Something about the Jane and Finch neighbourhood makes it a stomping ground for some of the craziest heavyweights out of the 6ix. The next big name to emerge from North York? Javell Barnes, more commonly known as J Neat, swinging fast and hard with his latest LP Lost Soul off Blue Feathers Records (the deluxe version of which drops on Christmas Day). The label is noted for backing other Toronto supernovas like Pressa and Why G, and may have found the next big thing with the delightfully precocious, absolutely hilarious J Neat.
Why we love J Neat: he’s a carefree breath of fresh air in what can be a cutthroat music scene. You only have to talk to him for a few moments before you’re hopelessly giggling. "Neat Flow" is riddled with relentless, well-punctuated jabs—disses saying that ladies “call me daddy but I never had a son” are delivered with J Neat’s trademark ease and playfulness. His unflappable personality goes beyond bars to a cheerful, boyish disposition that predicts the kind of adabtability that is important for commercial success. J Neat is reaping the efforts of his charm, creativity, and work ethic today: he went from a northwest Toronto local sensation to someone who could hold his own with the likes of Burna Bands and SupaWassi, who appeared alongside him on Why G’s five-song EP Crorona Virus.
Now, the 21-year-old is taking it easy in the studio, cranking out banger after banger, hanging out with his friends, playing 2K, and brushing off heartbreak. We caught up with him to chat about Jane and Finch, looking for seals in Vancouver, and the bright side of breakups.
Saw you were just out in Vancouver. How did you like it? Any dope spots?
Most of my recent music was recorded there, and we shot some videos out there too: "Eye for Eye," "Drip & Slide," "Meds," "Chances," and "Neat Flow."
But yeah, I loved Vancouver. We did a lot of sightseeing: we hit up the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Moon & Back Gallery. Went to the beach, too, and went jet skiing. There’s apparently a seal island out there that we tried to find. We were riding around on the ocean for hours and never found it.
What inspired the song "Meds"?
I was high as hell and I heard the beat and was trying to find my flow for the song and I spit the first line and just knew the song was a banger.
"I feel like Jane and Finch is the most talented place in Toronto. People go through real-life scenarios—there’s a lot of people with PTSD out there. In trying to find a way to get out of there, so many people find their talent."
Who are some of your major influences?
My mom, for sure. Some of my homies, so many of my friends that that are around me. I like Lil Snupe. He died a couple years ago. I found him on YouTube and just loved his rap battles. But since then, I haven’t had a favourite artist.
What was it like to work with Houdini?
Damn… It was a lot of things. So fun. Hanging out with him, there was never a low moment. He always knew how to keep you motivated and knew how to make you feel like you’re the best artist in the world. He was always just so positive. Good energy to have around.
What is it about Jane and Finch that is such a hotbed for talent?
It’s probably the roughest place in Toronto. People go through some rough shit out there. That one specific location is so different from the rest of the city— everyone grows up totally differently there. I can’t even put it into words.
I feel like Jane and Finch is the most talented place in Toronto. People go through real-life scenarios—there’s a lot of people with PTSD out there. In trying to find a way to get out of there, so many people find their talent. People are not really thinking about their talent when they’re in the hood, but then they realize it’s really a gift. A lot of us take long to realize we have a gift.
"Every studio session is lit. But sometimes I like to switch it up, and go in by myself, turn off my phone, and get it done."
And so what made you realize your talent? What drew you to hip-hop?
Since I was young I always knew how to rap, and I always knew I was good. I used to freestyle in the neighbourhood, but not really seriously. I think I really started to take it seriously around 2018 and 2019. That’s when I started to put out music with the intent to see if people actually like my music.
What was it like when you first started getting really popular?
It was so new to me: I was going to malls and people were recognizing me and asking for pictures with me. It’s an amazing feeling to realize that people like what you’re saying. In 2016 or so, I used to go by J Dot and dropped a lot of my music on SoundCloud, and only people from Toronto knew about me from around the neighbourhood. I got serious when I realized people were enjoying it… that’s when I started hitting the studio a bit more, and I never looked back.
Plans for 2021?
I just wanna drop more albums and get my music out there. It would be great to hit up the States, too, and do some touring down there.
So what’s the studio process like? What gets you going creatively?
How I do it? I need good vibes. I need good energy around me. I want people around me who are not gonna be doing too much— I don’t like people interrupting me or bothering me. Studio time is like chilling with all of your friends, but we’re just making music. It’s also good to have friends chill in the studio so they can give honest feedback. I like hearing different opinions.
Sometimes I’ll just feel like dancing around and vibing. Every studio session is lit. But sometimes I like to switch it up, and go in by myself, turn off my phone, and get it done.
There’s a lotta cash in hand on your Insta. What was the craziest thing you bought when you started blowing up?
I mostly buy clothes. I don’t really splurge…. I am not really a spender like that, to be honest. I like to say I’m a cautious spender but I will throw down to throw a crazy party.
Has the pandemic been hard on your party life?
It hasn’t been that hard. We still do what we do. Me and my friends have been hanging out, playing some 2K. The pandemic hasn’t stopped us from just being around each other.
You recently made a post on IG saying that a “broken heart can’t break again.” Do you have someone on your mind?
It happens to the best the best of us. I take it as a lesson and a blessing. At the end of the day, when relationships end, it’s most likely for a reason. You don’t always have to look at things as a loss or negative. There’s always a bright side.