One of the most unique voices in the Philadelphia music community, Jacqueline Constance has a way of commanding a room’s attention and imagination, no matter the audience within. A hip-hop / R&B showcase at MilkBoy? An indie rock gig at Johnny Brenda’s? A tech workshop at Pennovation? She’ll have them all hooked from the way she starts every performance: “Hi, I’m Jacqueline Constance, and my job tonight is to give you a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”

Launching on the scene in 2014 with the neo-soul tinged project The Jacqueline Show, the singer and songwriter quickly broke beyond genre constraints by experimenting with a sound looper, found objects, and her voice to make YouTube covers of a range of popular songs — Beyoncé’s “7/11” to Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami.” Her channel began to pop, and she took her self-styled #DopeAzzMusic to the stage around town, and began further incorporating those sound design techniques into her own songwriting.

The crowning achievement (so far) of her singles is “Carl Thomas,” a shimmering song about trying to hold onto an emotional connection with another person, even as it disintegrates. For this Key Studio Sessions performance, Jacqueline gives a gripping performance of that song, and introduces (or re-introduces) us to a few other highlights from her catalog.

The opening reflection on attraction, “It’s You,” is one of the first songs Jacqueline wrote, and is immediately followed by her most recent release; “I Try” was released via a December music video, and it candidly addresses the mental health challenges we all face, and how the way through is doing our best to be our best selves, even if we’re not perfect.

The session’s high point, though, comes when rapper and singer Joie Kathos joins Jacqueline in the studio for an unreleased collaboration called “Running.” Over a noisy beat that evokes relentless stress and the daily grinding of gears — and reminds this 90s kid of Nine Inch Nails — Jacqueline and Joie (or The Gentle Jawns, if you prefer) sing and spit about personal struggle, about the terrifying experience of nearly taking the ultimate L, and not just surviving but thriving with a newfound sense of purpose. It’s cathartic, it’s exhilarating, and we’re thrilled to present it to you in this NPR Live Sessions video.

Watch below, listen to a Soundcloud archive of the entire performance, and get more on Jacqueline Constance’s comings and goings at her website.

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