The crowd hollers and claps as his band huddles in preparation for the first performance of the night at the 2013 Seawolves Showcase. He asks the audience to come up in front of the stage, then his band begins playing the melody for “Nighttime” from his album called “The Chase.”
It was another performance for Stony Brook University student and aspiring rapper, Justin Starling, who goes by the stage name JUS. For Starling, performances like these are important stepping stones for creating buzz around his music career, which he must balance alongside school life as a sophomore business major with a music minor.
“I’ve been doing this for five years now and I’m sticking to it. It is literally the chase for your dreams, it’s the chase for your desires,” Starling said about the meaning of his project.
His interest in music grew from his brother Demetrious, who had a past in the music industry as a producer before becoming a police officer for the NYPD. Demetrious gave Justin his start in 2009 as a freshman at Half Hollow Hills High School East by giving Justin a 49-key midi keyboard that he still uses and a music program called Reason. Since then, Demetrious has been supportive through his input on tracks and opening doors for his brother.
Described as a perfectionist by those close to him, Starling will hold off on revealing an idea for a beat until he feels comfortable sharing. That includes tracks that may be built upon later.
“He told me to never delete anything. If you make something, just keep it because you never know what you can do to make it hot,” Kavar “Var” Foster, a liberal arts major freshman at Farmingdale State College, said. He has produced for Starling since 2011.
There are natural drawbacks to the amount of time Starling can give to his music career, as he continues his schoolwork. But he still tries to make time for performances or radio interviews for his newest project called “The Chase,” which he released in August 2013.
“I thought he was just making beats at first,” Demetrious Starling, Starling’s older brother, said. “He’s like Peter Parker because he’s just a normal guy, but he puts on that suit, and it’s like, ‘who is that guy?’ That’s Justin and JUS.”
The 12-track album is Starling’s first tape composed of original music. Together with Demetrious, and his producer, Foster, Justin worked on the tape for over a year. It cost Starling about $1,000 for mixing and mastering, but that includes cost cut by doing the writing, producing and recording himself. Saving money was also part of the reason for making original music as opposed to sampling other artists’ music.
“That’s why I’ll always support him. I don’t know of no 19 year old kid that’s just ‘okay I’m gonna devote $1,000 of my hard earned money for this mixtape and hope that it makes money,’” Demetrious Starling said.
The question of Starling profiting from “The Chase” is uncertain because it was initially released for free on hip-hop mixtape websites like Datpiff. But, it was also offered on Bandcamp, a site generally used by new or indie artists to sell music, from which the profits go directly to the creators.
“I wanted to put it out for free, and if they like it, I appreciate that because that’s a big step. But if they want to take it another step after they like it and support it, I give them that option too,” Starling explained.
Starling has worked to create his own buzz through social media, including his StarlingProductions7 Youtube channel. He has learned that record labels look for artists with their own fan base before offering a deal. However, he feels content to stay independent, build his brand for now and keep his musical freedom. Still, that online presence has translated to opportunities like opening up for well known rappers, Meek MIll, Fabolous and French Montana at Westbury Music Theater through an independent music label Starling had previously been affiliated with.
But with buzz comes comparisons to other artists. For Starling, that rapper is Drake, whose distinct raspy voice has been the subject of comparisons to his own voice. For his part, Starling says he is taking it in stride as a new artist who will inevitably be compared to someone people are familiar with.
“I’m just like ‘I know you don’t mean anything by it,’ but me trying to make it as an artist, you can’t be mini-person or a comparison. You’ve got to be your own artist,” Starling said. “I feel like if they listen more, they’ll hear the differences.”