She's an international business student at UNC Charlotte. She's also an award-winning musician trying to break into the industry as a black girl fronting a rock band with the help of elite producers such as Grammy Award winner 9th Wonder. Though, no matter what happens, Jocelyn Ellis is going to graduate from college next year to make her daddy happy.
"She doesn't try to be over the top," says Raleigh's 9th Wonder, a.k.a. Patrick Douthit. "She's an around-the-way girl, very unassuming. You wouldn't think the sound that comes out of her would come out of that box."
Ellis' music is difficult to define, and she likes it that way. In one show, she will swing between R&B ("Made for two") and rock ("Sugar Rose") then over to the blues ("Seasons of Change") right before belting out a free-form song off the top of her head, which is how "Sell me a Cloud," the song 9th Wonder produced, was created. If pressed, she categorizes her music as urban-folk hip-hop.
"Her music isn't boxed in," says Power 98 morning DJ Church Boy, "It's in its own lane. Everybody can listen to her music, not just one spectrum of people."
Ellis got her professional start performing around the campus to anyone who would listen. Thanks to her family's eclectic musical tastes, though, music has always had a big place in her life.
Her mother, Pamela Kelly, says she enrolled Ellis in music lessons after a family gathering at a hotel. "She drifted to a piano and played something so melodic our jaws just dropped," Kelly says.
Farrah Morgan, a former Bad Boy/ Arista executive (who also happens to be Ellis' cousin), says people are attracted to Ellis because they are trying to reconnect with music. "The best way," she says, "is to have a song that speaks to that for you. You can feel that in her music. I can feel who I am through some of her songs."
Ellis is trying to create a musical revolution where freedom reigns and music -- not just a look or a package or the price of a ticket -- is the most important thing. She calls it the "Jynesis Movement."
Morgan, who is no longer in the music industry, says, "Now it's almost like a cattle call." Meaning, producers find something they like and package it to look just like something else that is already popular.
She says artists, eager to make it big, conform then realize they're not happy, that they're not making the music they intended to make. She's encouraging Ellis to "come out with the passionate extreme" and avoid the business product.
"I want this movement to become something more than me," Ellis says. "I don't want to be hindered by profit margins."
To her, the industry seems adversarial. Instead of embracing talent, barriers are constructed. But, she says, "The industry is abstract. The music industry is driven by art, and we can be free in that.
"It's time for a new voice," she adds. "Our generation doesn't know how powerful we really are. Forget the system. If you take your chances and run with them, the possibilities are endless."
She talks about the music underground, social media and musicians making their tunes available online. "You don't need a million dollar marketing budget," she says. "The underground helps level the playing field."
"We're putting the music back in the music industry," said Jeff Taylor, guitarist for Alpha Theory, the band that wrote the music for "Sugar Rose."
Taylor says when you're in a band, you're also in the band with your bandmates' significant others, jobs and other problems. But, Ellis isn't like that. She's an unpretentious, amazing talent, he says. "That's what we like about her."
Her humility is almost as impressive as her talent. Still a year away from graduation, she has shared the stage with performers like multi-platinum Wyclef Jean, Grammy Award-winner Chrisette Michele and Cassidy.
Everyone around Ellis is convinced she's going to be huge, that she's going to carve out a new genre of music then lift other musicians to her level only to encourage them to do their own thing.
Of course, in the end, Ellis realizes it's still a business and she has to make a living. That's why she's following her father's advice and finishing her degree. That's also why, in addition to working on her music, she's working on her business plan. She's says there are too many stories about how the music industry has taken advantage of artists. She wants to minimize that, so she plans to be prepared.
According to those in the know, though, there's no reason for her to worry.
"It's time for her to shine," says 9th Wonder, who is performing with Ellis at an April 12 show in Raleigh. "This is her show."
Jocelyn Ellis will be performing at the Crowntown Showdown at The Evening Muse on April 15, at The Rumble at The Evening Muse with S.O. Stereo and Bluz on May 7 and at Femmefest in NoDa on May 30. You can find out more by going to JocelynEllis.com.