When you think of Haitian Brooklynite one may not think of a classically trained Julliard Graduate. In the case of Josh Xantus, he is exactly that. Josh is a classically trained musician that started playing the piano at the age of 6. Josh is also one of five siblings. After completing Julliard, he attended Five Towns College and majored in Jazz and R&B. He has worked with some of the heaviest hitters in the Hip-Hop world including Swizz Beatz, Jadakiss, Red Cafe, Waka Flocka, Styles P, AZ, Ghostface Killah and Jim Jones amongst others.
Coming fresh off the heels of his latest mixtape, Everybody Hates Josh, Mr. Xantus is now continuing to put some finishing touches on his soon to be released debut album, Can I Live.
His label M USA/EMI is ready to help Josh blast off to the world. Yo! Raps got the chance to talk with Josh about everything from his music to his feelings for the people of Haiti, his classical music training background to how he dealt with his mother coming down with heart disease.
You come from a Classical background and you have worked with so many rappers, how do you make that transition work?
Hip-Hop inspires me especially with the artists that I’ve worked with. I keep it real. I started in Classical music. Just branding both forms of music is amazing because I come from a world of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven and now Jadakiss [laughs] so it’s like, “Oh man,” but it is a blessing. I’m a fan of good music so working with all those types of artists is easy for me and we just blended it in.
What’s the one method that you have taken from your Classical background that you use frequently today?
Classical music for me was always peaceful, so being an R&B singer, it would be the smoothness of my voice. When ladies listen to me they feel relaxed. So I definitely kept the relaxing type of formula. A lot of feeling goes into my music because when you’re playing Classical music… it’s all about feeling. If you are stiff when playing Classical music people begin to question if you have the goods.
I know you are from a Haitian background, how did the earthquake affect you and your family and what have you done to help with the relief fund.
My family is definitely out there but thank God we are all ok. I definitely supported the people out there. My mom was nervous because she didn’t want me to go out there. So we did a drive at my barber shop that I own in Long Island called JX Cuts. We took money from all the haircuts we did and sent it over there. I also donated clothes and other things but I tend to do that all the time not just because of that unfortunate situation. Haiti really is a beautiful place and the people are beautiful too, but there’s a lot of people out there are not doing well and my heart goes out to them.
Why was Brian McKnight’s 1997 hit Anytime so influential on you?
I was in class with a girl that we had and I was trying to go in and get this girl. I took her to the auditorium after class and played this Mozart piece for her. I went in on the piece too. I put all my feelings and everything into it and she was like, “What is that?” I was like, “This is the new Mozart” and she was like, “I don’t even know who Mozart is.” [Laughs] I was like, “Oh snap.”
So I went back to the drawing board and it just happened to be that time when Anytime was out I played the piano. I wasn’t really sure I could sing at the time, so I started humming it around people and it sounded good some went back to the same shorty after I learned the whole song and performed it for her and it was over. Then I said Imma hold down this Brian McKnight music till I die [laughs]. It was definitely the niche I needed.
You chose the title Can I Live for your debut album and being from Brooklyn like Jay-Z who had a song called Can I Live on his first classic album Reasonable Doubt, why did you choose that title?
Can I Live was basically about making choices and I feel like being young and coming up and from my personal experiences I had gotten into a situation with my family when my mom was diagnosed with heart disease, so for me it was either drop out of college to get these medical bills paid or I continue pursuing my dream. So when you have to make a choice you also have to ask yourself if you can live with that choice. So I chose to stay in college and thank god after college I signed my record deal and I was able to get her everything she needed and I thank God that she’s still here with us now. She recovered well and she’s on medication and I’m able to afford it. I’m just trying to be an inspiration for young cats like myself that come from single family homes and show them that you don’t have to take the shortcut because if you believe enough in yourself then you can do anything.
Growing up in Brooklyn, what part did you grow up in and did you ever have any complications in the streets because you were doing music and not taking the shortcut to the fast money?
I grew up in a nice part of Brooklyn in Ocean Park, which is mostly a Jewish community. My mom was one of those Haitian parents who always made sure that me and my siblings had what we needed and that’s why she ended up getting so sick by neglecting herself to make sure we were in the right neighborhoods and the right school districts to get the proper education.
I ask every artist this question: If you had one thing that you had to pick from your life today, that would leave your stamp on music and your legacy for life, what would that one thing be?
I think it would be my purity and love. I got into music to make love songs and that’s my stamp. We have lost so many great artists in music so I always remember what Stevie Wonder told me when I was with him and that’s to be a storyteller and use your music to help people.
How did the meeting with Stevie Wonder come about?
I was on a promo tour and I had just finished doing Brian McKnight’s show in Atlanta and I was hyped [laughs]. I had to go to LA and the station that I went to he just happened to be an owner in that station. I had no plans to see him. I was playing classic music and he walked past but I had my head down and with him being a musician and hearing what was coming from the room he just came in and sat next to me and I was playing for him. He stopped me from playing and it just turned into a whole meeting, interview, story thing where he spent like 2 hours with me and it was real special because I got the chance to play my song Mommy I Love You and it touched his heart. He told me that his mother had just died 3 years earlier and he made me promise him that I’d always use my music to change the world
Who would like to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?
Marsha Ambrosius! I’m in with her love with her. I bumped into her at S.O.B’s and I was all dopey and I don’t get star struck, I mean I’ve met everyone even Michael Jackson before he passed away and Whitney Houston too. It’s just something about her voice she’s so melodic and I just love her music. She’s a beast!
Now it’s time for Shout Outs where I ask you ten questions and you answer with the first thing that comes to your mind.
Favorite drink alcoholic or non alcoholic?
Favorite sports team or teams?
New York Knicks.
Favorite sports figure?
Favorite place to visit?
Favorite fashion brand?
Your favorite song ever?
Anytime by Brian McKnight.
Last but not least, at the end of the day what is your ultimate goal and how can people get in touch with you?
My ultimate goal is to make good music and do what I love doing and be able to support my family. It’s now about the money. I’m in this to change people’s lives and while I’m doing this I want to be able to support my mom and that’s my ultimate goal.
You can check out my barbershop, JX Cuts, located in Hempstead Long Island and we just finished the clothing line, Swagger Boys, and Wyclef is supporting us a lot right now with him being Haitian also. I’m on Facebook @therealjoshxantus and I’m on Twitter @joshxantus and www.joshxantus.com.
I definitely love to stay connected to the fans because to me that’s the most important thing.
- By K.B. Tindal