Justine Skye would be hopping on a plane headed to Jamaica just days after our conversation. Her family, who's Jamaican on both sides, owns property in the countryside and she regularly visits extended family. "I grew up going to Jamaica all the time," she tells Teen Vogue as we drive in circles around Soho in a tinted black Sprinter. "We have a house there, great properties. So we go…and it keeps my grandparents happy."
I get the feeling that going to Jamaica makes the 24-year-old musician happy too. Perhaps it serves as solace for a very public and often tiresome lifestyle of modeling and acting that hasn't stopped since she was 16. The singer is in her hometown of New York to promote her newest project, Bare With Me, a six-track extended playlist that cements her debut as an independent artist.
The story goes that after two years in high school, Justine (born Justine Indira Skyers) left to be homeschooled and focus on her music professionally. She gained notoriety on Tumblr in the pre-VSCO girl days of Alexis Ren and Staz Lindes. Her passion was always music, so in addition to YouTube covers she recorded a mixtape called Skye High, which got her signed to Atlantic Records and then Roc Nation.
Within a few years, she had gone from a virtually unknown aspiring artist to a purpled-haired "unicorn," spotted at high-end fashion events, attending exclusive parties, and reeling in friends such as the Jenners and Hadids.
But sitting in an air-conditioned van on a (very) hot August afternoon, listening to Justine speak thoughtfully about her career direction, one quickly realizes that she's much more than a Coveteur photo shoot.
"Over the course of my career, I feel like I lost that authenticity because I was so caught up in trying to chase that radio sound that the labels want you to get," Justine reveals. "They don't really care if you connect to it or not. I remember I walked into a session and the producer was just like, 'Yeah, they come to me for the hits, it doesn't really matter who's singing it, when they sing it, what they're singing about — you want a hit song, you come to me.'"
Her last album with Roc Nation in 2018, Ultraviolet, was filled with heavily produced tracks about sexual trysts and Rihanna-influenced cadences — it was called "forgettable R&B" by the Guardian. She was visible but sounded lost. Around the same time, she was also dealing with her ex-boyfriend, Sheck Wes, a rapper who allegedly abused her and denied it publicly. Justine opened up about it more at the end of 2018, saying she didn't want to reveal his name because "people don't care." She would later call Sheck out after an alleged incident with her friends and boyfriend, GoldLink.
This rollercoaster of a career — the highs and lows — reveals itself in the Bare With Me EP; a title perfectly fit for a young woman who has taken her time to find her own voice. The song's first track, "Too Much" is an uptempo groove about coming to terms with a lover's true identity.
"Know I be trippin', almost fallin' in love / Ignorin' the signs / All the above / Thought it was different but it's only because / You caught me slippin'/ I'm the one trippin' 'cause," the lyrics read.
Her strongest tracks on the new project are where she leans into her Caribbean roots with "Secrets" and "Bulletproof," laced with calypso instrumentation. "Fav," "When You're Ready," and "Maybe" are pure R&B slow grooves overflowing with emotion.
Bare With Me is concise, sweet, genuine, and intentional. In two words, it's: very Justine.
"Whenever I tell people I'm independent, their first reaction is, 'Congratulations,' and I'm just like, 'Wow,'" Justine shares about the leap to invest in herself by leaving her label. "Back in the days, after that [you'd get], 'Oh, you got dropped.'"
Adding, "No, I didn't get dropped. I left. Normally, when you're not with a label and you're trying to be an artist in the past…it was like impossible. You're not successful. You can't be. It's like, what do you think you're doing — now, it's good for you. Now you can really, really dive into your true self, you don't have so many suits on top of you telling you what you need to do."
Free and unbound by popular approval is a look that fits Justine best.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue