"I try to be good at everything"

YP cadet Candace Kwan

Rapper J-Reyez has global appeal thanks to his all-round talents

YP cadet Candace Kwan |

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Many musicians are so self-absorbed that they are too busy taking selfies in the recording booth all the hard work by anyone else that goes into producing an album.

J-Reyez, however, does know what it takes, because he's had to do all that work.

Born Justin Cho, the 23-year-old rapper from Toronto, Canada, has been making waves ever since his English cover of Taeyang's Wedding Dress was uploaded to YouTube. Between them, the lyrics and music video had eight million hits.

In the three years since then, he has gained 50 million views - all without the help of a record label.

His do-it-yourself approach to music makes him much more than a typical YouTuber: he writes and produces all of his own music, dabbles in comedy occasionally, and directs and edits most videos on his channel. Yet above all else, he considers himself a "hip-hop artist".

"I try not to be a jack of all trades," he says. "The only reason I direct my own music videos and do my own music is because I can't afford not to.

"People always tell me I should be directing [music videos] as a back-up plan, but I feel that I should just focus on the music."

Despite his initial success with covers, Cho manages to balance the content on his channel between covers and original songs.

J-Reyez at work on one of his music videos. Photo: Tishan Baldeo

"Doing covers is a new way for fans to discover you, and a lot of artists are gaining recognition that way," he says. "But once you gain that fanbase, artists should start to focus on their own music.

"You can always do a cover and sing, or rap it exactly the way that the original artist did. But true skill - and how you grow as an artist - comes from the way your original music is expressed.

"Early in my career as an artist, I tried to be as versatile as possible so people wouldn't have any expectations. If you stick to one thing, people will know you only for that, and when you do something else, they'll think you've changed. I don't stay in just one 'lane'; I try to be good at everything."

Cho is now working on a collaboration to be called Stand Out. The record will feature tracks from Jay Park (the former member of Korean boy-band 2PM), Rob Campman (formerly known as Southstar) and Jimmy Boi.

Another unexpected role Cho has taken on is that of listener, or "friend" to his fans. In Stolen Riches, his most recent EP, he touched on topics such as family, friendship and love, which attracted fans' attention.

"A lot of fans send me personal messages, and I try to respond to as many of these as I can," he says. "I get asked advice about relationships and life, and I actually try to write back. I wouldn't ever want to lead them in the wrong direction.

"I've had times in my life when things were really bad. At times like this, you've just got to look to the future and do everything you can to improve things for yourself."

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- Rapper Kendrick Lamar's passion for music helped him break free from the curse of his hometown

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