Yellokake’s moniker is based on a dessert–her slogan reads, “They were starving for good music, let them eat KAKE”—but her music is a full course meal. The Michigan-based vocalist’s sound is an amalgam of the R&B and pop music of her generation, the classical jazz she studied in college, and the hip-hop she lends contributing vocals to.
“One thing that was pretty clear from early on was that I really needed to be individual,” Yellokake says. “When singing others’ songs, I tried to take in how they were written and sang before me, but I never wanted to sound exactly like them.”
A child of parents who passionately supported the arts, Jasmine “Yellokake” Hamilton-Wray sang along to legends like Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul before taking a musical workshop as a child. She would later exercise her skills in talent shows and at school, reworking Faith Evans ballads into homework assignments and singing the Black National Anthem during African American studies. Despite accolades from schoolmates and others, she became frustrated when she was refused roles she auditioned for in musicals and bands.
“I felt I was better than what [auditioning judges] were trying to tell me,” Yellokake said. “I went into fashion school because I thought that was more practical, but that kicked me in the ass—it wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing.”
She spoke to Michigan State University jazz professor Rodney Whitaker, and she transferred to Michigan State University’s Jazz Studies program. From there, she meticulously trained her voice and continued to sharpen songwriting skills that she had discovered in high school.
“Other musicians and professors would tell me, ‘You can make it, you have the skill—you just have to hone your instrument.’ That got me on the right track,” Yellokake says. “It wasn’t easy, but the results were definite. I became a better singer, and I found my sound while I was there.”
That sound was first utilized when area hip-hop artists, including her crew BLAT! Pack, would enlist her strong, harmonious voice for choruses or back-up vocals. Nationally-lauded acts like Jahshua Smith, P.H.I.L.T.H.Y., and more all laud her praises.
But Yellokake’s solo material is much more diverse. Her lyrics delve into romantic connections and her relationship with herself. “Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but I think it’s relatable,” she says. “Things that are the most honest are important for your personal development, but also, fans can tell if you’re being honest or not. They can feel that.”
That honesty translates into her shows and her records. Her live performances pair a jazz-tinged live band set up with the bounce and youthful energy of hip-hop, and her upcoming EP, “Gradation,” blends those influences with alternative music and electronic elements.
“It’s great to be rooted in organic things, but it’s always good to propel forward and look into the future,” she said. “I’m going for a marriage of all these things. I can’t just dip into different styles in my singing—I have to do it in other ways, too.”
Labels aside, Yellokake will satiate music fans’ appetites—one sweet tooth at a time.
For more on Yellokake:
High-Res Photos (Click on thumbnail for full version):