In this week’s Artist Feature, The Cultural Reset sits down with mesmerizing vocalist and songwriter,Ja’Shayla as she talks her newest single, 'Body Roll' creative beginnings as a gospel and jazz singer, her first record deal offer, and shares her perspective on some areas in which the music industry can improve its treatment/perception of black and female artists. A rare and exuberant talent, Ja’Shayla gives TCR a peek into the incredible artistic legacy she continues to forge day by day.
Where/when did your individual creative journey begin?
Although I have been a singer and a performer my whole life, I have to say that my true beginnings as an artist and creative launched with my first production deal. I was very green to the industry and all I wanted to do was sing. I was working with a team of producers and a writer, and our primary goal was to make a radio hit. We spent every night in the studio writing, recording, and trying to find the perfect song to hit big! I lived in Jersey at the time so I would take the Holland Tunnel regularly and hunt for street parking at all hours of the night in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. The studio was small and basically a crazy makeshift situation. There was no big sexy sound board or even a recording booth. It was just a tiny dusty old room with a microphone, an old computer, and a few small gadgets, but we made it work. Even though it was a grind, it was fun, I learned so much and it was my first dive into the music world. I’m truly grateful for that experience and those great memories.
Tell us the story of how you became a musician/artist?
I have literally sung my whole life. I sang in my church choir since I could talk. For many years I played tenor saxophone in the marching band as well as the jazz band, while also doubling as the jazz singer for the band. Music just lives in me since forever, but the moment that turned singing from being a fun hobby to a possible career was the opportunity that I will never forget. The very first recording contract that I was offered was a million dollars to become part of a girl group. I’m sure you’re like “girl that’s awesome! What happened next?” LOL Well what happened next was I turned it down because my mom wanted me to finish school and we didn’t like the contract etc., etc.
I don’t know what would have happened, but it wasn’t the right situation for me. I don’t regret it. I believe it exposed me just enough to what music offered and it sparked everything that I am today. From that moment on I understood what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Tell us about your artistry? What would you say is your mission with your art? And who are your influences (message/music style)?
Most of the time my music is about love, but I enjoy exploring topics and switching it up when the vibe hits. I have always loved to dance and party, so I really enjoy being able to help people have a good time. Life can be tough especially in times like these, finding our way out of a pandemic. Therefore, if I can help someone escape the grind and daily troubles they face just by getting them up and moving, that is a win for me. My all time favs who continue to inspire me are Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder & Tamia. I trained myself using their timeless music for so many years. I have been blessed to create many different styles of music because I write for other artists. I think that has allowed me to express myself in so many ways and doesn’t box me into one genre. I love R&B, but Gospel is my favorite genre of music. The funny thing is it’s my “unicorn” as I call it. I have been terrified to create gospel music for so long, but a few years ago I finally got the courage to write my first gospel record. A friend who is no longer with us, God bless her, asked me to write something original for her that I would perform on a tv show she starred in on Bravo TV. At the time I had no idea what it was for, but when the cameras started rolling, I sang from my heart and the tears started falling from every face in the room. That’s why I make music! I want to make music that heals, comforts, shares life experiences and to allow the soul to dance!
Can you speak on your process when creating projects? When do you feel most inspired?
My creative process can vary depending on what’s going on in my life. There are times when something happens that triggers me to write. There are also some tracks that make me jump into the booth and record ASAP! When I start with the lyrics first, I just let whatever emotions and the story flow onto the notebook. Then I reached out to one of my amazing producers to get music created for the song. However, most of the time I request music first or someone asks me to write to their music. When I write with the music, it is all about the vibe and the feeling I get from the music. I close my eyes and “feel what the music is telling me”. I am a very emotional person so very often I am inspired to write if I see a friend going through something or I’m dealing with an issue that I find relatable for a song. The hook is by far the most important set of lyrics in a song, so I focus on those first, and spend a great deal of time testing out lyrics for the hook before I do anything else. Once the hook feels right, I get each of the verses together and start singing the whole song over the music to make sure it’s a vibe.
Tell us about your latest release “Body Roll” what was your artistic process for creating this piece?
With “Body Roll” I knew I wanted a specific vibe to create a dance routine. I was preparing for my album, so I asked Victorious Universe to make me something with a Caribbean and Latin groove. Boy did he deliver! As soon as I heard it, I was hype because I felt the song in my body! I started with the hook since I knew I wanted the song to be centered around a dance routine. I physically started creating a dance routine and then worked the lyrics into it. The verses just popped into my head somehow LOL. I don’t even remember how quickly I wrote this song, but it was an easy one! Sometimes writing takes a while but others like this just flow, boom boom boom! I’m pretty sure it only took me a few minutes to write the bulk of the song. Once I finished writing I hopped on my mic and put the leads down. From there I just started adding whatever felt good. Songs like these are hard to explain because it has so much to do with feeling and everything flowing together organically.
"I’d love to see more women in the producer, DJ, A&R and CEO chairs! I think we have come a long way...but we need more..."
Is there anything about the industry you’d want to change as you progress in your career? Tell us about some experiences you overcame.
I usually don’t like to complain unless I have a solution or suggestion but since you asked ... I’d love to see more women in the producer, DJ, A&R and CEO chairs! I think we have come a long way so don’t get me wrong. There are definitely more now than before, but we need more. I think especially for the A&R and producer roles it is still pretty rare. I was fortunate to work with a dope female producer on a couple of songs for my upcoming album. I can’t wait for you guys to hear those records! My best friend was my DJ, so that was amazing having her there to kill the stage with me, but unfortunately, she passed away last year. I’m not saying they don’t exist. I just have yet to see our home girls on the same level as the big-name producers, record execs, DJs, etc. I’m not going to bash the guys here. I’ve worked with so many extraordinary men who are the best in the industry and I appreciate them. I just would love to make more music with the ladies sometimes!
Have you ever experienced limitations in your career (as a musician) due to your identity?
In my career, I have been blessed to do many things as well as gain access to a number of exclusive moments in music. But while navigating through the industry I have noticed how I was treated differently depending on my hair. My hair is naturally curly and kinky, but most of the time I straighten my hair for performances and red-carpet events. Rarely would I wear my hair in its natural state just because it was a lot to manage for me. Any time that I did wear my hair natural I noticed a distinctly different type of treatment. Curly and natural hair styles have become very on trend now, but at the time it was not, and I felt like my hair having a more Afrocentric vibe limited my access and desirability. Yes, my whole look changes with my hair but it was as if my hair controlled my destiny. And as a “high yellow” girl as my godmother used to call me, my straightened hair made me more digestible because I was closer to a white girl. This was something that really bothered me, but of course I had to keep pushing forward.
What are some upcoming projects you are working on? When can we go expect them? Where can we stream them?
I’m quite the busy body so I usually have a lot going on at once. Right now, I continue to write for other artists all over the world. Those projects can pop up at any moment. For example, I just finished a song for an artist in Albania. I previously wrote for the same person many years ago, so it was fun to have a reunion and see both of our growth over the years. But the project I am most excited about is my album/EP! I am so hype about finalizing and releasing my very first album! It is about 90% done. I’m so grateful to work with great friends who have been my friends for years! They are all super talented like Victorious Universe. I’m also bringing in some multi-platinum producers like Taiwan “Mr Fingaz” Green and Sleep Deez on the project. I have put out mixtapes and singles many times before, but this is my first album of all original material. I wrote every song and recorded all but 2 songs myself, so this is a special project for me. This has been a huge goal for me for a very long time. Since it is still in the works I don’t have an official release date but I am finalizing what I believe will be my next single and you guys can definitely check JaShayla.com soon for updates on the project.
"Why do female artists have to be sexy or show as much skin as possible in both music videos and live performances?...Do we want to be sexy because we like it or do we like it because we know it will sell more or we will get more attention/ feel good about ourselves?"
Are there any insufficiencies or injustices in the music industry that you’d like to see rectified?
I’m very happy to see that a lot has already improved in the music industry. Nothing is perfect so I don’t expect that at all. Currently there are numerous ways for artists to make money and own their material which makes them the boss. There’s also an uptick in Female rappers these days. I think both of these improvements are really huge for music. One thing that remains, and I can’t honestly pinpoint exactly the root of the issue or how to rectify it, but it has been mentioned to me many times. Why do female artists have to be sexy or show as much skin as possible in both music videos and live performances? I mean, I have my tomboy moments and I have my sexy moments. Do I feel pressure to be sexy?... well... yeah sometimes. But I think I just want to look amazing and feel good about myself when I see myself performing. I don’t know whether some artists feel the pressure or if they enjoy it, but this reminds me of the chicken and the egg scenario. Which came first? Do we want to be sexy because we like it or do we like it because we know it will sell more or we will get more attention/ feel good about ourselves? I honestly don’t know the answer and I don’t want to say that another artist is wrong for enjoying being sexy. Do you boo! But I do know that kids look up to music artists and for me I’d like to help make it easier for other little girls to feel comfortable in whatever makes them look and feel cool. I think about it a lot. I have tried to do my own thing to combat the issue, but I can’t say that there is just one way to do it. I can’t even say that I could completely commit to reversing it all. I guess this is just one of those dilemmas.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives looking to break into the music industry?
My advice is to make great material that you enjoy and that makes you proud. Get out of your comfort zone and connect with the world. Find a team that really cares about you without success or money. Be good to them and remain humble. Take risks but stay focused. Don’t live off of the hype and excitement. The journey is usually a long road so enjoy every moment knowing that there will be ups and downs as well as quiet/still periods. It all works out as long as you just keep at it.
Connect with Ja'Shayla: