Artist Feature: In the Mix with JAYEMKAYEM
Josephine Cruz, better known as JAYEMKAYEM, is a Toronto-based DJ, writer and radio host. For years, Josephine has played at venues around North America, opening sets for Playboi Carti at Montreal’s Apartment 200 and spinning alongside SOSUPERSAM at Echoplex in Los Angeles. Josephine’s eclectic style of Hip Hop and R&B to Grime and UK Garage has brought crowds to the dance floor night after night. Ahead, listen to an exclusive JAYEMKAYEM x Heroine mix and read more about Josephine's upbringing and creative processes.
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For those unfamiliar, who are you and what do you do?
I'm JAYEMKAYEM, sometimes known as Josephine Cruz. Although it feels super cliche to list a million job titles these days—I make my living as a DJ, writer, music curator, brand consultant and radio entrepreneur in Toronto.
What was your upbringing like? When did you get introduced to making music?
I feel very lucky because I had a pretty interesting upbringing: I was born in the UK and spent my childhood in Hong Kong. I went to an international school and was exposed to a lot of different cultures and ways of life. During my schooling, I learned how to read music and play a mandatory instrument, which was pretty dope thinking about it.
I was learning music and playing instruments including the violin, flute and the tuba from a young age. My parents didn't play instruments but they were into music, and all my five siblings can play at least one instrument— I guess we are kind of a musical family.
How have your mixes evolved over time? How would you describe your style?
I think my style is very much a melange of all my influences. I came up around a lot of hip hop and battle DJs, so I have a lot of love and appreciation for turntablism, scratching and tricks. As I started DJing I started to be really inspired by house and techno DJs, their mixing is technical in a different way, a lot of lengthy blends and harmonic mixes.
Even though I primarily play hip hop now I try to incorporate some of that looping and blending into what I do. I don't consider myself a very technical DJ but I aspire to be known for great selection and clean mixes.
You’ve opened for artists such as Playboi Carti and Skepta and spun alongside figures like Venus X. When curating your music selection, do you keep the audience in mind? What is the creative process like?
It's so much fun to open for artists because it's really just about creating a great vibe and warming the audience up before the artist hits the stage. As long as you're not playing any of that artists music (or any artists they might have beef with) then it's up to you to get people hyped.
Opening for DJs is a bit harder because you want to do the same while still saving some of the bangers for the headliner; it's a huge opener no-no to play the biggest hits of the moment in your set.
I always try to keep the audience in mind, at the end of the day it's your job as a DJ to create a great experience for them. When I'm organizing music for a night I want it to be a mix of some well-known stuff that people can sing along to because dance floor karaoke is amazing, and balancing that out with some new, unknown or forgotten gems. DJs should be helping the audience discover their next favourite song, or remember one that deserves it.
You've spun at 143 parties at Echoplex in LA and summer soirees at Le Bain in NYC. What's your dream venue?
Those are some of my favourite gigs I've ever done; big shouts to my girl Sosupersam and to Katie and Jules from Select Summer Fridays. I still have yet to DJ in London so I'm gonna have to go with XOYO.
You've been able to tap into a range of creative outlets, particularly writing. How did you transition from music to other mediums?
It took me a while to realize that all the things I do sort of have similar principles and are sort of an evolution of each other. Being a writer or editor gives you the ability to share things that you care about or you think are interesting; pulling all those things together in one place to create a story or ongoing narrative. DJing is much the same.
I think the next step in my career is to start producing my own events so that I can own more of the partygoers experience outside of just my DJ set, and eventually making my own music. Writing is my first love and while I always loved sharing others' stories but I knew I didn't always want to be behind the scenes. It's been a bit of a hard transition sometimes because I've always been the one writing about other people but now I have to try and make people want to write about me.
As a freelance creative, you manage your creative projects and have primary say in what you choose to do. What keeps you inspired to continue following your passions?
It's a bit of an unconventional answer, but what honestly keeps me inspired is the fear that I'll ever have to go back to working a job that I hate just to pay the bills. The last three years since I've been on my own have been super hard, super stressful at times, but ultimately so rewarding because I've been making it (sometimes just barely, not gonna lie) working on things that I care about or that I'm interested in. There is absolutely no shame in working a "regular" job or working for someone else, but for me personally becoming an entrepreneur felt like fulfilling a hunger that I had constantly been trying to satisfy. It's crazy difficult but I wouldn't change it for anything in the world.
You’ve showcased some of your most coveted sneakers on your Instagram, what are you top sneakers at the moment?
My forever go-to shoes are any of my Jordan 1s. Also in my current rotation are my Yeezy 500s, Air Max 270s, GOLF le FLEUR One Stars and these stripped-down Air Force 1s that my friends from Saintwoods designed. My most-lusted pair are basically any Off-White Nikes but especially the Converse Chuck Taylors. I've entered so many raffles for these Off-Whites and have yet to win one! I guess I'm just not meant to own a pair.
What are your favorite spots in the city?
In the summer I love Trinity Bellwoods or Christie Pits for parks; Queen Street West for strolling or people watching; Cold Tea for their Sunday patio parties; a party called Yes Yes Y'all for dancing and sweating. Some of my favorite restaurants are Imanishi, La Carnita, Patois, Rasta Pasta, Buk Chang Dong for Korean tofu soup and a new spot called Soso Food Club. In the winter my favorite spot is being at home with my boyfriend and our cat, Ackee. Winters are no joke here!
Where can we find you spinning this summer?
This summer is going to be a doozy; I'm trying to DJ on as many rooftops and patios as possible before September hits. You can find me at Apt 200 on the first and third Saturdays of the month, and other than that it's always somewhere different. Coming up I have a bunch of events during NXNE which is one of our big local music festivals, and also for Pride at an outdoor stage.