ALBUM REVIEW: Jamarcus Henderson Bares It All With Man at Arms

The Philly transplant makes an impressive debut record that doesn’t hold back.

Jamarcus Henderson on the cover art of "Man at Arms."

Jamarcus Henderson

Most debut pop albums strive to give you a promising introduction. But then there are those unique few that just dive right into your consciousness naturally. In his debut, Man at Arms, Jamarcus Henderson, 23, has absolutely produced the latter. Its 11 tracks reflect an emotional vagabond seeking a destination that’s self-determined. The vulnerabilities expressed in this record, the kind that can take most established artists three to four records to get to, signal that Henderson has no time to wait.

“I was in a very dark place when I first started this project,” Henderson says. “Everything around me was telling me no … I named the album Man at Arms because when I picked up my pen and wrote those lyrics, I became strong again.”

The Houston native spent two years working on the album, traveling back from his hometown to Philadelphia for inspiration. “Philly is a special place to me, this gritty wonderland of fascinating people,” he says. “I always say Houston made me, but Philly gave me that reinforcement and ability to pick myself up time and time again.” While exploring sounds for the album that spanned from EDM and hip-hop to soft rock, Henderson recalls his initial phases collaborating with local producer/artist Marcus G. “I remember him being kind enough as to let me record in his private setup,” Henderson says. “From that moment, I knew I wanted to be an artist for the rest of my life.”

But it would take many upsets, heartbreaks, and growing pains before Henderson would reach a level of confidence to push forward. The album’s composition carries itself in a mood arc based on hard times, uplifting moments, and reflective afterthoughts. The first part of the album reveals internal struggle, the middle is a jolt of confidence, the last a contemplation of life. The theme of this album is one of millennial queer angst and all the complications it encounters with love, race, and self-esteem. “I began to lose faith in everything and everyone around me,” Henderson says of his initial struggles of living black and queer while aspiring to be an artist. “It kind of gotten so out of control that I found myself in the company of unhealthy people and relationships.”

Many of those “toxic encounters” Henderson says happened while navigating his interests in the Gayborhood. “As a gay black man, you either try to assimilate or separate—there’s no in-between,” he says of being an artist trying to consider performing at some of the area’s hot spots. “A lot of establishments in the Gayborhood have this Queer as Folk mentality — not that it ever ruined my time there — but it’s very apparent that there’s elitism out there that needs to be checked.”

Through the hard times and more promising moments, this strong musical debut is a testament that the best music comes from the personal process. “Every musician, producer, and artist has their own method,” Henderson says. “For me, I had to live life more to arrive at this body of work I’m now ready for the world to hear.” It’s often said absence makes the heart grow fonder; perhaps the same can be said for the artist who waits for their music to fully reveal its truth.

Man at Arms is now available to stream at SoundCloud.