COVER

Justine Skye

By Rae Witte

J

Justine Skye just needs 30 seconds. “I have this thing—the first 30 seconds of doing something that might make me nervous, I freak myself out. But, after I make it past 30 seconds I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m alive, I can do this,’” she says the morning of release day for her second independent album Space & Time. Her nerves are high, but she manages to make some time for us to sit down and chat about her latest project. With the highlight reel of life on Instagram and TikTok, the Brooklyn-bred artist tells me she doesn’t know if her fans recognize that she tends to overthink. Yes, she has doubts that sneak up on her too. But she puts boundaries on them—a 30-second limit. Then, she gathers her thoughts and gets things done.

 

Having left public high school in New York City to be homeschooled at 16 years old, Skye spent a lot of time on Tumblr building a fanbase by sharing candid and spontaneous pictures and videos she made with friends. The internet was a different place in 2012. “I miss how carefree I was,” she reminisces about the bygone days of early social media. “I feel like that is where the shift in me happened. On Tumblr, I was so free, I didn’t care. I was just a girl building a following. I didn’t even know what that meant.” It was that free spirit that her day one fans were drawn to and what made her cover of Drake’s “Headlines” go viral. She developed a signature look—her purple hair, that set her apart. It caught the attention of Atlantic Records and Roc Nation, which signed her soon after.  

Justine Skye just needs 30 seconds. “I have this thing—the first 30 seconds of doing something that might make me nervous, I freak myself out. But, after I make it past 30 seconds I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m alive, I can do this,’” she says the morning of release day for her second independent album Space & Time. Her nerves are high, but she manages to make some time for us to sit down and chat about her latest project. With the highlight reel of life on Instagram and TikTok, the Brooklyn-bred artist tells me she doesn’t know if her fans recognize that she tends to overthink. Yes, she has doubts that sneak up on her too. But she puts boundaries on them—a 30-second limit. Then, she gathers her thoughts and gets things done.

 

Having left public high school in New York City to be homeschooled at 16 years old, Skye spent a lot of time on Tumblr building a fanbase by sharing candid and spontaneous pictures and videos she made with friends. The internet was a different place in 2012. “I miss how carefree I was,” she reminisces about the bygone days of early social media. “I feel like that is where the shift in me happened. On Tumblr, I was so free, I didn’t care. I was just a girl building a following. I didn’t even know what that meant.” It was that free spirit that her day one fans were drawn to and what made her cover of Drake’s “Headlines” go viral. She developed a signature look—her purple hair, that set her apart. It caught the attention of Atlantic Records and Roc Nation, which signed her soon after.  


“18 or 19 year old me? You couldn’t tell me nothing. I thought I was lit,” she laughs. The major record deal and enormously famous crew of friends by the likes of Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber were an undeniable catalyst for change in her professionally and personally. Many more eyes on her meant that what she did online had more consequences. So she found herself second and triple guessing what she broadcasted out to the world. It left her wondering if she’d been too vulnerable online in the past. “I stopped sharing anything at all and I just became an artist signed to a label,” she confesses. “I think that’s where the confusion started for me,” she says on reconciling with how she wanted to present herself to her fans and how they perceived her new public persona. “I pulled back, figuring I was just going to do this music thing. But my fans loved me because I shared so much. I was like… their friend. I switched it up on them.”

I see so much now that I never saw before."

It wasn’t until about two years ago that Skye started craving that feeling of freedom that Tumblr once offered back. She knew that it would impact the quality of her music too. It’s why she ultimately decided to leave her label and become an independent artist. “I see so much now that I never saw before,” she tells me in hindsight. “I’m a lot more involved in business decisions and in the creative [of my music],” she says. For years, Skye’s songs were written by other songwriters or she would spend her time collaborating with them, but rarely did she develop a song on her own. Ultraviolet, her debut album released under Roc Nation is 2018, and her earlier EPs, Everyday Living and Emotionally Unavailable under Atlantic were comprised of music created under other’s creative direction. “When you’re in the label system and you yourself don’t really know where you want to go [musically], they just stick you with so many different people,” she explains. “That confused me, because I was like, wait, I have to tell my story to all these people? How am I supposed to build a connection?” She continues, “Being at a label, sometimes it’s all thought out for you. But now, it’s like, alright, how are we going to make this happen?” She now has control of her career trajectory and her art, and feels empowered by taking on that responsibility. 

 

With her latest body of work, making Space & Time happen wasn’t really a question of how, as much as it just did. As it was for most of us, life came to a screeching halt as COVID-19 spread worldwide in early 2020. Skye’s first independent album, Bare With Me, released in June 2020 but without the option to tour, she took to Instagram with a plan to start sharing covers of songs by artists she loved. The first was Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” with a friend.

 

Much to her surprise, one of her dream collaborators popped up in her DMs: Timbaland. “First, I was freaking out because I’ve always wanted to work with him. I knew that at some point in my life, I would, I just didn’t know that it would be like this.” Timbaland, the famed producer responsible for tracks like Missy Elliott’s “Work It” and “Get Ur Freak On,” Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin’” and a slew of Aaliyah records, said he wanted in on her quarantine jam sessions.

 

Immediately, she tells me, her mind wondered whether she’d impress him or not, but she gave herself those 30 seconds to overthink before bringing herself back to reality. Skye suggested Nelly Furtado’s “Say It Right.” (She loves that song.) He had other plans—an original. “I’m like, ‘So, you want me to write something?’ At this point in time, I’m not extremely confident in my writing.”

Timbaland could see Skye’s raw talent and wanted to create something new with her. It was a surreal moment for her, yet she obliged. Timbaland simply texted her a beat. 

The duo ended up doing 10 Instagram videos together, calling them the Space & Time sessions. Not all of the clips turned into songs on the album, but at that time, they didn’t even know they were working on an album. “The Space & Time sessions were fun, We didn’t know what would happen, and as they continued, the story unfolded,” she says. 

Now, months later, with the project out, Skye recalls how cool it has been to have the fans so involved in the process, particularly as she’s never had much input from anyone that isn’t part of a project. “Seeing their reactions every week as we put out a different sound and as Tim challenged me with a different beat, was just really fun. I appreciate all of the comments and everything. I really took this opportunity to figure out what I wanted to do,” she says. 

Skye emphasizes just how important this transformation has been for her. “I used to think that if I didn’t leave the studio with anything then that was awful. I was so hard on myself.” Focusing on what she wants to say, rather than how she operated under the label, has afforded her a new perspective. “I don’t ever want to force anything, because that’s what I was doing. I was forcing so many things—songs that I didn’t really like.”

Much like the small silver linings we’ve all been forced to find in the wake of the pandemic, without the world stopping and without her Space & Time sessions, this album wouldn’t have happened. And, without this album, she wouldn’t have ultimately found the level of confidence in herself or her music. “This is the best music—the best art—that I’ve ever created and presented to the world. I don’t care what you say. This is great, whether you like it or not.”

 

Photography: Ally Green
Stylist: Lauren Anne Groves
Stylist Assistants: Filippo Sandini + Katy Breslin + Athena Mesina
Hairstylist: Preston Wada
Hairstylist Asstistant: Berenz Castro
Make-up: Josie Melano &David Velasquez
Creative Direction: E&E Creative




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