In the summer after his first year of college, Jovani Reyes returned to his hometown with a sense of indifference. His old life in Deptford, New Jersey felt frozen in an awkward transition.
“I went to college where I developed new friends and became a new type of person. Then, I came back home and tried to reestablish connections with old friends, but we’ve gone different ways,” he explains. “Everything that you once knew just fades.”
During that summer, Reyes, better known as J-Rey, channeled his experiences into his latest mixtape, appropriately titled Fading.
“We don’t really have stuff like this out in Jersey,” he admits as we walk through the Chicago Cultural Center. J-Rey and his brother Johaun are visiting Chicago to meet their great-grandfather who lives on the Southside. During their trip, we caught up with J-Rey to talk about Fading, his New Revolution team, and his dream of making music underwater.
The sheer act of releasing Fading comes as a big feat for J-Rey after overcoming his own self-consciousness. Following a year of recording virtually no new material, he pushed these last few months to make something for himself.
“The reason why I didn’t make music that whole year in college,” he realizes, “is because I was making music for the wrong reason. I wasn’t really appreciating what I was making.”
One of the standout tracks on Fading, “Gotta Do What You Gotta Do,” exemplifies J-Rey at his most introspective. He reflects on old friends and how they all went in their separate directions. It’s a personal story, but he raps about it in a way that allows anyone who’s listening to relate.
The absence of any other featured rappers on Fading sets it apart from most mixtapes being released—a conscious decision by J-Rey to make the project more personal: “I did it to show my versatility, to show that this is me.”
But just because there aren’t any features on Fading doesn’t mean J-Rey works alone. He acknowledges, “if I’m gonna go up, I’m gonna bring people up with me that I feel are passionate with their craft.” This mentality forms the basis behind New Revolution, a collective of artists and friends. With multiple photographers, painters, and other rappers making up the 12-person roster, the group has just scratched the surface of what J-Rey envisions.
“The goal for New Revolution is to put us on a more positive road. Nothing’s gonna happen overnight, but we’re willing to bring millions of people together.”
We explore what seems like an endless flight of stairs until we finally reach a balcony at the top of the Cultural Center. J-Rey peers down over the marble ledge as we look around for a place to sit. Eventually, we settle down on top of a dusty radiator vent in a corner of the room where I ask him about his plans for the future.
“I wanna potentially make an EP with all live instrumentation,” J-Rey tells me. It’s an ambitious idea, but it almost seems mild compared to what he says next.
“If I make it big, I wanna go in a submarine for six months and make a whole album underwater. Then, I wanna go in the woods and build my own cabin. No outside influences, no distractions.” While he admits he’d never want to reach Frank Ocean levels of invisibility, J-Rey has no problems with disappearing for the sake of his music.
We find an elevator down to the main entrance where J-Rey’s family waits for him outside. On the short ride, he talks about the day Fading came out. He had invited some friends and family over to his house for a listening party. When it finally came time to drop the mixtape, he was surprised by the overwhelming amount of people that came out to support him.
“That’s when I realized I’m gonna push myself even harder now. Whenever I drop something, I wanna bring people back together again.” For J-Rey, this moment served as a turning point. He had been apathetic toward sharing his music in the past, but now he can only see its potential. We say a quick goodbye as he joins his family for one last dinner in Chicago; then, he’s headed back to New Jersey, eager to get back to work.
Listen to Fading by J-Rey here.