Josh Levi tells Elite Daily about his musical heroes.

Josh Levi’s The It Boy R&B Has Been Waiting For

The future of the genre is in great hands.

In Elite Daily’s series Early Influences, musicians reflect on the songs and albums that left a lasting impression on them in their formative years. Here, singer-songwriter Josh Levi talks about the journey in finding his sound, the rise of “Birthday Dance,” and the Brandy album that “shaped him.”

Josh Levi has been trusting his ear lately. “Right now, I’m focusing on the ‘Josh Levi point of view’ in music today,” the rising singer tells Elite Daily. “I love bringing energy to R&B. That’s always been my focus.” He’s been building that vision ever since he first played a Yamaha keyboard — which was gifted to him by an old neighbor — as a young child. Now, at 25 years old, Levi’s love for every facet of R&B couldn’t be more evident. He’s baring his soul like a brooding rock star and turning social media into a dance fest, one hypnotic track at a time.

Levi’s latest single, “Birthday Dance,” has been having quite the moment on TikTok. He first released the track — a silky reminder that it’s OK to let loose every once in a while — on 2023’s Disc Two (Scratched Up), the deluxe version of his 2022 EP of the same name. The hit went viral near the end of last year, and in February 2024, he dropped the single’s official music video. Fittingly, he’s been doing his “little Raven Baxter dance” in celebration of its success ever since.

“I’m really happy a song that’s connecting with people the most is a song that’s forcing you to dance and feel good,” Levi says of “Birthday Dance.” “I’ve been [an artist] for a minute, so I’m just excited to be here. I know that it takes time, and you never fully stop proving yourself. I’m just happy that there’s a moment for me and that people are connecting with my music.”

Randy Shropshire/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

“Birthday Dance” is just the beginning of his reign. The singer recently finished his opening stint — or, as he defined it, a “spreading-my-wings moment” — on Flyana Boss’ tour, and will go back on the road for the TwoGether Land festival in May with headliners like Lil Wayne and Summer Walker. He’s also taking on another new massive task: finishing his debut album.

While it’s still a work in progress, Levi revealed his debut work is a “roller coaster of emotions.”

“It’s a journey and it definitely takes you inside a UFO to another place,” he says. “It’s really dynamic, energetic, a little angsty, emotional, and deep. I think people will walk away feeling like they know me better, and I hope that people will also feel more connected with themselves.”

Levi’s face lights up as he speaks about his new music. It’s endearing to see, especially since he’s been sharpening his craft since he was 10 years old. Raised mainly on gospel music, Levi began singing at church and talent shows in his hometown of Houston, Texas. He eventually branched out to other genres such as R&B, pop, and rap, and that exploration helped him find his distinct voice.

Once he moved to Los Angeles in 2013, his career officially started. That year, he appeared on Season 3 of The X Factor, where he got his first taste of stardom. (Interestingly, his childhood friend Normani, whom he later collaborated with on 2020’s “Don’t They,” rose to fame on the same show the year prior.) He was briefly in a boy band called Citizen Føur in 2017; however, he went independent on his 2020 genre-bending EP Disc One. Nearly a year after its release, he signed a deal with Issa Rae’s Raedio record label.

If I’m not creating a conversation, then I feel like I’m not doing something right.

Rae wasn’t the only person who saw Levi’s brewing potential. Pixar tapped him for its 2022 film Turning Red, where he played the boy band sensation Aaron Z from 4☆Town, a part that even earned him a Grammy nomination. Naturally, Levi bodied this role with the same infectious charm that oozes in his solo music. On Disc One and Two, he vocally sways in the rhythm of someone who’s studied the sparkle of early-aughts R&B. To many new and existing fans, he’s proven to have the potential to be R&B’s newest it boy, and the weight of that title isn’t lost on him.

“I’m excited that there’s an overall dialogue about men in R&B and I’m a part of that conversation. I just want to do my part,” Levi says. “My career’s been a wild journey of standing on business and fighting for a lot of sh*t.”

For Levi, the goal has always been to be the name on everyone’s lips. “To me, true art is something that creates a conversation. And if I’m not creating a conversation, then I feel like I’m not doing something right,” he says.

Below, Levi tells Elite Daily about the legends who inspired him from childhood until now.


Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Levi has a soft spot for Brandy, whom he admiringly refers to as “Ms. Norwood” in conversation. “I always blush when I hear Brandy’s name. She’s my favorite,” he says. “Brandy’s tone has this superpower of making someone feel what she’s singing. That’s all I ever aim to do with my voice — to just open my mouth and become an escape route for someone. She does that for me.”

Brandy’s 2008 Human album, especially its deep-cut track “A Capella (Something’s Missing),” was his first introduction to her discography. He heard it as a teen, when he was still learning the range and power of his own vocals.

“It was the first non-gospel album that I really lost myself in,” he says of Human. “I just felt it in my soul. I was like, ‘This is different. This feels special.’” He instantly fell in love with her distinctive voice, and a lifelong fan was born. “Human changed me,” he says. “It shaped my taste in music, sonics, sounds, harmonies, scales — just musicality, overall.”

Brandy’s vocal essence has influenced many R&B singers in her own class and beyond. Levi’s live performances show her impact, especially in how he layers his ad-libs and runs.

Michael Jackson

Michael Caulfield Archive/WireImage/Getty Images

Michael Jackson was the industry’s musical superhero — a myth that seemed too fantastical to be true. However, once the world witnessed his aura on screen, the disbelief melted into awe over his meticulous skill. Levi went through a similar cycle of emotions when he watched Jackson’s Bad Tour on DVD at 8 years old.

“At the time, my choreographer Herm Dog would do these music history classes with me by showing me different concert DVDs,” he says. “He showed me Bad, and that was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Levi listened to Jackson’s whole discography after that, starting with the timeless beaut “Human Nature” on his 1982 Thriller album. “I was like, ‘What the hell is this? This is the most beautiful song I think I’ve ever heard,’” Levi recalls. “I was so young, but I was still mature enough to realize that when I heard that song. It really hit me like a tornado.”

Now, Levi frequently references Jackson’s genius. In his “NASA” music video, the “Birthday Dance” singer uses chrome fonts and other futuristic elements that call back to Jackson’s “Scream.” Elsewhere, there’s a brief pause and steady crescendo into a dance break, a formula Jackson also used in his “You Rock My World” video. But Jackson isn’t the only 1970s icon Levi has in rotation.

Stevie Wonder

NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

Stevie Wonder’s music was the soundtrack to Levi’s childhood. “Damn, there are no words to describe Stevie. I sang so many of his songs growing up,” Levi says, before calling him his “favorite male vocalist of all time.”

That’s a title Wonder has rightfully earned. Not only is his ear for transforming the sweetest howls of horns and synthesizers into timeless sounds unrivaled, but he’s created a catalogue where it’s criminal to praise only one track. Levi takes a deep breath when asked to pick his favorite song of all time.

“That’s so difficult. I love ‘Overjoyed,’ but... I’m sorry, I have to mention another one,” he says, pulling out his phone to find his second song choice. “It’s ‘These Three Words’ from the Jungle Fever album. That song’s so special. There’s a video of Jazmine Sullivan singing it with him. I think it’s only nine seconds long, but I’ve watched that video into the ground. It’ll always have me in a chokehold.”