Produced by Statik Selektah, the addictive track balances the gritty energy of Ghostface with Josh’s melodic voice.
In addition, Josh Xantus peals back the layers in the more autobiographical songs. “I go through my pain on the piano,” he says, which you hear in the revelatory “In Love With 2.” Josh pours out his soul in the confessional track, asking for forgiveness but admitting he is in love with two women. “My love life is pretty hectic,” explains Josh.
Deeply personal, Josh also has a song for his mother titled, “Mommy, I Love You.” “Before I got my record deal my mom was diagnosed with heart disease,” remembers Josh. “Any kid that grew up with their mom would be devastated by that. I wrote about it. It says things get better and as they do get better I’m going to hold you down.”
With the unique musical fusion of Stevie Wonder’s classic Songs in the Key of Life and Usher at his peak with 2004’s Confessions, Can I Live? is the personification of a contemporary and youthful R&B album. Similar to Diary of Alicia Keys, Josh is candidly revealing all. “My album is an open book. I’m going to let people in. If you’re putting your music out there, I think fans should know who you really are. I’m going to give them a show!”
While Josh has taken the time to learn his craft, received a blessing from Stevie Wonder and has worked with veterans in the industry, his musical destiny will never be about him. His focus goes back to being a little boy in Queens who was first given a piano by his mother. “I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing this for my mom,” stresses Josh. “I’m in it for all the single mothers who never gave up on their child. When they think of Josh I want them to know they can have five kids, raise them by themselves and have one of them be a superstar. I’m not doing it for cars and clothes, I already have that. My music is to change people’s lives.”