Staying Vintage with LI Rapper Edward “JJ” Jones

By Amy Nicole Tangel

From the day Long Island rapper Edward “JJ” Jones began his career he said it has been a mission to make music his life, while always staying true to himself and trying to help others. Even with all the challenges faced in 2020, he has continued to be an evolving artist with new projects on the way.

In the past two decades, JJ has worked non-stop releasing more than a dozen records and his list of artist collaborations is countless.  His first release came in October 2009 with the title, “Welcome to Lindenhurst,” which pays tribute to his roots. His CD was first sold at Looney Tunes in West Babylon, N.Y. where you can still pick up copies of his work today.  His most recent release, “The Untitled” came along in October 2020, and he is not stopping there as he is already in the studio working on his next album.  JJ said even after all these years, he will never forget the most amazing feeling walking into Looney Tunes and seeing his CD’s right there.

“That kind of catapulted everything that I created for myself, which was to have that CD in that store,” he said.

Not only has JJ’s life been led to higher ground through his music career and his solo success along with his group LethillWeapon, he has also become an entrepreneur creating his own clothing line which he meaningfully named, Stay Vintage.  JJ describes Stay Vintage as a clothing line inspired to be who you are that started with just a thought to make a shirt and hopes that people would like it. Six years later, Stay Vintage, has become a collection of t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, mouse pads, masks, stickers and even hand sanitizers.  JJ said he is always working with different colors and styles to keep coming up with new designs, all the while he admits being in disbelief it has turned into something bigger than his music.

“It’s more than a name. It’s a way of life,” he said.

Through it all JJ said from the very beginning he always knew he wanted to use his gift of music for good and to pay forward through work with charity.  In the span of his career, JJ said he has hosted many events, some big and some small, but they are all equally important to him. Supporting him for many years and giving him a stage to call home to perform on, and an outlet for his charitable work was the now former, Revolution Bar and Music Hall in Amityville, N.Y.

“I truly believe in giving back when you can.  I was a foster kid, I barely had stuff.  People gave to me when in need,” he said.

At an early age in JJ’s life he was dealt with the unthinkable when he was taken away from everything he knew and placed into foster care.  Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1978, JJ lived with his mom and dad until he was eight years old, when he said one day, he watched helplessly as his parents became entangled in a violent domestic dispute.  From that moment, JJ’s life was altered forever, and he went to live with his grandmother.  His mother could no longer care for him and JJ said after the day his parents became estranged, he never saw his father ever again.

During his time with his grandma,  JJ said he was a good kid who just played his video games and never caused her any trouble, but he said she developed cancer and could no longer care for him, so she told him she had to place him in foster care.  JJ’s life was flipped upside down once again and he said, although he was lucky enough to have eventually found a great foster dad and loving family, his grandmother lost her battle with cancer and JJ suffered yet again, another great loss.

“The only one that ever really took care of me was my grandmother, but she was sick with cancer.  She was a food prep lady in Brooklyn.  She was always working, and she was sick,” he said.

Today at 42-years-old, JJ thrives and said he has been blessed with an entire community of people who gave him a little bit here and there along the way to help him rise above.  JJ proclaims he lives his life with his heart on his sleeve and while he said it is a blessing and a curse, it fuels his music.  He said when people say that his lyrics are a type of therapy, he tells them it’s not therapy; it’s just his life.

“I have ideas in my head, but a lot of times the music brings it out or something happens to where I write about it,” he said.

While JJ continues to wait for things to open back up, he is currently in the beginning stages of writing a book about his journey as a rapper with detailed accounts of his writing process, break downs of songs, how he got to where he is today, and how he is passionate about helping other up and coming artists as a mentor.  In the yet untitled book, JJ sheds depth to his creative process and describes how he just lets the music flow constantly, even in his sleep.

He wrote, “This would happen through the years with most of my albums even way back in the day. I would fall asleep and wake up with a verse done in my head; ending up on a song when I thought it wouldn’t.”

In the meantime, JJ is busy working on yet another album release and preparing for his spring line for Stay Vintage.  To keep up with JJ Jones find him on Facebook and Instagram @iamjjjones.  For more information on the Stay Vintage clothing line you can find Stay Vintage Collection by Edward JJ Jones on Facebook and on Instagram @stayvintageofficial.

Photos courtesy Edward “JJ” Jones

Under the Spotlight with Chelsea Takami

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It could be said perseverance was the shining star of 2020 in a time when almost all in the live entertainment business seemed lost. Nevertheless, one musician is looking forward in 2021, and her focus is not just on rising above the times but in setting her sights on taking her career to the next level.

Long Island musician Chelsea Takami was stopped in her tracks just like countless others when everything shut down.  Years of work and dedication to her music and her career were all thrown into the unknown.  Her phone became her only stage for a period of time, and even though she had done livestreams regularly for years before the pandemic, she said it was only then that she started to think outside the box to be able to continue to earn a living through her music.

“I lost every single gig; 100 percent of my income-gone, and I didn’t qualify for unemployment,” she said.

With a professional career spanning the past decade, the Westbury, N.Y., native has performed her self-described, “moodfully,” indie-pop songs of original work and covers throughout New York and across the country singing and playing her guitar with any opportunity that arises.  From Broadway Joe’s in Albany, N.Y., where Chelsea said she received her first paid gig after graduating college from SUNY Albany years ago, all the way to July 2019, when she opened for Chris Isaak at The Paramount in Huntington, N.Y., Chelsea has seemed unstoppable.

With her entire life built upon her music, Chelsea said not only did she suffer a huge hit to her livelihood when everything shut down, but she said she suffered emotionally as well, deeply feeling the loss from being surrounded by people every day to having little to no human contact.  It was during this time, she said she continued playing livestreams not only to keep hers and her fans’ spirits up, but as a new way to bring in income when she began using a virtual tip jar for the first time ever.

“I was living alone at that point, so I was pretty isolated,” she said.

Although she said the virtual tip jars didn’t amount to much, at the end of the month it was enough money to put food on her table.  In addition to livestreams and virtual tip jars to try and make ends meet, Chelsea started selling arts and crafts, and created “Takamigrams,” hand-made cards by Chelsea designed with inspirational words and uplifting bright water colors, as well as personalized video-grams that fans can purchase for themselves, or as a gift featuring Chelsea singing their song of choice.  For Chelsea, she said through it all being able to help others create memories of a lifetime, especially during such challenging times, with her “Takamigrams” is where she has found the greatest reward.

However difficult the times may be, Chelsea, who is the daughter of world-renowned martial arts Shotokan Master Toyotaro Miyazaki, has a strong foundation of strength and perseverance.  She studied martial arts with her father growing up and holds a black belt, but while she appreciates her family legacy for all she has learned, she said she was always more passionate about music and began playing piano as young child.  Chelsea learned to play the flute in elementary school before eventually picking up the guitar at the age of 14, and simultaneously, she said the moment she started playing guitar, singing and songwriting naturally followed suit.

“I am passionate about music like he is passionate about karate.  I have his spirit, his tenacity, his devotion and his love for performing,” she said, speaking of her father.

As things opened back up, Chelsea said her first real gig came this past June when she made her return to Huntington and played outside at The Paramount.  The very next week she said she was asked back, and before she knew it, she was offered a residency to play every Sunday during the month of July.  Chelsea’s weekly residency has continued every Sunday to date at The Paramount’s Spotlight Art Bar and carries through the month of January. 

While she has played The Founders Room at The Paramount for the past few years, she said it has been during the time of her current residency where the staff at the venue have become like family to her; mutually supporting each other in their dark times.

“It’s been a blessing.  There have been weeks where that was my only gig, but it’s been the gig that I can rely on,” she said.

Focusing on what’s to come, the 31-year-old singer/songwriter who seems to never stop, has continued to make productive use of her time and talent by additionally creating new original music with fellow friend and musician, Danny Dakota under the duo, Dakotakami.  Dakotakami has recently released three new songs to Spotify, and Chelsea said they are hoping to put more music out as time goes on.  As for her solo work, Chelsea said she has been recording a ton of new work and has three acoustic songs ready to be released and another one on the way.  She is currently working at a studio in Brooklyn on what she calls, “more produced” music opposed to her acoustic tracks and said she hopes to come out of the session with a three-song EP.

Chelsea said her big-picture goal right now is to start paving the way for a possible college tour and bigger type concerts whenever the day comes for things to open back up.  Although she said she is not sure how she is going to do that at this point, Chelsea said she just keeps reminding herself what her mom always tells her by saying, “Whatever you focus on expands.”  With that in mind, she continues work on her immediate goal of completing a new promotional video.

“I am ready for it, where I don’t think I was ready before now,” she said.

Chelsea will be performing at Spotlight this Sunday, January 17 at 3 p.m. and you can catch her at Village Idiot in Lake Grove, N.Y., along with Danny Dakota on January 22 at 6 p.m.  Visit www.spotlightny.com for reservations and more information about dining.  For information on additional performances, visit www.chelseatakami.com or follow Chelsea on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.  To keep up to date with Dakotakami, find them on Instagram @dakotakami.

Photos courtesy: Chelsea Takami & Kate Fox