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Your backstage pass to Northeast Ohio's independent music scene.

Shuffle: Jul Big Green Casts Musical Glow in Cleveland's Nighttime Scene

Photo courtest of Jul Big Green
Cleveland artist Jul Big Green releases his new album "5AM to Midnight" Friday.

Julien Huntley, a.k.a. Jul Big Green, will release his 13-track album “5AM to Midnight” Nov. 15. The release will be the first in a two-part musical concept series, with the former focused on a nighttime theme, and his upcoming follow-up centered around daylight, with more upbeat, pop features.

Turning unpredictability into a cohesive theme
Huntley blends hip-hop vocals with rock and funk-oriented instrumentation. His overall sound is a grand fusion of styles, often influenced by the local collaborators who appear on his tracks.

While his latest release will follow a theme, his past work blends genres — particularly, his 2015 EP “All Things. "My first album is kind of like a smorgasbord—it was like a little bit of something for everybody,” Huntley said.

The artist said he wanted his debut to be a “showcase album” to spotlight his various musical skills, which include songwriting, singing, rapping and instrumentation.

The songs for “5AM to Midnight” were written over the course of the last four years, after the release of his initial EP.

“Now, I decided to go with more of a theme because I can’t really stay in one lane, but I can stay in a theme,” Huntley said.

Cruising to create a concept
“5AM to Midnight” was inspired by a particular beat loop, and nighttime cruising, the artist said. “Because I’m always driving. I live in my car and… I have to have music playing."

The tracks will be released digitally Nov. 15 and include collaborations with artists like Gretchen Pleussand TeeK B3at. The album’s track “Dancing in the Moonlight,” featuring Nathan Paul Davis of The Admirables, is rich with throwback disco beats and big-band horns.

"... I can't really stay in one lane, but I can stay in a theme."

Huntley’s subsequent pop album, slated to be released in 2020 under the Jul Big Green name, will be titled “5PM to Twilight,” carrying his focused concept through to daytime.

Developing an identity from a musical household
The Cleveland-based musician graduated from The University of Akron with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. He said his upbringing in a musical family and church have inspired him to pursue writing and playing his own songs. His father was a worship leader at his church, so he was “always singing,” Huntley said.

Huntley’s mother played bass clarinet in college, and his brother was in bands, often inviting his musician friends to spend the night at the family’s home.

This created a home life environment frequently filled with music lovers who played a wide range of styles.

“It’s crazy because my brother listened to metal and punk, but I also liked the rap and the rock, and then my sister listened to a lot of pop, like all the boy bands,” Huntley said. “I picked up a guitar, got in my buddy’s youth group, then from there I started playing guitar in own youth group.”

Huntley then pursued learning additional instruments and performing in a variety of styles.

“That’s how I just kind of bumped around and was like… as long as I’m in music, I’m gonna try and learn more and more stuff because I can’t stay in one thing too long,” he said.

Using his music to spread positivity

"Everybody has different pockets, so it's trying to find all my different pockets."

Huntley’s live performances and recordings are notable for presenting an uplifting, positive message in both lyrical content and overall sound.

While he said negative experiences have inspired his work, the artist’s elevating spirit has put him in demand among musicians who write and perform in genres beyond his prevailing hip hop style.

“I like writing — I want to be able to write, and I like seeing how much stuff I can pack into a song,” Huntley said.

His indie-pop project, Astronymer, with Adam Reifsnyder, fuses hip-hop flavor with acoustic Americana, further emphasizing his tendency to blend, crisscross and crush the boundaries of traditional musical categories.

Going green
One consistency in Huntley’s — or Jul Big Green’s — musical career is his visual aesthetic. He regularly dons all-green outfits, from the accessories to the clothing and even the notebook he carries.

“It’s solely for me,” he said. “Like when I’m in the house, I’m wearing green. It’s every day. It’s fun.”

His family once again had an influence on his artistry in this way. Huntley’s sister brought him a green-and-white Michigan State jersey, which he paired with matching shoes. From there, he created an additional outfit consisting of an off-brand FUBU shirt with green-and-white sleeves and a matching headband with the same color scheme.

Two outfits turned into many, and the musician adopted this image to reflect the fun, upbeat nature of his music while adding an element of predictability, contrary to his nonlinear musical style.

Debuting fresh material to live audiences
As Jul Big Green, Huntley has dreams of touring around the country, particularly on the West Coast, to share his new material from “5AM to Midnight” to larger audiences.

“I know there’s a city where my music, like, connects on another level,” he said. "Everybody has different pockets, so it’s trying to find all my different pockets.”

His ambitions include creating original music for streaming television or commercials.

Jul Big Green will first hit local television on Nov. 15 with a live performance on Fox 8 Morning Jukebox the day his new album drops.

His upcoming live performances include the Play It Loud Opening Exhibit Opening Party at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nov. 21, Blizzard Bash at Beachland Ballroom & Tavern Nov. 30 and Winterfest Dec. 14.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.