October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and singer-songwriter Justine Skye is standing united in the fight against it with a new music video based on real-life events titled “Build.”

According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, “On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year. The courageous songstress is a survivor herself, and the earthy ballad featuring R&B newcomer Arin Ray lyrically tells both sides of broken trust in a relationship, but the petrifying music video illustrates the pain DV victims experience worldwide. “I was one of those people who thought, ‘Oh! Nobody would ever put their hands on me,’” Skye admits to Billboard.

Today, she is taking back her power by truth-telling and directing listeners to The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1−800−799−SAFE). Billboard connected with the Roc Nation artist to discuss how common is it for women to be encouraged to look the other way in dangerous situations, healing through music, and how “Build” (below) is paving the way for her forthcoming EP.

You acknowledged at the Hot 100 Music Festival that this video would be “shocking,” because “people don’t really know much about” you. Was it difficult to be this vulnerable on camera for “Build”?

Definitely, especially [considering I was] reenacting something I have been through. There were people in the room, and other women in the video that have been through [abuse], too. For my mother to watch [the filming was emotionally draining]. It was very sad. I was thinking about all the women who have experienced this. I’ve played the video for some people, and it was triggering. For the most part, I hope that people get the message I am trying to spread, which is awareness of the situation. Standing up to [domestic violence] is extremely important. It can happen to anyone.

You [must] find the strength to remove yourself from the situation. Understand that you are important. You are valuable. Your life is valuable. Your love is valuable! You deserve so much better.

In the lyrics of your new single, you say, “I could wish you would change/ But that won’t shake the pain.” In your opinion, how common is it for women to be encouraged to find empathy or look the other way in situations like these?

Oh, it is extremely common. Whether it becomes physical or not, it is obvious. People will hurt you in a relationship, but for the most part, [I feel] you may love this person so much that you do not want to believe it. So, [perhaps] you choose to ignore all of the signs, even when they are directly in your face. You don’t want to believe it is true. You don’t want to believe this person could hurt you this bad, so you, I guess, pretend. Well, I’ve definitely done that many times.

How was your studio session for “Build” with Arin Ray?

Quite funny. I had gotten the song before [him]. I’ve known Arin Ray for a while. I was working with Khristopher [Riddick-Tynes] from The Rascals. He was one of the producers on the record. Basically, I was like, “I gotta cut this song.” I have to finish this song. So, I would go to the studio whenever [possible]. Whatever session [Arin] was doing; I would just say, “Alright! Can we finish the song now?” So, I was invading Arin’s session, which was dope.

Arin Ray is an amazing artist. I wanted to fit him. He was taking a break. So, then I said, “Actually, Arin, would you want to get on this? You’re fire. So, give it a shot.”

After I finished my part of the song, Arin went in there and finished his verse almost instantly. Also, we were talking about the topic of this song. Arin and I spoke about relationships, our views on cheating, and beyond. That is how that [collaboration] came to be.

Justine Skye

Was there a song on Ultraviolet that helped in your message to other survivors?

Well, this was my first and hopefully last experience with this. [Domestic violence] was not a thought for me back then. It just wasn’t realistic in my world. I knew [abuse] was a real issue, obviously. Still, in my world, it was not something that I thought would ever, ever happen to me.

What is your message to other survivors during Domestic Violence Awareness month?

My message is, “Continue on your journey to love and positivity.” Something like this [experience] can make you lose so much trust in any relationship. It is hard to look at [new] people, and not think of the person that hurt you. So, [I’d say to them], “Guard your heart. Stay strong. Don’t give up on love. Do not completely cut people out. Be more aware of the signs.”

Apart from music, you appear to have reached a new level of self-awareness. You told Billboard, “Since I can’t build a man, I’m going to work on who I am. I need to focus on what’s going on with Justine Skye before I can help someone else change whatever demons are going on with them.” In what ways have you better-prioritize self-care?

I chose to stop blaming myself. I would think about the situation asking what I did wrong. I am focusing on all the things I did right. I am focusing on all the positive things that are happening in my life. After I went through this experience, I was so angry.

I don’t think I had ever reached that point of anger and sadness in my life. I did not even know I could [get there]. But, what it did show me is how strong I am. Honestly, it is true, you know [the saying], “God doesn’t put you through anything you can’t handle.” That is what I kept telling myself, in order to not completely break down. It still bothers when I think about it. For the most part, I surround myself with [good people].

[Domestic violence] showed me a lot about the people around me then, too. There were people I thought were my friends. It just helped me get this tunnel vision to do exactly what I am trying to. So, instead of lashing out on the internet, and entirely going crazy after the situation — I had to take a step back.

I went and saw a reader. I tried a lot [of different methods to heal myself]. I did everything to try and understand what these emotions were. Honestly, being able to put all of that energy into this visual, my music, and in this new project [lessened my pain]. I found a sense of sanity. It turned from me wanting revenge to understanding that, that’s not the message I wanted to portray.

I do not wish to seek revenge. Nothing can change what happened to me. It matters what I choose to do after [abuse], to make sure that this doesn’t happen to me again. I [shared my experience] in order to try and prevent this from happening to the next girl.

Following the release of your debut album, 2018 has been transformative year for you with the openness of your artistry. The single “Know Myself” is one of your greatest successes on streaming service platforms. How does that momentum feel?

It actually feels so amazing! “Know Myself” was something that I did messing around in the studio with my friend Vory. He is also an amazing new artist and songwriter. People did not really like the record when I first completed it. I thought, “You know what? This is my first test in trusting my instincts. I do not care what anyone has to say. I love this song. So, I am going to put it out anyway.”

The song began taking a turn of its’ own. Listeners began to love it. I realized the more authentic the music is to me, [the better it is received]. When I am apart of the process, you can tell. You can tell when [a record] is authentic or when it is just a song that anyone can sing.

What was one of the most memorable performances this year?

Off the top of my head, [I would say], my show at the Brooklyn Army Terminal Block Party. It was in my hometown. So, I felt incredibly close to the crowd. Also, [my performance at] the BMI Awards was memorable. I got to perform “Let’s Wait Awhile” for Janet Jackson. It was a tribute to her! They were honoring her at BMI. It was such a nerve wracking experience, but one I will never forget. Hearing Janet Jackson say my name was [surreal], and she thanked me. I’m just like, “Thank you, Janet!” [Laughs] It was an inspiration. There were young black R&B female artists [performing]. It was such an honor to be a part of that moment.

What was going through your mind as you were approaching the stage to perform for Janet Jackson?

Honestly, I am nervous every time I perform. I think that is still a beautiful feeling. It shows I am still human. I am not a robot going out there doing a job. I think, “Damn! I can’t wait to impress these people. I cannot wait to get out there and have fun.” I try to keep it as zen as possible before I get on stage. I have anxiety attacks. [Laughs] It was a very chill song. I am thankful for that because I just got to focus on my vocals and the emotion of the record, rather than dance steps.

I was thinking about not freaking out the whole time. I said to myself, “Just chill out, relax, you got this.” I looked at Janet, and she was smiling at me. I said, “Okay, I am doing good.” 

How does this forthcoming body of work showcase your growth from the full-length debut, Ultraviolet?

Well, I feel like [artists] try to be better than the last time. My sound is evolving. I feel like I am coming into my own. I am trying to develop my own brand of R&B. I am trying to tap back into what I was doing when I first started making music. I feel like as I got more into the industry or the ins and outs of sessions, it began to feel more of like a science project instead of actual art. I feel like I am falling back in love with music.

By Bianca Alysse Mercado for Billboard.com

About The Author

Bianca Alysse is an incurable music junkie, who lives for dance, art, and urban culture. She has worked alongside some of the most ingenious entertainment moguls. Her ink covered hands grabbed her BA in Journalism and ran to New York City.

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