EXCLUSIVE: J.I readies the release of his upcoming project, "Welcome To GStarr Vol. 1" and the launch of his mini-doc trailer with Spotify RADAR's program.
From the deepest pockets of the Internet to gracing billboards in Times Square, Spotify’s aided buzzing artists find leverage in the music industry and allowed them to expand their fanbase on an international scale. The launch of Spotify’s RADAR has emphasized their commitment to shine brighter spotlights on artists that are catching a buzz across the globe and introducing them to the world. Launching the program in March, Spotify’s global emergence program picks up on buzzing talent in over 50 markets across the world and helps them take their career to the next level-- they do this in a tangible way, by not only providing support in the form of prominent billboards, but by securing placement in their flagship playlists like Rap Caviar, and even assisting in third party partnerships for the artist.
J.I The Prince Of N.Y is likely a name that’s popped up on your radar over the past year, no pun intended. At 18-years-old, he’s already spent the past five years officially in the rap game, with the help of Jermaine Dupri’s The Rap Game, which he appeared on at 14. Much has changed since then. He’s honed in on his talent, gained clout on international turf, and even earned himself a gold plaque with the release of 2019’s “Need Me.” The vibrant sounds of dancehall and reggae became an anthem for the streets as J.I contrasted the upbeat instrumental with harrowing bars detailing pain and sorrow.
Image provided by the artist - Brad Ogbonna
Expect to hear J.I dive deeper in that lane. Just last week, he officially released, “Spanglish” with Myke Towers, serving as the lead single off of his upcoming EP, Welcome To G Starr Vol. 1. The song marks his official foray into Latin music, though dabbling with sounds outside of hip-hop was all part of the plan in the first place.
“I tried to put more like reggae, Afro, dancehall beats and vibes on the tape so people could vibe more,” he told HNHH about the sound of his upcoming project. “I genuinely feel like ‘Spanglish’ is just a different type of record because it connects with the Spanish culture and the English culture and it kind of just combines it all together.”
With a collaboration with Lil Durk set to drop on this new project, as well as support from artists like Drake and Roddy Ricch, J.I. has major potential to transcend the American market and become a household name across the globe, especially after all these years of grinding. The resilience and persistence have pushed his competitive nature, though he admits that he’s not in competition with anyone but himself. That’s what he wants fans to understand, though -- his mentality. Teaming up with Spotify’s RADAR, J.I will be giving fans an in-depth look in his upcoming mini-documentary that we're debuting the trailer for today. Watch below.
"I’m a regular person just like you all like my heart beats just like yours does. I feel emotions just like you do. And at the end of the day, I’m not superman. The music I make, the money I make, that adds on to who I am and my status, and people view me highly because of it, but I’m a regular person just like everybody else," he said. "I was waiting to do a documentary. I just wanted to be able to show the fans the mental process of J.I, like what I go through mentally, how I deal with certain things."
J.I recently tapped in with us from Puerto Rico to chop it up about his new mini-documentary with Spotify RADAR, Welcome To G Starr Vol. 1, his upcoming collaboration with Lil Durk, as well as his plans to dethrone Steven Spielberg in the film game.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
HotNewHipHop: Yo, what’s good, bro?
J.I The Prince of N.Y: Nothing much, man. We out here in Puerto Rico, tryna catch a flight to go to Miami.
Living life, eh?
Yeah you know, tryna live it day by day, you know.
That’s what's up. Congratulations on all the success and everything you’re about to embark on right now.
I wanted to start off the interview by asking about the new single you just dropped with Myke Towers, “Spanglish.” Honestly, that s*** just sounds like it's about to take over the summer right now. Even with a song like “Need Me,” it has that Latin music and dancehall influence to it. So I was wondering why it felt like a good time to drop this song right now?
Well, the funny thing is I’ve been wanting to make a Spanish version for the longest just for the simple fact that I’m Puerto Rican and I just felt like it was only right I touched down into that lane, you feel me? But I was just waiting for the right time because usually with this whole making music, everything is all about timing. Like you have to do everything at the right time and the right way because it’s like if you do anything wrong or slip up, it kind of like -- for example, the record got leaked right after me and Myke Towers had recorded it. I know who leaked it, too. It was on some weird, sucka, like, corny s***. But, like, the record got leaked and everybody had it. Everyone was playing it. DJs were playing it. It was getting played everywhere so I spoke to the label. Originally, we were going to drop the video the day of the release, like the release date of the tape, but I was telling them, I’m like, ‘Honestly, it’s too long for me.’ Like the record got leaked, like, late June. The release date for the tape is July 17th. I’m like, I’m not gonna sit here and have people play my record and listen to it for like, months at a time and then I drop it. ‘Cause at that point -- my fans disrespect me sometimes so it’s like a record would get leaked and then I would drop it and they don’t want me to drop it because they have it already. Like, it’s f**ked up because that’s how they think sometimes. So, like, I just told the label like, ‘look, let’s just do what we can to drop the record immediately so that it doesn’t get out to everyone.’ Because more and more people were hearing it, so I was just tryna release it. So we released it while we came down here to PR. It was crazy like we hear mad people playing it like it’s going crazy.
It’s sick that you’re catching that buzz out in Puerto Rico and you get to see that happening like in real-time.
Yeah, that’s the crazy thing like before we came down here. Like before I leave the States or the city, I usually have an assumption of how many people I feel like are gonna recognize me. So before, I came to PR, I was like, ‘Eh. There’ll probably be a couple of people. Like, it’s Puerto Rico.’ But, obviously, at the same time, tourists come here. And not even just the tourists. Like, bro, everyday somebody new was recognizing me. Like the amount of love that they were showing me was just ridiculous. It was hard to handle [at first]. It’s humbling, you understand me? Like, it’s one thing to recognize me in the city but when you leave your city and you go to a whole ‘nother place. I mean, I’m from Puerto Rico so it’s not like unknown to me but this is the first time steppin’ in Puerto Rico so the amount of love that was shown and the amount of support that was given to me was just amazing and overwhelming.
Nah that is really dope man, especially like with this dropping and now you got Welcome To GStarr Vol. 1 about to drop. Why did “Spanglish” feel like a good way to kick off the campaign? Aside from the fact that it leaked. Do you feel like this song represents what you’re about to bring on this new project?
Definitely. Here’s the thing with this project, this project has six records on it. This project I wanted to, like, just give more of a commercial side. I remember you mentioning “Need Me.” That’s probably my biggest record right now. I mean, obviously it’s my biggest record right now, but I feel like it took off so much because of the reggae, dancehall vibe it had. Just the whole universal, commercial sound it had behind it. So this tape, I tried to put more like reggae, Afro, dancehall beats, and vibes on the tape so people could vibe more. I have another anticipated record called “Love In The Club'' that everybody’s going crazy for. I have a dancehall vibe on the tape that I feel like is gonna be bigger than “Spanglish.” But then it’s different because I genuinely feel like “Spanglish” is just a different type of record because it connects with the Spanish culture and the English culture and it kind of just combines it all together. I feel like after this EP, we’re gonna drop another project within like the next couple of weeks just to put pressure on people. I took a break for a couple of months. At the end of the day I’m tryna drop good music and let the fans see what I got.
You had a dope run in 2019, you dropped the first two volumes of Hood Life Krisis. Why did you choose to step away from the Hood Life Krisis series to drop this Welcome to GStarr project?
I wanna introduce a whole new project, a whole new sound, a whole new wave. I wanna definitely just -- you know what it is too and like my fans, they get mad every time I drop an EP. Like the first two was okay, but now they just want like a big body of work because I’m giving them small bodies of work and it’s hitting, like, the records are dope, I feel like. I’m tryna build up more anticipation before the album drops. I’ve already got records on the verge of going gold and “Need Me,” got a plaque for it. I’m trying to just build up my catalog. The amount of momentum the fanbase has added is amazing, like, I’ve gotten pretty far in the last year in terms of me dropping music and me coming out. I mean, I definitely have to pat myself on the shoulders, a little bit. Not too much. I just want to definitely introduce a whole new sound and I wanna build up my catalog and my fanbase before I come out with a debut album.
Yeah definitely for sure. So this next project, is it just you for the whole EP, or do you have any features we can expect on that?
Oh yeah, yeah. On this project, Myke Towers is one of them. The other feature is, I haven’t really told anyone what the other feature was but I’ll say it. I have a feature with Lil Durk on the tape.
This s*** is dope as s*** because I’m a big Lil Durk fan and my Chicago fanbase is ridiculous. This record is for Chicago, to be honest. I mean, it’s for everybody but I feel like Chicago is gonna click on it more and go crazy. They just be showing me so much love, it’s ridiculous. I already know when they hear this record, it’s outta here.
Image provided by Spotify
You teamed up with Spotify’s RADAR for this new mini-doc that’s about to come out so tell me about that. What do you hope fans will learn about you that they don’t know already?
I would say it’s just to understand my mental process because with this tape -- I explain why the tape only has six records. The fans really don’t understand. Like, I don’t wanna sit here and talk about that shit at all, like this happened and this happened, but I’m a regular person just like you all like my heart beats just like yours does. I feel emotions just like you do. And at the end of the day, I’m not superman. The music I make, the money I make, that adds on to who I am and my status, and people view me highly because of it, but I’m a regular person just like everybody else. When I die I’m going six-feet under just like everybody else. So, it’s like, I feel as if the documentary really got to portray my mental side of things. I keep to myself. I’m battling myself every day at the same time. So it’s just like, I owe it to the fans. I was fiending to do a documentary. I was waiting to do a documentary. I just wanted to be able to show the fans the mental process of J.I, like what I go through mentally, how I deal with certain things, you understand me? I’m just excited. I can’t wait to see how they put it together. I already know Spotify go crazy with it, so I’m just excited for real.
Do you feel like people don’t understand you because you’ve had national attention on you since you were 14 when you were on The Rap Game?
I mean, I feel like fame is only understood when I allow them to. I’m not sure. As I said, my fans are like hard critics when it comes to me. When I blew up and I started taking off with my music, I had people in my comments saying “finally.” And not in a positive way, like, people were tryna drag how it took me so long like, “Oh J.I, he’s wack. It took him mad long to get where he’s at.” But it’s like, I try to tell people, “Look how long it took.” But where am I, though, you understand me? It doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as I get there. And I’m in a position that many people pray to be in. It’s crazy because I been making music for like 6-7 years. I have been in the spotlight -- not spotlight -- but I’ve been in the industry and I’ve had a fanbase for four years. Almost five. It’s crazy because sometimes I still can’t deal with the hate. Sometimes I still can’t deal with the hatred. It’s weird. I used to have tough skin. I built up the skin for it dealing with the same things. It’s different now when you are on a different platform. I’m bigger now. I’m an upcoming artist from my city. I’m high ranked in my city. I’m up there, you know what I’m saying? So it’s like, the hatred is different.
On that point of like being in your city, you pretty frequently refer to yourself as being the Prince of N.Y and that’s obviously like a pretty bold claim. I was wondering just on your come-up, what does it mean to be the King of New York and what does that title mean to you?
On the real, that whole Prince of NY, King of NY thing is like funny to me. I never really wanted to intentionally call myself that, like, that was my Instagram name. The TV show I was on, they called me that. The whole King of New York, Prince of New York thing, I can’t say that for myself because if fame somehow decides that, you understand me? I feel like people were too touchy with that King of NY sh*t because it’s just like -- I don’t know. Back then, like if somebody was the King, they were really the King. Nowadays, everybody is the King, you understand me? And it’s weird because we’re the only city that does that funny s***. Like why does there have to be a King? Like, come on, everybody on top. I’m not in no competition with nobody, you understand? I’m not worried about what the next man jacking or the next man just doing. Because I’m responsible for my downfall just like I’m responsible for my uprising, you understand me? I’m not concerned about what anybody gotta say or how they feel about me or -- I’m just tryna solidify my spot in the world. New York is cool and all that, but global and local are different. Like I’m tryna be global and if I gotta step out of my city and go somewhere else or I gotta speak for different people or speak towards a different crowd, then I gotta do that. I feel like what I’m doing is bigger than what people are trying to label it and I just gotta prove it with music and consistency, you know?
Nah definitely. I wanted to talk to you about your work with Lil Tjay, I know you guys have a good working relationship. How did that relationship develop?
It’s funny because when I first came out, people would compare me to him and A Boogie because we’re in that melodic lane. Somebody had shared a post talking, like, negative about me and him. They were tryna compare us. He had shared the negative post and he said something funny. That’s how we first chopped it up, I guess. It was iffy at first in the beginning like I ain’t really know what to expect but then he hit me up again as he kept in touch and we chopped it up, we mentioned doing a record. I had sent him “Hood Scars 2” record we did first and then "My City," we ended up laying down for his tape, I laid it down for his tape. But I think it’s dope. I feel like the fans deserved it. I’m not in a competition with nobody. Like y’all can compare me to who y'all want. Like, I compare myself to God, that’s the only thing I compare myself to. So it’s like, I feel like the fans definitely deserve that collab. Even A Boogie, too, I’m working on that, too, whenever he’s ready. I feel like the fans deserve that, too. I like to listen to what the fans say and try to have that consideration at heart too, you know.
Nah definitely. In terms of other collaborations, who’s like your dream collaboration? Who do you hope that you can work with in the coming years?
I would love to work with Drake. I chopped it up with him. He’s dope. He showed me mad love. I would love to work with everybody, to be honest. Especially the Spanish artists who I love. Bad Bunny, Anuel AA, just a bunch of artists I would love to work within the Spanish lane. I love what I’m doing. I’m definitely gonna work with a bunch of artists. I’mma really work with everybody, you know, I don’t discriminate. Whoever wants to work, and they dope and I like their music and think what they’re doing for the culture is amazing, I would love to collab, you know?
Nah definitely. Tell me more about that conversation with Drake. That’s huge.
How did that come about? How did you get on his radar?
It was random. Actually, at first, Akademiks had posted a video of me on my tour performing and I seen that he liked the video. So, that was like my first time peeping that he was, like, I guess, aware of who I was. And then maybe a week or two, maybe three weeks max. later, somebody had tagged me in a video. My brother had came to me and had showed me a video of him on Instagram Live listening to a bunch of my records. From there, it was just, like, “Oh s***, he’s in tune.” Like he knows about me. I hit him up, like, “Yo bro” and he hit me back and it was just love, man. It’s love, man. He’s dope. He’s an artist that solidified his spot and what he’s doing for the culture. He’s definitely, like, he’s up there as far as our generation. He’s a top guy to me. That’s the guy you aim for [the same type of] greatness and consistency.
Definitely. Did he have any like, words of wisdom for you now that you’re in that position he was in like a decade ago?
The conversation was very short. He just showed me a lot of love. He said he was proud of me. He just told me to keep doing my thing, I don’t really remember as far as, like, what advice he gave, I don’t really think he gave advice. It was more just like, love and like, he was basically just tryna tell me he supported me like -- I don’t know I gotta go back in the DMs to really remember what he said. It was loved and it was all positivity.
Roddy Ricch definitely, he’s an artist who like, he told me certain s***, like, ‘Oh, keep your family, watch who you move with.’ He’s an artist that I can say definitely, like, I chopped it up with. To me, it was gems. Usually when I chop it up with artists, it’s never really for too long, especially in the DMs. It’s like hi, bye. We chop it up and get to the point and that’s really it. I don’t really remember with Ricch. But it was all love. He showed me mad love.
We’re obviously in summer, we touched on “Spanglish” but coronavirus has put a lot of things on hold over the past few months. Tell me about your favorite memories of summer and growing up in New York before the coronavirus era and how do you think those memories influence your music? Because, like, a joint like “Spanglish,” sounds like it would be an anthem in New York.
I just miss being young because when I was young, I had no type of worries in the world. I had no stress. The things I’m stressed about had nothing to do with how I’m stressing now. I just miss being a kid. Like growing up in New York was amazing. I loved growing up in New York. I love where I’m from. I genuinely do. Like, I don’t know now, during the summertime, I probably would’ve been in the clubs. They’re opening up the clubs and stuff like that so it’s like, everything is slowly opening up. Usually, in the summertime, it’s lit. Like we go outside. Everybody’s outside. Especially now, there’s a firework problem. Apparently everybody got fireworks, now, so they just going crazy. That’s usually every summertime, especially living in Brooklyn or the Bronx, they go crazy with the fireworks. I don’t know I grew up in the streets so I was always outside like trying to do something dumb. I don’t know I just miss it but the corona, you know it’s a minor setback for a major comeback. You gotta adjust nowadays. Everything is unpredictable. You can’t wake up, you can’t get ready to go to sleep and think you never know what the next day holds for you, you understand me? It’s unpredictable, so I mean, you never know. You can’t really predict what happens. At the same time, I’m kind of happy this happened because it raised awareness that anything can happen and you gotta adjust to it and prep for it.
Nah definitely. How did it affect your career?
I mean, it’s like, me and you having a conversation through the phone, for example. I can’t go to interviews. As far as performing, all my shows and my touring got canceled so that kind of hurt me a little bit. At the same time, I’m very happy that happened cus now I can build up my catalog. Now when I go on tour, the venues go up. The prices go up. Tickets stay the same, though, because I’m loyal to my fans and I’m not disrespectful. It’s gonna be lit because I have more music to perform. Instead of me doing a 20-minute set, now I can do an hour set. Everything goes up now. Fans get more music, my fans get a better show now. Hopefully, by the time everything does clear up, I’ll probably have like another project that’s out as well. So the catalog will be different. As I said, it’s all about adjusting.I’m a hustler. I’m always gonna find a way to make money. I just feel like you know it’s a little setback for a major comeback. It’s not a big deal.
That’s what's up. So my last question for you man is, what could we expect from you in the coming year that you could let us in on like I know you mentioned you got another project on the way but what else could we expect?
I wanna definitely do more features with artists just to build more connections. I feel like the fans deserve that. My last two tapes before Welcome To GStarr had no features. I was just tryna solidify my spot as a solo artist without any features. You got certain artists that the fans categorize as feature artists. I wanted to show people that I don’t need features. I could go on tour by myself. I don’t have features. I could build my catalog or I could build my fanbase up. I’m an artist that sells tickets, you know? So we just tryna build everything up. I just wanna show the fans that you know, I’m here to stay as I said. New music, definitely. I’m definitely planning on making a movie. I don’t wanna say too much. That’s in the works, you feel me? Number one with that one. I’m not gon’ lie, I’m coming for Steven Spielberg’s spot. I hit him up the other day. He nervous. I let him know what to expect. He’ll be aiight [laughing]. But nah, I definitely wanna document my own, I don’t know if it’ll be a movie or a series. If I do a series, I’ll probably give it to Netflix or some shit. I wanna do something huge. I got a beautiful idea. But you know, like I said, I just wanna grow. That’s the main thing, I just wanna grow. Throughout this year, I wanna grow, elevate, and continue to motivate other artists and inspire other kids, you feel me? Kids my age, kids younger than me, people that didn’t make it professionally yet though.
That’d dope man. Thank you so much for your time bro I really appreciate it.
Of course. Nah, thank you for having me. I appreciate this conversation. It was dope.
Of course I hope I get to catch up with you hopefully in the coming months or at least in the next year and we can have this conversation all over again, see where you’re at then.
Nah yeah, for sure. Definitely, my guy. I appreciate you. Be safe my guy.