Before he reached the age of 12, Chicago-bred singer/songwriter Aleem was penning songs that showed a melodic sensibility well beyond his years. By his late teens he’d refined his artistry and forged a sound all his own, building off the natural musicality he’d first displayed by arranging pots and pans in drum-kit formation and banging out songs at age 5. Now, on the heels of joining Fifth Harmony for an arena tour of Europe, Aleem is set to deliver a debut album brilliantly showcasing his acoustic-guitar-driven brand of R&B-tinged pop.

Made with producers Ryan Stewart (Carly Rae Jepsen, Owl City) and Jon Levine (Selena Gomez, Cher Lloyd), Open Letters finds Aleem taking a storytelling-like approach to his lyrics. The L.A.-based artist co-wrote all of the album’s ten tracks, working with such songwriters as Scott Harris (Shawn Mendes, Jessie J) and Anjulie (Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj) and instilling each song with a daring vulnerability. “For this album I really wanted to let my guard down and let people into my life, and tell stories that everyone can relate to,” says Aleem. “That’s where the title comes from—each song is a letter intended for a specific person, but it’s up to the listeners as far as how they make the songs their own.”

Featured on Aleem’s forthcoming Open Letters EP, his debut single “Find Out” channels heavy beats, graceful piano work, and warm but powerful vocals into a sly twist on the classic break-up anthem—or, in Aleem’s words, “a fun song about getting cheated on.” “That song was inspired by me going away for some time and worrying that things would fall apart with the person I was involved with, and then coming home and having that fear become a reality,” Aleem explains. “But instead of focusing on being heartbroken, I wanted the song to have a playful vibe to it—like, ‘You didn’t fool me, I saw the writing on the wall.” On his synth-laced follow-up single “Inside Out,” meanwhile, a slow-building and cinematic arrangement amps up the song’s emotional intensity. “‘Inside Out’ came from being in a relationship where I felt like I was the one bringing everything down, but I couldn’t control it,” says Aleem. “It’s about battling your inner demons and questioning whether you’re in the right place to give love, but also recognizing that you really do need that love.”

Born and raised in the northern suburbs of Chicago, Aleem quickly graduated from the pots-and-pans setup of his early years and got his first drum kit at age 7. Within several years he’d picked up an acoustic guitar and taught himself to play, and soon joined in a series of bands. “I ended up taking the role of songwriter in every band, so I started playing attention to all these different artists and how they structured their songs,” says Aleem, who names Irish rock band The Script and singer/songwriters like Mat Kearney among his main inspirations.

After taking up singing in junior high, Aleem devoted much of high school to honing his songwriting, vocal performance, and skills as a guitarist. Although he headed off to college, he soon realized that music was his true calling and began recording demos in his basement, then sent those demos off to Craig Bauer (a Grammy Award-winning producer known for his work with Kanye West). “Craig saw my vision and took me under his wing to develop my sound, which helped me learn a lot about my craft and figure out who I was as an artist,” recalls Aleem, who was 19 at the time. Aleem then connected with a manager and headed to L.A. in 2014 to move forward with his music career. Along with setting to work on his debut, he began building a following by performing live, which included sharing the stage with American Idol standout Joshua Ledet at SXSW in 2014 and opening for pop duo Timeflies at Summerfest in Milwaukee the following year.

In both his live show and in his songwriting, Aleem creates an undeniably feel-good experience that’s charged with pure feeling. “Music is my escape and my way of taking everything going on in my head and then putting it back out into the world—that’s how I deal with everyday life,” he says. And in bringing so much bold honesty to the making of Open Letters, Aleem hopes to give listeners their own sense of connection and release. “There’s nothing better than when you’re listening to a song and you have this moment like, ‘I get it, I went through that too,’” he says. “That’s why it’s so important for me to be completely genuine and real in my songs: I want the people listening to feel understood.”

Management is provided by Kevin Sucher with Sucher Entertainment.