Immanuel Walters designed the artwork for Jervsalem’s “Fight Fa,” which the artist describes as “hip-hop with a bit of Caribbean energy.”

Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

Education for Jerusalem Singleton was always a dual path: academics and artistry. From singing – in the New Hope C.M.E. Church choir, which he also directed, then in the Family Focus choir – he moved to poetry through Literature for All of Us, then to prose, to film, and then back to music.

“At the end of the day, I knew I was going to be an artist; I was going to be an expressive person, because that’s who I was,” he told the RoundTable in a recent interview. He returned from Los Angeles a few weeks ago and will spending the next few months with family in Evanston.

The artist Jervsalem announced a few months ago a change in preferred pronouns – from she/her/hers to he/him/his – in a post on Facebook. On Feb. 5, he dropped “Fight Fa,” now streaming on YouTube.

In the song – which he describes as hip-hop with a bit of Caribbean energy – life is a conflict in which an artist must be willing to fight for a true identity. 

The Little Black Book

There are milestones of success on the journey to that identity, along with hard work and jobs he took just to make a living. A 10-month stint in AmeriCorps in Sacramento, Cal., was his first venture on the West coast.

Returning to the Chicago area by way of Arizona and Florida, Jervsalem turned to writing for a living. For several years, he wrote wedding speeches for friends and then discovered there was a commercial demand.

“And I found a ridiculously large group of people were searching for people to write the wedding speeches for them. .., I was getting inundated with people ordering wedding speeches so much and that was when I came up with the book,” he said.

“I figured I need a product, because people obviously really, really need the service. And they need a very easy guide to help them write their own wedding speeches without me being present.” He published a guide “so that people could write their own wedding speeches by filling in the blanks of speeches,” he said.

“The Little Black Book of Fill-in-the-Blank Wedding Speeches” is available on Amazon.com.

Music Always Beckoned

“Music is a constant thread. It’s been around the whole time. … Bruh Luuh, a gospel rapper in Chicago and a friend of a friend really encouraged me to pursue music more seriously – to take music more seriously,” he said. The reluctance to become a professional musician came from the realization that “society is always comparative. And people stack you up against other people and make you feel like you’re not a good. … I really felt that,” Jervsalem said.

Pressure from the friend continued. He needed help with music. They could work together.

Jervsalem’s confidence in his own ability grew. From writing music to singing backup, he emerged as the primary vocalist with on “Fight Fa.” Sam Barsh, his producer, lives in Los Angeles but grew up practically next door– in Wilmette.

Getting to ‘Him’

The turmoil of 2020 led to inward and outward questioning about becoming and acknowledging his true self.

“On social media, people were asking, ‘Where do you stand?’ And we’re still riding that right now – we have a clear sign of inability to handle something as massive as a pandemic. And the people to get hardest hit by said pandemic, poor people, people of color, Black people.”

Jervsalem distilled the pain of the year, the protests and his energy into his music, his acknowledgement of fighting for who he is. “Fight Fa” tells that Struggle and Hustle “had a kid.  And when they looked and saw what they did, they smiled and named it Jervsalem.”

Further guiding a reporter through the lyrics, Jervsalem said the hook of the song is the question – “What are you fighting for [fa]?” – and the verses are a response to that.

“When I say that all these things that I’m becoming, it’s me. I’m saying everything that you can’t stop what’s happening. … This [is a] natural evolution that we have in ourselves to be who we ultimately are. … And enemies, circumstance, anything will try to stop you from being who you are, to get you to fall in line. … I’ve just never been that person.”

Living comfortably and openly with oneself is giving the world a gift, Jervsalem said. The transition has been difficult. “It took me some time to accept myself. … I didn’t tell people to call me by my pronouns until maybe a few months ago – that I even had pronouns. … I announced on Facebook, ‘I just want you to know, if you care about me, if you love me, if you respect me, these are my pronouns. And I prefer you to say he or him when you refer to me, and when you talk to me, and when you talk about me.”

Unexpectedly, he said, he is finding acceptance. “And a lot of love. … It’s only been a few months. I’m not biting off anyone’s head if they mess up. … I’m giving everybody as much time as they need.”

Fans can follow Jervsalem on Instagram @therealjervsalem.