What do you get when you mix the vibrant culture of NYC’s Washington Heights, a group of nine ambitious twenty-somethings and a camera? MTV’s new, appropriately titled docu-series, Washington Heights, of course. Viewers from across the country will follow friends: JP, Reyna, Frankie, Ludwin, Jimmy, Rico, Fred, Taylor and Eliza in their uptown neighborhood, as they reveal their honest struggles and career aspirations. Before the show’s premiere on tonight at 10 p.m. ET, we caught up with JP a.k.a. Audubon about the show, his start in music and representing the community he grew up in.
Chanel Cathey: How did the idea for the show come about?
JP: Myself, my friend Nelson, Becky and Pedro have a little production company and we make videos and photography. So we were thinking we had a new camera we shot a few videos for myself and we were like how can we do something that represents our neighborhood, and do something that will challenge us.
So originally they put me in charge of trying to cast for it, I went on Twitter and Facebook and I was like ‘is anybody interested – I’m working on a project for my neighborhood’ and nobody really responded. So I was like ‘okay, I am looking too far because I have friends that are all trying to do something with their lives and we always hang out so why not put my friends on it,’ so that’s what happened.
CC: You are working with your close friends – is it challenging, fun working together?
JP: It’s perfect because we can be so blunt with each other. Since I’ve known Nelson since I was like a child, I can tell him actually how I feel, I can say ‘no that’s wack, that’s not going to go’… The fact that we’re friends we just respect each other even more. So when we work with each other it’s even easier for us to work with each other – wasn’t really a problem at all.
CC: You’re a hip hop artist. Do you prefer being called a rapper?
JP: I prefer musician… I play the piano, I play the keyboard by ear, and I am learning how to read the notes. I make all kinds of music, I don’t just rap. I make all kinds of genres of music. I have a project called Digging for Sunlight that’s going to come out soon in February. You’ll get to see the type of music I make, it’s not just one sided. I make hip hop, R&B, and alternative.
CC: How did you get your start in music?
JP: I started in music a long time ago. I was always into music because my mom would listen to eclectic music like Salsa and then she would flip it to some Barry White. So I grew up already with my palette just wired on music. So that’s how I started and eventually I said I can do this myself, why don’t I just try it? I was like 11 or 10 when that happened and ever since then been going to chorus and glee club. People thought I was crazy.
Eventually I just started to sing because I couldn’t find anybody to sing a hook. Then I started making my own beats because I couldn’t find producers, so everything happened because my back was against the wall so I made the room bigger. It just happened from there – hard work pays off.
CC: Your stage name is Audubon. Did you get the name from the street in Washington Heights?
JP: Yea, that’s where I had my first fight at, that’s where I got my first kiss at. If I step out of the neighborhood – what better name to represent me and the neighborhood at the same time than Audubon where I grew up at.
CC: That’s a perfect segue to my next questions on the Heights, because it has a predominant role in the show. What do you like most about the Heights? What do you want this show to convey? What are the places and the things you love most that you want to come across?
JP: I want people when they see it to see how vibrant it is, how cultured the neighborhood is, how you can be far away from your country and still represent it. We want to bring that back because I feel like a lot of places are just being lost, that culture is being lost.
It’s also about the stories – how you can be from a neighborhood like the heights where nobody is supposed to make it out of here and you can do it from here, you can be different. Even us we are different. In the culture, we are like a subculture don’t really party much, we like to hang out a lot and stuff. The point is you can be different and from a hood like Washington Heights and make it and that’s what we want the show to convey. The neighborhood is going to love it because they are going to see how beautiful the neighborhood looks all the cinematography is amazing. The whole world is going to be like that’s a really beautiful neighborhood. There’s so much greenery but yet it’s so urban. It’s going to be awesome – we’re really proud of how it looks.
CC: Do you feel any pressure to represent your community?
JP: Big Time. Big Time. I feel like people are going to fall in love with the neighborhood but essentially they have to fall in love with us or else they’re not going to want to watch. That’s the major point we told MTV when we brought them the show we want to make sure the Heights would be proud of this, if not it wouldn’t make much sense. I’m not here to sellout.
CC: What do you think about any comparisons to the Jersey Shore that people might make?
JP: You’re bound for comparisons and you can be the furthest thing apart. You’re going to be compared because that’s just the way it is. The difference is that we were friends before the cameras ever existed, we were already friends. We weren’t cast and put together. Those people from Jersey Shore they shine because people fell in love with those characters, they fell in love with them as individuals and how they all connected with each other, that camaraderie. Now we are coming to the screen with all of that, that camaraderie. Nothing like this has been done before. That’s where the comparison stops.