Interview: J.I. on new music, creative journey, and his next moves

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Interview: J.I. on new music, creative journey, and his next moves

When I first spoke with Justin Rivera, better known as J.I., it was hours before his debut performance in Boston. A sold-out concert at the iconic Middle East Club in Cambridge in January 2020 on his first-ever headline tour. A career that was already on fire, his hit track “Need Me” playing on the radio that night while I was making my way home, and the world shut down shortly after. The man I met already screamed veteran as he controlled the room that evening, and while the future was unknown, it was clear this talent wasn’t going anywhere. 

And then, Covid. What could have been the nail in the coffin, instead, Rivera shined. J.I. is poised to just go up from here by releasing two new projects, performing at several Rolling Louds, and collaborating with other artists. We recently touched base with him at his second Boston show, one quadrupled in size from the Middle East performance, and from the second I entered the green room, it was clear that there was no slowing down here. Rivera and his friends filmed a video of a future track with finesse and ease, a sign of the hustle he has always exhibited. In our interview, he talked about new tunes (new music hits the airwaves next week with “Black Roses”), how he stayed creative during quarantine, and his return to live performance!

New England Sounds: We first interviewed you on your first tour. Obviously a lot of things have happened. The music was doing so well, you were at The Middle East, sold out show and then…Covid. But you’ve been so active since then. You did Rolling Loud obviously, you just released your new project. Maybe these past few shows, this show in particular, a sell out again. Now that the world is open, you’re doing your thing again. 

J.I.: I’m focused on working. I have so much more to prove. That last project was just the beginning. We have so much more music coming soon. To be able to sell out Boston again is amazing. So I’m just embracing it. You’re seeing what we’re doing in here.

NES: I see! And then you are still so young, but that was your first tour, and you just announced international dates, which is huge. Is that your first time going overseas?

J.I.: Well, I went to London before. I linked up with a bunch of artists, Central Cee, Tion Wayne, and my brother Naus, but it’s our first time touring over there. 

NES: Are you excited? 

J.I.: Super excited. 

NES: What are you most excited about over there?

J.I: The fans! See what they’re like because the fans in the States are crazy. They bombard you, they show you love, and they’re not afraid to do that. So I want to see it in Europe, as far as the fan base. 

NES: And then, so you released a project in December of 2020, but this one is the longest, like twelve or thirteen songs. When did you really start working on this one? When you go into the studio, you work really quickly. It all comes together quickly for you. I’m sure you have more to come. When did you kind of start working on this project in particular? The one that came out in June. 

J.I.: Right after. Honestly, in between the project “Baby Don,” I was working on the last project, and I had so much music that I just continued recording. I didn’t stop. 

NES: Then you’ve been making music for so long. 

J.I.: Almost ten years. 

NES: Isn’t that crazy? And we didn’t cover it last time. What first inspired you to explore this? Obviously, you have inspirations from the nineties era that you loved, but when did you start realizing this was something you wanted to do? When did that spark start flying for you, when you were like, ‘wait I can do this’? 

J.I.: Realizing the impact you have on people that love you. That you can inspire a group of people. Not just one person. And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to inspire a group of people. When I drive to different cities, and I have fans bombard my fucking car and bang on the windows, that shit is an eye-opener for me. It goes to show me, Justin, you did what you wanted to do. You’re here. Keep going. Don’t look back. 

NES: And even though you’ve been writing music for ten years, do you feel like the songwriting process still changes? Do you think you’ve kind of gotten into a flow? Maybe being in isolation for that part of the time we were in, when it came to your writing, do you think that experience  affected it? You always work on your own. You do your own thing. 

J.I.: You know, it’s funny you said that because you were here, you witnessed it, the song I was just shooting. Does that sound like anything I’ve ever done before?

NES: No. 

J.I.: Exactly. I’m constantly trying to change my sound. Because music, that’s what it is. It’s constantly evolving. So if I don’t evolve with music, it’s going to forget about me. I’m J.I., the artist from Brooklyn, but my music is universal. And I’m working on proving that. I’m working on proving that. I don’t have every fan I should have, but eventually, I will. 

NES: And I know tonight is, I believe, sold out. 

J.I.: It’s very sold out. 

NES: And it’s a rescheduled date, so I’m sure the crowd is going to be wild when it comes to it. That first tour was in January 2020, right before the world shut down, but you’ve done Rolling Loud, you’ve been playing, and you’ve toured. 

J.I.: And shout-out to Rolling Loud. Thank you, Rolling Loud, for bringing me to New York and Miami and for every festival you’ve allowed me to come to. I’m very appreciative. 

NES: And it must be even better now that shows are fully back, now that the live performance is fully back. It’s not kids sitting in their rooms watching live streams. 

J.I: Facts, facts. 

NES: Then you talked about how you’re constantly working on music. Obviously, that is a sound I haven’t heard from you before, it must be exciting, but maybe like advice to kids just getting started. 

J.I.: Advice for artists just getting started? Be yourself. 

NES: Because you got dealt a bad card when the shutdowns happened. 

J.I: Yeah, no, for sure! Be yourself, and you’ll find it the easiest. When you’re trying to be somebody else, you will struggle. It’s going to be hard. When you’re yourself, it comes out naturally.  It all flows out naturally, and you have the most fun. That’s why I’m having fun with this stuff because I’m doing it myself and my way. 

NES: Very glad to hear it. And then are you going to keep on that release schedule, where you will be steadily releasing new things? You probably can’t tell me much, but do you hope to be like steadily releasing now that you have like this first full-length? I mean, you’ve been signed to Interscope now since, like, 2019. But do you think you’ll continue in this process, or like a fifteen-song, once-a-year kind of deal?

J.I.: Well, right now we’re working on a project with over ten records. With Interscope, as far as them, shout-out to Interscope. They’ve been pushing and supporting us since the beginning of our career. I can’t speak too much on that, but we plan to drop music. Hopefully, we get to do that. 

NES: Well, to finish it up, obviously, this is a rescheduled date, but you have those UK dates that are coming up. Obviously very excited clearly about what’s to come, but maybe for you in these next few months, what are some hopes or goals for you? As a person, as an artist?

J.I.: To release more music, to grow as a man, and to influence more people. And just stay safe. You see what’s going on with all the artists dying? It’s scary. 

NES: The Migos shooting destroyed me. 

J.I: Migos, goosebumps, it gave me goosebumps. Thinking about it now, I still get goosebumps. So just staying safe.

About Author


Colleen has been writing about music since 2009. Interviewing bands since the glory days of Warped and has continued to do so for now over fourteen years. As well as doing freelance for other publications, the love for everything rock continues today.