SHARAYA J ON HER ‘BANJI’ LIFE PHILOSOPHY AND HAVING MISSY ELLIOT AS A MENTOR – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

The Untitled Magazine GirlPower Issue - Sharaya J - Photography by Indira Cesarine - Cover
Sharaya J – The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue – Photography by Indira Cesarine. Sharaya wears a metal paillette crop jacket and a long skirt by Rubin Singer, two stacked necklaces by Tuleste, and black spiked heels by Christian Louboutin.

“I want to uplift woman, and show them that we can be out here, and be successful, and have careers, and be alpha females. I want to show that it’s okay. We need women out there saying ‘It’s okay to be great. It’s okay to run businesses.’ ” -Sharaya J

Hip hop darling, dancer, and Alexander Wang muse, Sharaya J, talks the talk and walks the walk. Having led a life as colorful and exciting as the personal style that defines her, this multitalented Hawaiian-born and Jersey-raised star-to-be is geared up for big things ahead as she prepares to release her debut album. Her creative background is marked by an array of influences that deeply reflect her upbringing and background. Her father was in the famed 90s hip hop act, Double XX Posse, and of course, her Hawaiian roots play a role as well. “I kind of ended up getting the best of both worlds at the same time, you know what I mean? My mom was into music too, and my whole Hawaiian family, they do music. It’s not hip hop or anything like that, but I got people who play the ukulele, who have amazing voices, and because I love dance I’ve always been attracted to hula.”

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Sharaya wears a blue crop top by Alexander Wang.

Though she’s worked as a dancer for years, choreographing for and performing with the likes of Alicia Keys, P. Diddy and Rihanna, as well as modeling with the Wilhelmina agency, she truly arrived in her own creative realm upon a chance run-in with Missy Elliott. “I really started to cultivate my artistic talent when I ran into Missy. She was like ‘Yo are you an artist?’ and I was like ‘Yeah actually I have some stuff I’ve been working on! And she was like, ‘Yeah, you know I think you have superstar quality.’ We were connected to each other. She came up and asked me, and kind of offered me a place in her camp. And who the hell turns down Missy Elliott?!” Soon thereafter Sharaya signed to Missy’s label, The Goldmind Inc., and embarked on the turning point in her career. “It was just by grace of God that Missy was sent to me, kind of the visionary to help me, mold that part of me. When I got introduced to her she really sat me down and let me hone that creative part of myself.”

Sharaya wears an optic multi color pattern suit by Rubin Singer, and a necklace by Tuleste.

In a testament to her commitment staying true to herself she coined the concept of BANJI – Be Authentic Never Jeopardize Individuality – an acronym also titular to her debut track as a hip hop artist. Sharaya has refused to sell out or cow-tow to industry pressure to look a certain way for the sake of expediency in achieving her goals. “Throughout my life I’ve always kind of been the girl who took a chance or the girl who stepped outside of the box – different from the norm. I always had that kind of essence. When me and Missy first got together, we were having a couple meetings with some record execs. After one of these meetings, the guys were like, ‘Look, we love your record. You have superstar quality. You’re amazing when you perform. But we just need you to change your look. We need you to wear less clothes, because we need you to show more skin. You need pumps.’ And then this was the be all end all: ‘We need you to get the same color hair [as you have now] but it should be a weave down to the floor.’ So, I remember Missy coming in and talking to me like, ‘Listen, they were willing to offer you a deal if you did these things.’ She was like, ‘Personally, I’m not fucking with it.’ And I was just like, ‘you know what, me either.’”

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Sharaya wears a black metallic dress and jacket by Balmain.

And hence Sharaya’s newfound mission was born, to exemplify in her artistry and her life, her single-minded loyalty to individuality. “This business is hard enough when you are already developed, but coming in as a young artist, you need guidance. You need to love yourself. Love who you are. Love the skin you’re in. However God made you is exactly how you’re supposed to be, and so embrace that and use that for whatever your purpose will be out in the world.” Her risk-taking nature and diverse set of influences deeply reflect this mentality, from her music leanings to her fashion choices. “I’m kind of interested in people who aren’t afraid to take risks with their fashion, and so I’m open to a bunch of different things, but I like to take chances with stuff that’s not even out or that’s funky. I’m not a label girl all the way. I’m kind of like; ‘Fashion is fashion and if it’s two dollars, give it to me!’ I am totally guilty of wearing a dope ass pair of shoes with designer jeans and a WalMart t-shirt!” Musically, she looks to the women who are beacons within the genre. “I like everybody. TLC, Aaliyah, Missy…all those girls that just inspired me because they are strong women. They were like ‘Respect me for my talent first. Then everything else you can worry about later, but I’m here to stay because I got skills.’”

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Sharaya wears a blue chinchilla vest by Dennis Basso, yellow sweater by Céline, and earrings by Tuleste.

It appears Sharaya will soon join that cast of women in music who inspire. Her album comes out this year (“I’m so excited about the record. I think the world will love it!!”), as well as another project – about which she must keep mum (“I’m so excited, but I can’t give it away yet! It’s really gonna be all parts of me complied into one.”). In the meantime, she continues to spread her gospel of love and self-acceptance to women who aspire to be leaders in what they do. “You know I would also encourage women to work hard because you do have to just be fearless. Be fearless, go out there, believe in yourself, dream big. My grandmother always told me. She would call me, Mami. ‘Mami, you can have anything in this world that you want as long as you ask the universe for it.’ So I just want to encourage women, you know, young babies that you can be anything that you want to be out here. There’s no box. And anything that you can fathom in your mind and in your imagination can become a reality.”


Interview by Marianne White for The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue
Sharaya J photographed by Indira Cesarine

Fashion Editor: Philip Bloch

Make-up by Felicia G

Hair by Al X Graham

Nails by Jessica Allen

Photographed at The Untitled Space 

Pick up a print edition of the issue today and watch our behind the scenes video with Sharaya J below.

SHARAYA J BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO – THE #GIRLPOWER ISSUE 8
Photography and Video Direction by Indira Cesarine

This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015).


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