Jeymes Samuel doesn’t come off as pompous or arrogant when he praises his own work; he’s simply stating facts with confidence. Samuel, also known as The Bullitts, is one of music and cinema’s most creative minds and he operates with no limits but a high standard. Collaborating with a hand-picked list of artists and actors – everyone from Jay Electronica and Yasiin Bey to Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson – the Londoner pushes boundaries and embarks on unprecedented territory. Such are the benefits of functioning totally independently.
“If I have an idea, I have to create it. If I have an idea, I believe I’ve had the idea solely so I can create it. I think, I create,” Samuel told Life+Times. “I didn’t want to make an album underneath a record company’s umbrella, because then it wouldn’t be the album I wanted to make. The Bullitts is an independent endeavor, it’s just me, and the album is the illest album coming out. I won’t put it against anything, I’ll put it above anything.”
His latest works –They Die By Dawn, a 50-minute Black cowboy Western he directed, and They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories, an accompanying, somewhat overlapping album crafted by The Bullitts – are prime examples of the eccentric mind of Samuel.
“As a kid growing up, I never knew that you’re only supposed to do one thing. I always thought you can do what it is you like as long as you do them well. So I was always picking up instruments and playing, and I believe I was about 11 [when] my mom bought me a Super-8 camera. Soon after that, she bought me a Bolex 16 mm black and white film camera. I was obsessed with film, so I always did both, and the more you do them, I suppose, the better you get in both areas. I never sacrificed or substituted anything for the other. So growing up, I’m always writing songs and making music, and then producing different acts and artists, which led me to where I’m doing stuff for Jay Electronica, JAY Z, Tori Amos, Charlotte Gainsbourg or my own album. Musically, I’ve been doing that stuff, and then film-wise, I’d always be directing whether it be a short form movie or visual for my stuff. Whether it’s “Run & Hide” – black and white film noir, an homage to Jean-Luc Godard – which is a song off Jay Electronica’s album, we’ve done that, or stuff for myself for The Bullitts, which led me to the cowboy extravaganza, They Die By Dawn.”
In an exclusive in-depth interview with Life+Times, Samuel discusses his film They Die By Dawn for the first time ever, in addition to dishing on The Bullitts, his album, chemistry with Jay Electronica and more.
On The Bullitts:
The Bullitts isn’t a band, it’s not an outfit, it’s just a moniker that I make music under. Because my brain thinks nonlinearly with regards to sonics. Sometimes I don’t want sing a track, I want Charlotte Gainsbourg to sing the track or Tori Amos, so being The Bullitts, I can step back and do what I like, as opposed to being Jeymes Samuel and I have to perform every track, whereas I performed probably 90 percent of the album.
On his musical background:
I was always playing instruments. My number one instrument is guitar, whether it’s acoustic, electric, bass. I’m OK on the piano, but my number one is the guitar. I came up always writing and recording my own stuff. I would record a song and make a short film to it, or I’d shoot a short film and put music in the background. So for me primarily, as a musician I was always an artist making my own music. I’d always have bodies of work, then I’d pull them back for whatever reason. The body of work They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories is the first time I was in that space where I was like, “This has to be released.” I was writing for different artists, [like] Mr. Hudson, Estelle, etc., but I didn’t want to look back at my discography and see mad blank spots. I take what I do really seriously because it’s my legacy. In the words of Marlo Stansfield from The Wire, “My name, is my name.” I’m fearless sonically. That’s why I call it action-adventure. I’m a really enthusiastic individual, I’m hyper all the time. I take cat-naps, I’m up at all hours, and that’s the way I create my music. Still very focused, but there’s an assassination of rules. There’s no rules, that’s why it’s action-adventure.
On the film They Die By Dawn, creating a Western and setting the film in Langston, Oklahoma
:I am a diehard lover of film and cinema, and possibly my favorite genre is Westerns. I would watch Westerns, because I love them so much, and I would get really, really frustrated. As a Black person, you get frustrated with cinema anyway. I love my old black and whites [films] – I’m watching Bette Davis in Dark Victory, and then I’ll see these Black [folks] running around the house and it would just take me right out of the movie. In the history of human beings, whether it’s Asians, Jewish, Black, White, they’ve never been stupid. So you have all these different cultures and even if we were illiterate because they didn’t stress to read and write, it doesn’t mean we were silly. So I see all these Black people in cinema behaving like jiggaboos. It would irritate the hell out of me. The portrayal of Black people in cinema disturbed me anyway, but watch the Westerns. The reason why Westerns used to bug the hell out of me was because they never, ever show Black people and when they would, they’ll give a reason for us being there. Name any Western: you have the The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – which is a bad, bad, bad boy movie starring Lee Marvin, James Stewart and John Wayne; a wicked movie. Then you have one of the greatest Black presences in cinema of all time running around in that movie – his name is Woody Strode, he’s one of the illest Black actors we’ve ever had – he’s the epitome of Black physical pride and excellence, yet they dehumanize him in that movie. He’s not allowed to go in the bar where John Wayne is, he’s running around after John Wayne, yet they’re supposed to be friends. He cries when the John Wayne character dies. And I’m like, “This is Woody Strode. This is is same guy that was in Spartacus.” This is Woody Strode! He has an opening scene in Once Upon A Time In The West – one of the wickedest Westerns we’ve ever had, directed by Sergio Leonne. Now it took an Italian to cast a Black guy in a Western and not give reason for him being there. He’s just there. One of the illest Westerns there ever was and was done by an Italian, [it took] someone who wasn’t in the Hollywood system to cast a Black person or a person of color to cast in a town and not give any them any background. So it frustrates me that they’ll never show us in Westerns without us being subservient or slaves. Here’s my thing: States had started abolishing slavery long before Lincoln had done it. Lincoln did what he did in 1865. Decades [after] that in the old West where Black people were chilling! They were chilling! We were cowboys! There was Rufus Buck, Nat Love, Stagecoach Larry, Ben Hodges, John Taylor, all of these cowboys and cowgirls that we have never, ever learned about that weren’t slaves. They were free and law-abiding citizens making a name for themselves that people can read about over a hundred years later. That is an abomination, not only to Black people, but to white people, and people of every color. How can you teach one and not the other? You never see Mexicans in Westerns, and when you do, they’re subservient. You never see Chinese people in Westerns, they’re doing laundry. It’s the craziest thing. So it would irritate me that you’d see the misappropriation and misrepresentation of our history; not just me as a Black person, but as a human being. History is for everyone. I love Westerns and every time I saw a Black person there was a reason for them being there, so for me, I wanted to change that.
On assembling an all-star cast for the film:
I was like, “Ok, look. I’m gonna shoot this [film], I’m gonna write this story, and I’m gonna assemble almost every single real character thats that existed and I’m assemble them like the Avengers and put them in one place at one time – in one of the first Black settlements post-slavery, 1890 in Langston, Oklahoma. We got Black Wall Street. All of these places that are criminally unsung. So I set this story in 1890 and I threw everyone in it: Ben Hodges, Rufus Buck, Nat Love, Bill Picket, Stagecoach Larry, Jordan Anderson, etc. So, after I put all of these people in the story in my head, I cast a dream team of actors. I said, “Ok, I’m gonna put everyone in it. I’m gonna put Rosario Dawson, Harry Lennix, Isaiah Washington, Jesse Williams, Michael K. Williams, Nate Parker, Giancarlo Esposito, [Erykah Badu]. All my favorite actors. I cast them mentally, and then it was a case of getting them, which is the second half of the gangster-ism. I honestly believe, at the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to help and because of that, I didn’t go to any agents or any managers. I would go directly to the source. I spent probably two years finding out who knows that person or who knows that person, and I would take plane flights to meet all of those people. I’d be in LA one minute, then I fly to New York the next minute, fly to London the next minute. I’d sit down Michael K. Williams in New York, sit down with Giancarlo Esposito in Upstate New York, our liaison Isaiah Washington was in Nigeria. I would go literally all over the place to sit down and meet with the talent and explain my vision. I knew that anyone I explained it to, there’s no way the people [weren’t] gonna do it, because it’s too dope. First, it’s a super-dope idea. Secondly, to have all of those characters that have never been portrayed or assembled the way we’ve assembled them, it’s the opportunity of a life time for us to make that statement. We can’t complain about the problem if we don’t do anything about it when we have the chance. I funded it myself and it’s part one. They Die By Dawn ends on a cliff-hanger. It’s a 50 minute prelude. It’s a part two which I begin shooting in May. Part two is called The Notorious Nine and it’s about this guy’s mission to assemble a crew of nine to take down the notorious Rufus Buck and the Rufus Buck gang. Notorious Nine is funded and is a much bigger movie. If I swagged out the cast for They Die By Dawn, trust me when I’m telling you, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait till you see what we got coming, I swear we’re gonna change cinema.
On the album They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories:
It’s almost politically incorrect to say you’re own stuff is super-dope, but man, my album is wicked. I call my music action-adventure because I always say, “We have seven billion people on the planet, but only make seven types of music. It makes no sense.” The way I think is the reason I get on so much with Jay Electronica musically or JAY Z musically or other great artists is because my approach is so non-linear. I see music in colors and actions. I’m one of the main producers of Jay Electronica’s album, and I’m working on my own album; one time I said, I need Lucy Liu to narrate They Die By Dawn. So I ventured out, she loved the music and the songs weave in and out of her narrative. [Each song] somewhat relates to Lucy’s narrative, but they’re all individual short stories in themselves and they’re different sonically. I have features [from] Jay Electronica, Mos Def, Tori Amos, and myself performing most of it. The production is nuts, I pulled out all the stops. There’s no samples on the album. It’s The Bullitts firing on all cylinders. [The title] They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories, it’s a play on my favorite film noir, which was a play that came out around the ’40s starring an actor, Farley Granger, and it was called They Live By Night. The “short stories” part came from my favorite author as a kid, Roald Dahl. He’d done stories like Charlie and The Factory, The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar & Other Short Stories, Kiss, Kiss & Other Short Stories. So, my album was always called They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories, even before I made the song [of the same title] or the film.
On the “Supercool” video featuring Rosario Dawson:
I shot that video in one take. I said to Rosario, “Meet me in London’s West End.” I made CBS news with that video. It went from CBS to Worldstar Hip-Hop. People still think it’s real. They still don’t know that I’m that guy. As a writer, you’re a creative, and as a creative, you look at things and you question things in life. So, the “Supercool” video, I always questioned, “if [I] was walking down the street, and I saw a guy pushing a shopping cart down the street, we automatically assume he’s homeless. Why? What is in the trolley, the shopping cart? There’s so many questions.” I call it the “Tramp and the Trolley.” So, I’d say to myself, “What if the guy had an ill boom box in there and an iPhone?” I was in the studio with Rosario recording vocals on a record called “Everything Is Broken,” and she was jamming to it, and I went, “That’s it! The Tramp and the Trolley meets Rosario Dawson. Hey Rosario, meet me [here] tomorrow. As soon as you here me start shouting, start walking past me, then just go with it.” That’s exactly how that video came about. She didn’t know how it was gonna turn out, but she trusted that it was gonna be dope. She’s the perfect person because that can actually happen to Rosario.
On working with Jay Electronica:
I’m probably the only person. I headlined Big Chill in Summer 2011 as The Bullitts; I had Lucy Liu on stage narrating all of her parts from the album, and my side guy was Jay Electronica, who’s supposed to be one of the most elusive men not only in hip-hop, but in show business. Sometimes I’d ask, “How come you’ve always been on anything I ask you to? Whenever I ask you to do something, you do it no question.” He goes, “What’s admirable about you Jeymes, is your whole aim is based around planned excellence.” So that’s why he always does guest appearances with me when I ask him to. Our chemistry is amazing. He’s my brother, we bonded. The [friendship] just came from running up and down, driving around and different things, and then the music came. He saw me playing guitar and he was like, “This is the guy to do my album!” And we just really got on musically. If you listen to “Eternal Sunshine,” he’ll take Jon Brion‘s score, and assemble it in what would be called an overture, a compilation of all the different musical series, and rhyme over the whole thing and call it “Act I.” Within it, he’ll put samples of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and Gene Wilder talking. These things are some of my favorite films and my biggest influences. That’s why our chemistry is so much fun to see. It’s a really easy thing. I can create a track for Jay Electronica tomorrow and not even present it to him, I just know it’s something that he’ll think is super-amazing. I will say this: his album is a masterpiece. A masterpiece. We live in a world where the bar is four. Before, the bar was ten. Jay Electronica as an MC is from a time where the bar was 10. He’s amazing.
They Die By Dawn is set to premiere at SXSW on March 16th, with They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories coming soon after.