There’s never been a more important time to dance. While we’re trapped in our apartments, streaming endless content, and feeling the existential gloom it’s important to keep the endorphins up and our bodies moving. Home workouts aren’t for everybody, but dancing damn well is. Everyone from toddlers to grandmas love dancing. It’s why TikTok is super popular. It’s why Ellen is so watched. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has the writers of GSC moving right now quite like Jennifer Hernandez aka JWords.
JWords is a New Jersey based Afro-Latina renaissance woman. Her style, from fashion to her sound selection, is unconventional. It catches your attention quickly and holds onto it. Repeated listens are necessary to notice all the intricacies that go into her art. JWords fits in really well to the new Afro-centric scene that’s garnering acclaim in New York at the moment. Artists like MIKE, Medhane, and Jazz Jodi are crafting an underground movement that’s bubbling upward, influencing staples of rap like known hoe-scarer Earl Sweatshirt.
Last month’s Dancepack Vol. 1 EP, JWords’ second release of the year, makes me truly miss clubbing. The project is a satisfying head nodding journey into the lo-fi house sound with eclectic samples strewn throughout. “shine<3” is the standout on this project, sounding as if it was intentionally made for NY rooftops. It’s the type of track playing when you walk into the party and have to glide across the dance floor without bumping into anyone. Normally this would feel like an impossible task, but the groove makes you feel untouchable. Whoever you bump into won’t notice. Everybody’s free floating in place. The next track, aptly titled “waythatwewere”, brings back memories of a lost time, something we can all relate to during the COVID-19 crisis. JWords packs a lot of emotion into every beat, a canvas she uses to paint a scene, akin to a writer sketching in a journal.
After listening to Dancepack Vol. 1, you may think you have JWords figured out, but do not be fooled: she is just as dangerous on the mic as she is behind the boards. The recently released Year 2300 EP educated me on that front. Opening this project with a song called “can’t tell me SHIT”, JWords lets you know what it is and what it’s gonna be declaring, “i control myself / i control my wealth”. Being an important member of the tri-state area DIY scene, JWords is making expressive dance inspired tracks on her own terms. She herself has said, “i really dont be making just 1 genre.” Over a soulful backdrop for based stream of consciousness bars, the loop appears to begin eating itself at the end of the track with a spectacular breakdown.
JWords throws an alley oop to Nappy Nina on the next track “Hands Full”. The flow gives me Andre 3000 vibes as she unrelentlessly packs in what she has to say, like she’s fitting a month’s worth of clothes into her carry-on. Her voice almost gets lost in the mix, showing how, to a producer and creator like JWords, everything is an instrument. As Nappy Nina states, “relate to the can’t have/ the too bad, the oh well/ the wish you would,” the struggles of a black artist become apparent. From the artist name alone, you can tell the message she is conveying making this collaboration all the more powerful. JWords’ work is inherently black and Latina. From various posts showing her rocking her natural hair to fan art emphasizing it, her identity comes through, loudly and proudly.
Dancepack Vol. 1 and Year 2300 EP showcased elements of JWords artistry, but her definitive statement is found in Sín Señal, her debut album released earlier this year. From the Spanish title to the intimacy of the tracks, this project is personal. Sín Señal channels grooves of the dancefloor variety, starting with the opening track “Universal Luv”. Many of her tracks feel like an ethereal waiting room. You can have the time of your life to it, study, or even relax and kick back. “Pressure Point” has a trance-like quality to it that starts slow, builds into an aggressive tempo that would make for a perfect dance-off, and then fades away as smoothly as it all comes together.
Sín Señal’s title track is the existential crisis that plays in your head everyday reminding you nobody cares! JWords sets the stage perfectly for a killer MIKE feature on the track “Numb” that recently made its way onto FKA twigs discovery playlist. The beat lines in with production he’s used in the past, but with a JWords house twist. MIKE delivers a chant hook in his classic monotone vocal style. Again, JWords blends her feature’s voice with the beat and I feel like the feature is simply an integral part of it.
In a hectic time like this, this kind of music helps us find our centers. JWords has no issue expressing her innermost feelings with influences all over the place from British drum & bass, to trip hop, and trancewave. It’s refreshing to see an artist pay homage to the sounds she loves while remaining wholly fresh and original. GSC caught up with JWords to discuss performing in the DIY scene, her prolific 2020 output, and her Sunday night watchlist. Peep what she had to say below:
GSC: Which came first: producing or DJing? How did you get started? Do you prefer one to the other?
JWords: I don’t consider myself a DJ because I play all my music live, during performancing or mixes. I make most of my music on the teenage engineering op-z which is a unit where you can create but also perform with.
GSC: What’s your earliest musical memory? Who are your biggest influences?
JWords: [I always] loved music, when I was younger I listened to alot of rap music, also a lot of salsa around the house from my parents, my biggest influence is Missy Elliot. I used to watch her music videos all the time.
GSC: GSC covers A LOT of NJ artists. Past or present, who are your favorite NJ artists and are there any artists in general you are looking to collaborate with?
JWords: I love jersey club music, my favorite jersey artist right now is TAH, he is amazing! We also have an album together in the vaults!
GSC: Your identity is really rooted in your musical production and social media presence. How do you identify and does your identity influence your music?
JWords: I identify as She/Her. It’s so boring seeing these men do the same thing, I feel like I really bring something different to the table.
GSC: Lately you’ve been teaching online production classes. Can you speak to what influenced that decision and what it’s been like teaching thus far?
JWords: I love teaching, before this pandemic I would spend time going to people’s houses to teach them Ableton, I also teach students from as young as 2nd grade. Building Beats asked if I wanna teach my own online class, the first zoom class had about 40 signs up!
GSC: How did you link up with MIKE and the rest of the slums collective? It feels like a match made in Heaven. Was it an instant connection?
JWords: Back in 2017 I played my first show ever and MIKE was on the bill, Maassai also, I’ve been cool with Maassai since then but didn’t really meet MIKE again til last year we played the 4th of July show together, then I met and got cool with everyone and it’s been love since, they are great artists and great people as well.
GSC: How far ahead do you come up with project ideas? This year you’ve dropped an LP and 2 EPs. It’s only May! How many more projects are coming this year?
JWords: This my first year really releasing music so I been oding a little lol, I have more coming soon, don’t wanna say how many tho just gotta be on the lookout but it’s super fun stuff!
GSC: How have you been spending time in quarantine? What are you doing to take care of your mental health?
JWords: I just been making music, cleaning my house, cooking meals, just got a Switch so been playing games, going outside, lucky I have family and friends around that keep me entertain, I go to the woods from time to time, ooo and I also started my own production team so I’ve been working on music video and learned how to edit my own.
GSC: What food have you been making? What’s your go to meal?
JWords: Vegan mac n cheez, fried oyster mushroom and mash potatoes, rice beans and eggs.
GSC: I know you miss performing. What’s your favorite venue, DIY or not, to perform at in NYC?
JWords: My favorite venue is Cafe Erzulie, playing at Bossa was cool, I performed at Commend Records and it was cute, I love NYC pop shop type performances as well.
GSC: Any music, podcasts, or film/tv recommendations for GSC’s readers?
JWords: I’ve been watching Insecure and the Last Dance every sunday 🙂
GSC: Excellent, taste. I’ve been doing the exact same, plus Rick and Morty just came back!
Personally, I think it’s dope that JWords is teaching production classes online. As a fellow educator, I know a lot of kids are feeling trapped, confused, and scared during this crisis. As art programs are cut in NYC, it’ll take passionate creators to not only show the importance of their personal works, but also give the urban youth without the same structural means of creation a chance to express their inner creativity.
While we wait for the JWords x Tah album, check out this recent mix JWords cooked up with visuals by DVD City below. Also thank you to Saji Gabrel Abude for the image at the top of the article.