Record labels are notorious for spending sizable amounts of money on artist development, often feeling as if it was a necessary expense for artists who had talent but lacked the entire package. Josh Johnson, known creatively as Jai Musiq, is an example of a person who put the time into developing themselves. Ever since he came on the scene in 2015, he’s prioritized personal growth, and now in 2022, it’s him who’s poised to be the example for other artists to follow.
“One of my goals is to shine a light on some of the things that don’t get attention here. We know Memphis has the trap sound here, but we have a lot of other vibes and sounds coming out of the city that we can hopefully bring attention to, “says Jai.
Memphis, Tennessee is a haven for Black music. The home for iconic record labels like Stax Music and Hi Records, it’s one of the country’s crown jewels regarding Black culture. Jai was raised in the Whitehaven neighborhood of South Memphis where members of the legendary Three 6 Mafia Crew grew up.
Jai spoke about how Memphis shaped him, saying, “Growing up in Memphis was an interesting experience. I’m not the hardest, but I grew up seeing a lot. It gave me the hustle mentality, though. The Grizzlies, even the G-League team, the Memphis Hustle.”
Growing up in Memphis helped Josh learn how to adapt and he spent his childhood connecting and linking with people from all sides of Memphis. His mother raised him on R&B and Gospel music and Josh sang in the youth choir as well. In middle and high school, he sang in the choir and played in the band as a drummer. His skill as a drummer led to Jai getting a band scholarship to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta.
When asked why he chose Morehouse, Jai says, “I always wanted to go to Morehouse even as a kid growing up. The legacy they have for creating successful Black men in any field is why. On the creative side, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. Of course, Dr. King and Maynard Jackson.”
After Jai’s freshmen year, Josh finally got serious about making music. In 2015, Jai dropped his first project, The JJEP. More exploratory than serious, the project was a test for Josh, who became convinced to take music seriously after hearing the responses of his peers. One of his friends, Ty Boyland, served as his partner in crime, helping to engineer his early projects and encourage them.
“Ty was like a mentor to me. I actually recorded my first two projects in his old house. He helped me with melodies and layering tracks. He got me hip to knowing how to use a studio and record,” says Jai.
Eager to follow up on the project, Jai dropped his second project, Dolan Drive Dreams, as a nod to the street he grew up on. It built on the potential of the first project, injecting its own brand of honesty and introspection and laid the foundation for his next album, Sap Junt.
Released at the end of his college career, Sap Junt represented Jai’s strongest effort. Unsure of where his life would go after school ended, he doubled down on the music and crafted one of his most focused projects with the mindset of it being his ticket to a better life. Still, it would take significant time and effort for him to see the fruits of his labor.
After college, Jai moved back to Memphis and continued building his brand. He dropped two EPs in 2019 and began performing in Memphis on the open mic scene to increase his profile. His hard work paid off and his 2020 project, All4Yall, earned him over 100,000 streams on Spotify. Songs like “Lately” perfectly articulated the postgraduate anxiety he and others felt coupled with the crippling pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I called it All4Yall because I wanted to do everything people were looking for on there. Party songs, trap songs, love songs. Anything people were looking for.”-Jai Musiq
Despite the universal acclaim for the album, being unable to perform and connect with audiences took its toll on Jai. “It was hard. I like to perform, but it gave me time to make music and write songs. Before that, I was doing any and every show. The pandemic gave me time to finish the album and create the content.”
Ultimately, the time to himself allowed Jai to tap into the well of knowledge within himself. The result was his 2022 album, H.I.M. or Highly In-tune with Myself. Released on February 22, 2022, the album focuses specifically on addressing the creative and cultural struggles Jai faces at this stage in his music. Songs such as “Him,” “How Many Times” and “Be” showcase his musical versatility by introducing listeners to a more inclusive and easy-going sound.
Billed as an alternative album, H.I.M fuses rap, R&B, and soul elements all into one. Although Jai is thankful for the critical acclaim for the project, he’s not confining himself to a particular sound. At this point in his career, Jai is sure about one thing and that is that he’s confident in who he is and what he wants for himself.