Jharrel Jerome is Launching a Rap Career, Which He Says Was His ‘First Love’ Before Acting

The world was first introduced to him as the friendly young Kevin in the Oscar-winning film Moonlight. At just 22 years old, Jharrel Jerome has achieved so many milestones in his short acting career, including becoming the first Afro-Latino to win an Emmy for acting. In the year since his outstanding performance in When They See Us, Jerome has laid relatively low — and he just came out of hiding to let his fans know why.

Jharrel Jerome accepts the Outstanding Lead Actor, Limited Series or TV Movie award for “When They See Us”
Jharrel Jerome accepts the Outstanding Lead Actor, Limited Series or TV Movie award for When They See Us | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Jharrel Jerome has been a trained actor since he was a teenager

Jharrel Jerome first got into acting at the suggestion of his mother, who he brought as his date to the Emmys last year. He went on to attend the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, which was where actors such as Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Paulson, Al Pacino, Timothée Chalamet, and countless others perfected their craft.

Shortly after starting an undergraduate program at Ithaca College, Jerome got his first professional acting job: a small role in Barry Jenkins’ independent drama Moonlight. Jerome played a teenage version of Kevin, who was the main character Chiron’s best friend growing up.

Jharrel Jerome says rap is in his blood

In the year since his Emmy triumph, Jerome has maintained a low profile. He appeared in a recreation of an old Good Times episode on Jimmy Kimmel’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience series alongside Viola Davis, Tiffany Haddish, and fellow When They See Us star Asante Blackk. His latest film, Concrete Cowboy, just made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, and stars Idris Elba, Lorraine Toussaint, Stranger Things actor Caleb McLaughlin, and Wu-Tang Clan rapper Method Man.

Jerome explained his absence in an Instagram post. “Before I became an actor, hip hop was my first love,” he said, recounting times when he would be the one rapping at the lunch table in middle school or showing up at a freestyle cypher at the park. “Being from the BX [Bronx], rap was in my blood whether I knew it or not.” He listened to old school hip hop growing up and counts Slick Rick, A Tribe Called Quest, and Big Pun among his biggest inspirations.

Jharrel Jerome accepts the Best Actor in a Movie/Limited Series award for 'When They See Us' at the Critics' Choice Awards
Jharrel Jerome accepts the Best Actor in a Movie/Limited Series award for When They See Us at the Critics’ Choice Awards | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

RELATED: Uzo Aduba Paid Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg After Her Emmy Win For ‘Mrs. America’

Jharrel Jerome is launching a music career

Jerome goes on to talk about his personal journey from actor to rapper. “Before my life changed, I had no idea I’d want to turn rap from a hobby to a career. But given my acting platform and these unbelievable blessings through the past few years, I decided to hone in on my music,” he said.

Jerome clarifies that this isn’t a new development to come out of the last year. He’s been “trying to find my sound, my voice, my cadence, and my style” over the last four years, putting in work at over 600 studio sessions and creating 80 different songs. Finally, after all that time, he announces he’s ready to jump into the world of hip hop head-on with his debut single “For Real,” which he calls “just a glimpse” into who he is as an artist.

“To my core fans, I am a mysterious figure on social media. So this record explains my fear of social media and allowing people in,” Jerome explains. “Although I’m able to carry an air of confidence with me at all times, I still trap myself inside of a shell. Hiding from the praise. Hiding from the attention. Hiding from the expectations.”

“It’s due to a question I constantly ask myself now, amidst all the panic, change, and outside terrors: ‘How do I stay real?’”