Stanaj: How a Karaoke Bar Led to Stardom

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Watch shortened interview here

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When I first saw Stanaj he was on stage doing sound check, laughing and joking with swooning female fans, getting ready for the Less Stress More Love show with SoMo in San Diego. The 22-year-old R&B singer is fresh to the music scene but harbors the skills of a seasoned professional. Just releasing his EP, The Preview, this past August, he’s already on his first nation-wide tour and upcoming worldwide debut. He’s been endorsed through social media by stars such as Kim Kardashian West, Russell Simmons, Chris Brown, and NBA player Brandon Jennings just to name a few. He sang his way to Coachella prior to releasing any original music, sang “Let Her Go” on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, and got signed a year ago with LAVA/REPUBLIC. How has this kid done this? When I heard him sing, that question was answered.

I met with him backstage about an hour before he was to perform. Between the exclamatory “Baby girl’s!” and his signature serenades, Stanaj was a hoot to interview. He wants to be an all-around artist, like Justin Timberlake, dipping his talents into movies, TV, and music. He’s got the personality to do it—his charisma filled the room. He was gracious and thankful to be there, and told me the fantastic story of his journey.

“It’s been pretty freakin’ crazy, you know, starting about a year and a half ago. I mean, I was doing music in New York right out of high school, but I had no luck and it was kind of just go, sing at a karaoke bar, kind of thing. What happened when I came out to California, I was basically doing the same thing in L.A., I was just singing at a random place—karaoke bar—and just from social media, there was a basketball player there, he put me on his Instagram, his girlfriend put me on her Instagram, and then this person found me, and this person found me, and next thing I know I’m signing in Drake’s house.”

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Stanaj’s life is a modern-day male version Cinderella story, or, as his family nicknames him, Forrest Gump, and goes to show what can manifest when hard work, pure jaw-dropping talent, and a little luck come together.

Stanaj got his start in singing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in a children’s choir. He says that experience definitely shows up in some of his songs, especially his upcoming releases.

“I always loved it, and there are some songs that I actually haven’t released yet that have kind of like a super choir-driven base to it, it’s pretty cool.”

Hailing from Albania, he also sang Albanian music and, being the youngest in a big family, was exposed to multiple genres and decades of music growing up. From all the different types of music he grew up loving, it was ‘90s R&B that stuck with him.

“I just always had a thing for it. I love the soul that they were, you know, projecting. I love the emotions in the songs. It just, I don’t know, struck a cord with me.”

We talked about his almost-magical transition from making music on social media to making music with the likes of writers who work with Rihanna and Chris Brown.

“I was writing songs in my bedroom, to writing songs with Grammy Award winners.”

Through his crazy journey, he’s learned a lot.

“It’s an art to write a song. In itself, just the structure of a song and how many measures and when to go to the pre-, how long the chorus should be, like I had no idea what the hell any of that meant. So going from writing in my room to writing with Justin Tranter, who wrote “Sorry” for Bieber, to Haze Banga who’s done songs with Beyoncé, you know, these people who are just like mind-blowing musicians and songwriters, you learn a lot. Like a year ago, I think I’d written like 200 songs, and it’s funny—you can see the progression from the beginning to where I am now.”

Stanaj’s career is moving forward pretty fast. With all his celebrity endorsements and incredible raw talent, it’s a speeding train going in the right direction. Not long from now he’ll be hooking up with the best in the business—we talked about who he hopes to collaborate with in the future.

“I would love to collaborate with Justin Timberlake, if I could make a song with him that’d be pretty amazing. I love Ariana [Grande], she’s great—super good vocalist. And Drizzy Drake.”

Drizzy Drake—the mysterious Instagram picture that made Stanaj famous over night. He told me how a random friendship turned into him playing piano at the YOLO mansion.

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“So, recently I was seen at the karaoke bar, basketball player put me on his Instagram, and this guy, Jas Prince, hits me up and we ended up becoming friends. I never like Googled this guy or anything, but he’s the guy who found Drake. So one day, I’m playing basketball at his house and Drake FaceTimes him and we ended up going there and that’s how I met him.”

Sure. Casual.

“We didn’t end up working on any music, not yet—hopefully—but they would keep inviting me over. It was just a super, super cool experience to see. You know, I got to go into his home studio and listen to some songs, I got to play the piano in his living room, it was super cool. Awesome guy, and hopefully one day I’ll get to work with him.”

As for who inspires him, Stanaj has got a long list. He hopes to grow into a career like Justin Timberlake’s, and after his enthusiastic chat with me, I don’t doubt he’ll one day be on movie screens. As for musicians, he loves Boys II Men, Brian McKnight, and other stars who ruled the ‘90s R&B scene. He calls his style a new twist of R&B and pop, and said his recently dropped EP The Preview embodies that type of “cinematic soul” he wants to be known for.

The Preview was Stanaj’s chance to showcase his original sound, and, thankfully, there’s so much more of it to come.

“I’m releasing another project soon, I don’t have a date yet, but I’m releasing another project soon and then I go straight to Europe. I’m going to London to work on an album, London and then Sweden, and then I have another tour come spring.”

His Albanian family doesn’t know what to make of him.

“I don’t think they really understand what’s happening. Like they do, but then at the same time they’re like, ‘Oh, how’s it going?’ Like I was just on Jimmy Fallon and they’re like, ‘Oh that’s nice.’ Meanwhile everybody here is like flipping out.”

Right, and there’s a funny story about Stanaj singing “Ain’t Love Strange” on The Tonight Show.

“It’s funny, I met Jimmy in 2013. I walked up to him on the sidewalk and I sang like a quick snippet of something, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna be on your show one day.’ And then, literally three years later, I’m on his show.”

Stanaj and Jimmy Fallon ended up re-creating the same video Stanaj had taken of that experience backstage.

Before wrapping things up, Stanaj had a message for all his fans that have supported him from the beginning: deep down, he’s still that kid singing karaoke and is super grateful to be where he is.

“I’m beyond grateful to do this every single day. I know it’s been said, ‘It’s because of you,’ but it really is. It really is true, that it’s like the most grateful feeling having people appreciate what you love most in life. Just thank you, on a different level of thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Stanaj thanked his fans at the show by singing his heart out on stage. He opened with “Goddess,” followed by “Ain’t Love Strange,” “Sleep Alone,” “Romantic,” and even sang his famous rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. Fans went crazy, screaming every word of his album. His stage presence was so energetic and genuine, it was hard to believe this was his first tour.

I look forward to seeing more of Stanaj in the future, as I’m positive he’s going far. He has almost an unbelievable story; karaoke-bar singer pulls himself up to the level of A-list celebrities all because of sheer talent. But hey, stranger things have happened.

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Photos by Brittany Harper

Original AMG Content

 

 

 

 

Something Special in the Water! Interview with Def Jam’s Jahkoy

‘Something special must be in Canadian water!’ Jahkoy Palmer said that comment to him made by many journalists was the inspiration for his highly anticipated EP titled Foreign Water, which just debuted in October. The album followed his September single “California Heaven,” featuring L.A. rapper Schoolboy Q, which received rave reviews from USA Today, Billboard, and the Fader and is skyrocketing to the top of Spotify viral charts. Jahkoy has been described as “the next in the list of big names to come from Canada,” but his unique genre-blending approach tying R&B and electric house makes him stand out from the rest. His eclectic sound and feels-hitting vocals have generated active support from Pharrell, Elton John and his single “Odd Future” premiered on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 Radio Show and played on Drake’s OVO Sound Radio. Jahkoy tore up the stage at festivals all over the U.S. this summer, driving crowds crazy at Lollapalooza, Wireless UK, Billboard Hot 100, and tons more. The world wants more, and the 22-year-old Def Jam Recordings artist is cooking up a world tour, a new album, and new shows for 2017.

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IG @jahkoy

Jahkoy’s been making music for so long that he laughed when I asked him what his first musical experience was, saying “I couldn’t tell you my first experience with music just because I’ve been doing music for so long that I don’t even remember when I started. I just remember always loving it.”

He’s been writing music since he was 11. “It started with writing poems in school. I turned a lot of those poems into music—I used to rap at the time—so it was a lot of poems that turned into raps.” Rapping under the alias of “Raheem” in Toronto was the beginning of Jahkoy’s journey.

“I grew up on a lot of Def Jam poetry. I’ve always wanted to be a part of that experience of the spoken word, and expressing how I feel in a format that was like written to tell a story, and also make it sound smooth. As a kid it’s like ‘monkey see monkey do,’ you see something that’s really cool [and] you want to try it, and that’s how it was for me. I saw something that was really dope and I wanted to be a part of music. I love music, music always changed how I felt, it would make me feel better. A funny story that my mom tells me, I guess when I was 2 years old and every time I started crying she would put on this record by Craig Mack called ‘Flava in Ya Ear,’ and she said every time she would play the record I would stop crying immediately. So I guess music has just instilled in me [a way] to help me get rid of my demons and get vulnerable, and just express myself as a whole. Ever since I can remember I’ve just been in love with that form of expression.”

“I love music, music always changed how I felt, it would make me feel better.”

We talked about Jahkoy’s transition from rap to R&B, and where his inspiration stems from. “I started singing two years ago at the Disclosure show. At the time, I didn’t know who Disclosure was or know anything about them,” he recalled. Jahkoy first saw the Electronic Duo at their concert in Toronto, which he’d gone to see Vic Mensa. As his first exposure to purely instrumental music, Disclosure blew him away. “Just having that experience, seeing instrumental music being appreciated by people just enjoying themselves, listening to the bump of the beat. And having that first experience, not really familiar with the instrumental world, and it struck me that there could be potential vocals over these records to make them like number one hits. And it was wanting to go through a bit of trial and error to make some potential hits in that dance-infused world. It was using, I guess, pop music with urban—a little bit of that urban—and throwing it over house records. With all the technology that we have right now, we’re able to do so many things to make good music, and it’s so hard to I guess label it, I like to just call it good music. Music is evolving… a lot of my music has three elements—house, R&B, or acoustic, those are the worlds that I live in musically and that’s how I express myself. I never like to stick to one, I never like to cater to a specific style, I just like to express myself entirely and how it comes out at the moment is how we’re going to execute it, and most of the time it comes out at random.”

He then opened up about the evolution of his signing voice and where he’d like to improve upon. “I’m still working on my voice, vocally, and learning where I can take things. ‘Cause I’ve only been singing for a couple years now, so I’m not where I’m going to be if I get like ten years of experience. Right now, I feel like I’m still in the earlier stages of my career. I feel really comfortable where I am, especially over time. I’ve been going to vocal lessons, I feel more in control of my voice, feel more comfortable, but I’m still learning. The future is bright, the rest is history.”

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Twitter @jahkoy

He’s definitely right about that; Jahkoy’s future is bright. He’s setting out to prove himself here in the U.S. and continue making waves.

“Foreign Water is out, my first album. That lets me know that the engines are running, so now I really gotta prove why I’m the one and why I should be here, what do I bring to the table. I’m trying to bring a fresh experience to the listeners of the music world, in this industry, to share the experience of someone from Canada. I’m coming from the other side of the border, I really want to share the Canadian experience. I’m in America now, I’m seeing different things and meeting new people and absorbing a lot, becoming more of myself and seeing all that’s out there. I’m only going to grow and am only going to become better at what I do, trying to master my art as much as possible and understanding what it means to be in the music industry and what being a part of the singer-songwriter world is, and linking up and making these connections. When I first came out to LA, I found myself in a lot of happy accidents. I came out here to make music and really put my foot in the door, and prove to everybody why I’m here. I’m working on my album—hopefully top of the year, looking at a world tour, potentially, got some shows coming up early in the year. It’s going to be awesome.”

Jahkoy’s got some pretty exciting stuff lined up and has made a lot of major transitions, but through all of it he hasn’t forgotten why he’s here. “I really just want to put an imprint on the next generation so that they can absorb my energy and potentially feed off of my energy and deliver it to the following generation, so it just goes on. I’m inspired by Kanye West and Pharrell, these guys are leaders of my generation and they deserve a reward, if you ask me, for being the guys that stepped out of the norm and stepped out of what everybody felt was the comfort zone and really, like, express themselves as a whole. They weren’t holding back for what anybody thought, they just wanted to be artists. I just want to bring my perspective and share my story.”

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Hear what the hype is about and listen to Foreign Waters, “California Heaven,” and read more of Jahkoy’s story here.

This is original AMG content.

 

Interview: Lil Wayne Tells Drake to “Keep it Canadian”

Lil Wayne was recently interviewed by Cari Champion on her “Giving Major Props” podcast.  The two discussed his charitable Lil Weezyana performance, N.W.A., Jay Z, signing Drake, and the NFL season.

 First of all, this was a great interview. Cari Champion is an amusing and engaging host and she related to Wayne in a way that made her listeners feel connected to him. Lil Wayne was also a perfect interviewee. He was genuine, polite, and shared humorous anecdotes as well as gave listeners a glimpse into his personality. The pair start by discussing the 10th year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Lil Wayne, a New Orleans native, raised money for Hurricane Katrina charities with his successful show Lil Weezyana, where he showcased every era of New Orleans music.

 The conversation then turned to the movie “Straight Outta Compton” and the N.W.A.. Wayne said he loved the movie. “They left a lot out of course, but they had to,” he said. While talking about the Greats, Lil Wayne shared a story about Jay Z that marked a milestone in his career. When Wayne was still up-and-coming, he received a phone call one night from Jay Z. His voice was animated as he told Cari about how he tried to get everyone in his house to quiet down when he saw the incoming call. It was only a short conversation, but being acknowledged by Jay Z let Wayne know he was going in the right direction.

 Lil Wayne also discussed that while Jay Z made him feel accomplished, he made this moment happen for Drake. Wayne discovered Drake at a time when Drake’s mixture of rapping and singing was getting him rejected. When Wayne brought him on he said, “Don’t change anything. Don’t think cuz you coming over here by me you gotta rap about the things I rap about.” Essentially, as Wayne humorously put it, he was telling Drake to “Keep it Canadian.”

 Wayne also demonstrates the virtue of being humble, as he wouldn’t tell Cari that he alone was what jumpstarted Drake’s career, even though he discovered him. However, when asked who’s a better rapper between him and Drake, Lil Wayne responded laughing, “Oh I annihilate that guy.”