Music

He’s J.P.: The Rising Milwaukee Rapper Opens Up About His Breakthrough ‘Bad Bitty’ Moment, Favorite Gospel Songs & Standing In His Truth

“Hey, huh, baow.” If that idiosyncratic synthesis of scatting and the Milwaukee lowend style isn’t already on loop in your head, it certainly will be by the time the summer of 2024 comes to a close. 

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Taken from the ridiculously catchy hook in “Bad Bitty,” the rump-shaking breakout single from rising Milwaukee rapper J.P., those onomatopoeias are emblematic of both the 19-year-old’s laid-back approach to music making and the storied history of vocal performance that informs his singing-rapping style. 

Earlier this spring (March 20), Billboard highlighted “Bad Bitty” in our weekly “Trending Up” column, which takes a look at songs that are on the verge of truly exploding. Predictably, the love for “Bad Bitty” quickly surpassed flash-in-the-pan TikTok status, with the danceable track collecting over 21 million official on-demand U.S. streams through May 2, according to Luminate, and spending six weeks on the TikTok Billboard Top 50, peaking at No. 27. Not only did the song’s viral success significantly broaden J.P.’s audience, he also proved to himself that he was capable of making another hit on his own. 

In 2022, J.P. had a smaller viral moment with “Juicey Ahhh,” another lowend-rooted track that has pulled over 3.8 million official on-demand U.S. streams through May 2. For J.P., born Josiah Gillie, the sound and success of his songs reflect the way he moves based on feeling. 

“I don’t write any of my music, it’s more of a feeling-type thing,” he tells Billboard. “Whatever songs you hear from me, if it makes you feel some type of way, you can automatically put two and two together, and that’s how I was feeling when I made the song.” 

One thing about J.P. — who’s also balancing a student-athlete career (he’s a power forward for the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point Pointers) with completing his musical performance major (with a vocal emphasis) — he’s always having fun. Just check out the countless TikToks he makes, leaning into his innate goofiness while still selflessly promoting his music at every turn. His effervescent records are undoubtedly party tracks, but his unique blend of soulful jazz, gospel-informed vocals and Milwaukee’s high-octane bass-heavy style have resulted in a sound that is on the fast track to dominate the summer and shine a more national spotlight on Cream City’s long-bubbling rap scene. 

In a lively conversation with Billboard, J.P. opens up about his favorite “turnt” church songs, remaining self-made and independent, and his plans beyond “Bad Bitty.”

Where are you right now? How’s the day going? 

I’m doing good. I just arrived at my hotel in LA, I’m walking into my hotel right now. I have a meeting with the CEO of Warner Records and [I’m gonna] go see PinkPantheress

We’re basically one month away from this being the summer of “Bad Bitty.” How has it been for you watching this song grow so quickly over the past few weeks? 

I really been locking in on stamping myself and stamping the moment, and making sure that it’s not just a viral song that just dies down in the next two months. [I want to make] it a household song and put more of a character out there – well, not the character, because it’s actually me. People are starting to actually fall in love with the person behind the music and not just the song “Bad Bitty.” 

[Over] the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of ups and a lot of good things going on. I’m just extremely grateful and humble to go through this and figure it out as we go. 

Where did you cut “Bad Bitty?” 

“Bad Bitty” wasn’t created in the studio. I made “Bad Bitty” on my phone and headphones… just like all the rest of my other music. It’s an app called BandLab, so I did that in the dorm room by myself. There wasn’t anybody in the room. My brother [Myles Gillie], who’s also my manager, was in the other room. Recently, I’ve moved to the studio. 

Talk to me a bit about the Milwaukee lowend sound. How would you describe that style to those unfamiliar with it? 

Milwaukee lowend, man, it’s definitely something different, but it makes you want to move. You got the fast taps and the fast hits that’s coming your way, so it has this bouncy feeling that makes you want to move in some type of way. I took [that sound] and I added myself to it and created a whole new genre of music because it’s not like regular lowend rap. I put it in there because I’ve always been a singer, but everybody doesn’t really want to hear that off the rip. There are plenty of R&B artists, so if you’re not Chris Brown or Usher, people don’t really want to hear you right now. I just took the R&B and I brought it to the lowend. It just created a contagious feeling, and now we’re here. 

Where do you hope the lowend sound goes from here? Do you plan to continue using it in your own music? 

Lowend music is more or less about rapping about driving fast cars and stealing cars and things of that nature. That’s not really my jig, I don’t do that. First of all, I’m big as a b—h, I’m the first target! So, stealing cars was never really my thing. So, I just took it and flipped it. I just kept the beat-type s—t. If there’s anything lowend about my music, it’s the beat.  

As far as how I’m delivering the music, that has nothing to do with lowend at all. That’s just me. It’s my style on the lowend beat, and anybody from Milwaukee would say the same. 

There’s a lot of momentum in the Milwaukee rap scene right now. How is the scene to working together to put each other on? What does that community look like? 

The community is great right now. In every city there’s a lot of hate, there’s a lot love, but the city is the city, and there’s a lot more love than hate. The artists that are blowing up from the city, it’s well-deserved for them.  

It’s just a testament [to the fact] that there’s actually talent in Milwaukee, because the artists that blow up are all different. They all have different sounds. They rap about different things, but they’re all from Milwaukee. You won’t turn on Chicken P and turn on one of my songs and hear a correlation, but we’re both from Milwaukee. 

Have you ever felt like Milwaukee has a kind of underdog status in comparison to other scenes across the country? 

One thing that I love to see out there [in New York] and that I notice about them is [that] they all show love to whoever got the hot hand. Regardless if you from Queens, the Bronx, uptown, it don’t matter. If you got the hot hand, they gonna get behind you — because at the end of the day, you’re New York. 

In Milwaukee, it’s not like that all the way. It’s like a crab-in-a-barrel city. Everybody don’t want to see you win. Some of them wanna say, ‘Oh yeah, he got there, but he messed up.’ Like I said, every city has that. And Milwaukee isn’t like a New York City, where there’s so many people you can get damn near the whole nation behind you.  

It’s already a small city, and you would think that by being a small city that everybody would come together, but it’s not like that all the time. But it’s okay, because the lovers and the haters will get you there. 

When and how did you settle on your stage name? 

My real name is Josiah. My nickname for Josiah is Jody. In Milwaukee, it’s popular to add the letter P to the end of your name — because it’s like a Milwaukee thing. This was way before all that “Pushin P” s—t. Even if you look at some of the artists from Milwaukee, like Chicken P, Myaap, etc. “P” is like “player,” but everybody player, so everybody just adds P to the end of their name. 

My name was always Jody P as far as [an] artist name, but I decided to shorten it up and just put J.P. because it was a little easier. It had more of a lil ring to it.  

You’re currently in college majoring in music. Why did you choose that major? What are your earliest musical memories? 

I don’t have a crazy musical background, but I’ve always been a musical child. I always thought it was normal for me, but apparently, it isn’t normal for everybody. Things that had to do with music, I always caught on to. It was always very easy for me to do. I’m real good at looking at something and listening to it and mimicking it all the way down to where it’s in my arsenal. When I went to college, I knew I didn’t want to stop singing, so I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna audition for the voice area music. I went and auditioned and I made it. 

I accidentally auditioned for the vocal jazz scholarship; I was thinking it was a part of the actual music area audition. I ended up doing that too, and I got a vocal jazz scholarship. That was kinda my deal. 

Who do you remember listening to growing up around the house? 

I grew up and spent a lot of time around my grandmama. As a baby, I used to watch a lot of musicals. I was watching a lot of Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz. That flowed over into artists like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Luther Vandross, Quincy Jones, all of those people. I got my vibrato from listening to [classic pop] singers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jackie Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald – I don’t know why, but everybody from that era always had hella vibrato. Just listening to [them] over and over and over again, I subconsciously learned how to master vibrato. 

I didn’t realize all of that stuff wasn’t normal to have in your arsenal until I got to college. [I saw] a lot of kids that have been doing music their whole life, get into their vocal lessons and struggle to do this or struggle to hold this note or struggle to activate their vibrato. And I’m like, Just do it like this. But I’m in my head like, I’ve been doing this since I was seven

It’s funny you mention that you grew up with your grandma because a lot of people online clocked that from your mannerisms. Do you embrace having an old soul? 

People been saying I have an old soul since I was like five years old, especially the older people. They always welcome me like, You’ve been here before. [Laughs.] It was definitely something I was already used to, and I know I got an old soul, but that’s just how I’m maneuvering and grooving. That’s just me. 

What’s your favorite class you’ve taken for your music major so far? 

Probably actual vocal lessons with Professor Susan Bender. She just retired my sophomore year, which is this year, but she has an amazing, beautiful voice. I’ve never had vocal lessons, so I auditioned after the basketball season of my freshman year. I didn’t become an actual voice area student until the beginning of my sophomore year. I got to work with her and she was amazing. 

You’re also a student-athlete. Have basketball and music always coexisted in your life like this? 

I didn’t really start taking basketball serious until my eighth grade year [when I got] added to my first AAU team called Sports Academy. They paid for my jerseys and all that other good stuff. Then my freshman year of high school, when one of my assistant varsity coaches was a part of the Running Rebels, [I joined through] this thing called Be the Change program that was also founded in Milwaukee. That was when I started actually playing and taking basketball serious.  

As far as music, I used to always make music, but I’d keep it on my phone. My assistant coach, he was one of the day ones that always had to listen to the bulls—t that I was putting out. I was horrible quality and s—t, but I had just started making music, so he would tell me if that s—t was a—or not to what I needed to fix. So, shoutout to him. 

You’re balancing a rising career, athletic commitments, academic commitments, your own personal life, etc. How are you keeping everything together right now? 

At this time right now, you definitely learn to lock in and key in to the people that actually are there for you, because now you can’t really be friends with everybody like how you used to be. As much as you want to be, you can’t. You can’t be a regular person no more. You gotta move a little different, because everybody has a hidden agenda now. 

I’m praying, man, really keeping myself sane and making sure I’m not letting what’s going on run my life. I’m not letting that control and consume me. The biggest thing right now, is staying completely humble, because that’s what got us here in the face. 

You’ve had a couple of viral media clips recently, including a No Jumper appearance, in which the hosts tried to clown you for standing in your truth regarding your past sexual experiences. What’s it like navigating the hip-hop industry considering how historically inhospitable the space has been for those who fall outside of the heterosexual norm? 

I’ve never really been the person that cares what anybody else has to say. I personally feel like whatever I got to say is law, so whatever the hell come out of my mouth, if I said it, then that’s what the hell means something. If you heard about something that’s going on, you’re like, That’s some Jody s—t. It’s like Damon from Friday [After Next]. You’re not gonna walk up to Damon and be like, Oh, you gay, cuz. You leave him alone type s—t.  

I definitely know that it’s not a normal thing [in hip-hop], but it takes a certain type of individual to embark on this journey the way I do. I know a lot of people, [had they] been in my seat, would have been on suicide watch. Everybody can’t take that, especially at the degree that I’m [getting it.] The whole world got something to say, but it don’t matter — because at the end of the day, nobody with a brain is going to walk up and say something to me about it. And if they do, I’m a young man that knows how to speak and talk through situations. If you need clarity, I can give you clarity, but I really don’t owe you anything. I can give it to you, if that’s what you’re looking for. 

You gotta know how to take you on the chin, boss. Why would you want to become a detriment to yourself over something that I did five years ago? That doesn’t make sense. You gonna have the people that be funny, but you gotta know that that it comes with that. You’re gonna have people that’s gonna laugh about you. You’re gonna have people that’s going to repost and say this and say that, but it’s alright, bro. That’s the name of the game. 

That lil head-bobbing dance also helped “Bad Bitty” go viral. Where did that come from? 

That is something that I actually do, that’s not something that I made-up. If I’m in the club and somebody playing a song that I like, I’m gonna bob my head like that too. What happened was, when I first made the video to that “Bad Bitty,” it was somebody in the comments that was like, “Oh, the head bob is contagious.” So what I did was, I took the comment and made a video to the comment and just did it again.  

Once I seen that that was the pickup, I just like took it and ran with it. I’ve been doing that same s—t since I was like nine, in church listening to church music. 

Speaking of, what’s your favorite church song? 

It all depends on if you trying to be on some calm s—t or if you trying to get turnt! 

I’m tryna get turnt, what’s in your praise and worship bag? 

Okay so Byron Cage, “The Presence of the Lord is Here,” that s—t crack. “The Blood Still Works,” that s—t gets you going. “I’m Sold Out,” “Great God” by Deitrick Haddon, “Praise Him In Advance” by Marvin Sapp, “Best In Me” by Marvin Sapp, “Listen” by Marvin Sapp, “They That Wait” by Fred Hammond

You’ve previously spoken about how some of the vocal elements of “Bad Bitty” are kind of like your version of scatting. Who are your favorite singers when it comes to scatting? 

I [don’t] really have a favorite scatter. I just knew it was like thing. I know Ella Fitzgerald is cold at scatting, Lalah Hathaway is a cold ass scatter. That’s damn near all I know, but I know they good at it. [Laughs.]  

Are you thinking of signing to a label? Have you gotten any offers yet? 

I’m not in a rush to do anything. We have some offers on the table, but I’m not really in a rush. Everything going on with me right now [is] organic. The majority of things that I’ve done all the way up to this point, a lot of labels are paying for their artists to do these things. I did this just off of pure networking and organicness, if that’s the word.  

Are there any careers you’d like to emulate? 

I don’t think there’s anybody I would like to emulate off the rip, but I do have some inspirations. I think Jay-Z is one of the biggest ones, because I noticed how he kept his group tight-knit and gave them jobs. He could have got the best person in [each] area, but he gave opportunities to the people that was around him and kept his circle tight. Lil Baby keeps a lot of same people around too. 

I’ve been hearing whispers of a potential “Bad Bitty” remix or two. What’s up? 

I ain’t gonna say too much, but it’s up in the air. It might come two weeks from now, might come tomorrow. It’s definitely gonna be [fire] when [it] do come out. Since we’re all here talking about remixes and who’s gonna be on there, I just want to put out into the universe: If I could get Coi Leray on there, that would be great. Let’s put that out there to the universe tenfold, and hope that comes back. 

You can definitely be expecting a project coming towards the end of May or early June, right in that sweet spot of summer. I got music videos on the way. I got another single that’s going to be on the way as well with the music video following up behind that. We moving and grooving. We’re here and we stamping our name. 

When was the last time you made a bitty hit her knees? 

No comment. You tried to slide that in there smooth! [Laughs.

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