After two years of silence, Sharaya J is back with the mixtape « Dope Product – Vol. 1 » and the video « BIG ». The MC from Jersey City told Madame Rap about her decisive encounter with Missy Elliott – she signed to The Goldmind Inc. in 2010 before launching her own production company Banji Entertainment LLC in 2016 –, her BANJI movement and why it is important to be yourself.
Your father was a member of 90’s hip hop group Double XX Posse. Is it him who introduced you to rapping?
Yes. I grew up in a HipHop home, my mom and father were music heads so they introduced me to so many different styles of music at a very young age. I learned a lot from my father by just observing him. I’d come home from school and there would be full cyphers going on in my living room or we would would meet him at the studio on many occasions. That gave me a glimpse of what his world was like. I’d have to say he was first « rap » inspiration.
You were a dancer for Diddy, Rihanna, Ciaraand Alicia Keys and worked with famous choreographers such as Laurianne Gibson, Fatima Robinson and Jamaica Craft. What part does dancing play in your music today?
Dancing plays a very important part in my music. When I create music, I’m also coming from the perspective of a dancer; so if it makes me wanna move I’m pretty sure other dancers will feel the same. When I transitioned from dancer/choreographer to artist, I always vowed that I would never leave my love for dance behind; but in fact I would keep it as the root of my musical journey.
You just released the 17-track mixtape “Dope Product – Vol. 1”. Who did you work with on this project and how would you pitch it?
I am really proud of my mixtape « Dope Product – Vol. 1 ». In creating this collective, I really took a organic approach. I didn’t want to give myself any boundaries, I wanted it to be as creative, fresh, nostalgic, fun and most importantly DOPE as possible. I got the opportunity to work with some really awesome producers like Razors Music, DJ Jayhood, Web of the Machine & some great artist like Izza Kizza and Samad Savage. Ultimately, I think that we created something special that people can push play on and vibe with from beginning to end.
You also recently released the Video “BIG”. What’s the story of this track?
« BIG » is indeed a special track to me. This is the first record that myself and my father have collaborated on. We got in the studio, caught a crazy vibe and ran with it. That actually is my father’s voice saying « BIG » in the hook. The idea of « BIG » is to do all things with this intention; Dream « BIG », Think « BIG », Live « BIG »…so I actually consider this joint quite an inspirational track; not to mention that authentic Hip Hop essence of the beat.
You launched the BANJI (Be Authentic Never Jeopardize Individuality) movement. Can you tell us more about it?
The « BANJI » movement was created because of my real life testimony. I once was asked by some record executives to change everything about myself at the time in order to sign a deal with them. They agreed that I had superstar quality; but wanted me to dress a little more sexy, show a little more skin, throw on some heels and get a weave. In that moment I realized that they cared more about my image then my talent. I have always heard about the stereotypical things that go on in our industry but to experience it first hand like that really put a battery in my back to stand for something or fall for anything. I decided from that experience that I would create a movement that would embrace individuality, uniqueness and encourage everyone to be comfortable in the skin they are in; hence why I live my life unapologetically and fearless…BANJI.
Missy Elliott has been a sort of mentor to you and she says you are “the future”. How did you two meet and how did she influence your work?
Missy and I met at a mutual friend’s event. We instantly clicked and hit it off. At that time I was transitioning from dancer to artist. She told me I had superstar quality and offered me an opportunity of a lifetime. She offered me the chance to become a student under her and she would mentor me and show me the ropes. I jumped at the chance, of course, we are talking about one of the musical geniuses of our time. I feel very blessed to have had a mentor like Missy; she has taught me so much not only about music but about life in general. I will always honor her and be forever grateful for the wisdom and the jewels that she has given me on this journey of my career.
Who are your female role models, if you have any, and why?
Most importantly my Mom (Deborah) & my Grandma (Jestine), but I have been blessed with some amazing female role models that have brought me to the place I am now and made me the woman I am today. I have been inspired by so many different strong women in my life and I feel extremely grateful for them all.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why?
Yes, I do consider myself a feminist in the sense that I do understand how important it is to encourage and uplift the female community. I believe that we should constantly be reminded of our worth & greatness, and how important it is for women to support other women in this industry and in the world.
What are your upcoming projects?
I have just wrapped 3 new visuals off the « Dope Product – Vol. 1″ collective that I’m very excited about. I am gearing up for the release of my first EP; in which I have plans on releasing the single entitled « New Wave« . I am also working on a very special project – a pilot that I have written and produced entitled « Roomies« . I have a lot on the horizon that I can’t wait to share with all my supporters.
What do you think of Madame Rap? What should be changed or improved? Are we Banji certified? : )
I think Madame Rap is Awesome! I wouldn’t suggest you gals be anything different than what you are…You gotta keep it Banji always! Definitely #Banjicertified xo
Read the interview in French here.