J.I the Prince of N.Y, has recently dropped his EP, Welcome to GStarr Vol.1, and it’s nothing short of majestic. With the lead track ‘20K’ coming out yesterday, alongside a video acting as a gift for his fans on his 19th birthday, this body of work shows off this young rapper’s Latin and Reggaeton influences, moving from hip-hop ballad ‘Beautiful Girl’ to rapping in Spanish with trap artist Myke Towers. The influences are not the only facets of the EP to offer range however, with J.I moving fluidly between subject matter, giving fans a glimpse into his daily life and speaking refreshingly openly on the subject of love and heartbreak. This is the latest in a long stream of achievements for J.I, including receiving a gold record for his track ‘Need Me’ and having a song supported by industry legend Drake. We caught up with the artist on his birthday to discuss the EP, how Brooklyn will never really change and what sets this new generation of rappers that he belongs to, apart.
First of all, how are you? What’s a typical day been like for you since lockdown?
Thank you for asking how I’m doing. I can’t complain. Right now, I am so focused and have been working on music back-to-back. Since the lockdown, I have continued to just create music and write, and it’s all I have been doing. With my team, we released my EP, ‘Welcome to GStarr Vol.1,’ music videos and other singles. And, looking forward to releasing another project soon.
So your single ‘20K’ is out today. How does this track differ from the rest of the songs on your EP ‘Welcome To GStarr Vol.1’.
‘20K’ was released today on my 19th birthday. This was a gift to my fans for their support. This record for me visually is powerful and connected to the lyrics on how I am feeling. ‘20K’ gives a perspective on how people treat you differently when there’s progression. This record is less of me expressing love or about a female, but more on daily life.
You grew up in Crown Heights in New York. I was there a few years ago and it seemed like the area was going through a lot of changes. How has it changed during your lifetime?
Crown Heights definitely has changed, where there’s new people from all parts of the world moving into the area. But, Brooklyn is Brooklyn, and that melting pot essence and aggressiveness is still there.
You’ve said that Welcome To GStarr Vol.1, incorporates Afrobeats and Reggaeton while still retaining your “New York Essence”. What is the essence of New York for you?
My EP was a mix of what represents me, which is Hip Hop and the melodic part of me. But, I brought in music that I have been a fan of and I wanted to represent my Latin culture as well with the ‘Spanglish’ record. I have been a reggaeton fan for a long time and definitely was excited to have a record like that with Myke Towers in my EP.
You and Myke Towers switch it up on your track ‘Spanglish’, with him singing in English and you rapping in Spanish. What language do you find it easier to write in?
Well, I am starting to do my Spanish thing on some upcoming records but I don’t actually know how to speak Spanish. Considering, it hasn’t been too bad… I can’t wait for you all to hear what I have coming.
I got exposed to the world very quickly. I was dealing with negative comments and people bashing me for no reason,” he explains. “That made me mature, and my whole lifestyle made me mature because I had to realize I’m different.”
In your Spotify documentary you recall being booed off stage in 2017, can you tell me a little bit more about this experience and what effect it had on you?
Being booed is not an easy pill to swallow. I really brought myself down, but this experience also made me stronger than ever, resigned to work on my craft and become a better artist.
You started freestyling at 11. Can you remember where you drew inspiration from at that age?
In school, I loved my English class. I loved just reading or writing creative stories. I was heavily influenced by what was around me and growing up in Brooklyn.
You’re signed to Interscope records, alongside legends like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Dave. Who on the label inspires you? Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with?
Yeah, I am very happy to be part of Geffen/Interscope as both labels have so much Hip Hop history. Everyone is pretty legendary! That’s a hard question, but I would love to work with some of the female artists that are part of the label. I have been looking for a female voice for some upcoming records. So, you never know!
You seem to have a pretty distinctive look, what’s your favourite item of clothing or jewelry that you own?
Thank you. My favorite piece is my GStarr chain. It represents me, my team and the lane we are trying to create to represent NYC. And, it was one of my first pieces that I purchased.
At 18, you’re part of a new generation of rappers. What makes you guys different from the previous generation?
Well, I am excited to say that today I am 19. Well, I think my generation is not afraid to talk about love or being in love, or wanting to be in love. We are more open to sharing our emotions and feelings in a deeper way.
So you’ve had your first big tour, got a gold record for your track ‘Need Me’ and been supported by the likes of Drake. What’s the next big milestone you want to achieve?
I want to continue to release more music and continue to share with my fans the growth, the process and hopefully get back on the road, and perform for my fans overseas. Right now, my focus is working on being a better version of me.