Iyaz went from never wanting a record deal to reaching No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts with his island pop influenced single, “Replay,” in a matter of two years. Sean Kingston discovered the 22-year-old British Virgin Islands native on MySpace in 2008. A song called “Island Girls” that was recorded by Iyaz and college friends as a leisurely past time was what made Kingston tell JR Rotem about his potential new prospect. By 2009, Iyaz was recording his album.
Iyaz initially ignored messages sent by Kingston but on the fateful day he responded, his life took a turn in an unexpected direction. The Warner Music Group signee has since scored songwriting credits with Kingston and Miley Cyrus and is gearing up to release his debut album, Replay, in June. The newbie explains to VIBE how he went from undergrad to budding pop star at lightning speed. ⎯Starrene Rhett
VIBE: Where in the British Virgin Islands are you from?
Iyaz: I was born in St. Thomas but I grew up in Tortola.
Were you into music at all as a child? And what were your original career goals since you were in college when you got signed?
I’ve been singing ever since I was young. My whole family sings⎯mom, dad, sisters. My mom was a choir director and everybody else who wasn’t a choir director was in the choir. I wanted a music career but I always wanted to be behind the scenes because my family⎯we’re some low-key types of people. So I was in school for music engineering.
When did you realize that you wanted to try being a pop star?
I realized it when I got signed. It’s something that I got used to very fast. I adapt to anything. I’m a sponge. Everything was happening so fast but you can’t just sit around and mope about change, you have to move with it and work hard.
Did you finish school?
I was a month away from getting my bachelor’s. My mother wanted me to stay in school but I told her I could pay off student loans fast like this [Laughs]. I plan to go back though.
What is it about your sound that attracted Sean Kingston and J.R. Rotem?
I have no idea what it was. [J.R. Rotem] just said it was something about my voice. Sean and I are both from the islands and have a passionate softer voice. And Sean Kingston said he had wanted to work with me for a while. So when I finally got to work with [J.R.] we just went in and did a few songs together and he was adapting to working with me and I was adapting to some of the stuff that he did and now it’s nothing but chemistry in the studio.
Talk about your debut album and what people can expect.
It’s called Replay and it’s coming out in June. People can expect high energy. It’s island pop at its best and the sound is consistent with my singles “Solo” and “Replay.” I’m talking about the ladies and everything that we go through in with them and what they do. Guys can look at it as a manual for what you should do in a relationship. Don’t call girls wrong names, don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to show her how much you appreciate her, little things carry a long way.
The shift in island-influenced music seems to have moved away from dancehall and toward island pop, why so?
Dancehall is definitely still in the islands but in the States, sometimes it’s one thing, something’s it’s another thing. I don’t know why that is but as far as island pop, if I have anything to do with it, I’m going to make sure it’s on forever and ever.
How will you avoid being written off as a Sean Kingston sound-alike?
By staying in my own lane. I don’t want to be categorized or compared to anybody unless you say they’re different in a sense that the music they do or the type of music they bring forth makes you feel good because that’s the type of music I do. I just like to make good positive music that everybody can feel good about.