“I really view myself higher than a prince to be honest. Sometimes I view myself as a king or a God when it comes to my music. I just know that I have more work to do to really get to that point and work harder towards the goals that I have.”
-J.I the Prince of N.Y
It’s safe to say that if you are a fan of hip hop, or even music in general, that you may have had those childhood dreams of becoming a superstar one day. You may be in your room rehearsing rap songs, or having daydreams of you performing on stage in front of a sea of fans reciting every lyric you spit. For some of us, those thoughts may not make it past that, but for others, that dream had the potential to turn into a reality. Being a young teen and dreaming of being famous and on TV is something that not many rappers can say that they have had the experience of living through. For the 18 year old Brooklyn-native J.I the Prince of N.Y, he turned that dream into a reality when he first appeared on Jermaine Durpi’s The Rap Game at the tender age of 14 years old. Being forced to grow up at such a young age, J.I felt like he was on top of the world, until certain life events lead to him giving up on rap, and taking time for himself to figure it all out again.
Fast forward to now, J.I is back and better than ever with a fresh mindset and a sharpened pen as he is taking the game by storm. J.I made dropped countless singles and EPs over time, and he finally caught another big break in 2019 when his single “Need Me” took off, and is currently sitting at 54 million views on YouTube. Making all those necessary plays and getting his career in order is what lane him the opportunity to be able to come back to music and be bigger than he ever was. This year alone, he has dropped his latest offering Welcome To Gstarr Vol. 1, which generated 1.3 million streams on Spotify. Not only that, J.I was also featured on Spotify’s RADAR program–designed to highlight the next up’s of the game.
From being one of the only Puerto Rican rappers in his age group, and navigating through the industry at such a young age, J.I has such an amazing story–and I had the honor to speak to him and learn more about it first hand. Read our conversation below!
With you being as young as you are, I’m always eager to hear about how the younger generation got into making music. Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a musical artist?
JI: To be honest, music was just something that was always around me. I know there’s mad kids out there that say things like “I want to be famous” or “I want to be big when I get older”, but for me, it was really like an obsession. I just knew that I didn’t want to be a regular person. I didn’t want to come to a point of death and it’s like “damn, I didn’t do anything with my life” you feel me? I got my first break when I was 14 when I was on this TV show. I had a little bit of a head start I guess you could say for my age. That kind of put me at a point to where I felt like I had an advantage. Me being so young, I felt like it was time for me to start planning my next moves. I got my whole life ahead of me, so it was time for me to really get it moving.
New York has been the home of Hip Hop since it’s inception. We have had some of the greatest ever like Jay-Z, Biggie, & Wu-Tang Clan come out of there. That being said, do you feel any sort of pressure coming from Brooklyn? Do you feel like you have a lot to live up to?
JI: I feel like the expectations are a lot different now because the music is different. What’s hot right now, ain’t exactly what was hot back then, you feel me? Don’t get me wrong, we got a lot of household names that came out of New York, and Brooklyn alone at that. I just feel like I’m doing my own thing right now and I feel like I’m my own lane. All I’m focused on is doing me and making good music at the end of the day. New York has a lot of talent coming out of there right now. It’s an amazing thing too because I feel like we starting to get that alliance back. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some work to do in the city. I know it’s a lot of people that still have beef in the streets and all that. But I feel like the New York music scene is connected more so now than ever.
One thing about New York that I noticed, is that you all are really big on energy. You guys really love being outside and having the music ring off in the car or at functions. I know with the passing of Pop Smoke, it really hurt that energy of the city. Were you able to see or feel some of that energy shift after he passed?
JI: Yeah bro definitely. The city really took a big loss with that one. It was sad to see that happen, but it elevated him even more. It made the people really appreciate who he really was. He was a pioneer. I feel like he was on the road to something different, so it was sad to see him go. Not only that, but to go at such a young age too. Even though it wasn’t in New York, I think it kind of made the city realize like we got to wake up. The city needs to adjust. It sparked a forceful adjustment because we have no choice now.
You said in regard to what’s going on in the city that we all need to “do better”, and you mentioned that the city started to gain a little bit of the unity back. What else do you think could be done to bring more peace to the city?
JI: I think maybe just changing the approach and what we choose to market and what we choose to broadcast. Of course when you come from the trenches, your whole musical approach is going to be different. You going to talk about the streets because that’s all you know and all you’ve been around your whole life. We may make a song about running down on somebody or something like that, but I think the music does need to change a bit. It becomes complicated because Hip Hop never really fed off of positivity, you know. We got the artists that try to do that, and some succeed, but a lot of them don’t really get that recognition that they deserve.
I think that I have found a good balance between the two just because I think I really know how to put words together. You got some artists who may not be as informed in more positive music, but you can always change your approach in the music you make and how you say and articulate certain things. With me, I try not to limit myself and place myself in a category. I’ve made records before that was about more serious issues like suicide awareness, but I hadn’t dropped it because I may have thought it was too soft, and I think that’s a problem that I have. Because of where I grew up and the fan base that I have, they may not like it or think it’s too deep. It’s a good thing to make that though because you can gain new fans and things like that will attack more fans in the long run, you feel me. It’s just really about timing and dropping it when people really want to hear it. I think now with everything that people have been going through, it would be a good time to drop something like that. The whole climate changed now. We have had way more “emotional” rap coming out, and sometimes all it takes is one rapper to set the tone.
What do you think your first major moment was when you realized that you had a special talent for music?
JI: I think the first time that a fan came up to me was one of the best moments for me. Just seeing someone come up to me like “Yooo J.I!”—it was different. It took me a while to get used to it and all that. I was probably around 14 when it first started happening. Also when I heard my first song on the radio was big for me. Hearing somebody drive by and they playing your music is one of the best feelings in the world.
I read online that at one point, you gave up on music. What were some of the instances that occurred that fueled that decision for you to give up on music seeing as you were doing pretty well?
JI: It was just a bunch of things going on in my personal life at the time. I was at a really low place in life. Mentally I just wasn’t there—I had way too much on my plate at the time. Music wasn’t even really a first thought of mine anymore just because of the mental state that I was in. It was a big part in my journey though I will say. I think it just adds to the suspense of it. There was a point in time where I didn’t really believe I was gonna get to where I’m at. At one point, I thought my biggest moment that I would ever have was me appearing on the TV show The Rap Game. Just to be able to turn it around and get to where I’m at now, it’s very humbling for me. I put a lot of praise to the man above, you feel me.
You picked the name “J.I the Prince of N.Y”, and I think that is a very big title to have and to uphold. What does it mean to you to have that as your stage name?
JI: I view myself really highly. I try to view myself highly without broadcasting it too much, so I don’t come off as cocky or too confident sometimes. But with the whole prince of New York thing, that used to be my Instagram name way back when. So when I went on the TV show, they were running with that name and a lot of people just started calling me that, so I had to accept it. I really view myself higher than a prince to be honest. Sometimes I view myself as a king or a God when it comes to my music. I just know that I have more work to do to really get to that point and work harder towards the goals that I have. That’s why I ran with that name.
For you to be so young, I feel like you have an old soul. A lot of the newer acts don’t really come off the way that you do, and I think that’s an amazing trait to have. Where do you think you got that mindset from?
JI: To be honest with you, I don’t even really know where it came from. I know that I’m blessed with it for sure. I guess growing up quickly, being on TV at age 14, people treating you differently, being in the music industry—those are some of the things that kind of made me who I am. It forced me to grow up a lot faster than let’s say a normal kid would at that age.
You’ve released a handful of EP’s over the past couple of years, but this one feels different. what makes this one different or special to you?
JI: I just feel like the approach that I took this time is way different, and that results in different and better sounding music. I have more commercial records on this tape, you know. I got three dancehall/reggae vibes on this one. I tried to keep it balanced with the street records as well. I’m trying to just expand my sound and just show my versatility on a different level than before. I definitely plan on reaching out to different demographics and markets, like the UK market. A lot of people have actually told me I should make a drill record, and I thought about it, but I don’t want to force it. Not gonna lie, I was a little mixy about this tape though, like I never really know what to expect from the fans and I always have a little bit of anxiety when it gets closer to release dates. Just not knowing how the fans are gonna take it and all that. But the response was crazy on this one.
I want to dive deeper into the “Spanglish” song and what that means to you. Being a Puerto Rican kid maneuvering into a field that is predominantly ran by black culture, how did making this song feel to you and how do you feel about how popularized Latin music is becoming lately?
JI: It’s amazing. It’s hard as well for me because I think I am the only Puerto Rican rapper in my lane, coming from where I’m from, and repping it the way that I rep it. That’s one thing that really seperates me from everybody else in the game right now. Just being embraced by my people just feels so amazing because that’s who I’m making it for at the end of the day. I know a lot of people don’t understand what we saying, but my people do. I’m just trying to play in that audience. For me, I seen the response from that record when I traveled, and I heard from different voices how they felt about the record and what it does and all that. I got more stuff planned in the future too crossing over into that lane. I love Spanish music and I always grew up listening to it all the time.
J.I recruits Myke Towers for his Spanish single “Spanglish”.
I feel like I have to pave the way for other Spanish artists coming up. It’s hard though because I feel like I’m not at the point in my career yet where I feel like I can help many people and get them to that level where more people can hear their voice. But eventually, that’s something that I want to make sure that I do. I do it for all of the other Latin artists out there who way not think they can do it, or that nobody will listen. I’m doing it for them.
Hip Hop is really big on comparing rappers to other rappers. How do you think you will break past that and not listen to the comparisons some people may make in Hip Hop?
JI: I don’t wake up in the morning and pray to God like “Man I can’t wait until I sound like this artist” or “I can’t wait to make a track and sound like this artist”, and I think that’s something people think I do. I literally go in the booth and freestyle that pain and whatever comes off the top of my head. Whatever you hear from me, is coming from the heart and that’s what gonna make it on the record at the end of the day. Coming from New York, we all have a distinct accent and voice, so I feel like some of us way talk or sound the same sometimes. I feel like I just have a lot of work to do on my end to solidify myself as an artist, and if I sit back and dwell on what other people are doing and what they sound like, it’s gonna slow that process down for me.
You’ve gotten Co-signs from plenty of major Artists like Drake, Roddy Ricch, and Jack Harlow. What rappers are you interested in locking in with eventually?
JI: I would definitely like to tap in with those artists that you mentioned. Travis Scott, The Weeknd. I got a lot of things on the way, but I would definitely like to tap in with a lot of more Spanish artists as well. Reggae—I’m a big Burna Boy & Wizkid fan. I’m just a fan of music. If we can link up and make dope music, then that’s the plan. I feel like I have a great ear for music, and I know what sounds good at the end of the day. I try not to be too strict on what my ear can accept. Outside of Rap, I could say maybe Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez too.
You got a new joint that dropped today with Nav & Lil Durk called “Painless 2”—tell me how that song came about and how you ended up adding Nav later on?
JI: The joint had been going crazy from the EP. The fans didn’t know that I was even gonna add Nav to it. I mentioned me having a Nav feature before, but I never told the fans exactly what it was or when it would drop. I wanted it to come as a surprise and kind of throw the fans off a little bit, you know. I love this record though and it kind of takes me back to the older J.I days of just that pain and that flash bag talk, you know. When I had Nav in mind, he did exactly what I thought he would do on it. Sometimes you may send a record out and it comes back and it’s some different shit, but Nav did his thing on this one.
As far as linking up with Lil Durk, him and my manager had been in tune with each other for a minute now. Durk hit me up when I was on tour and he used to always show me mad love and just tell me to keep doing my thing. I really love the Chicago music scene. I was a huge Juice WRLD fan, Polo G, G Herbo. Chicago is doing their thing right now and I love the city because they really come with it. The people on top over there, are on top for a reason. That’s where the drill scene started at. My first tour I headlined, I sold out in Chicago and I was like “what? How?”. That’s why I’m really excited about this record because with Durk being from Chicago and all, this one is for y’all.
I see you got your first billboard in Times Square recently, and I know that’s a big thing with you being from New York. How did that make you feel seeing yourself on that billboard?
JI: That was amazing. I was in Miami when I saw it, and I remember seeing it like OD last minute. I was able to make it back in time to take the photo and it was dope. It was a dream come true really, especially being an artist from New York. I feel like that’s a big accomplishment for me and it made me really happy to see myself up there on that screen.
You seem very levelheaded and you don’t come off as someone who thinks they have it all figured out. With so many artists coming and going so fast, what do you plan on executing next to make sure that your name sticks around?
JI: Everything people don’t expect me to do. I’m probably gonna drop one more project before I drop my debut album. After I attack my lane and I feel like I made enough music to where people do know me, I want to get into acting. Once I’m at a point to where it’s like you know my name, you know my voice, then I want to make sure people know my face all around the world. I got to do everything the right way. I want to impact the music industry the best way I can, but it’s going to take time, and I’m going to take that time with it.
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