J.I. is a student of the game. A product of New York City. Coming from Crown Heights, Franklin Ave, Park Place, to be exact, the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn has been a massive influence on him, although he readily admits that he didn't fully comprehend the genius of an artist like Jay-Z until he himself picked up the pen. Brooklyn, however, isn’t solely a hub for wordsmiths rapping over grimey, boom-bap beats. It’s a place that, in 2020, has become home to the latest sounds of the drill movement. Born in 2001, it’s hard not to hear how an artist like Lil Durk has directly impacted J.I.’s music. But his beginnings in rap didn’t start there. He made sure to do his research on those who paved the way for him, something he explains during our new interview.

“If you pick up a basketball, you gotta learn about Kareem. You gotta learn about Bill Russell. You gotta learn about Wilt Chamberlain. You gotta learn about all these players that came before Lebron and Kobe and MJ -- you gotta learn about it, it’s only right,” he told HNHH on the latest episode of OTCU. “I had to learn about the LL Cool J’s, the Rakim’s, you feel me? All these artists that contributed to the roots of hip-hop, you understand me? All these artists that kind of changed lanes and opened up the doors for other artists. Artists like myself.”

j.i. on the come up new interview

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Singles like “Hood Scars,” “Blame On Me” and “Need Me” propelled his career from the ubiquity of being a childstar trying to make it into the music industry on The Rap Game. Unlike Mulatto, who also appeared on this season of OTCU, J.I. didn’t win during his tenure on the Jermaine Dupri-hosted show but it did help him develop the tough skin needed to make it in this rap sh*t.

"It definitely gave me a taste of what the real world is like," he said. "From going on stage last-minute performing, doing a show, writing a record and having to memorize it in a day and get on stage -- that sh*t kind of prepped me. Not winning and facing humiliation on public television, that sh*t prepped me. You know, like, f*ck it. Like, ‘Okay, bet. I ain’t win. What else now? What’s the worst that can happen from this point? I already got my back against the world. I feel like I’m at my lowest point,’ so it prepped me a lot for reality."

He emerged into the game as J.I. The Prince Of N.Y., a moniker that developed after the creation of an Instagram handle. But since the release of Welcome To G-Starr Vol. 1, J.I.'s official foray outside of the Hood Like Krisis series, he’s simplified his name to J.I. Ultimately, it was time for growth. 

"The whole Prince of New York -- it limits me from the full potential I have. ‘Cause a prince one day is gonna be a king. But I just feel like with the whole royalty thing, I’m not really -- that was my Instagram, and somehow it just ended up getting dragged on up until this point, and it stuck to me, so I can’t really do anything about it but branch out from it and grow, you feel me?"

On the latest episode of On The Come Up, J.I. details his upcoming project Hood Life Krisis 3, returning to his roots, and so much more. Check out the unabridged version of the interview below. 


HNHH: What’s goin’ on, J.I.?

J.I.: What’s good, how you doin’ family?

We chopped it up when you dropped the documentary, so it’s nice to speak with you once again after a pretty hectic year.

Nah, for sure, it’s a really different time. I feel like, now, especially now with the body of work -- we spoke when Welcome To G Star Volume 1 either just released or in the works of being released. So, to just be where I’m at with this new music, I’m excited ‘cause I haven’t dropped since that body of work, and I know my fans are gonna be tight as f*ck ‘cause I’m always giving them seven records, six records, short records. I wanted to give them like eight, but what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna give them the tape and then we might come with something else afterwards. I feel like my problem is I’ll drop and then I’ll disappear for a little bit, and then I’ll come back and drop again. But I’m about to put mad pressure and just drop mad sh*t so the fans are just overwhelmed with music, you feel me?

For sure. So to start off, who is J.I.?

J.I. is a musician. I feel like J.I. is an artist who can pretty much step into any category of music, genre of music. I haven’t done rock or country yet, but at this point, I feel like I could do anything ‘cause I’ve made so much different varieties of music. I’ve done reggae, dancehall, reggaeton. So it’s like, I’ve done trap, I’ve done R&B, I could do different sh*t, so I look at myself as a musician. 

What was growing up in Brooklyn like for you? 

To be honest, the dope thing about Brooklyn is there’s so many different areas. So when you tell somebody you from Brooklyn, you could really be from anywhere. You could be from an area that’s just straight yuppies. You could be from an area that has straight Hasidic Jews. You could be from an area that’s gentrified and they got a little bit of everything. Me, I’m from Crown Heights, Franklin Ave, Park Place to be specific. So I mean, around the time I grew up in that neighborhood, and even still to this day, people were gettin’ killed, but it’s like -- you know how they try to gentrify sh*t and they try to clean it up a little bit and throw sh*t under the carpet. But I mean, it was hectic, you feel me? ‘Cause growing up in general in New York, it’s like, you gotta know what you doing, everybody got some type of purpose, whether or not you sellin’ drugs, you goin’ to school, you playing sports, you got money. You gotta be doing something. No matter what age. I was young, I was selling books and CDs, just to eat. Like, it got to the point where I was sellin’ sh*t in my crib just so I could eat. I always had that hustle mentality, you feel me? So, what it was like growing up for me in Brooklyn, could be different for somebody else, and we live down the block from each other. Just based off the mindset and what you allowed yourself to do at a certain age, you feel me? But I was just always hustling. I had that hustle mentality, so to look at where I’m at now is pretty dope. 

"I’m from Crown Heights, Franklin Ave, Park Place to be specific. So I mean, around the time I grew up in that neighborhood, and even still to this day, people were gettin’ killed, but it’s like -- you know how they try to gentrify sh*t and they try to clean it up a little bit and throw sh*t under the carpet. But I mean, it was hectic, you feel me? ‘Cause growing up in general in New York, it’s like, you gotta know what you doing, everybody got some type of purpose, whether or not you sellin’ drugs, you goin’ to school, you playing sports, you got money. You gotta be doing something. No matter what age. I was young, I was selling books and CDs, just to eat. Like, it got to the point where I was sellin’ sh*t in my crib just so I could eat. I always had that hustle mentality, you feel me?"

Talk to me about your early hustles. Did you have a job before rap?

To be honest, it’s funny ‘cause I never had a job. I had a conversation with my manager like, I never had -- I was blessed to never have the opportunity to work a job. I had different hustles. It would be from that. We did some sh*t where we would get this paper, like, we was on a basketball team -- we wasn’t on a basketball team, but we would do it. I ain’t tryna air myself out-- a bunch of n*ggas did it too. But we had a basketball permission slip like, ‘Yo, we went to the championships and we don’t have enough money for uniforms,’ or you feel me, equipment. So we’d be like, ‘Can y’all donate?’ And my n*gga, with that money I split it with my guys and we’d eat, ‘cause we was hungry. So we would do different things. It would be that. There’s other sh*t that people do, but it’s like -- I can’t get really in-depth with that. But everybody got their own hustle, you know? From whatever you do, just make money. That’s the graceful thing about it, and it doesn’t matter what age you are. That’s the thing about New York. I feel like the children mature quick as sh*t. I mean, I feel like the children are maturing, in general, quicker in this generation, but in New York, it’s in like a quick, aggressive way. It’s a different way, ‘cause it’s like...I can’t explain it, the hustle is just different, you know? 

Who were rappers from Brooklyn that kind of helped you realize that this was something you wanted to do?

It’s funny because -- I mean I was a big Mobb Deep fan, and it’s really crazy because my manager managed them. He was runnin’ with them, he was runnin’ with a lot of people that I grew up listening to, like Akon, I grew up listening to -- he not from Brooklyn, but I grew up listening to Akon. So just to see my manager really managed all these legendary people, it’s crazy. But Mobb Deep. And not just Brooklyn ‘cause it’s crazy ‘cause I wasn’t really a huge Jay-Z fan growing up, believe it or not. Like, I never really understood it, the wordplay. Everything was too complex for me until I really picked up the pen and started making my own music and I really learned to appreciate his work, and just the amount of classic bodies of work he put out. 

"I wasn’t really a huge Jay-Z fan growing up, believe it or not. Like, I never really understood it, the wordplay. Everything was too complex for me until I really picked up the pen and started making my own music and I really learned to appreciate his work, and just the amount of classic bodies of work he put out."

Fabolous -- I’m a big Fabolous fan. Fabolous and Jadakiss, I’m fans of them ‘cause when they get on a track, it’s like, you expect them to say something, you feel me? You know how you listen to artists for a certain reason? Like, let’s say you listen to Drake. So you expect to hear that bag talk, like, ‘Damn, he in his bag, it’s 3 am. I might just call this b*tch.’ That type of talk. And then you got Jadakiss and Fabolous, they got the real bar-for-bar, just straight rap, so it’s really official. But I grew up listening to New York artists -- I’m a big Pun fan. I was a big Nas fan. I’m a big Wu-Tang fan. I’m a big Dipset fan. I’m just a fan of New York music, in general. 50 Cent, G-Unit, everything. I can’t explain it. I just had a big craving for New York music, you feel me? I could get in-depth with the female artists too, Foxy, Eve, there’s mad of them. I love New York hip-hop, you know?

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What was your first hip-hop album?

One of the first hip-hop albums I remember personally purchasing would have to be Big Pun’s album, Capital Punishment. And then I had bought, I’m not sure if it was the Marshall MathersLP II by Eminem, or if it was...damn, which album was it? It was actually one of his recent albums that had dropped that year. This was back like in 2012. Dang, I forgot the name of that project. And then I had bought Good Kid, m.A.A.d city [by] Kendrick Lamar. When I first started writing, I just felt like it was mandatory to dig back into the roots, you know? Like, if you pick up a basketball, you gotta learn about Kareem. You gotta learn about Bill Russell. You gotta learn about Wilt Chamberlain. You gotta learn about all these players that came before Lebron and Kobe and MJ -- you gotta learn about it, it’s only right. So I had to learn about all these artists that came out before the artists we listen to now. I had to learn about the LL Cool J’s, the Rakim’s, you feel me? All these artists that contributed to the roots of hip-hop, you understand me? All these artists that kind of changed lanes and opened up the doors for other artists. Artists like myself. so I felt like it was mandatory to dig deep into the roots and really know what I was getting myself into. So that’s where the Capital Punishment album came from. That’s where me listening to Tupac every day came from, you know? So it’s like, I just always felt like it was mandatory to dig back on those roots. 

What was being played in the household while you were growing up?

That’s kind of how I was introduced to these older hip-hop artists that came before me. My mother and my pops, they would play it. My mom, especially, she put me onto Eve. She would play “Love is Blind” every day. And that’s kind of how I got introduced to other genres like R&B. Keyshia Cole, Mary J. Blige. When it comes to Keyshia Cole and Mary J. Blige, I feel like those were the two females that my mother played the most. I grew and developed love for them and their music, you know? Reggaeton, Spanish music. I used to hate Spanish music growing up, because I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand it, and then I grew up and like I said, I put the pen to the pad and I really started to appreciate it and love the Spanish music. And I got a Reggaeton record on my new project coming out. I was exposed to all these types of music, so it’s dope how everything is slowly coming back and making sense now in my career, as I make my own music. 

You got deeper into the reggaeton on “Spanglish” and G Star even went deeper in that direction. 

For sure, that’s what I did, definitely, with this project. With this project, I definitely -- don’t get me wrong, you have a dancehall record. You have a reggaeton record on that, but you also have that trap. If you fell in love with J.I. and you’re a big fan of J.I. and you like J.I. for certain reasons, you’re gonna hear those same reasons, and you’re gonna remember why you f*ck with me. I feel like with the last tape, I tried to show people I was too different. And don’t get me wrong, the last tape was dope. I love it. Whatever I put out is dope. But with this tape, it’s just different because it digs deeper into my roots. It really shows growth, but at the same time it gives fans, like, ‘Oh shit, yeah this that J.I.,’ like, ‘Mmhmm.’ With the intro, you gon’ hear as soon as you turn on the tape. The first record is just straight, like, I’m talkin’ my sh*t just off of my life and getting in-depth with it, you know? But I’m excited ‘cause I’m constantly growing and pushing myself to do different things, and I’m always anxious when it comes to what the response is gonna be from the fans, ‘cause it ain’t drop yet. But I know this sh*t is gon’ be lit. I’m excited. Like I said, I just been working, working, working. So, I already know the fans are gonna eat this one up. 

At the state of your career right now, how do you think being around people like J.D. on The Rap Game helped shape your career right now?

To be honest, I’ve heard this saying like, ‘If you’re around greatness, you’re gonna do great things. If you’re around a millionaire, you might become a millionaire.’ But it’s like, I was around J.D. to an extent, ‘cause it’s also a television show. So, they don’t really keep the cast around the host to an extent. ‘Cause he was cool, and we would chill on certain off days. And he gave me a little bit of advice after the show type sh*t. I don’t know. I feel like I had to take myself out this hole I put myself in. So, when it comes to certain people I give thanks to and certain people I acknowledge. If I acknowledge you, it’s because you really did something and you really played a major role in my success or just my storyline, you understand me? The Rap Game, that television show definitely contributed to my storyline, to an extent. ‘Cause when I tell you I struggled for like two years, a year-and-a-half coming off that show and n*ggas did not help me. Nobody helped me. Like, I give thanks to everybody out of love on the show. Whenever I got interviews, it’s all love, ‘cause you gave me a big-ass opportunity and I did everything I could with it. But when it was quiet, n*ggas wasn’t checking up on me. Nobody cared. Nobody was like, ‘Oh, J, are you good? You need this?’ It was all crickets, you feel me? I mean, did it help? Yeah, it definitely gave me a taste of what the real world is like. From going on stage last-minute performing, doing a show, writing a record and having to memorize it in a day and get on stage -- that sh*t kind of prepped me. Not winning and facing humiliation on public television, that sh*t prepped me. You know, like, f*ck it. Like, ‘Okay, bet. I ain’t win. What else now? What’s the worst that can happen from this point? I already got my back against the world. I feel like I’m at my lowest point,’ so it prepped me a lot for reality. But I did this sh*t on my own. Besides my team, my manager that helped me, my mother was helping me at the time. Nobody really helped us. So, we had to get that sh*t out the mud, to be honest. 

"If I acknowledge you, it’s because you really did something and you really played a major role in my success or just my storyline, you understand me? The Rap Game, that television show definitely contributed to my storyline, to an extent. ‘Cause when I tell you I struggled for like two years, a year-and-a-half coming off that show and n*ggas did not help me. Nobody helped me. Like, I give thanks to everybody out of love on the show. Whenever I got interviews, it’s all love, ‘cause you gave me a big-ass opportunity and I did everything I could with it. But when it was quiet, n*ggas wasn’t checking up on me. Nobody cared."

Talk to me about using social media to allow your fans to see who you are outside of the music.

You know what’s crazy, I personally feel like I barely be on social media. Like, my label tells me this sh*t. Everybody tells me this. Like, yo bro, I barely -- I post on my story but if you go to my main page, I barely post. And it’s crazy ‘cause as much as I barely post, I’m going viral all the time. Like on TikTok, somebody’s using my sound. Or there’s just a video that involves my name in it somehow. So it’s like, right now we’re discussing -- cause I try not to --  I apologize, but I can get caught up in life sometimes, you know? I’m focused on living my life and not televising it. But I felt like, sometimes, yo, if I televised my life, people would love it. Like, you know how people vlog and sh*t. I definitely feel like I gotta start vlogging, ‘cause my life is fun. Like, I be doing fun sh*t and people would never know ‘cause I barely broadcast what I do. I feel like there’ll be times when I post a lot and I’m on that ass, like I’m posting OD. And there’s times where I just shut down and I don’t really feel like posting. I just feel like sitting back and observing, and this is just one of those times, you know? I got in mixtape mode. I was just tryna cook up. I’ve barely been posting.

But yo, it’s a whole formula to it. And I was iffy about the whole TikTok thing until I saw everybody and their f*ckin’ mother blowing up off of it and they getting huge and sh*t. That’s the thing, like, a majority of my music, it didn’t blow up off TikTok. The only record I could really say that’s blowing up right now and going crazy is “Blame On Me,” and “Hood Scars.” “Blame on Me” is going ridiculous -- it had 17 or 15 million, maybe 18 million in a year. It took a total year. And that total year, it made a year, I wanna say either August or July that just passed. So from this July up until f*cking November, we went from 19 to 30 million already. This sh*t is at 30 million, just off of TikTok. So it’s probably gonna hit 40 or 50 M’s by next -- it’s just crazy thinking about it ‘cause yo, TikTok really is responsible for a lot of people’s careers. TikTok is really important; there’s a whole f*cking formula. And if you know how to utilize it, and move with it and work with it, you’re gonna be good. Deadass, you’re gonna be good. So that’s my main thing -- getting on that TikTok lane and putting my pride aside and doing challenges, doing trends and then creating my own trends, too, just so it can benefit my music. But the “Blame on Me” sh*t, that was organic. That’s just people feeling the record. They feel like, ‘Yo, this kid talked his talk, I relate to this record.’ And now everybody’s going crazy on it on TikTok. It’s dope to see sh*t like that. 

Does removing yourself from social media help with maintaining your mental health?

To be honest, yeah. I’d be lying to you if I told you this sh*t is easy. I’d be lying to you if I told you, like, ‘Yo, I wake up happy every day, I’m blessed.’ ‘Cause even sometimes, as stressed and as low as I can be, sometimes I know people are looking at me like, ‘What the fuck are you stressed about?’ Like, ‘You got everything going for you. You’re wealthy. Your dreams came true. You have a fanbase. You’re a pioneer to a movement. You got some kids that really look up to you.’ But then what people don’t understand is, people hate me for no reason. Yeah, there’s people that love me, but there’s people that hate me for no reason. There’s people that if they saw me, and they had the chance to, they would take my life away for what’s around my neck, for what’s around my fingers, got what’s around my eyes, you understand me? There’s people that would make a fool out of me, and if they had a chance to, they would murder me. Or they would rob me, or they would try to hurt me. There’s people that want what I got. What I got comes with a lot of negative sh*t, just like it comes with a lot of positive sh*t. I can’t walk around the way I want it to be. I’d be lying to you if I told you I feel comfortable everywhere I go. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not gon’ stop me from going where I’m going.That’s not gon’ stop me from letting my d*ck hang and my chain out, I’m gonna move the way I move.

But I’m a human being -- I look over my shoulders every once in a while wondering, ‘Yo, this next n*gga that I take a flip with could just air out a clip on me and I could be the next victim,’ you understand me? I could be the next trending story. It’s crazy, sometimes I shut down. Sometimes I gotta move like a demon, and I don’t like that. I don’t feel like I have to walk around on point every day, looking over my shoulder. I ain’t kill nobody. I ain’t rob n*ggas. I wasn’t in my hood. I wasn’t on stick up man. I was hustling but in my own way, you feel me, in a humble way. So when n*ggas tell me they don’t like me, or when people come back to me and they tell me I got enemies, I just laugh, ‘cause I’m like, ‘You don’t wanna be my enemy.’

As humble as I am and as I don’t look for problems, you don’t want to be my enemy. ‘Cause I’m always thinking three steps ahead of you and you will never get the best of me, you feel me? But like I said, this music, it comes with a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. You see what’s been going on, RIP King Von, RIP Pop, RIP XXX -- everybody, it’s getting crazy and it’s getting out of hand. And it’s different now -- ‘cause it was always happening -- but it’s different when the shit is on your timeline. You can see a video of it, you can see how it went down, you feel me? It’s different the way shit’s going down. We got hip-hop police, we got the fans trying to be FBI, investigating, coming up with assumptions. And believe it or not, you got certain people that stir up rap beef, too. The fans be stirring up a lot of beef, believe it or not. It’s OD, sometimes n*ggas gotta put their ego aside. But it’s like, I don’t know. I’m just trying to move safe and think positive and enjoy my life while my time is relevant, you understand me? ‘Cause there’s a lot of sh*t that comes with it.

"Maybe like two years ago, before 6ix9ine snitched. He would run with [King of NY], and then you would have other artists running with it like, ‘Nah, I’m the king, I’m the king, I’m the king.’ So, to me, somebody just standing back and watching, and I know it was just fun, it’s a fun sport -- I don’t know if they took that sh*t serious, but to me, it looked like they didn’t take it serious and they was just chattin. But fast-forward a year later and you have Pop, and then you have all these other artists that're claiming to be the king of New York. It feels like the throne is constantly being swapped between people. I feel like different people sit on the throne. It’s not like a consistent person on the throne, you feel me? That’s why when it comes to the whole king sh*t, I don’t care."

Why drop “Prince Of N.Y.” from your name?

I saw what it was doing. Back, maybe like two years ago, before 6ix9ine snitched. He would run with it, and then you would have other artists running with it like, ‘Nah, I’m the king, I’m the king, I’m the king.’ So, to me, somebody just standing back and watching, and I know it was just fun, it’s a fun sport -- I don’t know if they took that sh*t serious, but to me, it looked like they didn’t take it serious and they was just chattin. But fast-forward a year later and you have Pop, and then you have all these other artists that're claiming to be the king of New York. It feels like the throne is constantly being swapped between people. I feel like different people sit on the throne. It’s not like a consistent person on the throne, you feel me? That’s why when it comes to the whole king sh*t, I don’t care. If you listen to my new project, you’re gonna hear I say certain things about it. I said something about it on this remix I did, but I view myself like a God, you feel me? I don’t view myself like a king, I view myself highly. I feel like the Prince of New York, that kind of limited myself from being who I truly am, so I wanted to drop it. And that whole royalty thing is dope. I’m not gonna bash n*ggas for doing it -- if you view yourself highly, you should. But I don’t care for that. 

"I view myself like a God, you feel me? I don’t view myself like a king, I view myself highly. I feel like the Prince of New York, that kind of limited myself from being who I truly am, so I wanted to drop it. And that whole royalty thing is dope. I’m not gonna bash n*ggas for doing it -- if you view yourself highly, you should. But I don’t care for that."

The whole Prince of New York -- it limits me from the full potential I have. ‘Cause a prince one day is gonna be a king. But I just feel like with the whole royalty thing, I’m not really -- that was my Instagram, and somehow it just ended up getting dragged on up until this point, and it stuck to me, so I can’t really do anything about it but branch out from it and grow, you feel me?

How did you get both Nav and Lil Durk on “Painless”?

Yeah, we originally had NAV on it first. It was just clearance purposes. It was hard to -- I don’t know, something happened around those edges where we couldn’t use his verse at that moment, I don’t know what the exact situation was. I don’t really remember. So then we said, ‘Yo, f*ck it, let’s see what Durk does with this.’ ‘Cause I heard Durk going crazy on it, and I’m a big fan of Durk, I’m a big fan of both of them, but I’m a big fan of Durk. So I said, ‘F*ck it, let’s see what Durk do.’ And Durk went crazy on it we dropped it with Durk, and then we got in contact with NAV again and we worked everything out and then we threw both of them on it and we said, ‘F*ck it, let’s just shoot the video with both of y’all, and let’s just go stupid,’ and we went stupid. 

Sh*t was fire ‘cause in my head, I’m just like, ‘having Durk and NAV, this would be perfect.’ And then when it kind of didn't work out, I was like, ‘Of course it didn’t work out, we can’t have Durk and NAV and J.I. on a track, it’s too much.’ But then when the sh*t kind of came together I was like, ‘Oooh! It worked out, we lit.’ So it be like that. You know with this tape, I had potential features I wanted on it, but it didn’t really work out just based off of timing. But who knows, ‘cause like I said, sh*t happens so last minute, I might just see a verse come out of nowhere and be like, ‘Oh sh*t!’ and that’s where this conversation is from, like, ‘Oh, okay, so he was originally supposed to be on that track.’ So y’all might see that with this project too, but we gon’ see. 

Can you maybe give us a teaser, a little bit of a hint who we can expect on it?

I’ve already collabed with him. We already got a record on the way for his project. But it’s a collab in a city that people definitely have been waiting for. If that’s not specific enough then, you feel me? I really don’t know. But it’s definitely a collab in a city that people have been waiting for and they would love to see.

Another topic I just want to kind of get an update from you on is Drake and Roddy Rich. Last time we spoke you said both of them had some real kind words for you, I just wanted to know -- is there any update on a collaboration?

I don’t know yet. That, I don’t know yet. For sure, in the future definitely ‘cause if my future’s as bright as I think it’ll be, I’ll definitely have collabs with them. But who knows, one day, f*ck it, we gon’ see. Let’s see where this goes. 

Talk to me about the success of “Need Me” and “Hood Scars.” Those are the two records that come to mind when the name J.I. is mentioned. 

Well, “Need Me” -- it’s crazy ‘cause it’s literally only been a year and so much has happened, like, my name has grown. I’ve grown as an individual. And it feels longer than a year with everything I’ve been doing ‘cause I’ve just been workin’ and workin’. So the time definitely caught up to me. But “Need Me” definitely changed my life and opened a door for me for a lot of different things. But with records like “Hood Scars,” that solidified my name and me as an artist, ‘cause it showed, like, this kid can make music. He’s not a one-hit wonder. People, they think I am ‘cause you see “Need Me’ got almost 100 million, but then you look at records like “Blame On Me” got like 30 million. So it’s like, I got a bunch of big records. I feel like that was the main thing, just showing people I’m an artist. I don’t just make one record and that’s it. I make records, you understand me? I mean, I’m obsessed with this sh*t. I don’t know how these other rap n*ggas view music, I don’t know if they have fun with it, like I’m having fun. But this is my wife. Besides my real wife, this is my wife. I can’t explain it, I’m obsessed with music. You know how Kobe is? You know how you hear those weird stories about Kobe? He’d be in the gym, the lights would be off and he’d just be shootin’ free throws. Same sh*t with MJ, you hear those myths and stories. Same thing with me. Bro, when I tell you I’m obsessed with music, I’m obsessed with it. So if I plan on getting to where I want to be, a couple years from now you can look back on this interview and be like, ‘Yo this n*gga, I remember having this conversation with him, and just to see where he at now, it’s crazy.’ That’s why I feel like certain people come and go, but the people that really have that work ethic and that drive, they stay forever, you feel me? Their work stays forever, ‘cause we’re not permanent, but you know what I mean? I definitely take this serious.

With Hood Life Krisis Vol. 3, what can we expect to hear from you?

That J.I. talking his sh*t, man. Y’all gon’ hear a lot. I want y’all to be surprised, and I want y’all to be like, ‘Okay, I hear growth.’ After you hear this project, go back to the last project, Volume 2. Go back to Volume 1, listen to those classic records that -- those are classic records to me, just from my career, so far, those are classic records ‘cause those records changed my life. Go back to the first tape. Before you listen to the third tape, if you haven’t listen to the first one and the second one, do that. And then put on the third one, you’re gonna hear growth. Like, ‘Okay, this kid’s growing.’ From the melodies, from the lyrics, the punchlines, the way the beats come in, I tried to really show a lot of just growth. A lot of elements of surprise on this tape, so I’m excited, you feel me. I’m very excited. 

Tell me about the latest single “Letter to You,” because that sh*t’s been heating up right now.

That’s the first single off the project. I like that record a lot. It’s got like a commercial vibe to it, it kind of gives you a glimpse of that little HLK feel. It definitely does, I hear it. That’s why I wanted to release it first. But, the record’s going crazy and I feel like this tape is dope because each record is different in its own way, I don’t think we have records that sound like each other. That’s why I tried to separate the record, ‘cause I was sitting on a whole bunch of concepts. Like I had this other record that I was fiending to throw on the tape, but it sounds a little bit like “Letter To You.” And at the same time, I wouldn’t have been mad at it, ‘cause it would’ve had, like, it’s own sound, but I’m saving that for the deluxe. I’m sitting on mad sh*t. That’s why I was trying to be very specific with what I included on this project, and what I excluded on this project. 

You giving them eight [songs] on this one but when can we expect -- ‘cause you have records, but you know, people want to see it solidified as an album artist, so when can we expect a [debut album]?

Well, when I give them an album. I haven’t even dropped the album yet, you feel me? Now, they would have every f*ckin’ right to be mad if I was giving them albums and the albums got, like, seven record on them. These are EPs, you know? I’m just building up my name, and I hope they’re patient. ‘Cause like I said, I don’t think I’m giving whack ass records. Every time I drop, I drop. When I drop, I drop. It’s not like, ‘Damn, this n*gga fallin’ off.’ If they feel like I’m falling off, then, shit, I apologize. Listen to somebody else. But y’all are gonna hear this tape and be like, ‘Oh sh*t.’ And when it’s time to drop the album, I’m gonna become an album artist. I feel like right now, I’m just trying to build my name up more. I’m gold, without an album, not too many people can say that. We did that sh*t just off the strength of the streets. We doing a lot without an album. I’m really happy with where I’m at, you feel me? If I gotta wait a little bit more I’ma wait, but I think after this project it’s album mode from here. No more projects. I might do the deluxe then the album. But I’ma see, I might just go straight to album mode from here.

"Y’all are gonna hear this tape and be like, ‘Oh sh*t.’ And when it’s time to drop the album, I’m gonna become an album artist. I feel like right now, I’m just trying to build my name up more. I’m gold, without an album, not too many people can say that. We did that sh*t just off the strength of the streets. We doing a lot without an album. I’m really happy with where I’m at, you feel me? If I gotta wait a little bit more I’ma wait, but I think after this project it’s album mode from here."

Talk to me about the new single for “Excuse My Pain.” I see the Scarface influence. 

Yeah, nah, that was the concept, facts. I’m glad you caught that, Scarface.

Talk to me about the influence of Scarface. That’s a classic, classic film.

Yeah, I just wanted to step it up and do something different. I felt like the record “Excuse My Pain” is like a gangster type of record. Like, ‘I’m evil, I deserve to die in pain.’ I’m saying very harsh things that not just anybody says, you feel me? So I feel like this record speaks to a specific audience of people. People who know what pain is. ‘Please excuse me for my pain,’ like, that’s exactly what the name of the record is. So I’m excited, it brings out an acting side of J.I. You f*ck with the video, you like it, from what you saw? I think the fans are gon’ f*ck with it crazy, I’m excited. 

Is acting something you see yourself doing more of in the future?

Yeah, for sure. I think that definitely contributes to who I am and that will definitely help me, as far as the whole reaching out to the world and reaching out in certain markets that people don’t know me. Selena Gomez is a perfect example. She’s a superstar. Selena Gomez is a global superstar, but before she put out classic music, she was on classic television shows. She was on a classic channel, so it’s deeper than just music. That’s what I want it to be. Like with J.I., it’s deeper than just music. With LL Cool J, it’s deeper than just music. He hosts shows, he’s in movies, so if I gotta do that, I gotta do that. I’m writing and I have an idea for a series that I wanna pitch to Netflix that I think would be crazy, so if I could somehow co-direct and star in it, that would be amazing. 

We’re about to end 2020, what is the plan for 2021?

More tours, please. Definitely more touring. More music, bigger name, and just a happier energy. I want to be happier. That’s the main focus. You could be the biggest artist in the world and be unhappy as f*ck. So making sure I’m happy within myself and my soul. Making sure my energy is right. Yhat’s really what I want. And then just more success, you know? More fans, more people that relate to J.I..  Abigger number of people that relate to J.I.. That’s all it is. Gotta work hard, that’s it. Definitely working hard, 2021 work ethic gonna be different. 

Heard that, for sure, and before we wrap this up, any last message to the fans, to the people?

For those of y’all tuned in, I appreciate y’all. For those of y’all who know who J.I. is, for those of y’all who listen to J.I. for comfort, who listen to J.I.to escape reality, I appreciate you guys and that’s why I make music -- for people like y’all. This new project that’s coming out. I’m super excited. I’m sorry for the wait. More music after that, you feel me? Let’s put the foot up the ass real quick. Let’s show the people what we doing. I’m excited. HOK Volume 3 will be out, Welcome to G Star Volume 1 out on all platforms. While you at it, let's start this marathon -- go stream HOK Volume 1 and 2 while you at it. Listen to some music.

Yo my man, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate you bro. Hopefully 2021 we’ll catch up again.

Of course, thank you for having me, we gon’ chop it up soon gang.


 If you missed it, you can read (or watch) previous On The Come Up interviews with Money Man, who talks about his lifestyle & late success42 Dugg, who teases a collab album with Lil BabyYella Beezy, who details his Southern influencesLil Keed, who teases a possible song with DrakeMulatto, where she dives into Gucci Mane attempting to sign her;  Fivio Foreign discussing why the 'King of NY' title is obsoleteD Smoke diving into Gang Culture during his interview; and finally, Flo Milli telling us about going viral on TikTok and how that changed her life.