The driving principle of the music and formation of Cosmic Link radiates from connection.
Whether through 21st-century creative networking or even ineffable serendipity, the alt-soul duo of Duval singer-songwriter Jay Myztroh and Bristol, UK-based producer Ben Dubuisson seem to give it up for a higher power. Their new 12-song eponymous release seems more intent on widening one’s consciousness than filling the dancefloor. Marrying Myztroh’s mystically imbued lyricism and the unpredictable production style of Dubuisson, the end result of Cosmic Link sounds familiar enough to settle the listener in with enough unexpected ebbs and flows to carry them into the unexpected.
“If Grover Washington, Jr. and Erykah Badu raised a Gen-Z kid with hip-hop sensibilities and New Age philosophy, it would sound like Cosmic Link when it decided to create music,” explains Myztroh.
Locals savvy to area hip hop are surely familiar with the work of Myztroh.“I officially became involved with the scene when my cousin, SteadieRoc, and I formed the rap group, Elevation. Our first performance was in the early 2000’s at Soul Release, the open-mic event hosted by the late Emanuel Washington III of Nokturnal Escape,” says Myztroh, of associations that soon led to co-founding the collective known as The Empire, which in turn led to Myztroh connecting with Mr. Al Pete. “Al became a dear music partner with similar ambitions of breaking into the Jax Hip-Hop scene.”
Under the imprint of The Elevated Hip-Hop Experience, Myztroh worked with a live band to deliver his higher-aspect-reaching rap and soul to venues like Freebird Live and Shantytown Pub. It was a creative decision that tapped him into a specific frequency of locals, collaborating with Tough Junkie and Heavenly Noise, along with working as background vocalist and keyboard player for indie rockers the Wild Life Society. However, it was working with the late Paten Locke as Stono Echo and their 2017 release Black Diamonds that caught the ears of Ben Dubuisson in the U.K., some 4000 miles away from Jacksonville.
“Mr. Fantastic, a friend of mine in Bristol helped with the UK distribution of the Stono Echo record produced by Paten Locke,” explains Dubuisson. “I heard a copy and just loved the tone and urgency of Jay’s vocals. I asked Mr. Fantastic to hook us up and we started working from there.”
Concurrent with Myztroh’s work ethic and collaborative criteria, Dubuisson had been ardently creating music with a select cadre of international musicians, most notably with his Hundred Strong project. The critically lauded Hundred Strong albums Strength Of A Hundred (1999) and Basement Blues (2005) featured Dubuisson working with musicians including Aspects, Taskforce, A-Trak, All Natural, Joseph Malik, and Alison Crockett.
“The project is really about collaboration and feeding off other people’s creativity to enhance the whole. It is also really exciting when you send a vocalist a bunch of beats to see which ones excite them and often the beats used are different from the ones I imagined,” says Dubuisson, who has also collaborated with Amp Fiddler, J. Todd and band Serocee. The aforementioned pool of players source from hip hop, soul, reggae and electronic music and Dubuisson has found communion with them all through his own abstract hip-hop experimentalism.
Cosmic Link released their debut Metaphysical EP last October, which offered a clear glimmer of their potent spirituality-meets-street beats sound. The cuts from Cosmic Link expand and elaborate on those initial themes and sounds. New songs like “Metaphysical,” “Karma,” and “The Infinite” all point to a goal of self-improvement and a self-created spiritual consciousness.
“The title Cosmic Link is intentionally speaking to the interconnectedness of the Universe we live in,” says Myztroh. “Spiritual influences of this record include, but aren’t limited to, Buddhism, The Bhagavad Gita, teachings of sages like Jesus and modern teachers like Eknath Easwaran and Sadhguru.” Myztroh emphasizes that he doesn’t want the music to sound preachy. “Though it is definitely didactic,” he says. “I’m always talking to myself in efforts to concretize my learnings and hope it resonates with others.”
The opening sequence of Cosmic Link is dictated by this casual methodology: “Let It Go” urges the listener to release the things that no longer serve them; “The Infinite” acknowledges that there is a unified healing force; “Quiet Time” exalts meditation, the self-explanatory “Karma” notes personal responsibility, with all culminating into the awakening of “Metaphysical.”
The album’s penultimate track, “Reality,” in some ways codifies the Cosmic Link. Featuring a chilled-and-cool arrangement by Dubuisson of icy synths, bass-beats and rubbery contrapuntal lines and rhythms that border on the sub-frigid, the three-minute “Reality” allows Myztroh to truly stretch out his vocal skills, harmonizing in call and response with his own voice.
“The narrator is a spiritual seeker questioning this world he’s in. What is illusion? What is real? What does ‘real’ mean? Within the confines of the song he evolves from feeling like the world is happening to him into understanding the power to create his world has been his all along,” says Myztroh. “So, the hook has a stronger meaning the second time: ‘You will be what you believe. Do you believe what you believe?’”
Ancient truths aside, Cosmic Link is a decidedly 21st-century creation. Dubuisson and Myztroh have yet to actually meet in person. “Which is quite strange when you think about it,” says Dubuisson. “Quite a lot of the process took place during Covid and travel was definitely curtailed. With modern technology it feels like we have met though, and gotten to know each other—but it would be really great to actually meet up one day.”
A song might be initiated by musical ideas and beats sent from Bristol to Jacksonville, with Dubuisson taking an earthier, intuitive approach. “Improvisation plays a large element in my beat creation,” he says. “I always start with a rough sketch and then really see what happens from there. I also work with some incredibly creative musicians and this can take the beats in surprising directions. Once a vocalist such as Jay gets involved, the direction can also shift or become more focused on one particular part.”
Communicating through emails, file swaps and video calls would help the pair flesh out the actual creation of Cosmic Link. “We never worked in real time but on some tracks, we would refine mixes over a fairly long period and send each other detailed notes,” says Dubuisson.
Myztroh explains that his lyrical ideas come to him in a wide variety of ways. The inspiration for “Metaphysical” was “immediate, where melody and topic popped out at the same time.” Instrumental ideas would be tweaked and looped, some songs would begin as basic syllabic vocal sounds, while other lyrical-musical ideas would be repeatedly edited. “I have no fixed writing process,” says Myztroh. “Each song has its own journey.”
“If Grover Washington, Jr. and Erykah Badu raised a Gen-Z kid with hip-hop sensibilities and New Age philosophy, it would sound like Cosmic Link when it decided to create music.”Jay Myztroh
Process and result aside, the refrain of the songs from Cosmic Link and the co-creators explanation of the album returns again and again to spirituality. Dubuisson admits that it is an element that was core to the collaboration: “I feel like the spiritual element to Jay’s vocals definitely stands this project apart from some of my other music.”
Irrelevant to one’s beliefs (or suspension of disbelief), Cosmic Link is a welcome and positive-pointing release, with enough density and creative depth to keep it secure from any stevia-sweet New Age playlist. Stripped of its mystical trappings, the album remains a successful result of two musicians, separated by an ocean, but finding unity through soul music and technology.
If there’s any indication of potential forthcoming music from the self-described “future soul” duo, its potential thematic ideas will be arguably revealed in Myztroh’s search. During the creation of the Cosmic Link, he completed a master’s degree in choral conducting that focused on discovering and promoting compositions from the African Diaspora.
“In uncovering the composers who make it into the world of ‘Western Concert Music,’ I learned that much of the output explores sacred topics,” says Myztroh, of his personal blending of the sacred with new-millennium soul. “I am no different. Where my heroes like William Grant Still or Adolphus Hailstork may explore a biblical text, I expound on learnings that are key to my spiritual journey.”