“I’m here to make good art and keep the ball rolling.”
A person’s rise to fame is never straightforward, and no two journeys are ever the same, as demonstrated by one Jnr Choi. The Gambian and London-based musician has established himself as one of the most multi-faceted creatives in the game, with the model-turned-musician making sure to stamp his mark on everything he touches.
“Talented, but he stays in his own lane.” Jnr Choi’s mission statement appears straightforward, but it begs more questions. What exactly is talent nowadays? Can you apply your skills across multiple creative domains? What constitutes authenticity? And what isn’t?
Jnr Choi, tearing up the rule book, makes sure to answer those questions in his own unique way, cruising through multiple lanes with this unmistakable sense of assurance. Jnr Choi, 23, took PAUSE ‘To The Moon’ and back as he sat down to discuss what life looks like right now, from touring with Grammy Award-winning SAINt JHN and attending a last-minute Met Gala to discussing the importance of stepping stones and organic partnerships.
First and foremost, how has your life recently been? What have you been up to lately?
It’s all good, it’s just been a busy week. It’s been a blur for the last six months. We spent some time on the East Coast as soon as we arrived in the United States, and we spent a lot of time in the studio and did a lot of press and radio. For a while, we did collaborations with crazy producers, as well as club appearances and shows across the United States. We finished in New York, then went to Paris, Berlin… and then I went on tour for a month with SAINt JHN. Following that, I had Paris Fashion Week, where I did a couple of shows.
Speaking of going on tour with SAINt JHN, I wanted to ask you about the backstory and what advice he’s given you, particularly regarding music.
Quite a bit, man. I’m a big fan of his music, especially Collection One, which I used to listen to religiously. I don’t think I really reached out; I think I just kept reposting his stuff and he’d react to it. I met him while walking for Casablanca and he was watching, so I immediately said, “Yo, I’m a huge fan. Much respect.” I was speaking with Biggs, his manager and Roc Nation co-founder. We kept in touch after that, I got his phone number and he’d reply every now and then, mostly with a story about how much he appreciated the support, but I never really showed him music or anything. He once hit me and said, “What have you got going on? Let me hear your stuff”, and I sent him a whole tape, this was way, way back. we if we think about the whole thing. Then ‘To The Moon’ came out and blew up, and I was in the States at the time, so he suggested we connect. We attempted to meet in Miami, but that didn’t work out, so we met in New York. He’s a very busy person, and he’s just in his own little world. It was a random day in New York, and he simply told me to pull up next to him, and we ended up running around. We went shopping, ate dinner, and then chopped it all up. He had a Met Gala fitting the next day, so I was just joining in on his day, driving around New York, picking up some clothes, eating… we were just talking. He’d witnessed my progression from struggling to developing music. We were listening to my songs in the car, and he was clearly trying to understand what I was saying. Then he picked up on a vibe and told me he liked the tape I sent him. He stated that he never sends Biggs music, but he stated that I had something; he had complete faith in me. The next day came and he facetimed me randomly, and he was at soundcheck, and he just said “Bro, get dressed and come to my address. Dress as if you’re going to the Met Gala, because that’s exactly what you’re doing.” He was performing at the Met Gala with Burna Boy when he invited me out. He invited me to perform with him on stage! We formed a strong bond as a result, and Biggs praised our performance… It was like coming full circle for me. My idol brought me out, his manager said that I killed it. So, there you have it. I found out after Wireless Festival that they were talking about bringing me on tour, just like SAINt wanted me on his tour… and nobody else. Nobody knows if it isn’t you. He was just giving me great advice on the tour. Every conversation you have with him teaches you something new. When he speaks, it’s time to listen… everything was fair game. I remember admiring his career at one point because of the way he’d built such an organic audience that adored his music.
“But that’s not you,” he said, noting that you’d taken a different path. You’ve got a whole different thing going on.”
What was your Meta Gala experience like? Nothing is ever said about it.
To be honest, it reminded me of fashion parties, which was cool. I got to see Gunna right before he left, which was quite sad. I called him and asked if he was going to be in Atlanta, and he said he would be.
Getting a little more into your music, I’ve heard that you obviously have a diverse set of influences and that you moved around a lot when you were younger. I read that your father enjoyed reggae music and your mother enjoyed Senegalese and Gambian music. What aspects of yourself and your music are influenced by these factors? What stands out the most?
Definitely the Senegalese stuff, with their insane melodies. They’ve got these really out-of-the-box melodies that are just simple, which I always have in my music. I always change up the flow, and I’ve been doing so a lot lately.
I suppose there are these patterns of melodies that are used so prominently in a lot of Western music as well, and going further afield, especially where these melodies aren’t as exposed to as much, you get something more unique.
Yes, you definitely get expression and passion.
As you mentioned earlier, you have a fascinating backstory. You’ve previously walked the runway for some of the most prominent fashion houses on the scene. How do you remember that time, and was it all about getting here? Is there a fate? Was music always your path?
It was a mixture of both, because I always knew that modelling was going to be a stepping stone into something more beautiful. I’d always planned to document my journey and not just stay as a model; you’d be able to scroll through and see my growth and journey. I feel like I’m going to do a lot more than just music, and that this is just another lovely stepping stone that will help my business grow. Because of all the experiences, it was almost as if modelling prepared me for music. All of the experiences I describe in my songs are one-of-a-kind experiences that only I can speak about. Coming from a modelling and fashion background, and then bringing that in, not only can I talk about it, but I’m also in that niche where (ASAP) Rocky can come in and talk about fashion and stuff like that.
Do you have any other creative ideas? You mentioned stepping stones, so I was wondering how you see the future.
Something both cosy and urban. It’ll be a reasonable price, and it’ll be ideal for days when you just want to relax or, I don’t know, be on the road. Then I want to do something high-end for when you’re going out and putting it on. That’s how I dress. I tend to create based on my feelings. I make music, and it’s very diverse and versatile because I listen to so much music. In the summer, I listen to afrobeats, while in the winter, I listen to trap. It’ll be the same with the clothing I’ll be releasing; I’ll have a line for when I feel like this and another for when I want to be a rockstar. It’ll be high-quality leather pants with Rick (Owens) influence.
Talking about your unique journey, I can imagine that a lot of rejection came along with it, especially with how notoriously impenetrable both the fashion and music industries are. How did you deal with rejection? Do you believe overcoming it is a skill that should be honed?
Yes, you should be rejected. I believe you need to be rejected in order to know whether you truly believe in your work, because how you handle rejection is what matters. The number of times I’ve shown people songs or expressed interest in taking music further and shown A&Rs my music and it hasn’t gone anywhere could have led me to believe that I’m not doing the right thing. I’d never thought of it that way; I’d always said I’d keep going. I’m going to do it whether you guys take it on and want to collaborate with me or I do it on my own. It’s amazing how many A&R’s heard ‘To The Moon’ before it was released…
They must be cursing themselves right now!
100%! That sh*t was leaking into millions of streams every day, and it was all coming back. But here’s what I mean: that song currently has 200 million streams on Spotify alone, despite being technically rejected.
I believe rejection is a common experience for many creatives, and I believe overcoming it is easier said than done. First and foremost, you must believe in yourself. What advice would you give to young creatives that feel like they’re not progressing?
You must connect. I’m not sure… it could be anything… music, clothing, whatever. Sometimes you have to strike a balance between how you feel and what’s going on around you. You must be aware of both and state, “Okay cool, this is what’s going on right now. This is the space I’m in,” but you also need to be original and bring something to the table. It’s almost a hybrid; you act as if you’re listening in and commenting on what’s going on. Assume you have a clothing line and it’s jacket season; you tap in and put your essence into the same puffer that everyone else is making. It’s the same with the drill stuff, because there was a lot of it going on, but I hated drill… I never really jumped on it because It had very negative connotations to it. But I figured, “Well, I’m getting sent insane drill beats, so let’s just try it and see what I can do.” I made it the way I wanted to make it, and that’s how I make my music. I’ve been jumping on drill a lot lately, and I’ve got some crazy drill tracks that I made myself. I’ve been told that my sound is ‘universal drill,’ because it lacks the negative connotations that I previously associated with it. My specialty is luxury drill! You realise what’s going on, tap in, and go. “All right, what do I have to say about this?” you say, and you express yourself. You’ll always find a way to keep going because you’re driven. You can get stuck in your own little bubble where you’re just creating and creating and it’s not being appreciated, but sometimes you just have to tap in and clock the balance of what people are comfortable in and what they’re not.