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First Look Friday: Sharaya J Is Hip-Hop's Next Authentic MC

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Photos of Sharaya J taken by Al X.

As we inch closer to the new year, we have celebrated the way artists have taken their careers and made it wholly their own. We've gotten into formation, taken a seat at the table, while awakening our love for melodies pure and true. It seems as if all these events were put in motion to celebrate the forthcoming of Sharaya J, an MC and a songwriter who looks and sounds like nothing else currently in the game.

A native of beautiful Hawaii, Sharaya was raised in Jersey City, New Jersey in the vein of music and art. Her father, a member of the '90s hip-hop group Double XX Posse, taught Sharaya studio life and music from an early age. Showing a proclivity towards being a performer, Sharaya would grow into one of the entertainment industry's leading choreographers credited with working with Sean "Diddy" CombsRihannaCiara and Alicia Keys.

No stranger to the spotlight, this talented up-and-coming phenom has had her work profiled by publications such as ComplexInterview Magazine and New York Magazine. Hell, she is even Alexander Wang's favorite rapper, so telling you that she is a Goldmind Inc. label artist should come as no surprise since Sharaya stays doing her own original thing just like her mentor and friend, Missy Elliott. With songs like "Snatch Yo' Wigs" and "B.A.N.J.I. (Remix)" burning up playlists, we're ecstatic to premiere a new cut from Sharaya J in the form of "BIG," which you can hear for yourself below.

We were fortunate to catch Sharaya J while she was working on her upcoming project to talk with us about her music, how being authentic keeps her true to the game and shares the most definitive obstacles she's overcome so far. Press play below and enjoy the read!


Photos of Sharaya J taken by Al X.

Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact. What is it that those in Jersey City are seeing and hearing that the rest of the world has yet to discover?

Sharaya J: New Jersey, as a whole including Jersey City, is widely exposed to all types of music; but growing up in the Tri-State area also introduced me to a style that we call Jersey Club Music! It is similar to house music if you wanna compare the tempo, but it has that hip-hop grit. I am a dancer, so I was drawn in by the style early—waiting for the DJs to drop those mixes in the party was what I lived for.

It has been a style and a culture in New Jersey for a long time made popular by DJs like DJ Jayhood, DJ Lil' Man, Frosty, Tamiel and more, I'm sure. I am a Jersey girl, so this sound has definitely influenced my music career and I see the world finally catching on to what we have known about for years.

OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?

SJ: I will start with my parents. I grew up in a musical home. My mom was a music head and my father was a lead rapper in a '90s hip-hop group. I was exposed early to studio life, video sets and cyphers in my living room. My mom kept an Aretha Franklin or Sam Cooke CD on repeat. I learned a lot from the both of them. I am also very grateful for my mentor, Missy Elliott. She taught me so much about the music business and about life in general. I will forever be grateful for that wisdom.

OKP: Your song, “Takin’ It No More” is extremely dope and has heightened anticipation for new work from you by music snobs who have a heavy presence in the industry. Can you talk about how life was for you while developing as an artist? How did you react to your first bits of press?

SJ: I would have to say it was a process, but a great process. The key is to always remain a student and try to absorb as much as you can while you can. Work hard, stay humble and do it in the name of the art. It's a cool thing to be acknowledged by others for you work. My mom was the most excited [laughs]. She's my biggest fan and biggest inspiration.

OKP: With incidents involving people of color, police and racist occurring almost on a daily basis — how can your music (and/or others) help to relieve the trauma that is being experienced by the masses?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Photos of Sharaya J taken by Al X.

SJ: It is a fact that we are dealing with very serious issues in difficult times. I believe that if we, as artists, are given the creativity and platform to influence the masses then we should be creating art that reflects the times and can be potentially healing in some way, shape or form. Music is a universal gift that connects us all, so I hope my music can join the ranks of others out there trying to make a difference.

OKP: What have been the most definitive obstacles that you’ve overcome in your career thus far?

SJ: Never giving up. I have always worked hard and diligently for anything I ever set my sights on. Throughout my career there have been some highs and lows, but my love for what I do, the passion behind it and my faith in the Creator keeps me pushing after my dreams. I think I have mastered the Art of Overcoming.

OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of the music industry scene in Jersey City? How do you see this place evolving in the next five years?

SJ: Jersey City is evolving as we speak. It has definitely changed since I was running those streets as a teen, but because Jersey City is so close to New York City it represents a true melting pot of all cultures concerning lifestyle and music. I am sure this city will always stay in tune to the next new wave.

OKP: What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in your music?

SJ: I have learned that I am a fighter who is not afraid to take risks and I truly value my foundation of music.

OKP: How did you build out a relationship with Missy Elliott? What have been some lessons or tips that you’ve learned from her that you apply to your music and career?

SJ: Missy [Elliott] took me under her wing as her protégé. She is truly a musical genius, so just being able to sit in the studio with her and see how she works was eye-opening. Missy always encouraged me to reach, to think outside of the box and push myself to greater heights. Those are jewels that will stick with me forever.

OKP: What were some moments from your recent travels that will forever stick with you? Why?

SJ: I just recently traveled to the Bahamas. It wasn't my first time there, but it was special because I went with my family and some close friends. When you're not home a lot because of work, it makes you really appreciate the time you get to spend with your loved ones!

OKP: What was the first song that you ever wrote entitled? Can you talk about what it has come to symbolize since you’ve entered into the professional life?

SJ: My first freestyle I wrote had no title... just bars [laughs]. I was nine and I wrote it for my cousin and it was... wack! I guess that's why I remember it so much. It makes me realize how long writing has been a part of my life.

OKP: How can your music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?

SJ: I think my music can only speak my truth and hopefully there are people in the world that can relate. I think it is my job as an artist to take my time and truly be inspired and creative with my work, so that it has a real chance to withstand the climate of today.

OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with this year going into the next and why?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

SJ: I would love to do a dope collab with a group of other female artists! I 100% support female camaraderie in life and in this business. It is very necessary for Queens to help other Queens elevate.

OKP: What is the overall message that Sharaya J is trying to present in her music?

SJ: Be Authentic Never Jeopardize Individuality or BANJI! I am just creating art and being fearless while doing it.

OKP: Can you break down the inspiration behind the “Shut It Down”...? Could you speak on the creation and production of that song for the masses?

SJ: "Shut It Down" was actually created specifically for my collaboration with Alexander Wang. I initially only did one verse and a hook for it, but after letting them hear it and playing it back a couple of times, I was like, 'Nah, we should finish this one!' And so I did.

OKP: How do you see yourself changing the music industry for the better versus all of the bad stuff that goes on within it?

SJ: I just hope I can shake some things up while I am here. I want the people to have fun while they are listening to my joints. I want my music to be full of joints that take you to a special place when you hear them. If my music and art can inspire then that keeps me inspired.

OKP: How do you get over any anxiety before hitting the stage to perform live? What are some lessons or tips that you’ve learned from others about doing a stage show?

SJ: I live for the stage! I may still get anxious every now and then, but once I'm on then... it's on! I am very focused before I hit the stage: I don't talk that much, but I never forget to pray before any of my performances. I always make it a point to connect with my audience because I want them to leave feeling like we had a good time and I cared about giving them an awesome show!

OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with Sharaya J — what would it be?

SJ: This girl is going places [laughs].

Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for more from Sharaya J (and us!) by following her on Twitter @Sharaya_J.