by Gus Marshall
Lady Jay The Musical Poetress is a contemporary folklorist and modern day story teller who chooses to communicate her truth through the medium of musical poetry.
Self-reflective poems, unabashed and extremely personal, are front and center on Lady Jay’s new album, The BrainBox. Production that runs the gamut from guitar-heavy arena rock, to neo-soul electronica, lays the groundwork for Lady Jay’s powerful message of self-love, perpetual struggle, and soul-filled resilience. Paired with befitting backing tracks produced by Lady Jay’s husband Allen Hunter (also known as “AFlat”), The BrainBox takes the listener on a theatrical journey.
Lady Jay will debut her new album at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on Oct. 11, alongside an all-woman cast of singers, dancers and actors, who will be bringing her poetry to life on stage. Guest hosting and also performing that night will be on-the-rise Seattle soul sensation Tiffany Wilson, as well as a lineup of stellar supporting acts, including Keasha Beard, Omega and Push4Luv. All proceeds from ticket sales and donations will directly benefit three causes important to Lady Jay and her community: low income housing, local diversion programs, and youth literacy and mentorship.
The South Seattle Emerald spoke with Lady Jay about her new album, discovering confidence through faith, and her work in the community.
Gus Marsall: How did you come up with the idea for Lady Jay The Musical Poetress?
Lady Jay: Wow, that’s such a good question. I’ll try to keep it short. Actually, I had a previous name, and because there was so much confusion with it, I decided to change it. Everyone knows me as Jay, especially through my ministry, so that was a super easy transition. Being a musical poetress has always been a part of what I have done.
GM: How long did the album take, from inception to release?
LJ: Three years; it was such a labor of love. This album is truly coming from a place where people who are going to experience it are really going to see what it was like for me within my struggle. And what I mean by that: I don’t mean just a struggle as having a bad day. I mean the struggle of a long time, years and years of pain, disappointment, being let down, having your expectations up and on 10, and then they come down to one. Being left, being found. It was definitely conceived out of a really bad divorce.
So what people hear when they listen to The BrainBox album, what they’re gonna get is something that is really transparent, something that is really authentic and honest, which is a big deal to me. Something that is going to awaken them and disturb them. It is going to awaken people to how they really feel, and give empowerment to confront what they are going through; so they can really get healed and be able to get set free from it, and really begin to triumph, even in the midst of their pain.
GM: The production of this album really seems to drive home the feel and message of each track. Which came first, the poetry, or the music?
LJ: The poetry came first, and it was totally on accident with the music: when I say that, I really mean that. I was divorced at the time, and I have written poetry since I was 12 years old, so writing is not a stranger at all. The poetry was just lying there, and I actually had a guy call me and say, “Hey, I see that you are an author. Do you do poetry?” I said yes, and then he said, “Would you mind coming to my club to read some poetry?” That was totally out of the blue. So I did it that night acapella, and fell in love with the energy and the crowd. And I met my now-husband, who is a producer, and has produced some of the biggest names in the business: Chris Brown, Smokey Robinson, I mean it goes on and on. So we met, and he said, “Hey, I have some tracks I am doing nothing with, let’s put it together.” And that’s how they came together.
GM: The poetry on your album is very personal. Were you always this confident in sharing your inner struggles with strangers and audiences?
LJ: I wasn’t. Like many people I have faced a lot of self doubt. Like you hear in my poem, “Self Saboutage,” I say, “Why can’t I let myself be great?” And for me that is very real, because I was at a point where I saw everyone’s greatness, but I had no greatness of my own that I saw. I had no vision for my life. I was 17 when I had my daughter, I got pregnant and just thought I would be another African-American young lady with a child, with nothing else going for her. I didn’t go to college right away, I thought I was too dumb to do so.
So it was that pain that built the story behind these lyrics. But the confidence came from changing my life, finally getting my degrees. Now I am on my fourth degree, getting my second masters, and really finding my strength in life. And my daughter going to college actually helped me realize that if I have raised her to do it, surely there is something in me that can make it myself.
GM: Who do you feel your target audience is for BrainBox, and who do you hope to impact with your musical poetry?
LJ: The first thing is the youth, hands down, that is my target audience. I initially thought that it would be “older” young ladies that would get it. And when I say older, I mean the ages from about 24 to about 29. But I come to find out that I have a lot of audiences that are nine years old that are getting the message. And I was mind-blown over that, because you think that it is going to reach one segment, but I have, nine-, 11- and 12year-olds coming to me, and saying, “Hey this hit me.” And I am thinking just girls, and then I had to back up, because I have been able to perform in front of both boys and girls, and the boys found it just as powerful. So I think that my audience is gonna be ages nine to 99, because it is positive, and there is something for everyone on the BrainBox album.
GM: How does your faith factor into your poetry?
LJ: It’s everything. Let me tell you. You asked earlier, how can I stand so confidently, and be so transparent? It is because of my faith. I am willing to take the hit. This society has their own way of looking at people who are plus-size; you know I am a 5’10 plus-size woman, so you are not going to ignore me walking in the room. Just by size and height alone, having to have the confidence to share that, in a world that makes you feel like being a plus size woman is not okay, or that’s not the best look, or when you are by someone that is two times smaller than you. So I think that where I am right now, being able to stand in that confidence, realizing I am who I am, and walking in that is the best way.
GM: Can you tell me about your work with at-risk youth?
LJ: Yes. I actually had the privilege of working in a mentor-type capacity with young women this summer. That was so rewarding. I got to help them with things like resumes, and what to expect, and what can be done with their lives: where they can go and how far they can go. So that was really amazing. I also had the opportunity to volunteer with a diversion program called CHOOSE 180. They help people who have a minor criminal infractions, and this program gives them an opportunity to erase that one infraction, so they can start their lives again on the right foot. I have been doing a lot of work with them, and it has been so great to have an opportunity to sit with them and talk with them about their decision making. Talking with them about being honest with themselves, and living in that honesty so they can make better decisions for themselves, so it’s been really amazing.
The BrainBox album release benefit concert takes places at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 104 7th Ave. S. Lady Jay will hold a meet-and-greet from 7 p.m.-7:45 p.m. Performance runs from 8 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. The cost is $15-$30. All ticket proceeds will be donated to the Low Income Housing Institute, Choose 180, and Girls Educational & Mentoring Services.