If acclaimed vocalist José James ordered prescription glasses, one lens would focus on soul music, the other on hip-hop, with both bifocals lasered on jazz. In other words, James is a proud genre blurrer.

The Minneapolis-born and -reared singer has found a perfect focal point with his new album, "On & On" — the music of Erykah Badu, the high priestess of neo-soul.

"She was like a revelation, just combining in a seemingly effortless way R&B, jazz, hip-hop and songwriting in this new form," said James, who returns to the Dakota on Monday and Tuesday (May 8-9). "She's been at every step of the way at the vanguard. I took a hard look at her catalog and said, 'I think there could be a beautiful album that could be a step forward in the repertoire of what a jazz singer could do today.' "

James felt inspired to pursue such a project because jazz keyboardist extraordinaire Herbie Hancock enlisted a cast of jazz musicians and pop singers to interpret Joni Mitchell songs on 2007's "River: The Joni Letters," which led to a Grammy for album of the year.

"It gave me the blueprint to say, 'I can reframe, reshape these songs, I can record them in a jazz setting with respect,' " James said last month from his Los Angeles home.

Despite his supreme admiration for Badu, James has never seen her in concert or met her.

"We've DM'ed a little bit on Instagram," he said, "and she knows about the project and gave her blessing. I was happy she was digging it, to be honest."

Badu is only seven years older than the 45-year-old James, but he feels a generation gap with the cultural force he discovered while in high school.

"She definitely feels like a different generation," James said. "Technically we're both Gen X, but I'm like on the last year of it. I'm the youngest Gen Xer, almost the oldest millennial."

Even though Badu hasn't made many albums, James considers every one of her records to be an event.

"She's always pushing the envelope. It kind of reminds me of Beck in a way, never really content to stay in one place, always creating, always evolving personally and sonically."

To interpret Badu material, James faced the challenge of singing songs written from a female perspective. He credits his wife and business partner, Taali, for feedback and guidance.

"She helped me get real and dig deeper. There are songs like 'Green Eyes' or 'Out My Mind, Just in Time' that are specially written from a woman's point of view and experience. I'd run through the stuff with her at home and she told me, 'As a woman I don't think you're quite getting it. You need to get more vulnerable. You need to understand where the song is coming from.'

"She was right. It's really rare for most men to get vulnerable in that way. I found it fascinating to tap into that kind of love, that kind of selflessness that she's talking about, the kind of vulnerability that she shows on these songs as a singer and as a songwriter."

To accomplish that, James resorted to his version of method acting, finding a story from his life that he could draw on to personalize his interpretation.

Raised to be a feminist

It also helped that James considers himself a feminist.

"My [single] mom definitely raised me to be a feminist. The Billie Holiday [tribute album in 2015] was my declaration of it. I'm a proud feminist. I think women are the future. We need more leadership, women in jazz," said James, who enlisted two young female musicians, saxophonists Diana Dzhabbar and Ebban Dorsey, now 18 and on tour with James, for "On & On."

His father is José James, a veteran Minneapolis R&B and jazz saxophonist and percussionist. They are not close. Dad rarely attends his son's gigs at the Dakota. And they've only performed together once, and the son said they didn't really connect musically. Still, there is an indelible connection.

"He really inspired me over the years. I wouldn't be an artist without him. Unfortunately, he wasn't in my life as much as I would have liked," said the dad of a 10-year-old daughter. "By example, he's one of the most respected session musicians in the Twin Cities, which always made me super proud. And I definitely got the DNA from him. The mutual respect is there."

After studying music at South High School in Minneapolis under Denny Malmberg (who often attends James' Dakota gigs), James headed to the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. After a couple of indie recordings, he released "For All We Know," which captured the Académie du Jazz Grand Prix for best vocal jazz album of 2010. That led to a contract with prestigious Blue Note Records, for which he made five albums, including 2012's stunningly original "No Beginning No End" as well as tribute collections to Holiday and Bill Withers.

James' last three albums have been on the independent Rainbow Blonde Records, which he co-founded with his wife, singer-songwriter Taali.

Always one to take an intellectual approach to his work, James is writing a book about jazz singing.

"It's the book I've always wanted to have as a student, but it never existed. The first part is a musical autobiography, starting with my days in Minneapolis and ending with when I sat in with Anita Baker at the North Sea [Jazz Festival in Rotterdam] in 2019. The middle part is my philosophy of jazz singing, a bit of a how-to from my perspective and tips and techniques I've learned. The last section is interviews of who I consider to be the greatest living practitioners."

That includes Samara Joy, Kurt Elling, Dianne Reeves, Andy Bey, Sheila Jordan and Cécile McLorin Salvant. Bobby McFerrin and Dee Dee Bridgewater are on his wish list.

Having released 12 albums in the past 15 years, the prolific James doesn't sit still musically. He's already written material for his next collection of original tunes, called "1978," named for the year he was born. He's recording in June.

James promises a musical mélange — part J. Dilla, the late, great hip-hop hero known for his work with A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Badu, and part Leon Ware, the late R&B producer/songwriter who worked with Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones and Maxwell.

"I had a chance to do a writing session with Leon Ware before he passed away. 'I Want You' [by Gaye, co-produced by Ware in 1976] is one of my favorite albums of all time. I love Leon's concept of combining jazz and R&B and pop.

"My most personal album yet," James noted. "This one is very, very close to my heart."

José James

When: 7 p.m. Mon. & Tue. (May 8-9)

Where: The Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.

Tickets: $40 to $50, dakotacooks.com