Joi Campbell, better known as JoiStaRR, can descriptively be summed up as an “it girl.” Literally being handpicked to tour with one of hip-hop’s leaders Kanye West is proof. She could have easily been one of the girls of Dirty Money with her top-notch vocals and high caliber writing talent. She could have ventured off and participated in entertainment ventures along with the biggest names in music — any role that an industry “it girl” can fulfill.
Instead, up until recently she took the behind-the-scenes writing route collaborating with artists including Chris Brown, Estelle, Musiq Soulchild, and Brandy — whose song “Who I Am,” penned by JoiStaRR helped make Afrodisiac such a personal, stellar album. With a distinct vocal tone and range, JoiStaRR–a new signee to My Block Records–has the time, drive and the topmost motivation to deliver her upcoming debut Magic.
Soul Train: For those who don’t know you, how would you describe JoiStaRR?
JoiStaRR: JoiStaRR is a fun-loving girl who likes to see people happy and in love, pretty much.
Soul Train: What’s most prevalent about your career is that you went on tour with Kanye West for more than five years. How exactly did he even find you?
JoiStaRR: He was looking for me apparently and I had a song on the radio at the time called “Everything” that a mutual friend of ours, DJ Reflex was playing on Power 106. Kanye asked him to get in touch with me because he wanted to meet me and come by the studio. We met and I sang on some demos for him that never ended up making the album. Two weeks after I met him Reflex called me and asked if I wanted to go on tour with him and apparently Kanye asked Reflex if I would mind stopping my album to go on tour with him. I did that; it was only supposed to be two months, but it ended up being five years.
Soul Train: You made a few sacrifices to go on tour. You were in school, too. What year were you and where did you go?
JoiStaRR: Yeah, I was in my second year in college at California State University. I had started to drop out of CSUN and decided to try online. I wanted to continue to focus on my album and have more time at home and in the studio. Enrolling online never happened because I ended up leaving for tour.
Soul Train: Was the tour experience everything you thought it would be?
JoiStaRR: It was, actually. I was a biology major, but I minored in music. I knew that music was something that was a part of me, but I didn’t know it was something that I would do for a living. I wanted to be a doctor. I grew up in the church and was so animated with singing that I was made fun and didn’t want to sing anymore. When I got to college, I just wanted to study medicine. Being a music minor, through classes I discovered that music never left me and I couldn’t run from it. I learned that I couldn’t not sing.
On tour I developed a love for performing and entertaining. Kanye was very gracious and generous. He taught me a lot and had talks with me about being more confident as an artist, because I was very comfortable being a background singer. After being on tour with him seeing how fans adore you so much, chase you and scream your name, that part I didn’t want although I loved singing. He was very instrumental in helping me become more confident as a solo artist.
Soul Train: Wow, that’s crazy. Who would make fun of JoiStaRR singing, are you serious?
JoiStaRR: Well kids are mean so, you know. I got made fun of a lot when I was younger. I have a birthmark on the left side of my face that’s actually in the shape of a cat. I used to walk around with my hand on my face so no one would ask me about my birthmark. That’s what kids do I guess, they make fun of you.
Soul Train: Well, hey. Those things are what make you unique now. Did your ultimate goals change once everything was over?
JoiStaRR: Yes. After touring with Kanye I developed the confidence to really get into writing my own songs and I let him hear them. He’d give me a critique and say, “You should change this or do this different.” I really found myself as an artist. To be 100 percent honest I asked him if I could sing background forever because I didn’t really want to be in the spotlight. He was like, ”No, you’re too talented, you’re too dope. I’m not going to let you just sing background. I’ll let you come out and feature, but you’re too talented to be in the background.” I was like, ”Dang!” (laughs). I thought if I can’t do that then I’m just going to have to do it on my own because I love singing.
Soul Train: That’s good that he pushed you forward. You also worked with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at Coachella. Did you ever think that your biggest background vocal contributions at this point would be for rappers?
JoiStaRR: I never thought of myself singing for anybody really, it just came along. I feel like your life’s path is what God has for you. Either you choose to follow the path and say okay or you choose not to. I just chose to go with it and when I said yes to the call things started to happen. I think my life will line up with what it’s supposed to be. So, the Coachella thing was just another situation to reassure me that I’m on the right path.
Soul Train: Who was the first artist that you wrote for and how did that come about?
JoiStaRR: Her name is Terri Walker, an artist from the UK. I was hanging out in the studio with my brother. He asked me to collaborate with her, because she was a girl and he wanted to get another girl’s perspective. I ended up writing a couple of songs that ended up on her album. They were on the radio out there in London, so that was my first song placement for another artist. I wrote my first song for myself in college.
Soul Train: Now you’re signed to My Block Inc and you all are musically connected. What do you think distinguishes your group from others?
JoiStaRR: We’re all about the music and the lyrics. I think that’s the difference. A lot of times people do music, because they want to make people dance — that’s cool. They want to make people move, but they don’t want to make people think. At My Block we want to make you move, think and better yourself as a person I believe. Speaking for myself as a writer, with Magic I want to inspire people to do whatever they want to do. If they want to start a company as an auto mechanic or whatever, I really want to inspire that and make them feel like they can do anything they put their minds to.
Soul Train: You’ve made a few appearances on the reality show Mary Mary. Being that you seem very down to earth, what was that experience like with all of the cameras?
JoiStaRR: It was extremely weird for me, because I have never been into cameras following me around. There was a camera following us around on tour with Kanye for like two years straight and I never got used to that. It’s beautiful and wonderful because it’s my sisters and it’s a great opportunity for them. People see that a Christian lifestyle isn’t some weird, strange, ritualistic thing. It’s definitely weird because it’s my family and I can’t avoid it completely. I’m not going to not hang out with my family or see my nieces and nephews, so it’s cool. I’ve gotten used to going over the house and saying, “Oh, the cameras are here, I’ll come back later” (laughs). No, I’ve gotten used to it and I’m excited to see new and greater things happen for them.
Soul Train: Your album Magic is supposed to be out this summer. Do you have an exact release date yet?
JoiStaRR: No, we’re looking to release it in August or September.
Soul Train: Is the sound going to align with what we’ve heard on your mixtapes Broccoli & Noodles and Magic Monday?
JoiStaRR: Broccoli & Noodles was an introduction to my voice, because most of the songs, “What’s Love Got to do with it,” “Yellow,” “Kiss of Life” and “Sunny” were remakes. Magic Monday was an introduction to my writing style. Magic, is who I am as an artist in-depth as JoiStaRR. It will be a little different, but not too far off from Magic Monday. It’s me, but a deeper part of my soul.
Soul Train: What can you say about the style and the concept behind it?
JoiStaRR: My style is Art & Beat. It’s basically a hodgepodge of what I feel and what I’ve experienced in life. It’s world music, it’s soulful, it could have an inspirational feel; whatever I feel that day. It’s not a specific genre; it’s me baring my soul. It’s me being brave enough to allow people to critique [the songs] — love them or not. I feel like people will connect with my album Magic because there’s a lot of things that I’ve sung about that people in the world have gone through — being heartbroken, not feeling good enough or not understanding what they want to do in life and feeling lost. I’ve penned those emotions and I know people will connect with them.
Soul Train: I can definitely see that because both of your mixtape have such great substance and content. How is it working — for the most part all the time — with your brother Warryn Campbell, who’s also your producer?
JoiStaRR: I love working with my brother, because he’s one of the few people on this earth that gets me. He understands when I’m not feeling it or when I’m being quirky and crazy. He knows how to steer me in the right direction, because I can go way left. I like so many different things that people don’t really listen to. He keeps me on track with what he knows is authentic to who I am as an artist as opposed to letting me do whatever. And he’s my big brother, so he’s protective over me and he’s not going to let any body do anything to hurt me. It’s hard sometimes when you really want to go after your dreams in the music industry and there are so many people with different personalities that are snakes and sharks and who don’t really mean well. Especially because I’m a woman; they just see a pretty face and don’t think that you’re business savvy. It’s not like that with my brother.
Soul Train: So you say that magic has to strike in order to get your creative juices flowing. What was one of the most recent instances where the magic of music sort of took over?
JoiStaRR: When I wrote my latest song a few weeks ago. My brother was playing a track and I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing.” I just started singing the song and that’s how it usually happens. When I think about it, it’s very interesting to me because I don’t know how I do that. I know it’s a gift from God. Sometimes I can write a song in three to five minutes, however long the length of the track is, I can write it right there. It amazes me every time.
Makula Dunbar is a journalist covering music, entertainment, business and community. Founder and editor of digital culture magazine Cognizant Measure, her work has been featured in print and across the web via UPTOWN Magazine, The Atlanta Post, Sister 2 Sister Magazine, the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Hiphopruckus.com and many more. Follow her on twitter @Kules.