Howell grew up in the Carbonear area. He says throughout his younger life, he’d never really thought to pursue music like the rest of his family did.
Growing up, Howell was more into sports. When it came time for him to pursue further education, Howell studied petroleum engineering technology at College of the North Atlantic, and now works night shifts as a power engineer in Alberta.
Somewhere in between that, when he was around the age of 15, Howell told The Compass he began taking an interest in rap music, and would freestyle with his friends at parties. Even still, it wasn’t something Howell considered pursuing at the time.
Now, it’s been a year since Howell, who goes by Jyay, began pursuing rap music, and he says it’s been an exciting ride so far.
Howell said he’s always had an interest in rap music, noting artists like Eminem, Classified, and Jay Z as some of his favourites. Last year, Howell decided to pick up the microphone himself. During a plane ride home, Howell says he couldn’t put the pen down as he began writing his own raps.
“It all felt really natural, like I wasn’t forcing myself to do it. I loved writing those songs, and I don’t think I slept at all during that plane ride. I just kept writing.,” said Howell.
Despite only starting his rap career in early 2016, Howell has made a name for himself in both the provincial and Canadian rap scenes. The first major move Howell made as a musician was during the devastating wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray in May of 2016.
Howell paired with fellow musician Vicki Doyle, and the two wrote and recorded their song titled United We Stand, a dedication to those who suffered during the fire. As of right now, the song is nearing 30,000 views on YouTube, and Howell and Doyle donated all proceeds from iTunes to the United Way, a volunteer organization that helped raise money during the tragic fire.
“I think everyone across Canada was hit by that fire in one way or another,” said Howell, “and that was my way of giving back, which is something I aim to do not only as an artist, but as a person.”
Doyle also made an appearance on Howell’s five-song extended play titled Progression, a collaboration project between him and fellow Newfoundland artist OG Simpson. The duo went on a provincial tour early in May to promote the EP.
On top of all this, Howell says that one of the biggest moments in his year-long career as a rapper comes from his work with MusicNL.
“I think the most memorable moment of it all so far is when MusicNL accepted the proposal I wrote for them,” explained Howell. “Now, for the first time in history, MusicNL has a hip hop/rap category for their annual awards conference. That’s amazing news for anyone in the province looking to come up in the rap scene – it shows that not only is the scene growing and getting bigger in Newfoundland, but it shows musicians and artists are willing to work with rappers, which might not have been the case however many years ago.”
Howell said despite Newfoundland’s deep roots and culture regarding folk music, there is an underground movement of rappers that can finally work with each other through Music NL’s new rap workshops, while meeting and interacting with other people in the music industry. Howell says these opportunities will be game-changing for rappers in Newfoundland, if used properly.
Despite Howell’s success over the past year, he said it hasn’t been a walk in the park.
Howell works night shifts, leaving little time during the day for him to put in the work he feels is necessary to further his career in music.
“It’s more than just music at the end of the day. It’s a business, and you need to have a business mindset, which I think some people tend to forget,” said Howell. “Writing and recording music might be, maybe 10 per cent of the work. You’ve got to be networking, getting your name out there, making sure you have a presence online where the majority of musicians look nowadays. It can be really tiring sometimes, going from my full-time job as a power engineer, to basically running this business as a musician as well. You have to fit some sleep in there somewhere, too.”
Howell said he’d love to pursue rap as a full-time career, and is slowly working his way towards doing that. He said he looks up to fellow Canadian rappers like Drake, Classified, and Merkules, who have all managed turn their music into a career.
Howell may have an exciting summer in the works as well, as he might have the opportunity to join the eastern leg of Merkules’ upcoming national tour, although nothing has been set in stone just yet.
Howell’s music can be found on Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube by searching Jyay.
“It’s a grind, you know. Some days are really stressful, but then there are days where you’re happy you decided to pursue your dream. It’s like anything, I guess, and I’d love to see this take off and become something really big. That’s the goal, at the end of the day,” said Howell.