Growing up in the tropical sunshine of Jamaica’s Montego Bay, this quartet had big dreams. Their days were brought to life with the Bay’s summer breezes carrying sun drenched melodies, and lyrics that captured their imaginations and ignited a common passion - the love of music. These four young men would begin an incredible journey that would take them from an island in the Caribbean to America where they signed to SRP [the people that discovered Rihanna].
It was at school in Mo’ Bay [as they call it] Orain ‘Shabbz’ Stewart, brothers Byron and Dru Barwise and Andrew ‘A.T.’ Thompson met. They spent hours honing their singing skills and harmonising while at church and discovered that the sum of their four voices was greater than the individual parts.
Dru shares, “When I was young I fell in love with a battered red keyboard that my brother found. The sound from it was crackled, but luckily the keyboard at my church produced a perfect sound. I started singing at church and from then on music became my girlfriend”.
The boys grew up in musical families, spending time at church singing the gospel music that influenced their lives. However, on the flipside, the boys’ spent equally as much time listening to the dancehall riddims of artists like Elephant Man, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man and the soulful honey coated ballads of Brian McKnight, Luther Vandross and, most of all, Boyz II Men.
“Music has always been a part of my life. My father sang and played on the guitar when I was growing up. Then one day I turned on the radio and heard Boys II Men and that’s when I knew that I wanted to do music” explains A.T.
At every opportunity the band performed - at local shows, school, church on the street corner, anywhere where they were together. They became known as J-Status. “The name J-Status came from Dru”, explains Shabbz, “we wanted something to represent us as a group but also represented who we were. People of Jamaican Status are who we are – J-Status.”
However it wasn’t until 2002 that the boys left the parish of St. James and headed for the promise of fame and fortune in the USA. With the help and guidance of mentor Trevor Biggs, they travelled through Philadelphia working with different producers and relentlessly gigging. Dismayed with the lack of promised recording deals, the band moved on and ended up in Port Chester, NY with a sack of failed productions and very light pockets.
A chance meeting soon proved to be their saving grace. They were introduced to the pastor at the Parkside Assembly of God Church. The church needed a band and J-Status needed jobs – this was kismet. They pitched in with everything to do with the church including being handymen! In return for this they received shelter and all the practice and instruments that they needed. “We were so relieved to have someplace to call home even if it was only the basement!” laughs Shabbz.
Things were on the up and J-Status were introduced to Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken at SRP Records who are best known for discovering and signing young R’n’B sensation Rihanna. “We needed a male verse on a Rihanna track called ‘Here I Go Again’, and the guys killed it!” recalls Rogers. The track became a firm favourite with fans across the world and featured on Rihanna’s multi-million selling album ‘Music of the Sun’.
J-Status have created an inimitable sound blending reggae, R’n’B and pop. It’s unmistakably addictive music which immediately caught the attention of Rogers & Sturken in a big way. “There’s really no group in the market place like this” states Sturken. “We loved the idea of them having their own lane”. Rogers and Sturken were blown away with the boys and didn’t hesitate in signing them.
Their captivating debut single ‘Roll’ which has been lifted from their debut album, is ready to bring the Mo’ Bay heat to clubs and airwaves in the summer. The band features on Rihanna’s brand new album. Their own album project, which will be released later in the Summer, includes an array of styles ranging from lovers rock reggae, to club bangers like ‘Roll’.
J-Status’ music is a rollercoaster ride of positive vibes and high energy marking a new era in R’n’B reggae.