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“Instagram famous” sounds like a backhanded compliment.

Throughout his career, Florida rapper J $tash has been ascribed all sorts of professional titles. Rapper, model, designer, businessman. These aren’t generic bits of filler for his Twitter bio, J $tash has a proven track record, gaining mentorship from Young Money and getting modelling co-signs from Kanye West.

Stylistically and musically, he continues to elude classification. Proudly curating his brand image and personal identity as much as he does his musical output. the 23-year-old rapper has absorbed influences from his sun-kissed home state and time spent in Japan, building an image and sound of bright creative youthfulness. We caught up with $tash over the phone to unpick the fabric of his homegrown hustle.

How did growing up in Florida influence your style and music?

Florida influenced my style as far as the dirty south feel, grillz, face tattoos. My music not so much. Growing up in South Florida was cool, good weather, amazing food, a lot of Caribbean culture, I wouldn’t prefer any other place. Right now looking at South Florida we are on top of the music game, but growing up I wouldn’t have expected to see this at all. In Terms of music the young crowd in Florida is really dominating right now, people like Smoke Purp, Lil Pump and Kodak Black.

For most people South Florida is a vacation place. That’s somewhere you go for two weeks then you leave, but it’s left a huge mark on me. The style there is very trippy, there are a lot of trippy people down there. There are people from all over, from Cuba to the Bahamas. I guess I would say I got a lot of my sense of style from that mixture of cultures. The culture down there is that you have to own a gold grill, so for as long as I can remember I’ve always had a gold grill. It’s been brought into the fashion world in recent times, but it Florida it has always been a rite of passage.

Why did you decide to leave Florida for New York?

When I first moved to New York I was working on my first musical project, that was my drive – get to New York and get my music heard. I was originally born in New York, so ever since I have been going back every year. New York is one of the best cities in the world to network and market yourself, you are around influencers 24/7. You never know who you might run into, the possibilities are endless and that was a huge attraction for me. I love Florida but the right opportunity for me was never going to be there so I had to get out.

As a rapper, model, and designer – how would you define yourself as an artist?

You can pretty much just call me a hustler. Growing up I never had a job but I always managed to get by on my own terms. For me educating myself was the most important thing, and turning the skills I learnt on the streets into more legitimate avenues. Growing up I used to sell drugs and things like that, but that taught me how to earn a living. That background and hustle is still in me to this day, it motivates me now to never stop working.

Right now honestly I’m not even really even focussed on music, I’m working on other things. I’m more focussed on building companies and opening up stores in different countries. Of which I’ve been doing on the low secretly. Rapping was just platform to get myself out there and grow.

Which has been more instrumental to the success of your career – Instagram or SoundCloud?

Instagram has been the most successful platform in my career. Instagram is pretty much just branding yourself, unfiltered and untouched. You can represent yourself in anyway you want, and say much more through an image than you can with words. SoundCloud is very different now from when I first made one, back then it was just about releasing music and expressing yourself directly. Now the record labels have got their hands on it it and it’s basically turned into something the same as Apple Music. You can get paid now from using SoundCloud, so it’s changed the whole game.

At age 16 you were living in South Beach and hanging around Lil Wayne and Young Money, what was this experience like for someone so young?

At the time Lil Wayne’s number one assistant was like my mentor, he brought me into that world and let me experience it all. His name is Troy Bless and because of Troy I was able to be around Young Money and establish myself within that scene. At that time everyone was actually living at mine so it was a cool experience. I learned a lot from being around that crowd, the most important thing being to always be professional and always have a lawyer. That’s all I can say.

How would you describe your own personal style?

In 2017 I would say Asia has the biggest influence on my style. Of all the places and countries I’ve been to in the world, there’s a lot more darker and deeper colours and tones. Black has become so repetitive in fashion but the way they are using darker tones is really interesting to me. The way things are cut and fitted is totally different to anywhere else in the world. Japan is leading the trends and then everyone else is picking up on it, Korea and China are starting to create some really cool shit.

What did you learn from your time spent in Japan? How did it influence you musically and stylistically?

I actually learned to become more disciplined. When I first came to Japan that was really my first experience of something completely new and foreign. Everywhere else I have travelled in the world I found things familiar and people all act the same. But it’s definitely not like that there.

What was it like working with Japanese rapper KOHH and how did this collaboration together?

KOHH is like my brother. People actually don’t know realise that he can speak perfect English as well as Japanese. Language and cultural barriers don’t exist to me. We can make music together with ease, he’s so intelligent. It’s cool you know. I want to continue to work with artists outside of the US, it branches me out to new markets rather than just the people at home.

You once rapped “I might call up Rihanna, tell her that I want some Pumas”, have you done so?

Yes I did. I’m wearing a pair right now.


All photography by James Rees