How did you first get into music?
When I was young music was always around me. I had a couple of family members that were into music. My mother had a Yamaha keyboard, and it's crazy, there's a photo of me when I was about one years old, and I'm on her lap playing the keyboard. So it's kind of ironic how it came together, but yeah, it was just always around me. I used to write short stories, poems, anything you can name, I was like a mini author at a young age. Around the age of 12 it just came to me: I was like, “alright, I’ve got to do music”.
Which artists most influenced you when you were growing up?
I would listen to a lot of old school artists like Big Pun, Tupac, Eminem. Big Eminem fan, just because of his story, he was the underdog and that really followed me years later into my career, just me embracing those artists. If you listen to my music and pay attention, you can see a little bit of those artists in what I do, like I was in rap battles when I was younger at the age of 14. That's kind of like Eminem, or you can compare that with Big Pun. I’m just big on my people, I have Puerto Rican in my blood and I embrace my people. I have other ethnicities as well, but with the Puerto Rican thing, I try to be a face because in New York, there's really no English, Puerto Rican artists, that are really embracing and doing it. I can't sit here and tell you that I can name a whole bunch of Puerto Rican artists in New York right now that are really putting up the numbers and staying consistent and making an impact. It's not a lot of people. So I’ve tried to make it my priority to embrace that. You can hear that in my music.
Speaking of that, I was scrolling through the comments on your YouTube videos. I don’t know if you’ve read them, but there were some really touching ones, and a lot of people and kids saying that your lyrics really speak to them because they communicate what they’re experiencing and feeling better than they can. I’ll read you a part of one: “I know I’m still young, but I’ve gone through so much and did so much that no kid should have gone through. J.I. speaks to me in his lyrics, especially his love lyrics, the way he puts things and expresses his emotions through lyrics is how I always wanted to express my feelings but I never knew how to word it. Basically what I’m saying is, thank you J.I.” I was wondering if that’s intentional - are you trying to be that person and artist for young people?
You know, it’s crazy that you said that, because that’s really all I ever wanted, even at the beginning of my career. I feel like that’s why I’m at where I’m at now, and have what I have - because the goal wasn’t money. It’s crazy because it seems like people nowadays have their minds set on the wrong things, they’re all trying to impress each other. But I never had money growing up, so I wasn’t chasing that. My main thing was “I want people to hear J.I., and know J.I.”. You don’t even have to stick with me as a fan, as long as they hear me, and I put out a record that people know, I’m good and I’m satisfied. That was my goal, and then fast forward I have several records and whenever I get in the booth, I’m saying lyrics from a personal point of view, but I try to say it in a way that everyone else can relate to. If I don’t say it the right way, no one’s going to relate. Like for example, my life now. People are always saying in other comments, “I want the old J.I.”, “the old J.I. was down”, “the old J.I. was depressed”, “the old J.I. wasn’t successful or wealthy”, so what I talk about now might sound like bragging to someone who doesn’t have that, because we don’t have the same lifestyle. So my key point is just making sure that whatever I say, I interpret it in a way where everyone else can relate to it. Instead of talking about money, I’m going to talk about struggling and how I got my money. So instead of bragging, now it becomes motivation. Because what I say matters, words are powerful. I’m big on energy, and the words you put out there are energy. My friend was like to me the other day, “You don’t realise this, but your words really impact people”, and I sat down and I’m like “Wow, that’s crazy. They do.”
Totally, that’s amazing that you’re so conscious of that. Tell us about your new single, “Toxic”.
I feel like “Toxic” is an amazing record for my fan base, because if you pay attention to the comments, everyone calls me a toxic artist. They’re like “Oh Jay, you’re so toxic”, just based on the love records and the way I talk. I’m not a toxic person, but I felt like this record was my chance to kind of run with it and stamp it. I was like “You know what, I’m going to run with it. I’m going to be toxic for this record.” If you listen to the record everything I’m saying is basically me playing this toxic bro. This record is just full-on toxicity, if you listen to it you’ll be like, “Oh wow”. I even spell out the word, if you listen to it you hear it. It’s dope, I like it.
So is it going to be part of a larger mixtape, like an EP?
What I can tell you so far is that “Taken For Granted”, “I Ain’t Gon Lie” and “Toxic”, my last three releases, are on the project.
Ok, and is it going to be an EP or album?
I guess it falls into an album technically, because I have more than 10 records on the project. Usually I give the fans six records or seven records, but I’m aiming for 10 or 11. So it might fall into the album category, but this isn’t my debut album yet. I haven’t dropped the debut album yet. It might technically be considered an album because of the number of records, but it’s still an EP mixtape in my eyes.
Have you got plans to release an album in the future?
Of course, yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm just playing with the sauce right now. It's crazy, I've got platinum records, I've got a bunch of gold records, I've gone to number one on Billboard, and I haven't dropped an album yet. So I just want this album to be perfect.