At nine years old, Rockstar Payso was a homeschooled kid with a stutter and a father into gospel music. Maybe not the ideal candidate for a career in rap, but thanks to his experience acting and singing in a play, he realized that when he was performing, his speech impediment disappeared. "When I did this play, I’d remember all the lines and just perform that shit without stuttering at all," Payso says. "My mom was like, 'What the hell?'"
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Payso was homeschooled until eighth grade, and then he started bouncing around to different schools, including a Catholic school in Brooklyn and a military school in Virginia. Wherever he went, he stayed making music. Along the way, he won over new fans.
By the time he got to college, he'd developed a reputation. He won school-wide awards for his music before deciding to drop out. "I dropped out, but my producer finished," he explains, "so we linked up after and kept doing music and doing a bunch of shows. But it’s weird, because all these shows I was doing, it was with unreleased music. I did a whole summer performing unreleased songs."
After that summer, Rockstar Payso finally started putting out the music he'd been performing all summer, and that's when things clicked. If you're in New York and you like hip-hop, his is a name you've probably started hearing more frequently. If you haven't, you probably will soon.
First off, can you give us a little background? Where are you from, when did you get into music?
I’m from Brooklyn. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and I started rapping when I was nine years old. It was weird, because I was homeschooled for a long time, from the beginning of school to seventh or eighth grade, then I went to like four different high schools.
Why were you homeschooled?
My grandmother was a teacher in public schools all her life, and I guess she saw how public schools’ way of teaching wasn’t right. So she was like, “I’m just gonna homeschool my kids.” But it was cool because I didn’t do normal, regular shit as a kid. We would travel, go to Alaska, Mexico, Canada, and we’d go to all of these museums and explore and learn hands-on. It was creative, so wherever I went it was always different.
From there, I went to four different high schools. I went to a Catholic school in Brooklyn, a military school in Virginia, then I came back to Brooklyn. My senior year in high school I went to a boarding school in New Hampshire. But wherever I went, I always stuck with music. So everywhere I went, I kept getting fans or friends through music.
I’ve been hearing your name a lot, and it feels like you’re an artist who people are just now starting to really pay attention to. Why is that? Is it just timing and things building, or was there something that set that off?
all these shows I was doing, it was with unreleased music. I did a whole summer performing unreleased songs. After that, I started dropping it and the reaction was really crazy.
I think it’s a mixture of both. I was always doing music, but I never knew the outlets, like the blogs and how to get shows. When I went to college—I went to Five Towns College—that was when I really started to put my music out there to an audience and doing shows and getting a name in school. I got song of the year, album of the year, and I was in a group that got group of the year, things like that. So it all started off as me buzzing at school. Then I dropped out, but my producer finished, so we linked up after and kept doing music and doing a bunch of shows.
But it’s weird, because all these shows I was doing, it was with unreleased music. I did a whole summer performing unreleased songs. After that, I started dropping it and the reaction was really crazy.
I haven’t seen you perform yet, but I talked to a couple people who have and said the show is crazy. Is that natural for you?
It’s funny because before every show, I always get nervous. I don’t know why, I just always get nervous for some reason. As soon as I get on stage and start rapping, everything goes away. I’m just lost in the music and raging out. I just love being on stage.
Can you break down your name?
Bro, it’s crazy. I had a bunch of corny ass names. First it was J Boogie, but that was so wack. Then it was J Swag, so corny. Then it ended up being J Payso, because my first name is Joshua, so it was J Payso. But after a while, people just started saying Payso. So for a while it was just Payso. Then, just by continuing to rage and release all this crazy music, I changed it to Rockstar Payso, and after that it was just this whole new energy. So I stuck with that.
What does that word “rockstar” mean to you?
To me, when I first realized, “Yo I’m a rockstar,” I was in college and me and my friend were on acid and we were like, “Yo we’re rockstars. We do what we want. We rage out.” To me, it’s an attitude. Being a rockstar is about not caring what other people think about you and being yourself and doing what you want to do. Expressing yourself and not caring.
Being from New York, do you feel a connection to hip-hop history?
I definitely do. The songs that I do now are more of the Auto-Tuned and ragers, but when I first started making songs, I would just rap. I was just spitting. I love, love, love, love rap. Just because I’m from New York, it doesn’t mean I have to be a boom-bap type of person. Things change, and times change, but I still pay homage to all the dope emcees. I love hip-hop. I can still spit. I could give you bars.
Do you feel like there’s more support in New York, or is it more competitive?
I have a speech impediment. I couldn’t really speak well—I’d stutter a lot and speak fast. When I did this play, I’d remember all the lines and just perform that shit without stuttering at all. My mom was like, “What the hell?"
It’s both. The people I’m around have been supportive of me and I’ve been supportive of them. But in general in New York, it’s competition. I had a show in Detroit with my friend Sam Austins, he had his first hometown show and I came out to perform. The love and energy out there was so different. They embraced me. They were giving me super love and were so cool. In New York we have that, but it’s a different type of feeling. It’s more cutthroat. You have to be the best out of the best to get shown respect. But I like it though, because it brings you to be your best.
Who inspired you when you first started making music?
My first favorite rapper was 50 Cent. I was young, like 10 years old. 50 Cent and Lil Wayne were my first big influences in the beginning. My dad had a bunch of rap CDs, like JAY-Z's The Blueprint, but he didn’t really let me listen to them. I guess he went through spiritual stuff, and he started getting into Christian rap and gospel. He wanted me to be a Christian rapper, and it’s cool and I respect it, but it wasn’t me. I like the rawness.
What does your dad think of your music now?
It’s crazy because now he likes it. It’s funny to hear him like my music now, because it’s a bunch of wild shit, and it’s my dad. My dad’s hearing this shit like, “What the hell?” But he’s cool, he respects it. He’s honest. I have songs like “Coke” and “I Wanna Die” and he’s like, “Yo, what’s going on?” [Laughs] But it’s cool to sit down and explain the meaning behind my music. He supports, he comes to all the shows, he fucks with it.
What about outside of music? Do you have any big influences?
The reason why my mom even put me into performing arts school was because when I was nine, she put me in this summer camp where you do dance, acting, all that shit. At the end, there’s this big play in Manhattan, and I got casted to be the main role in the play. It was wild, because I have a speech impediment. I couldn’t really speak well—I’d stutter a lot and speak fast. When I did this play, I’d remember all the lines and just perform that shit without stuttering at all. My mom was like, “What the hell? He can’t even talk regular but he’s on stage singing, dancing, acting.” So I always loved acting. But I wanna focus more on music, because I don’t want to be scattered around. I want to focus on music and get that locked in. I still stutter now, but when I rap and when I’m stage, I don’t do it. It’s crazy.
What are your goals right now?
Right now, I just want to drop music. I spent a lot of time practicing and making music. Finding your sound is the most important part, and I spent a lot of time doing that, and performing. So now I want to start showing it. I want to start doing that, and pushing shit out nonstop. I haven’t been dropping that much content. I’ve just been setting everything up—I’ve got management, videographers, a distribution deal—and now I’m ready.
What about label deals?
It was just too early. I wanted to see what I could do myself. I had an offer before I had dropped any of these songs. As far as a label, it was just too early and I only had a few songs out. I didn’t want to limit myself from other opportunities and better shit. I had to tough it out and do it on my own.
Do you think about where you want to be in 10 or 20 years?
Long term, my goal is to do rock music. I want to branch off and slowly transform into legendary rock and roll. My name is Rockstar Payso, and I want to live behind that. I want to make classic rock songs and rock albums. I have really good energy, so I want to spread that energy and make classic shit.