Justy, a jazz-hop artist from Staten Island, performed a set from her debut album accompanied by guitarist, Hyo-won Nakashio, as a part of Plea for the Fifth’s Online Concert Series. Each act in the series was selected and interviewed by a different Plea for the Fifth member with the goal of showcasing a diverse range of artists.
Plea for the Fifth affiliate Hope Ghazala spoke to Justy about the release of her first album, how her identity influences her music, and her love for Staten Island.
When did you first become interested in music?
Justy: I first got into music because of a Hannah Montana episode. In this particular episode, she was forming a band, and I remember calling up my best friend at the time and being like, “Hey, girl, we're gonna start a band, and I'll see you tomorrow.” So that was actually my start. But I always was surrounded by all this really great music when I was younger like Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross.
Does your Jamaican heritage influence your music?
I remember listening to these reggae records that you could get; you'd fill them out in the little pamphlet, you'd mail it in, and then you get your CD back. And I remember listening to those CDs and trying to pick out the instruments in every track, like, “Oh, I hear bass here, or I hear synth here.” Listening to reggae, listening to dancehall, it's very lively. Everything sounds rich. And I always aim for my music to sound rich as well. So it definitely plays a part in it.
How did the pandemic impact your musical career?
The album is titled Pain with Benefits. At the start of the pandemic, I got dumped, and then everything went into lockdown, so it was kind of like I was forced to literally sit in my misery. In life, you've got to go through a lot of pain sometimes to reap a lot of your success or a lot of the goodness in life. It's a record that touches on going through your process-- healing, finding self-love, appreciation, and working through your pain, as opposed to just going over it.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
I think I'm most excited about this track that we have titled “The Last Love Letter”. As an artist, I gravitate towards writing about love. But this is one track that is about the state of the world at the time, in the heat of the pandemic, and it's a way of connecting with people on a level besides just love or that sort of safe topic. It was me pushing myself outside of my comfort zone as a writer. So I'm looking forward to sharing that and showing everyone that I enjoy writing about worldly topics as well.
How do aspects of your identity inform your music?
Definitely being a queer artist of color is major in my artistry because there's not a lot of representation for that. And the representation that is out there, it's never really mainstream. If it is mainstream, it's very, very small. So for me, I feel like a complete anomaly. I am a queer artist of color from Staten Island. I really think that's my edge in a way because you're not gonna find another artist like me, per se, with this exact identity. So I use it as empowerment, and I use it for representation, that's like the biggest part of my music. I know seeing certain artists, just seeing that it was possible, allowed me to continue to push forward. And I want to do the same thing for someone else.
What are some of the things you like about being from Staten Island?
There's so many benefits. My two visuals, “Rinse, Repeat, Regress” and “123” we're both shot on Staten Island, shout out Clove Lakes. It's less populated, so there's less traffic. And when it comes to things like shooting a visual, it's so much easier to shoot here than to find a spot in Manhattan. I found for myself, just going to a park and writing music, there's less of that noise. I have the city experience without being in the heart of the busyness. I look outside my window and I can see the bridge and that inspires me to write.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I'm super excited for my debut album to be released, Pain with Benefits. Last year I know has been really hard on everyone, but I have really been able to find a lot of my creative power in the year that was pretty slow for all of us as artists and musicians. So I'm excited to share it more and to give more back to my community because like you said I rep Staten Island a lot, and I know that there's a lot of light and energy behind it. So I'm looking forward to that-- more of that.
This is the second installment of a six-part online concert series. Visit our site throughout the summer as we release the remaining performances and interviews. This project was made possible (in part) by a DCA Premier Grant from Staten Island Arts, with public funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.