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Unlike most teens, Julius-Alexander Brown doesn’t daydream about working with Travis Scott, Pop Smoke, or WondaGurl. All that and more is instead a reality for the Ontario-born producer better known as Jenius. The 19-year-old up-and-comer's ties with well-established Canadian producer and record executive WondaGurl are so strong, in fact, that she recently signed him to her Wonderchild imprint, a subsidiary of Scott’s Cactus Jack label.
During a phone interview shortly after signing to the label, Jenius’ cool and calm demeanor was flecked with undeniable enthusiasm, his tendency to rapidly repeat key phrases (a trio of "I’m good"s upon signing on, for instance) betraying the youth beneath the proficiency beyond his years. Indeed, the Canadian industry has been buzzing about Jenius’ prodigious potential since his consecutive 2019 and 2020 Juno nominations for collaborations with Toronto rapper KILLY, not to mention his contributions to chart-topping albums by Scott’s JACKBOYS project and martyrized MC Pop Smoke. And yet, the rising producer is quick to share props with his mentor.
“She’s always been fam, even before I signed with her,” Jenius says of how WondaGurl took him under her wing when he was merely 15 years old, before remarking that joining Wonderchild is “a blessing.”
Of the recent signing, WondaGurl tells us: “Jenius and I have been working together for a few years now, and I’m excited to officially have him as a part of Wonderchild. His sound has developed so much over the years and I believe his potential is endless. I’m proud to have him on the team."
Below, Jenius tells us more about working with Travis Scott and Pop Smoke, considers the controversy surrounding his prior collaborator Tory Lanez, and tells us what it was like to show up for high school homeroom on the day he became a Juno nominee.
How are you doing after the big announcement about your Wonderchild signing?
I’m good, I’m good, I’m good. Just enjoying the vibe here in L.A. I’ve been influenced by so many rappers from here—especially Dr. Dre and N.W.A. And the people I’m working with here currently are also inspiring.
Jack Harlow, Sheck Wes, and Eddie Benjamin just to name a few.
Those are certainly some hot names to be associated with. However, your closest industry connection is arguably WondaGurl. What do you like about working with her?
I like how she’s very, very humble, in terms of how she carries herself. I’ve been around her quite a while now, and seen her do songs with some of the biggest artists in world. And she won’t even bat an eye.
She also stays very true to herself. There’s no one like her, and she has the confidence to remain unique. Not that I didn’t have those qualities myself before, but growing up as a young producer around her, I definitely took note that she was that way.
"I absolutely still want to get a Grammy. That’s been a goal ever since I started making music."
Can it be tough to stay grounded and maintain that kind of authenticity when you’re in L.A. and immersed in one of the most competitive scenes in the world?
Not necessarily. I usually go with what’s most comfortable, most natural, in any situation. And I always make sure to keep in touch with people back home in Canada, and keep myself in check.
That healthy outlook must come in handy when you’re rubbing shoulders with megastars like Travis Scott. What’s he like in person?
He’s really dope. A great artist. It was surreal to work with him, but also validating. It made me think, I can do this at this level.
He’s always trying to break the boundary. He has his own sound, but he’s always trying to push it forward. I’ve been working for years now, and haven’t noticed that quality in most artists. He has that fire to always ask about what’s next, not what’s now, on a sonic level.
You mention “working for years now,” which is also surreal, considering you are only 19. How did you get started at such a young age?
Before I started producing, I was always a big fan of music. I was raised in a Jamaican household, so some of my early influences were definitely Bob Marley and Barrington Levy. A lot of reggae.
My father used to produce back in the day, before I was even born. I would walk in on him making beats when I was a kid and ask what he was doing, and he would show me the studio ropes. We would make beats together, then I started making them on my own, and that got me to where I am today.
What does he think of your music now?
My dad loves it. He noticed I had my own sound from the beginning. He encouraged me to do what I like, and not follow what is currently out there. He definitely noticed that I was unique, sonically.
"That just happened to be one of the beats that WondaGurl and I were making. I actually made that beat with her when I was in high school, senior year, in 2019." - On producing Pop Smoke's “Bad Bitch From Tokyo”
That seems to be a big theme of this interview, and your approach in general—marching to your own drum, staying humble and true to yourself, from working with your dad to your recent success with WondaGurl.
Yeah, and that all started with my dad. He was the one who messaged WondaGurl on Instagram, saying, “I’m a producer from the east end of Toronto, and I want my son to work with you.” She and I hit it off, made beats during our sessions, and she always stayed in touch. She would ask me how I was doing in school, listen to the music I was working on, and the relationship just grew naturally.
Let’s talk about some of your other cohorts. Fans were impressed to see you had worked on “Bad Bitch From Tokyo,” the intro to Pop Smoke’s Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon album.
I never got to meet him, which is unfortunate. RIP. That just happened to be one of the beats that WondaGurl and I were making. I actually made that beat with her when I was in high school, senior year, in 2019. Then she played it for him, got him to rap on it, and it just ended up coming out on the album. I’ve been a big fan of his, from the first time I heard his music. It’s sad he had to pass away, but to be able to work on one of his songs was a blessing nonetheless.
What was it about him that made you, as you said, such a big fan of his from the start?
Definitely his style. The way he carried himself and sounded. And also the production he hopped on. The energy he brought was unique to him, like nothing I’d heard before. He built a whole movement around himself.
Another of your high-profile collaborators, Tory Lanez, caused quite a bit of controversy last year. His behavior has made him persona non grata in some circles. Would you work with him again after all that?
I worked with him years ago. I haven’t worked with him again yet, though I don’t know if what happened would necessarily stop me, because his situation currently has nothing to do with me. I’d have to see how all that goes.
I’m also curious about one of your longer-time cohorts, from closer to home. Tell us about your chemistry with Toronto rapper KILLY.
We started working together in Grade 11 in high school. I worked on his first and second albums, because he believed I could bring him a different sound. Me and him are always trying to make something different and unusual, and trying to push the boundary of what can come out of Toronto.
Have you worked with any promising up-and-comers that you’d like to shout out?
Eddie Benjamin, a young kid from Australia. Same age as me. He’s definitely, definitely, definitely going to have a huge future. He’s another person I work with all the time out here in L.A. He’s a multi-instrumentalist that can play guitar at the highest level. He’s also an incredible singer and a boundary breaker. He’s going to shift the industry sonically, and everyone should have him on their radar.
How about your future? What are you setting your sights on next?
I hope by the end to stay happy doing stuff I haven’t done before. And obviously getting awards and stuff.
What kind of awards?
When KILLY and I got nominated for Junos it was amazing. People were coming up to me in school and congratulating me. Next: I want to get diamond-level sales. And win a Grammy.
The Grammys are still relevant to you, despite being written off by everyone from Drake to The Weeknd?
I absolutely still want to get a Grammy. That’s been a goal ever since I started making music. The controversy has nothing to do with me.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m coming, and you’re going to hear a lot more from me. And that’s really all I have to say.