GlossMagazineOnline(GMO): You’ve had the chance to write amazing songs for Disney, which is major. How did you get started in songwriting and singing?
Em Jai: I started singing in church when I was eight years old. I’ve always been a writer. It started with poetry and short stories. When I found out I could sing, poetry turned into songs. My mom, who’s also my manager, helped me pursue my career in music. I did my first project when I was 12 and shopped that around. At 18, I released my second project, which is available on iTunes. Now I’m working on the third project, Love Etc.etera. That’s an EP that’ll be released in August. The first single will be “Catch 22.” It’s a really bass heavy song but the chords are really bright.
GMO: Nice! Can you tell me a little more about your sound?
Em Jai: It’s a blend of urban and pop music. I don’t want to lose either audience. I’m a big fan of urban music. Love Etc.etera is just about the ins and outs of love. The good, the bad, heartbreak, enjoying it-- any aspect of it, I talked about it. It just wraps up everything. And the Etc.etera carries on the subject. I wanted to spell out the name because you usually don’t see it like that. I thought it looked cool.
GMO: How did your partnership with Disney start?
Em Jai: I was working for a producer and his management has people out in L.A. So whenever there’s a job needed for a specific show they’ll email us. I spent the entire summer of 2012 demoing songs for Shake It Up and they chose one of the songs that I sang and rapped on! I didn’t rap at all before then. I just knew that was what they were asking for. They loved it and it aired in November of that year. They kept my vocals which is really cool. It was honor for me because the cast is so talented so any of them could’ve sang it.
GMO: That’s amazing! How did the song do?
Em Jai: A couple months later Disney re-released the song, “Contagious Love” as a single so the stars recorded it. It was the first single off the Shake It Up album. It has more than 4 million views on YouTube. I was totally blown away because I wasn’t expecting it at all. It was the most fun because it was so unexpected. Such an exciting and new experience. I had never rapped before, but that’s how I found out I could; so I added that to my artistry.
GMO: When you sat down to write the song, what inspired you?
Em Jai: They pretty much told me what they wanted the song to be about. They wanted it to be hopeful. They described the scene on the show so I just went in and started writing. I wrote about six drafts. I was really determined to get this placement! I had just graduated from college and I didn’t have a gig so that was more of my push. In my mind, it was already mine so I just kept writing and writing until I was happy with the finished project. The other producer was totally satisfied so we sent it off, prayed and remained hopeful. And they loved it! I ended up getting another song on the album, “Freaky Freakend” with an artist named Coco Jones.
GMO: Here’s a few fun questions – If you went to karaoke for fun, what song would you love to belt out?
Em Jai: I would sing “We Are Young” by Fun. It makes you feel good. I would definitely rock it out and add some nice harmonies. But it’s karaoke so it’ll be more playful.
GMO: I love that song! What five artists do you listen to the most on your playlist?
Em Jai: Lauryn Hill definitely. And Keri Hilson. Her journey just starting out reminds me of myself. She wrote songs for a very long time before she launched into her own artistry. Drake, I think it’s cool he lets women in on what guys think and he’s vulnerable. The Dream is one of my favorites! He’s amazing and behind so many talented people’s songs like Rihanna and Beyonce. And definitely Ryan Leslie. He’s an amazing musician. He plays like 10 different instruments. He graduated at 17 and went to Harvard so he’s an inspiration.
GMO: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten on your journey?
Em Jai: I would say “If you’re the biggest fish in the pond, you need to find another pond to swim in.” Meaning, if you’re the brightest person, most creative--you need to find another group to associate with to build yourself up. People who help you learn more and grow more. That speaks to me every day because I’m constantly growing and evolving.
GMO: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Em Jai: Successful, prosperous, Grammys, ASCAP Awards, BMI Awards, film, Oscars and influencing millions of girls. I see my records going beyond platinum to diamond. Just being an inspiration and a light in the industry and being happy.
Be sure to connect with Em Jai on Twitter @EmJaiGirl and Instagram at EmJaiGirl, and look out for her new project coming out in August! In the meantime, see her "Catch 22" video below.