Like plenty of 22-year-olds, Jermaine Crawford is no longer interested in being seen as a teenager.
The problem for the Bowie native is he played a famous one on TV named Duquan "Dukie" Weems, one of the main students "The Wire" focused on in its acclaimed fourth season in 2006.
"People are so used to seeing me so innocent, so young, so baby-faced," Crawford said on the phone Tuesday. "But in 10 years, a lot of growth happened. A lot of life happened."
These days, Crawford is concentrating on the passion he discovered before acting: singing. In 2013, he released a five-song effort titled "Underdog" and dropped a video for his song "Janet" last year. Now, he's focused on "4Play T3ois," a three-song, uptempo R&B EP he released independently for free in May.
With lyrics like "I just want to feel your body underneath my body" on "Silhouettes," Crawford is determined to reintroduce himself to the public as a maturing adult. Aside from music, he's still acting and working with the Code Blue campaign, an initiative he created to raise awareness of youth homelessness, a topic he became interested in after conducting research for his role on "The Wire."
We spoke to Crawford — who said he will participate in the "Wired Up" event on July 18 with many of his fellow castmates at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric — about his pursuit of an R&B career, his experience on "The Wire," his love for Mo's Seafood and more.
Are you entirely shifting your focus to music or do you plan to pursue both acting and singing?
I'm just as much of an actor as I am a singer, but what most people don't know is that I was singing first. I was introduced to acting because of singing, growing up in church. My dad is a deacon. Singing in church, I started to find my feet on the stage. Some people were like, "You should get this kid involved in acting," and that's how it happened for me. I'm kind of going back to my roots in a way, but I'm definitely not giving up on acting any time soon.
What goals were you looking to accomplish with "4play T3ois"?
Thank God you know that that 3 is an R because nobody gets it. [laughs] But what I really set out to do with "4play T3ois" is to reintroduce myself, not even just as a musician, just the new me, period. … I just try to write from my personal experiences. So what I really wanted to do with this EP is just kind of reintroduce to the world as a man, basically. I'm not a kid anymore.
Usher is it for me. Definitely Michael Jackson, but just because Usher was closer to age with me, I can identify with him. When I see him, I see myself. He's such a huge inspiration.
You're working on a full-length album now. What should we expect in terms of the music's direction and the producers on it?
I've been working with some really talented producers, one of which did a lot of the production on "4play T3ois." His name is GSpence, an amazing producer out in Los Angeles. You can definitely expect a lot of what you heard on "4play T3ois" but there's going to be a lot of things that aren't expected, because I have so much to offer musically. I pull from all sorts of different places. I can't really wait to introduce people to that Billy Joel influence. I do a little bit of playing on the piano, so you can definitely expect to hear a lot of live production with instruments.
Has it been difficult to get people to separate your role on "The Wire" from your music?
It's been very difficult, to be honest. I guess it's a good thing and a bad thing. A good thing in regards to -- I suppose I played the role very well, I guess. I started way younger than anybody else on the show basically. I grew up a little bit in front of the world, but they really didn't see the full transformation. So now that I'm doing this complete new introduction to the new, mature Jermaine Crawford, I can see it's taking people a little bit of time. But when they finally get into the music, of course they love it. But I think it's a little bit more difficult for some than others.
But, you know, I love a challenge. Even auditioning for "The Wire" was a challenge. There were like 600 kids who tried out, but over the span of three, four months and about six auditions, it finally worked out.
Do people recognize you these days for "The Wire"?
OK, so the diehards will give me this stare, right? By the time I finally walk past them, they're like, "Oh s--t, that's the guy!" But for some who may have seen a couple of episodes, they don't know who I am at all. I'll say now that I'm kind of growing my hair a little bit, I guess it's kind of reminiscent of that Dukie phase, so some people recognize me and some don't.
I would say Tyrone's Chicken but they don't have it anymore! I would say probably the seafood. I'm from Maryland so I eat crabs all day long, but Mo's Seafood is just --- ohh, the best.
What do you miss most about "The Wire"?
Just the fun we had on the set. I was so young so I really didn't even realize it was a job that we were doing. [laughs] We got paid, and we got to chill and have fun and go to school on set. It was just literally the best time a 12-year-old could ever ask for. I didn't watch the show prior to being on it because I was too young, of course, to watch it.
But it was interesting that not one of the veterans on the show had an ego. They embraced us like we were their own children, especially Sonja Sohn. She opened her arms to us like I've never seen before. I miss that love that we all had on the set, even down to the hair and makeup trailer. We were really just one big family. Now that I've worked on different productions since, not every set is like that. So that's what I miss most – the family.
Have you gone back and watched the series in full? I assume, as you get older, it's easier to understand the impact it had on TV as a whole.
Dude, I had no idea. I know this is kind of embarrassing but I had never watched from Season 1 to Season 5 until last summer. I found myself [during] Season 3 like, "Damn, I wish I was on this show!" And then I was like, "Oh my God, I was!" It's such a good show. David Simon is a genius. He connected politics to the streets to the drugs. It was the perfect mystery. I just love it. It really is my favorite show.