Los Angeles — As hip-hop continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, it baffles me how influential the genre has become within our day-to-day lives from fashion, our lingo and even other music genres.
Growing up, hip-hop was everywhere. I distinctly remember riding in the back of my dad’s car listening to all of the greats from Lauryn to Ye, or waking up to my mom cleaning the house blasting Mos Def and Mary J. Blige, which I’m sure is a similar memory for many of us … including Oakland rapper Justin “Jwalt” Carter Walton.
The genre raised the 21-year-old and inspired him to become the passionate writer and rapper he is today. Jwalt immersed himself around creatives at an early age becoming affluent with music. To learn more about music and the business, he’s now attending the Clive Davis Institution at New York University. His clean-cut lyricism and gratitude towards hip-hop is applauded by the Bay Area and its legends from Mistah F.A.B., Sway Calloway and many others Jwalt looks at as mentors, who recognize his enduring presence in the music industry.
Before his new single “Like That” released, YR Media talked with him about his relationship with hip-hop since committing to music as a full time college student.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
YR Media: At NYU, What new skills are you learning that you couldn’t on your own?
Justin Walton: We see a lot of artists getting contracts with these labels, and all they see [first] is a check but can’t make more money down the line. I've been taking music business classes every year [learning] ways musicians can get more money besides streaming services. Music theory and critical listening both changed my perspective on making music so now when I'm working with a producer I know exactly what I want.
YR: Yeah, upcoming rappers nowadays get that head start and might feel like school isn’t necessary, but you're proving both are possible.
JW: Definitely. I wouldn't say college is for everyone, but its beneficial to be in a program where I'm focusing on school but still have my career doing both on a high level.
YR: I’m sure you know this year hip-hop turns 50. it's only right to ask if you remember the song that made you fall in love with hip-hop.
JW: Hip-hop was always being played in my house. My parents are hip-hop heads so, I think it was “My Adidas" by Run-D.M.C. Hearing that was like, ‘yo, like his shit is tough.’ As I got older, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly' made me re-fall in love with it though. [Hip-hop] has just done so much for me as a therapeutic outlet, I really love it.
YR: Crazy that you say re-fall in love. During COVID-19, I listened to Ye’s entire discography top to bottom and knew more than I thought, and it just clicked for me.
JW: Yeah, that’s when I was finding my own taste. Going back to old playlists to help build my sound, then implement in my music, was early Kendrick and Drake. It's funny because it’s not what I’d listen to now, but you know hip-hop is versatile with many avenues to go down.
YR: I heard you were in YR Media like me, which is hella cool since you’ve come far. How was the program useful to you?
JW: YR Media definitely had a big impact on my career. I did journalism, beat production, photography and they gave me more attention within the Bay Area hip-hop scene.They helped me network with the HBK movement who were big in my middle school years and working with [them] is all dumb… a full circle moment.
YR: Are there Bay Area artists you're currently listening to that will gain attraction soon?
JW: Now I'm listening to Lil Bean who’s from Frisco, shout out to Lil Kayla who just signed a deal with Asylum/Atlantic records, and Stunnaman02 with the ‘Big Steppa’ record. It's a good time to be from the Bay. We're finally getting that shine we deserve.
YR: Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
JW: I see myself as one of them traveling the world and giving back to my community. The Bay has done so much for me and I’m currently doing creative writing and hip-hop workshops because growing up, I had programs like YR and Youth Speaks. Now I want to do that for others on an elevated level.
You can check out more of his music on Spotify.
Sydney Wanguhu, (she/her) is from The Bay Area and is an L.A.-based journalist who covers entertainment and culture. Follow her on Instagram: @sydneyy._
Edited by Nykeya Woods