Today on July 28, 2020, Brooklyn-based queer performance artist and musician J’royce Jata is celebrating his 26th birthday and simultaneously releasing his first EP titled Soft. Take the first listen and find out about the inspiration behind the EP below.
J’royce Jata was born in Jacksonville, FL. He enrolled in Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, a magnet high school that first opened in 1922 as a primary school specifically for African-American students. By the age of 18 J’royce moved out of his hometown to New York City, where he was accepted at Joffrey Ballet School on a full scholarship. At 20 J’royce booked his first national touring production of Memphis, with Fame and Dirty Dancing national tours following up over the next few years. By the end of his last tour with Dirty Dancing in 2019, J’royce found the politics of the industry to be emotionally taxing and moved to Rochester to dance with Garth Fagan Dance, the company responsible for the Lion King Broadway musical. After a brief moment at Fagan’s dance company, J’royce moved to Boston to do the show based on true events The View UpStairs at SpeakEasy Stage. In the story, a Black gay fashion designer purchases an abandoned floor of a building in New Orleans and converts it into a gay bar, naming it UpStairs Lounge. Fire engulfed the bar, the result of an arson attack, on June 24, 1973, going down in history as the deadliest attack on a gay bar, until the 2016 shooting at Orlando gay nightclub Pulse, where 49 people lost their lives. The show received lukewarm reviews from the critics and J’royce found himself back in New York City, ready to concentrate on his own artistry.
J’royce started writing his own music during his involvement with the national tour of the musical Fame. He states that even though he enjoyed being a part of such iconic productions, he was itching to do something for himself. “I was tired of basic energy,” he says, “There are a lot of femme queer energies out there, but I haven’t seen many Black male-identifying queer energies. I thought that if I started writing my own stuff, I could help somebody else out that didn’t have someone similar to them that they can look up to.” When J’royce started putting out his music in 2016, it didn’t get the recognition that he was hoping for. “I got over the idea of making art for acknowledgment. Half the time it's never what you think it will be. If you do something and not expect anything in return, it will ring more truth to it.”
It was obviously a deliberate choice to release his first EP Soft on the same day as his birthday. “On the day of my 20th birthday, I was literally sitting in a yellow cab, seeing Manhattan for the first time, so it happens every year my birthday coincides with some other significant event.” The 6-song EP is entirely produced by Arashi Supanova. “The reason I called it Soft is because Black men do not get the opportunity to show our many facets, as much as our counterparts. We are always assumed or deemed as strong forces, which we are, but there is also strength in softness. And this EP shows that. This is my direct combat to toxic masculinity within the Black community. There are so many intricate layers to this: Black men get killed by the cops, Black trans women get killed by Black men, and it's all a direct result of the way that we are raised in a society where toxic masculinity rules everything. A lot of the times we as Black men don’t get to talk about the emotional part of our lives, and as hype and sunny as I can be, I’m only that way because I’ve taken time to work through my emotions. I don’t give a shit about impressing anyone, I do it to heal myself. This album was a form of therapy.”
I wrote that because I was thinking about navigating nightlife in New York. “You get in where you fit in, then you figure it out, gain the world, lose your soul searching for clout,” I wanted to be as honest as possible but nobody is being super honest. It's a callout to yourself, whatever that means for you. “There's a lot of other bullshit but are u really feeling it?” I ask in the song. The basic point of it is, let's get down to the joy of it, not shadiness, let’s just get it and feel good.
This song helped me get out of seasonal depression. My daddy is a mental health practitioner, mom is an educator. We weren’t allowed to say I’m depressed, or things like "retarded", that's how I grew up. The message is, you can talk yourself into shit and out of it. “Mantra” helped me get out of a rut when I was moving from sublet to sublet, fired from two-day jobs. It was a scary time, I didn't know what to do. “Every little thing is gonna be alright, I don’t have to cry all night,” I would sing that shit over and over again. It's a testament to being a warrior for yourself and people around you. I have four roommates and everyone just knows that one song. “Everything is gonna be alright.” Why not get this song stuck in your head that's gonna help you?
My very first single and my very first music video that I released this year. I wrote it 3 years ago on a tour bus during my time at Fame. A lot of my work comes from a stream of consciousness. I have a gift of channeling, a lot of times things just come to me and I try to be open to that. I try to articulate as much as possible when it comes to me. “Growth, clarity, popularity, I got great friends but I still need therapy.” It was a prayer to everyone who identifies with me. I knew I had to be as grounded as possible if I wanted to fly.
Means “sacrifice” in Yoruba, the West African language and religion. People tend to put you on a pedestal, but we all still shit on a toilet. “I think I’m a human sometimes, so why do people act like they’ve never seen a nigga with wings? Have you never seen a fab person? Some call it a myth, I call it a king.” You can be fantasized about in the queer community and a lot of things are sexualized. Part of it has to do with taboos. We just got freedoms as a community in general. That being said, it can get taxing when you are fetishized or idolized. Yeah we are very special [Black men] but respect that. Sometimes we don’t even know when it's a toxic fetish topic, so that's why I have chosen not to be in a relationship since age 21. All we want is to be cuddled up but I'm way too sensitive to be fucked with. I don’t believe that I'm the greatest thing on Earth, but I'm one of them. I refuse to put myself in situations that are not gonna benefit me. Being someone that always thinks about someone else, I think it's good to think of ourselves as well. So this song is about that.
This is my second single from Soft, with the music video coming out on August 3. Originally it was a callout to the girls on Grindr. It’s about toxic sexualization. I can’t even have a conversation sometimes with guys. I can’t even look them in the eye because they don’t know how to do that, because we are used to relationships over text messages. Sometimes I’ll download an app again and two minutes later I'm over it. This song is kind of a war cry. I'm not condemning or judging anyone with this song, I’m just observing what I experience. There are a lot of zombie boys walking around. I think it’s something that needs to be brought to the forefront of people’s minds – if we get our personal shit together, even though sometimes it's weighted, it's also about simple awareness. “Rebel, they are ringing bells, it feels like hell, but oh well. The sirens wailing it's all up in my head, we keep waiting the earth go dead.”
Not a diss track but not not a diss track. I deal with BS because I care about folks. A lot of times when you show compassion, people try to get one over on you. Just because you can be sweet, doesn’t mean you can’t be sour. I can also be very stern. When folks try to do something that I don’t want to be done to me, I stop them. Period. I don’t have to be rude, I just have to stay true. In the chorus I sing, “No fake bitches by my side.” Being out here you have to take care of yourself. If you feel the type of way, it's very that. Do what you have to do. I wrote it as a protection spell and also as a warning. “It’s very that, I’ts very that, It’s very that, if you fuck with me I’ma fuck you right back.”