JP Masterson, better known as Jipsta, has had a streak of hits on the Dance Club Songs chart. In fact, his cover of George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” was one of three tracks to hit the chart’s top 10 (it peaked at No. 4 in 2009). But in 2014, his career came to a screeching halt when he was the victim of an anti-gay hate crime. On his and his partner’s 10th anniversary, Jipsta was attacked in New York City’s West 4th Street subway station — resulting in seven broken bones in his face.
While the experience was traumatic, Jipsta has healed physically and mentally: “Carrying around anger became exhausting and was preventing me from living in the moment,” he tells Billboard. In a candid interview, Jipsta talks about how the attack has affected his career, how pals RuPaul, Willam and Pandora Boxx all reached out to him, and the a-ha inspiration behind his latest music video.
After three top 10 Dance Club Songs, your career came to a halt after you were a victim in a widely publicized hate crime. Did you ever think that would be the end of your career?
Yes. I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place, and that my 15 minutes were up. When you pursue a career in the music industry as an independent artist, you enter into it knowing you will have to work ten times harder than artists who have major label support behind them. An independent artist’s success is directed tied to numbers — followers, views, sales, chart positions.
The three records you mentioned were all from my first album and not only remain my biggest hits to date, but are also the songs that people associate with my brand. I released a stand-alone single called “Lover Who Rocks You,” which stalled at No. 20 on the chart due to the untimely death of my manager, David Henney. This affected me deeply, and also impacted my career because I suddenly found myself without a mentor to guide me.
When the hate crime occurred, [in] March 2014, I was in the early stages of promoting my sophomore album, Turnt Up. I felt tremendous pressure to release songs that would match the success of my previous hits and get back on the radar. Obviously, after the incident took place, the only thing I was concerned about was the fact that I had seven broken bones in my face, and I had to have major surgery to ensure I wouldn’t lose my vision. Another significant point is that my nose was reconstructed, which changed my voice. Now I was faced with the fear of whether or not my followers would like and accept of how I sounded on future recordings.
Compounding my career challenges were two other major hazards. First, I found myself having anxiety attacks taking the subway and being in bars or clubs which made me feel trapped in small spaces. As an independent recording artist, promoting your music and videos to DJs and performing in bars and clubs is integral to your success. How was I supposed to promote a new album if I was afraid to take the train and go out to do shows and appearances?
Secondly, the news coverage focused heavily on my injuries. But an important thing that was overlooked was the fact that this horrific event also involved my partner, Peter, who was equally traumatized by the experience. After I was better, I focused on how lucky I was to be alive, and that I needed to focus on the important things in my life, such as my relationship, and my family and friends. I began to question if pursuing my career could put me in harm’s way again in the future.
Your assailant was never identified so I imagine it has been hard finding closure. Has music helped you?
Whenever the incident comes up in discussion, the first question I am always asked is: “Did they catch the guy?” I would be lying if I said that I have closure. I would definitely like to be able to speak with my assailant face-to-face and have a conversation. Most people that I speak to about this will say things like “Well, if they do ever catch him, they need to lock him up and make him pay.” The interesting thing is that over time, I have actually come to forgive this person. Carrying around anger became exhausting and was preventing me from living in the moment.
Music has always been a part of my life. My mother introduced me to music at an early age and whenever I get caught up in my feelings, I always hole up in a quiet place and either listen to, or write my own music. Whenever I am upset, like after the hate crime, I always listen to music from artists like Amy Winehouse, Sade or Stevie Wonder. There is something in the honesty of their lyrics and the rawness in the performances that helps me find catharsis. What finally helped me work through my writer’s block was when I watched the [Amy Winehouse documentary] Amy.
One of the reasons her music is so powerful, even after her tragic death, is the fact that she wrote about things which she was really feeling, and not just another hit song for the radio. The hate crime changed me in many ways, but one of the biggest ways was that I felt driven to write deeper, more meaningful songs, which might not be popular, but which helped me work through my feelings and pain.
The best example of this is the song on my album “Breathe.” On the surface, it is a fun, bouncy, radio hit — which everyone should call up and request on Z100! But if you take away the track and listen to the lyrics, the song is really about my feelings from that night: “When things get hard, don’t give up/ Just stay on track, and hang in tough.” Yes, the lyrics are supposed to be empowering and motivational. What most people don’t know, however, is that on the night of the attack, the guy was trying to shove me onto the tracks as a train was approaching. So, when I say “Stay on track, and hang in tough” it is also my way of reminding myself that even though I thought I was going to die, somehow I found the strength to plant my feet firmly on that damn platform because my life depended on it.
You have worked with RuPaul and queens who have appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Are there any memorable moments of them reaching out during your recovery?
Let me tell you something, people are truly amazing. Drag Queens, even more so! The first person from the show who reached out to me was my longtime friend Pandora Boxx. She didn’t just reach out to say “sending thoughts and prayers,” — she was like “girl, I heard what happened and you need to tell me what the hell we gotta do to catch this a–hole!” Without missing a beat, she asked me to send her the mug shot that was posted on the news and she got it posted on tons of blogs and websites like World of Wonder and Towleroad to aid in the search for the assailant. From there, Willam grabbed the baton and put out an APB like only Willam can do! Peppermint, who obviously was not yet on the show, but who I am friends with from NYC, also put the word out there and got a lot of people to retweet and share the mugshot.
The most incredible thing was that RuPaul emailed me directly. I don’t know it verbatim, but I will always remember that she said “Don’t ever let anybody steal your light. You are gonna get through this.”
You’re back with a new album, Ban2oozle. What does that title mean?
I get asked this question a lot. I am always coming up with these crazy words that pretty much become the inside lingo for me and my crew. Think “fetch” from Mean Girls. The difference is, I made my word happen! Okurrr?
So, my debut album was called Bandoozle. It is kind of hard to define, but basically, it means something that is kinda budget, a little ratchet, kinda raw and unpolished, but you still kinda love it because it is fierce in its own way. Used in a sentence: “Ok boo, that new shirt you bought is kinda bandoozle but you know everyone is still clocking you.” Or: “Ok, the last Transformers movie was definitely bandoozle, but at least we got to see Mark Wahlberg in it.”
In any case, even though Ban2oozle is my third album, it is the sequel to Bandoozle. The reason I chose to do this was because my sophomore album Turnt Up didn’t perform well due to the timing and aforementioned challenges of when it was released. I actually wish I could have the chance to do it over because it isn’t a fun album and I’m not happy with it. So, when I finally did break through my writer’s block, I had to take it back to where I started. People responded to Bandoozle so positively because I was having fun when I wrote and recorded those songs. I am an out-and-proud LGBTQ rapper from NYC and I want people to know it. I am known for my songs celebrating my sexuality, love of hairy, muscle daddies, and getting the party lit! I feel Ban2oozle is an album that you can listen to from beginning to end and not have to skip a track. Ban2oozle basically means “I’m back, bitches!”
Your video serves as a bit of an homage to A-Ha’s iconic “Take On Me” video. What inspired that direction?
While I am extremely involved in the direction, sound and production value of my music, I haven’t had the same voice in the videos I’ve released. Because the Ban2oozle album signifies my comeback, it was important to me that the video not only has high production value, but was also more artistic and memorable.
I grew up with ‘80s music and when the MTV Top 20 Video Countdown was something you watched religiously. When you mention videos like “Beat It,” “Like a Virgin,” “Sweet Dreams,” and A-Ha’s “Take on Me,” people can immediately pull up the vision of the video in their minds. I wanted this video to be the same way. The effects that were done in the A-Ha video — the rotoscoping which made the comic book drawings “move” — were ridiculously ahead of its time, and I felt like I wanted to create something that makes people say “I need to watch that video again!”