You may know some of Justine Skye‘s famous friends or see her grace the cover of a magazine, but the 22-year-old is looking to shift the narrative and become primarily known for her music. The first step in flipping the script was crafting the perfect debut album, ULTRAVIOLET, which released on all major music marketplaces Friday (Jan. 19). It wasn’t easy for the Brooklyn native to get to this point, though.
The original process, which Skye describes as resembling a “science project,” began back in 2016 and came together sonically in about a year. That was until JAY-Z‘s right-hand man at Roc Nation, Ty Ty, somberly asked, “Do you think your album’s done?” — “With the straightest face ever,” recalls a humbled Justine. “My slightest bit of hesitation let me know I’m not that confident in this right here.”
It was back to the drawing board for Justine and her team, who scrapped the original album in its entirety. Skye knew there wasn’t an authentic emotional connection established with the outside collaborators she’d been working with. The Emotionally Unavailable artist then brought in the pens of PARTYNEXTDOOR and Prince Charlez. She committed to building a rapport, while linking up with producers such as Hit-Boy, Fred Ball and Yung Berg.
Billboard caught up with the Purple Unicorn on the eve of her debut album’s release to talk creating ULTRAVIOLET, getting emotional in the studio while recording “Heaven,” and the impact Missy Elliott, Beyoncé and Aaliyah had on her childhood.
Billboard: What was your mindset when you were going into recording the project?
Justine Skye: I started working on the album as soon as I signed with Roc Nation. Initially, I was going into the studio with a bunch of people I didn’t really know like that and it kind of felt like a science project. It sounded great, but something was missing.
We literally scrapped all the songs we had and started super clean. Then, I got to actually get to know the people I was working with. I felt that was the part of it that was missing for me. I got to get to know PARTYNEXTDOOR. I went to Hit-Boy‘s crib and recorded a song. Vibed out with Fred Ball, who did “Love On The Brain” for Rihanna and Prince Charlez, who I worked with in the past, but now we finally have a song together.
I got to work with some well known people and some who were pretty new. Austin Powers did the first track “Wasteland,” and now I developed a relationship with these people to the point I can hit them up and be like, “Yo, let’s get in and vibe out.” So that’s something I look for when I’m working.
What was the inspiration behind the title, ULTRAVIOLET?
The title came about from, obviously, my hair’s purple. It’s like, the theme of my whole life. There’s no crazy reason why, but it makes me comfortable. Throughout the different shades of purple ultraviolet is the most vibrant and I feel it exudes a level of confidence I’ve discovered since recording this album, which is me becoming aware of my relationships.
Obviously, this album is about a guy. Something I’ve learned being 22 now, as a young woman, I’m understanding it’s not always going to be perfect. I feel like this album is a rollercoaster of that situation.
What do you hope to accomplish with your debut album?
I hope it makes people feel, one, that they just fuck with it all together and, two, for women to be more confident and take more control in their relationships. That’s something I never used to do. I was that girl that would stop everything for someone. This is focusing on myself right now. Obviously, I still need some love and affection, but I’m young. I don’t need to be that invested in a relationship.
How would you describe the journey each song will take listeners on?
Some of the songs on there are pretty sad and straight forward. “Best for Last” is like, “We’re young, you’re going to do your thing and I’m going to do mine, but I know you save the best for last, that you will come back and find me when you’re ready.” It’s sad, but that’s the mindset you have to have these days. Something I don’t like to do is set myself up for failure, which I’ve done multiple times in the past. This album is about me understanding the game.
What was PARTYNEXTDOOR’s involvement with the album?
He wrote “Good Love” and “You Got Me.” “Good Love” was the first song we did together, which I was really nervous to do because it was different for me. We talked a little bit and I was telling him about my boy drama, that’s what I like to do and unfortunately is all the drama that happens in my world. He says, “Number one, Justine, you’re fire and one of the baddest bitches in the game. You need to start acting like it and be more confident in yourself. Me hearing you tripping over guys — we don’t need to do that anymore.” We came up with “Good Love,” where I’m being more aggressive, like, “You pull up.”
[PARTYNEXTDOOR] is really quick with it. He just goes in there and vibes off of whatever energy you give him. It was time for me to get in the booth and I was hesitant about it. Am I a rapper? He goes, “Justine, do you trust me?” I’m like “Yeah, I do.” I got in there and he said, “Stop singing. Add some emotion to it. I’m not feeling you right now.” He literally got into the booth with me and started doing this weird dance and said, “You need to do this dance and then you’ll feel it.” He’s very hands on. I tried to do a little tweaking to [the song] and he freaked out. [Laughs.]
Let’s get into your second single, “Back for More.” Why did you enlist Jeremih? And take me through the video featuring Rotimi — you brought it back to Brooklyn.
I chose [Jeremih] because I think he’s a dope artist and I also think our voices sound well together. I’m definitely a huge Jeremih fan.
I definitely had to take the video back to Brooklyn. A lot of people don’t know I’m from there, and I wanted to get that point across. I haven’t shot a video in Brooklyn, too. I got Rotimi because I wanted an actor. I knew there was going to be some improvisation, there was no script. I wanted someone to work off of, because the next day I was going on set to shoot a movie.
I wanted someone that could help me. I was nervous when I knew I had to be in bed with a guy, because I’m that awkward girl. Honestly, he made me feel super-comfortable, and when the video was going, we were cracking jokes the whole time.
What’s it like having Laurieann Gibson as your creative director?
It’s great having someone who’s so passionate on my team and that wants to see me win and pushes me to be better. I used to tell her, “I’m not a dancer.” [Laurieann Gibson] is like, “No, you’re a dancer. You have rhythm and you’re Jamaican, and we’re going to find that in you.” In my head, I’m a dancer, but I’m clumsy as hell.
I didn’t want to embrace it and call myself a dancer, because we have the Tinashe, Beyoncé and Teyana Taylors of the world, who really kill it. I feel like there’s different levels of dance. Laurieann told me to stop doubting myself and putting myself in this “I can’t do it” [mindset], and go out and try. I feel like self-doubt is something a lot of us struggle with in our lonesome.
Take me through “Heaven,” which was produced by Fred Ball. It’s definitely one of the darker tracks on the project.
The Roc Nation connection is how a lot of things got started. Having Omar Grant as your A&R definitely helps too — he has a lot of connections. Prince Charlez wrote the track. I worked with him a lot before, but we never kept the songs. It’s the most vulnerable song on the album. I think I cried while recording it, because I was in a bad place in my relationship and I was kind of hesitant on doing it.
I thought I could be setting myself up, and thought it could be bad for me. I did it, and it helped make me more aware: “You have that power to hurt me.” I feel that it woke me up. I’m so happy I put it on there. Every time I perform it or sing it out loud it’s kind of cathartic.
Does it bother you when music fans know you for a magazine cover or Instagram photo rather than your music? How do you plan to combat that to make your music come first?
It one thousand percent bothers me, to the point it made me doubt myself. Throughout the process of this album I thought, “What is this? Do I even want to put an album out?” It’s definitely something I struggle with. For this year I’ve decided I’m not just going to dwell on that and shift the narrative.
I’m already where I am and that’s not a bad place. Some say, “Justine needs to put out more music.” If you actually paid attention, I’ve put out tons of music. More then your favorite artist, probably. It’s just about doing more music-related things and that’s something I have to work on.
Looking back at when you took a knee while performing the National Anthem during a Brooklyn Nets game back in October, did you believe it would have that big of an impact?
Everyone was like, “Who is that girl? Why is it important that she took a knee? People in New York knew, but it reached so many different levels of news. For the first 25 minutes after I did it I was like, “Oh my god.” Not a “Why did I do it?” though, because I don’t regret it.
I just didn’t think it would reach that many people. I had to take a step back from the hate and realize there’s so many people that do support what I did. It wasn’t wrong at all. Everyone that thinks it was disrespectful doesn’t get it, and they never will. I’m very proud of it and my family and friends were proud of me, and I’d do it again. Only my stylist, who is my best friend, knew I was going to do it.
How much did Missy Elliott, Beyoncé and Aaliyah impact your childhood?
Those are definitely the big three. Those are influences for a lot of girls in my generation, especially when it comes to the sound of the music or their style. Aaliyah really put on for the tomboyish essence. They shifted the culture of the typical R&B sound. Missy Elliott is just adventurous when it comes to her videos and fashion she’s quirky and music. That’s definitely someone I look after when it comes to what I do.
Beyoncé is just Beyoncé. If you don’t love Beyoncé, you’re a hater. She’s ten steps ahead as well when it comes to setting trends on how we do things — like releasing a surprise album, the full length visuals. It’s almost like I have to do this before Beyoncé does it. She’s the epitome of an entertainer in every aspect. She’s definitely someone I look up to.
I saw you tweeting about how much of a fan you are of the show Grown-ish. Does that make you wish you went to college?
I just want to say my little sister should not be watching that show at age 13. I’m not ready to be having those conversations. I’m like, “Should I have gone to college? I kind of want to go there.” Luka Sabbat is one of my best friends — he’s like my brother. It’s so crazy he gets to play and style himself. Yara Shahidi was telling me, “He doesn’t even read the scripts. He just comes in and goes what am I doing? Okay cool.”
What’s next for you?
Definitely going on tour in March, so get ready for that. The goal for the rest of the year is to start working on a new project. I want to do my next project in London. I love London and I feel like there’s a lot for me to explore out there. I can just be ten times more focused out there. I have a whole label out there and they’re ready for me.