Date of Interview: 01/19/2010
As the newest addition to Beluga Heights Records, IYAZ is following in the footsteps of Sean Kingston to become one of the Caribbean’s greatest musical exports. With the release of “Replay,” Keidran Jones has experienced chart-topping success in Australia, Britain and the United States—conclusively cementing his status as an international superstar.
Straddling the lines of hip-hop, pop and R&B, IYAZ has found a welcome home in the hearts of a diverse swath of music lovers, who have embraced his curse-free music and care-free persona. On March 30, 2010, he will release his debut – My Life – via Warner Music Group.
In the midst of a promotional tour for My Life, IYAZ managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on the industry’s growing appreciation of Island music, his artistic responsibilities as a “role model” for youth, and his admiration of Bob Marley and Wyclef Jean.
Clayton Perry: With your music, you have made a concerted effort to make sure that your lyrics are curse-free? There are few male rappers that take that kind of stand. In fact, the only person that immediately comes to mind is Will Smith.
IYAZ: I just felt that that was the way I wanted to go. I hate to see young kids cursing. I don’t want them to be singing the words of my song and using cursing words non-stop. So I just try to keep my music curse-free, so that everybody can sing it and there’s nothing bad that anyone can say about it.
Clayton Perry: Is it safe to assume that you feel that artists have a certain responsibility for the images and lyrics they present to the public?
IYAZ: I think every artist should feel that way. Not just myself. In everything I do, no matter what the song is, the rest of that message I want to get across, I’m trying to make it as positive as possible.
Clayton Perry: Your mom always kept you on your P’s and Q’s. Now that you are a grown man in your own right, what particular things do you think she still keeps you in check on?
IYAZ: She still keeps me in check on everything! [laughing] My mom doesn’t care how old I am. I’m not too old to get a butt-whooping! [laughing] She still calls me to make sure I say my prayers before I go to sleep [laughing]. She doesn’t play with that, you know? But she doesn’t really have to keep me in check though. I was brought up the right way, so I just stick to what I know from growing up.
Clayton Perry: Your government name is Keidron Jones. What’s the story behind your stage name?
IYAZ: Iyaz means “the boss,” the one in charge. That was actually my godfather’s name. And I used to be around him a lot. They called me “mini Iyaz,” but as you can see I’m not mini anymore. So there you have it, the big IYAZ.
Clayton Perry: What special bond did you and your godfather share?
IYAZ: Everywhere he went, I went. I wanted to be just like him. So I just gradually took the name from him.
Clayton Perry: Over the past decade, several Caribbean artists have exploded here in the States: Sean Paul, Rihanna and Sean Kingston, in particular. As a member of this Caribbean music invasion, why do you think a lot of American listeners have gravitated towards “island music”?
IYAZ: Island music is cultural music. It’s feel good music. You can’t help but listen to it. When people think of paradise and vacation, they think of the Islands, right? So, that’s why I think people tend to gravitate to it. It’s something different. Something special. And it’s not the typical stuff you hear every day, all day.
Clayton Perry: When did you really gravitate towards music? At what point did you determine that music-making is what you were born to do?
IYAZ: As far as I can remember, I always wanted to be involved in music. When I was in college, I was studying to do something in video. And I knew production. But I just wanted to be involved in music, no matter what it was. It could be recording. It could have been engineering. It could have been video. I could have been the artist.
Clayton Perry: So when you look back on your college experience, how did it enhance your artistic career? What skills did you develop during that time?
IYAZ: It helped me big time. I didn’t have to sit around and wait until I get in the studio to come up with great ideas. I could work outside the studio. I’m great at what I do, so I will sit down. If I have ideas, I’ll just record them into my laptop, engineer them — because I have a little program on my laptop — so I’ll just sit down, engineer them and then send them up to J. R. to see what he says. And then whatever he doesn’t like, I change. That way by the time I do get back to L.A. to record, there’s no sitting around trying to pick through ideas, or whatever. It’s just record, record, record and then get back on the road.
Clayton Perry: Now that you have signed with Beluga Heights and frequently collaborating with Sean Kingston and J.R. Rotem, what professional lessons have you learned from them? What’s the best advice they have given you?
IYAZ: The best advice that Sean gave me is “sleep when you die.” I have a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He told me you can’t just sit around and not work for it. You’ve made it this far, you’ve got to work hard to make sure you stay relevant and stay on top of the game. And as far as J. R., he’s just so creative and thinks outside of the box. What he does on the keyboard, I do with my voice. I tend to just take different elements of his creativity, his different vibes — I can’t even explain how he is, because he’s kind of weird! [laughing] It’s just how he is. I try mimic him when I want to be creative or when I have writer’s block.
Clayton Perry: You spent the bulk of 2009 on the road—touring in support of “Replay.” How do you keep your batteries charged when you are constantly traveling?
IYAZ: Music keeps me healthy, man. No matter how tired I am, just put some music on and I’m good. The second you stop playing music, I’m definitely going to fall asleep. Definitely. Like, I’ll be in meetings and whatever. The second they put music on, it’s, “Wow!” Because that’s the one thing that I love. I love performing. I love hearing music. That’s what I’m all about. I’m about making music, doing music, performing. That’s what I like. I don’t really get time to rest. And when I do get downtime, I’m just blasting music. Blasting off. That’s all I need.
Clayton Perry: So when you need to relax, what kind of music helps you stay in a chill mode?
IYAZ: I listen to a little bit of everything. Green Day, Rihanna, Lil’ Wayne. I listen to a little gospel. I listen to everything, man. Everything! [laughing]
Clayton Perry: As you criss-crossed the globe, how have you improved as a performer?
IYAZ: I used to reach out to the crowd, a lot, like you know, hands out touching the crowd and stuff. I don’t really do that too much. I started to notice that when I did that everybody would push forward and trample the people in the front. So, I try to be cautious when I do small, little stuff like that. At my show, I just wanted everyone to have a good time. I don’t want anyone to get hurt or nothing like that.
Clayton Perry: This past week, “Replay” became the number-one single in the U.K. How does it feel to have your work validated by an international audience?
IYAZ: It feels good, you know? I just visited for the first time, like a week ago. And in that first time being there, that’s when my record went to the top of the charts. So I actually found out when I got there. They announced it at my first interview, then they announced it live on the radio. The U.K. fans, they all love me, support me just as much as my U.S. fans support me. And it feels great to know that. It definitely, definitely feels good.
Clayton Perry: Although your album has not been released yet, I had the chance to hear “Breathe,” which is my favorite tracks out of your catalog. What details can you share about that particular song?
IYAZ: “Breathe” is actually one of the songs that I got signed off of. That’s what Kara DioGuardi – who brought me to Warner – that’s one of the songs she loves. Pretty much, in that song, I was talking about me being in love with my best friend. In all my songs, I tend to write about stuff that I’m going through, and that was happening to be one of the things that I was going through at that point in time. So we’re talking about me having a girl and I’m trying to explain to her and tell her I’m actually in love with my best friend because I knew my best friend before I actually knew my girl.
Clayton Perry: I’m not sure if you ever get the chance to travel back home [to the British Virgin Islands], but when you do get to travel back home, what has the response been like?
IYAZ: Back home, it’s crazy! You’d think that I was Michael Jackson or something! [laughing] It’s 100 percent love. They definitely love what I’m doing for the Islands and want to see me go far.
Clayton Perry: Do you feel any pressure being a role model for your country?
IYAZ: There is pressure, but I’m not really trying to be a role model. I’m actually trying to do what I love to do, which is make music. So that comes first before anything. Like I said, I try to keep my music positive. I try to keep it curse free music. As you can see, everything I do is for music, because I love music. Music comes first. I love recording music for me, first.
Clayton Perry: When you were growing up, which artists did you consider to be your biggest musical influences?
IYAZ: I used to look up to Bob Marley and Wyclef [Jean]. I listen to them a lot.
Clayton Perry: What about those two men do you most admire?
IYAZ: Just the way that they can carry themselves. They were both doing something positive. They were both making good music. Had a great following. People looked up to them greatly and the music that they were making was world music. I love to make world music. That makes it feel good and change people, like people still know the power of music. But they may not know how powerful music is. Music is like good medicine.
For more information on IYAZ, visit his official website: http://www.iyazmusic.com/