By Harrison Slaughter, Sports editor
As the voice comes through the speakers, it is difficult not to hear the hope in the words that describe such hopeless events in a person’s life. It is even more difficult to not sense the determination behind that voice.
“I suffer from a lack of spiritual strength. I deal with the pain until I let it spill on the page. A lot of layers to my soul slowly peeling away. I kneel when I pray, but God doesn’t feel what I say,” Jus, hip-hop artist, flows over a quiet beat on the opening track titled “Spill” on his latest mixtape So To Speak.
Jus works full time as a residential counselor at Eliada Homes, a psychiatric residential treatment facility for kids, but his passion has always been music.
“I have always loved music. My mom had me pretty young and I remember her playing hip-hop records before she got into more contemporary adult music,” Jus said. “My dad would always play all the classics like Billy Joel and Pink Floyd around the house. They say that music is the universal language and it sounds kind of corny but it’s definitely true.”
He said he always knew he wanted to do something with music, whether it was playing an instrument or something else. He wanted to be able to put his own body of work out.
“I started writing poetry before I really started putting words to beats. I remember my teachers saying it was really good and I would impress my family with it. I would write poems around the holidays and send them as Christmas presents,” Jus said. “I have distinct memories of sitting in my room around the age of 10 or 11 and actually writing raps.”
His family didn’t have a computer, so he would go to his friend’s house and download instrumentals and rap over the beats, Jus said.
It was instant love.
Jules Baxter, hip-hop artist and Jus’ best friend, said he met Jus in 2007 around the time he was dropping his first mixtape, Blown Possibilities, and he knew Jus was anything but ordinary.
“I had an apartment in New Haven at the time and we just started hanging out. There are so many corny artists that when you meet a real one that you really click with, you really go in deep with them,” Baxter said. “Jus told me he was coming out with an album and he wanted me to be on it. I was on two tracks and we have been friends ever since.”
Baxter said he met Jus very briefly before they got into music together and didn’t think they had much in common, but the music brought them together, and that led him to realize their similarities.
There was a period of sustained success after this with a group they created together called Crunchhouse Records where drugs weren’t an issue, Baxter said.
“I started smoking weed and experimenting with gateway drugs pretty early. I smoked weed for a while in college. I would do a little coke here and there and roll on ecstasy. I was never afraid to try a drug,” Jus said. “Pills were a really big thing where I’m from in Connecticut. They were a big money maker. You could get 180 Percocet 30s from an old lady with a terminal illness trying to make a quick buck for 10 bucks a pop and then flip them for $25 to $30 apiece.”
This was when Jus started getting into selling pills for extra money.
“I never tried them for a long time because I would see kids pretty much sell their souls for a little blue pill. I was in a relationship at the time and it was really like my first love. The relationship started to go really downhill,” Jus said. “Me and my buddy were driving to the bar and he started breaking up a few lines in my car. I didn’t even ask him what it was. I had a lot on my mind just going through trials in the relationship. I sniffed it and I felt like a million bucks.”
Jus found out later that what he had snorted was a Percocet 30. He said his first thought was that he might have found what he had been looking for.
It was instant love.
“I started doing them more and more. The thing about it is that once you start to do so much, you build up a tolerance,” Jus said. “If you try to stop doing them then you get sick. You go through withdrawal. It became so expensive that instead of selling them, I started doing them all.”
Heroin became a much stronger, cheaper alternative. Jus said he tried heroin for the first time and that was it. He knew it had him in its grips.
“That stuff really does steal your soul. It really is the devil,” Jus said.
For the first little while, the drugs didn’t affect his music, he said. After some time went by, though, the drugs really started to overshadow the music. He wanted to get high more than he wanted to write music.
“At first it would help me write music, but then I got to the point where I couldn’t get out the bed without doing some heroin. Eventually I stopped making music altogether,” Jus said. “It would be very sporadic. I’d write a song maybe once every couple of weeks as opposed to every day like before. Then it became once a month, then every couple of months and finally I went about a year and a half where I didn’t even put a pen to the pad.”
Jus became a person he never wanted to be after this. His parents kicked him out and he started to lose trust of his family and closest friends, he said.
“I became a really sorry excuse for a man. Once you lose your passion, it’s just really the worst feeling ever,” Jus said.
He made several trips in and out of rehabilitation facilities after this, but nothing seemed to stick, Jus said. He knew he had to hit his rock bottom.
“I was trying to do it by myself and I couldn’t get it right. I would go a week or a few days and be like, ‘I’m good. I could use today.’ Once you find out the real process of addiction, you can’t use like a normal person. You can’t go out to the bar and drink like a normal person. You can’t just have a little fun every once in a while. That’s not how it works. That addiction will never stay dormant. You really have to work at it everyday.”
Jus’ mom told him about her friend’s son, Cooper, who had problems with addiction and moved to North Carolina to get clean through a treatment program.
“My parents presented me with an opportunity. I hit rock bottom. I had no money left. I was feeling terrible. They told me they would send me down to North Carolina to get clean and start a new life,” Jus said. “I decided to go and the rest is history. It’s been a blessing. It the best move I’ve ever made in my life.”
Music is a feeling to Jus. At first it was very difficult to write any music at all, he said.
When he first got clean, he said it took a while for his emotions to come back.
“I don’t want to say I felt dead for the first few months, but I just wasn’t myself. I was still in the process of getting back to being able to feel happiness and feel pain without putting something into my body. I was numbing all my emotions for years,” Jus said. “I knew it would come back. It took a little longer than I liked.”
One day, he said he decided to write some music. He wrote a couple songs that he didn’t think were that good.
“After that I really started getting dialed back in. I started writing every day. I started getting inspired. Things would happen in my life and I would break out my phone and make a little note to write about this or that later,” Jus said.
Chris “Biff” Rodden, executive producer on So To Speak, heard of Jus through a website Rodden used to run called College Rap Up.
“Jus submitted a video for his song titled ‘Let’s Get It,’ and I watched it and the way he was doing his syllables where every single syllable rhymed. I was just like, ‘whoa, who is this kid?’” Rodden said. “I hit him up and I ended up going to see a couple of his shows and we have been friends ever since.”
Jus has always had good lyrics, but the content is different, Rodden said. He likes how he talks about his relationship with his family. It’s driven more so by his past experiences and where he’s at now.
It has been a different experience being clean and writing music, but it has been good. Jus said he thinks that you can tell in the music.
“The So To Speak project is kind of touching on all the trials and tribulations that I went through while I was struggling so the content is still a little down tempo, but it definitely has a positive tinge to it. When I was writing before, a lot of the content was like ‘fuck this’ and ‘fuck my life,’” Jus said. “Now it’s like I went through this, but it built character and I’m actually looking forward to the future now. I’m looking forward to seeing where my music can take me. I’m looking forward to meeting a girl and raising a family.”
His new life is better than anything he could have imagined. It is definitely better than waking up and only looking forward to getting high, Jus said.