Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Budding local R&B star Casely is only 21 years old, but he's got the musical chops of an industry veteran.

If the name Casely sounds familiar, congratulations! You don't live under a rock. His single "Emotional," a delicious slice of R&B pop, has been racing up the local radio playlists since its official release a month ago. Produced by legendary Miami duo the Diaz Brothers, "Emotional" is so smooth that listeners of stations like Power 96 and 99 Jamz often mistake it for the work of another star.

"I always thought it was Chris Brown or Ne-Yo or somebody, 'cause it was way too good to be from somebody local," says 17-year-old Melanie Crespo. Now the self-proclaimed first real fan of this local artist, she holds up a signed Casely poster and beams with pride. "It's just so exciting to be a fan of somebody on the verge of blowing up!"

Crespo isn't the only one feeling this anticipation. At the time this interview took place, Casely was in the middle of a multimillion-dollar bidding war between several major record labels. His only reaction when this tidbit is brought up is a sheepish grin. "I still can't really put my finger around it, you know? It's all just happened so fast, yet I've been doing this for so long," he says, visibly trying to keep his cool. Long? Seems like a bogus statement when coming from a 21-year-old, but when you learn more about Casely's history, long might just be an understatement.

Born Jean Carlos Casely, the Miami native is an only child to Panamanian and Trinidadian parents. He can't recall exactly when he decided to do music full-time, but he does remember his first stint as a pop star hopeful. "It was in school and we had this four-man group, kinda like a boy band," he admits. "We would do like school talent shows and whatever; we were pretty popular."

Fortunately for Casely's solo career, the adolescent quartet (appropriately named Eternal Love) disbanded, and Casely was forced to strike out on his own. He was 10 years old. Rather than playing videogames and figuring out girls don't have cooties, Casely was being classically trained on piano and vocals at Parkway Middle School of the Arts, a distinguished performing arts school in Broward County.

"I studied theater, opera, guitar, and piano," he says. "I loved it. It just kept me focused on what I wanted to do with my life, and that was music." Casely continued his training well into high school, even performing in professional musical theater with one noted lead role at the age of 17 as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. "Jekyll and Hyde was one of my favorite musicals," he says excitedly, like a true thespian nerd. "I had the whole English accent down and everything. I think I might have possibly been the first and only black person to play Jekyll and Hyde."

But instead of beelining for Broadway, Casely bypassed New York and headed to Boston, where he attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship. There he resumed his training in vocals and piano while delving into other aspects of music. "Berklee taught me a lot about the business of the music industry, something that I wasn't really into before," he says. "I took a lot of courses on music production, distribution, copyrights, all the stuff you need to know if you want to really pursue a music career."

Now with an arsenal of musical talent and business knowledge, Casely was ready to produce his first solo record. A long time coming, his debut album, I'll Be, was released by Miami label 1st Records Inc. in early 2005. With 14 tracks of smooth R&B jams that would make Usher jealous, the album was a well-received introduction to the public. Casely was soon placed on the promotional boot camp tour, with countless live performances, interviews, and openers. He was even featured alongside producer/partner Jason Farmer on CNN Headline News, performing a song the two penned titled "Unsung Heroes," a tribute to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Casely admits he wrote it in two hours. "It just comes naturally to me," he says. "I just hear the melody, and then the lyrics just automatically flow out. It's like I can't stop it sometimes."

It's this type of raw talent that attracted the Diaz Brothers in early 2007. Recently coming off their success with Pitbull's latest album, they've also produced chart-topping singles for pretty much every high-profile hip-hop artist out there. It was only a matter of time before the Diaz Brothers discovered an R&B pop star.

"We found Casely on MySpace, actually," recalls Lou Diaz. "When I heard his stuff, I was like, 'Ah yeah, he's already signed to a major,' because it was so good. But then I saw on his MySpace that he was indie. That's when we hit him up."

Casely confesses he didn't think to look twice when that fateful MySpace message popped up in his inbox. "I didn't put two and two together. I just thought, Oh, another person who wants to do some stuff. I get those e-mails all the time," he recalls. "But when I went back and checked that message, I was shocked."

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