INTERVIEW: J.I on his first tour, signing to Interscope and his DIY hustle
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for one of Interscope’s newest signees if not the newest, NY’s J.IHe released two EP’s within four months including “Need Me” that’s hit radio and since our interview has climbed by almost a million plays. After independently pushing the new records, he caught Interscope’s attention who jumped right in.
When we spoke last Friday in Cambridge, the energy was palpable as J.I was preparing for only his third show of his first full U.S. tour. In our interview, J.I reflected on the past few months, including how he stepped away for a few years but now he’s got his foot on the pedal and if his live show has anything to say for it, it’s going to be a wild 2020!
You’ve been releasing music since 2016, you’re 18 now but I know from reading about it, you started freestyling when you were 11. So when did you really realize this was something? From Spotify, obviously the songs are doing so well, especially with “Need Me”.
Maybe around 2016, because I went on a TV show. I would say after that show, the response of the fans and how they viewed me, that’s kind of when I knew that something was there. Because I went on the show to get exposure but I didn’t think that the exposure I could get would be as big as it was. Then from 2016 to 2019, I wasn’t really doing anything. I was just lazy, I fell off a little bit and I guess in the beginning of 2019/going into 2020, that’s when I really put my foot on the pedal. So it was just like, let me try to put my foot on the pedal. So it was just like, let me try to get my work ethic way better, we just had to be consistent and it just happened to work. So I would say recently, actually was when I was like, “Wow, I’m here.”
Then you released these two EP’s so quickly. One was October, one was December. Then obviously “Need Me” doing so well. When did you start writing those songs? Was it right at the beginning of 2019? Were some of them older, when did it really start coming together?
The first volume was more just a body of work. Those were like the older records. It was a body of work that I already had and I just picked out of like a box of records and I put them together but with volume two, every record off of that was new. And then it got to the point where everybody started leaking my music, everybody started to get it, so it just got to the point where I had to drop it. Then we dropped it and it’s doing numbers right now.
That’s awesome. How does that feel? I looked at Spotify yesterday and “Need Me” was at like 7.5 million streams and today it’s at 7.8.
Really? In a day?
In a day, like 300k more streams.
How does that feel? You’re going into this first tour, like I said, maybe this room seems small now but G-Eazy played this room, sold out. Halsey, her first headliner, it wasn’t even sold out. It was on a co-headline tour with a band that doesn’t even exist anymore. This first tour, how have these first few dates been. Has it met what your expectations were going into it?
I was a little nervous. I didn’t really know the response I would get. The Philly show was dope, it was amazing, it was the first show of the tour. And I was just getting the hang of things, I didn’t really know how to go about things, as far as like the interaction with the crowd. But the second show in R.I., yesterday, that was crazy. The energy was great. As an artist, if the energy is dope, you feed off the energy and you barely have to do anything. You feel more positive, more confident, but I’m just taking off from the positivity I had yesterday and running with it for today because everyone keeps telling me Boston has a great energy.
Then I’m just excited. This is my first headlining tour. There’s room for growth I feel like. So it can’t really go wrong.
And had you been performing a lot in New York, this was just the first big tour?
So, I had two performances before the tour. One was in Manhattan with Lil Tjay, so he had brought me out for his NY show then I had opened up for A Boogie in Connecticut back in October. Prior to those two shows, I hadn’t performed in two years. So yeah, it’s been a minute.
Then signing with Interscope and everything like that. How did that come about? Obviously, home to so many iconic artists that have gone on to these massive careers. Jay Z, Eminem. Did they get in touch? Did you kind of put some feelers out?
Well, my manager had started a bidding war with the labels. He had went to them earlier in the year when we first started working, and nobody really bit the bait until we started putting the records together, releasing it, and getting the fan base independently.
That’s another thing, these two projects that I’ve got, because everyone knows I’m signed now, but they don’t know that these two projects are independent. We’re just pushing it.
Oh so those were like fully released before you even got signed? Oh wow.
Yeah, nobody pushed it. The first volume has almost 90 million views, so that’s amazing, independently in just four months.
Does that feel a little wild to you? Because I’m sure it’s something you don’t want to think about, but you see these artists, especially recently with the passing of Juice Wrld, passing of Lil Peep. You’re 18 years old, you’re young but like the importance of taking care of your mental health. Is that something you find yourself thinking about? Considering, you’re so young, you want to have this long career but then you see things happen to like Juice Wrld and Lil Peep.
I definitely pay attention to it.
That’s sad, but it’s something you have to think about.
It really is, and in general, in the field I’m in, that’s kind of worshipped. Drugs, money, women. I stay in my lane. I’m not going to bash people and that because we all have our addictions and we all have our demons. But I don’t want to take anything that’s going to harm me in the future. Something especially that I can’t control. I don’t want to say I’m glad because this is bad, it’s never good to lose nobody, but it’s raising awareness at the same time.
It’s a wake up call.
Yeah definitely is a wake up call. And I feel like, hopefully, people will start to realize it’s not the trend.
Because you could have these huge careers, I say older, but not at all older. Mac being only 26 when he passed, that’s not older at all.
That was another death that I was just sad about.
Mac wrecked me.
Yeah I loved his music. I grew up listening to him and when I found out he died, I was just like, what? It’s crazy.
It’s something you got to think about. It’s your first tour. A lot of those guys, their first tours were probably when they were 18, 19 as well. So it’s an exciting moment but it’s also something you have to think about. But then maybe, you talked about how you did these projects independently but now you’re with Interscope. How do you think that’s going to affect your music process? Is it something where you’re already working on new music or do you think that’s going to be a little while away, like ride out the wave on this tour?
As far as Interscope, their plan right now is to push my records. The records that we pushed independently. My job is I’m going to come up with some new music, just to have a body of work sitting on the side. Then whenever it’s time to, just release it.
My main focus right now is elevating everything I did. Because I don’t want to sound repetitive. I just want to make sure people know that there’s growth to my music. So that’s another thing I’m battling. I haven’t really recorded anything new. I’m just sitting back, trying to perfect everything.
It’s hard when you’re on the road. You’re going to see that, it’s really hard to record on the road. Unless you have that full set up, that bus studio and everything like that. You’ll figure it out in the time to come.