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[Exclusive] Justine Skye On How She's Taken Her Journey To Self-Love By The Reins

The newly independent artist is paving her own way in the music industry with her latest album, Bare With Me.

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Some of you know Justine Skye for the groundbreaking artist she is today and for guest appearances on Nick Cannon's Wild N' Out and BET's Tales with Romeo Miller, but I remember the OG Justine Skye. That's right - 14-year-old Tumblr famous, chocolate queen with dark purple tresses and an incomparable swag. From the gate, the "Build" singer has successfully stood out in the music industry for all the right reasons including undeniable talent, effervescent beauty and unconquerable strength.

She's always been a force to be reckoned with, no doubt about that. However, the ULTRAVIOLET artist has demonstrated impeccable growth as an artist and a woman since her Skye High debut mixtape release back in 2012. Now, Justine Skye is ready to "build" her career moving forward as an independent artist who is taking complete control of the creative execution of her vision.

Courtesy of Justine Skye

When the call first connected, Justine sounded chill and relaxed, as one would expect with her cool, calm and collected demeanor. As we exchanged introductions, the conversation that was initially scheduled to be an interview propelled into an intimate, candid discussion between two 24-year-old Black women about the importance of self-love, praising yourself and the bad habit of apologizing when unnecessary. Honestly, the entire time I felt like I was catching up with a homegirl that I hadn't heard from since high school. She truly is a genuine one-of-a-kind spirit.

I had the chance to catch up with my fellow New York native about her latest project Bare With Me, The Album, her growth as an artist from start to finish and remaining creative amidst the current state of the culture within the Black community.

xoNecole: How’s your mental health? I like to ask everybody how their spirit is doing before I proceed with any interview, especially during these times.

Justine Skye: Thank you, I appreciate that. I guess I'm doing a lot better than I once was when it all started, but I'm trying to take a step back from looking at all the things on social media right now and kind of clear my head.

That’s real, especially as a creative and as someone who’s always expected to post and let people know how they’re doing, it can be a bit pressuring, so I appreciate your transparency.

Of course, thank you for even asking.

Jumping right into it, I’m from Brooklyn as well - Brooklyn born and bred just like you, right in Sumner Projects off the J train. You and I know that there’s so much culture in that one borough alone. How has Brooklyn made you the artist and the fashionista that you are today?

Aye! I guess being from Brooklyn, there's so many different types of cultures there surrounding it. Whether it's Caribbean culture or African culture, or even Italian culture too, New York period is such a melting pot and I feel like it just played a lot into my personality. I would say that New York is very - well, not me - most people are like, "New York is kind of grimey." Well, I don't think "grimey" is the word, but I feel like it's just "real". I'm very thankful every day that that's where I'm from because I guess being an artist and traveling the world, you can sort out the real from the fake. I wouldn't want to be from anywhere else.

What about your Caribbean roots? You’re Jamaican, right?

Yeah.

How has that influenced your upbringing and your music?

It's something that I just grew up around, [it's] kind of embedded into me. I love dancehall and I love reggae, so any chance that I get when I hear the beat, it inspires me. I just try to tap into it.

Going back to young Justine, when did you know that music was for you and what spoke to you specifically about music that made you realize this was your life’s calling?

I always knew that I wanted to be a singer from the moment I probably opened my mouth, and my grandfather always inspired me to do so. I was very shy when I was younger, so when someone would ask me to sing, I would just ball up and want to run away (laughs). But one day, I guess I kind of got peer pressured into singing on a platform in front of a bunch of people on a panel. After that moment, my mom's friend was like, "This is it and if you don't do this now, no one's ever gonna take you seriously." For some reason, at the small age of fourteen, that kicked in for me and I was like, "I can't be scared to sing. This is something that God gave me and something I enjoy doing, so why am I hiding this?" I kind of just had to get over that fear and go for it.

Out of all of the things that you’ve done from 14 years old to now, what would you say has been one of - or some of - your biggest accomplishments in your career to date?

(Pauses) Damn, I should probably sit there and write a list down. I'm probably gonna do that today (laughs). I guess, off the top of my head, during these times of quarantine and everything that's happening in the world, I've been talking a lot more to my friends and sometimes we forget all that we've done. I've kind of just been reminding my friends, "I know right now is a rough time, but acknowledge all of the things that you've done in the world and be proud of yourself."

I kind of was thinking about, "Hmm, what am I proud of that I've done in my career?" And it's kind of like backtracking on the things that I have put in because I still feel like I'm in the beginning of my career. I mean, I'm only 24 and I have so much more left to go, but [something] I can say that I'm most proud of [is] being able to sing a Janet Jackson song to Janet Jackson. That was probably a huge - not probably, it was a huge moment for me. Being able to be independent, too. It's definitely not easy, but it's extremely revelating. I am thankful for the label experiences, but now I know this is something that I can do with a strong team around me. For some reason, I can't think of one off the top of my head.

I definitely feel that as women, especially as Black women, I feel like we don’t praise ourselves enough. I was just saying to one of my mentees yesterday that we do two things wrong: we apologize too much and we don’t give ourselves enough praise. You and I being the same age, we’re both 24, there are moments where we really have to look back on what we’ve done with our platform and how many lives we’ve touched because even though we may feel like something we’ve done may not be that big of a deal because we’re just so used to being that badass, know that what we did could’ve possibly changed - or saved - somebody’s life. Just by saying “hello” is impactful in itself. Thank yourself for doing the seemingly microcosmic things because you don’t know how that may have affected somebody. Always praise yourself because no one’s gonna reward you like you reward you. 

Thank you - wow, I needed that today.

I just like to be honest with people because I’m a firm believer in mental health and I feel that you are in charge of how you talk to yourself. You’re the first voice that you hear in the morning and you’re the last voice you hear at night. You can be your own best friend or your own worst enemy; I would like to be my best friend because I’ve talked to myself horribly sometimes and I know how nasty I can get. 

Same. I one million percent believe in that. Sometimes when I was younger and I would go to shows, I didn't really truly understand the impact that I had on other people. I think that's the most beautiful thing about being an artist is that we feel alone, but then when you make music and other people listen to it, you're touching so many people around the world that you literally don't even know. Whenever I would go on tours and do shows, beautiful brown girls would come up to me and say, "Thank you for just being you, living up there, being brave, getting on stage and speaking your truth," and I didn't really realize the impact it had until I went into the world and people told me.

"I think that's the most beautiful thing about being an artist is that we feel alone, but then when you make music and other people listen to it, you're touching so many people around the world that you literally don't even know."

Your gift is something that a lot of people can’t say that they have. You have the power of influence through your talents and your artistry. Your music has even touched me as someone who has been in toxic relationships and someone who has been that Black girl from the projects of Brooklyn and didn’t feel like she was gonna make it out. Your influence is powerful and always remember that. I will never let anyone, especially someone as young and talented as you, ever doubt their ability to touch people. That’s just not gonna happen in my book.

Thank you, I really appreciate that. I love this phone call (laughs)!

No problem, and it really makes me sad because one day I was listening to one of your interviews on HYPEBEAST Radio about a time where you nearly wanted to quit music. What was going through your mind and what kept you going?

I guess it was just a moment of self-doubt. You kind of get confused because I've been doing this since I was signed professionally at 17 and I'm 24 now, so I guess I was in a place where I was like, "What am I doing? Why hasn't this gone anywhere yet?" Those are the moments where I had to sit back and realize [that] I have accomplished so many things and it doesn't just end here - there's so much left to go.

If SZA said, "Alright, well what's going on?" and just quit, she wouldn't be the huge star she is today. There's so many artists today that have the same story. [Where would they be] if they just let their self-doubt get in the way of who they are today? With the pressure that we now receive from social media and all that stuff, it's just so in-your-face and you see it. It's easier said than done to be like, "Oh, don't look at it," and it kind of just eats at you. In that moment, I felt like I was having a little bit of a breakdown as to what I was doing with my life and what I was doing wrong, but then, I had to sit there and think about all of the things I've done right and keep moving forward.

"In that moment, I felt like I was having a little bit of a breakdown as to what I was doing with my life and what I was doing wrong, but then, I had to sit there and think about all of the things I've done right and keep moving forward."

Obviously, you’ve grown a lot as an artist, but I can only imagine because I’ve never been in the public eye, and you are someone that everybody recognizes. As such a beautiful, talented, down-to-earth, vibrant Black woman, I’m sure even you have your days where you, as you mentioned, doubt yourself. When was the moment when you started to love yourself for who you are and how do you practice self-love?

I'm not gonna lie, it probably was about two years ago - maybe about a year and a half. I'm still practicing self-love and learning how to love me, every part of me and I think that the first step is acknowledging your flaws and ending with the great parts of you, you know? Just wanting to be a better person every single day when you wake up.

It's not that complicated, but it is complicated because of all of the other elements in the world. It's just tuning out that part out and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you [and] encourage you. I feel like that was a big issue for me too that I didn't really have that strong of a team, and now I have such great people around me that support me and encourage me to believe in myself.

"I'm still practicing self-love and learning how to love me, every part of me and I think that the first step is acknowledging your flaws and ending with the great parts of you, you know? Just wanting to be a better person every single day when you wake up.It's not that complicated, but it is complicated because of all of the other elements in the world."

What advice do you have for any creative who’s currently struggling to manage their mental health and practice self-love?

It's not easy at all (laughs). I don't know if I even have the best advice, but nothing great in life and nothing that you value in life is going to be easy. I feel like I just said that to someone the other day, but once you go through those hardships and those obstacles and you do what you've wanted, you feel so much better.

Speaking of obstacles, there’s a lot happening in our community in a time during COVID-19, the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and a countless list of names that have been transformed from hashtags to movements. How have you utilized your platform in the music industry to uplift the Black agenda, Black people, brown girls, and raise awareness about current events in the Black community?

As this is going on, I'm also educating myself on the situations that have been happening that I may not have been aware of myself. It's just completely and utterly disgusting and devastating. What I've been doing is protesting, I've been with the people, I've been donating, [and] even talking to my wealthy friends to see what we can do, how we can donate, how we can make a change. I had a meeting with about 40 people the other day where we just discussed, "Alright cool, we can march, we can do this and do that, but how are we gonna make real change to something so close [to] even the people we hang around?"

We just sat down, told our stories and why we were there, and came up with a list of what we can do and the first step was creating a union where the first question was, "Have we experienced racism or white privilege, or [have] been witness to it?," so we had an open discussion about that especially with a lot of people being in the industry.

[Second], we made a promise to each other that we'd be there to support speaking out against that in the industry because that's where it starts. If you're in a meeting with a brand and they're like, "We don't want to use [that] Black person because they're too Black," it's just [about] speaking up because a lot of people admitted they were scared to do so because they'd lose their jobs. If we are here and know we have this foundation that will support us whenever we see something going on, that's just one step closer to ending this racism within our industry.

On top of that, we’re also in a quarantine and COVID-19 has impacted so much for Black people and people of color because of unemployment, lack of healthcare opportunities that already weren’t there, and being turned away from hospitals and facilities for testing. How has COVID-19 stifled your creativity or your creative process, or has being in social isolation actually helped you?

Honestly, it has helped and it has hurt because I'm the type of person that needs adventures and we've been kind of locked away, so not much has been happening in order to write about [it], but I have been tapping into emotions and other feelings that I've felt before in the past, but it might not necessarily be new stories. Some of them are new stories, but it's been strange for me creatively, good because I've been working on my writing and I feel like I've been getting better and better each time.

A dream of mine has, also, been to work with Timbaland and that's been happening, too, to the point where we're just consistently on the phone talking about new beats, new sounds, and I'm just learning so much. I haven't even met him in person yet; we just literally go on FaceTime and work remotely. It's so crazy that this came out of that.

It’s funny because I was just about to ask you about the collaboration you two have been doing, Space and Time Sessions. Timbaland is such a powerhouse in music and production, to say the least. How did that come about and what has your relationship with him been like?

He saw a video of "Recover" that I did with my friend and he's known about me - it's been in talks, but he saw the video on my Instagram and he DM'd me and was like, "Hey, I wanna do one." I was like, "What? What do you mean?" (laughs) and he just started sending me beats and I started writing to them.

Then, we created something with my management team who is also very good friends with [Timbaland] as well - Space and Time Sessions. There's gonna be another one this Friday, but we kind of put a halt to it as many artists during this time out of respect for what's going on in the world. It just doesn't feel right.

Switching gears a bit, I want to talk to you about 'Bare With Me'. Super excited about that - how is that a reflection of your growth as an artist since your Tumblr days, the release of 'Skye High', and dropping YouTube covers?

I wrote a lot more on this project, and it's been more personal than any of my other music. It was my first project that I released independently, so that was a huge milestone for me and - well, I don't want to say risk because I feel like it was the best thing that I've ever done so far. It's definitely my favorite project that I've ever put out and I feel like every time I get into the studio, I'm consistently evolving. That's what music is really about for me: beating the last thing that you did.

"I feel like every time I get into the studio, I'm consistently evolving. That's what music is really about for me: beating the last thing that you did."

Amen to that. What was the primary inspiration behind 'Bare With Me' and the title?

Basically, it was a double entendre - kind of like bear with me while I work on the album because it was the Bare With Me EP. Then, as I was recording and working on my next project, I came across some songs that were still tied to the emotions that I had while I was working on the Bare With Me EP. I just wanted to repackage it with those new songs and finish that cycle of emotions that I don't feel anymore.

Without giving away too much, what’re some of your favorite songs and what can we expect?

My favorite song is definitely "Million Days" which is one of the new songs that you'll hear on the project, because it's super personal. I don't know if everyone else will love it as much as I will, but for me, it's just very cinematic. Every time I hear it, it's like a movie playing out of that exact moment and point in time in my life where I felt that vulnerable.

What advice do you have for anyone that’s looking to break into the music industry, or is already in the music industry and looking to grow, but they’re also in their own way?

I would say that there's a lot of people who are gonna try to tell you what they think you should do and there's a point that I hit in my life when I was just trying to listen to everyone else instead of myself. I kind of lost who I was in that process and in the past year and a half, two years, I've gotten out of that and been whole again with me and on this journey of figuring out exactly who Justine Skye is and what her sound is. Really listen to yourself (laughs) and I know it sounds super cliche, but if you feel strongly about not doing something or strongly about doing something, then definitely follow your instincts because 90% of the time, you're right.

For more of Justine, follow her on Instagram. Bare With Me, The Album is out now, stream it on Spotify and Apple Music.

Featured image courtesy of Justine Skye

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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