Joshua Cornelius grew up in tough surroundings: the B.W. Cooper/Calliope housing project in Central City. He was once, he says, a “very violent kid who fought a lot and carried a gun.”
But this emerging New Orleans hip hop/bounce star has turned his life around. These days, as JC Styles, “The Man of Style,” he promotes nonviolence and tries to “touch as many individuals as possible” through his progressive and relatable brand of music.
Styles, who attended Sarah T. Reed High School, grew up in a musically-oriented family, giving him, he says, ” a special ear for music.” His mother sang in a church choir and his father was a well-known drummer who preformed with several gospel groups. His great-grandfather was the late, great Danny White, a New Orleans rhythm and blues vocalist and bandleader whose best-known recordings, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” and “Loan Me Your Handkerchief,” were sizable regional hits in the early 1960s.
Styles first performed in front of an audience when he was 4 years old, receiving a standing ovation for his part in a pre-school black history program. At 13, he starred in a school talent show, performing an Usher number. But it wasn’t until he turned 15 that he started to really consider music as a career.
At 17, after being displaced to Houston following Hurricane Katrina, Styles created a dance crew called the Flipside Boyz. Members recorded videos of themselves jumping over garbage cans and dancing in abandoned houses, garnering a following of more than 8,000 fans on MySpace. The Flipside Boyz would later incorporate the gyrating dance steps associated with bounce music, as well as other highly choreographed moves, into their routine. The group continues to serve as backup for Styles today.
Styles moved back to New Orleans at 19, where he earned high accolades at various local talent shows, joined forces with up-and-coming artist Lucky Lou’s FNS dance group and recorded his first hit single, “Hit Da Uncle Sam,” which received spins on a few Atlanta radio stations. But Styles says that his career really took off in 2011, when he participated in the first annual Crimestoppers Teen Peace Summit, which was backed by Q93 FM radio. Like Styles himself, the summit focuses on positive messages relating to the topics of crime prevention and conflict resolution, helping youth see how they can make a difference in reducing crime and promoting peace in the local community.
“My mission is to spread as much positivity as possible to change the landscape of the wonderful city we call New Orleans,” Styles says. “The type of music I perform is a merger of hi hop and bounce. But the real focus of my music is on letting loose, having fun, and positivity.”
Unlike so many rap artists these days, Styles refuses to glorify the negative aspects of life such as using drugs or turning to crime. Instead, he emphasizes the joys of life and spreads a positive message.
Styles says that he strongly believes that kids who are embedded in violent environments can develop empowering beliefs and peaceful attitudes through music and lyrics that contain the right messages.
“I really feel that children are our future and I value that,” Styles explains. “In my music, I teach nonviolence principles that can apply to everyday problems that our youth are being faced with today. My song ‘Step It Up’ is a non-violence 1-2-3 study guide that teaches all of the basic steps of turning away from violence.”
In 2102, Styles and his manager, Nadine “DJ NOLA” Robertson, created a Step It Up school tour aimed at preventing and curbing violence as well as providing information about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Robertson is the “visionary,” Styles says, while he serves as the mouthpiece. The program, with the slogan, “Together we can make a difference,” targets at-risk youth who may lack parental support, drop out of school, engage in promiscuous sex, and those who are already expressing violence, using drugs, and turning to crime.
In his performances, Styles promotes a dynamic and interactive relationship between himself and the audience, encouraging dance participation and group involvement. He also uses call-and-response chants (or “shout-outs”) mentioning local landmarks, neighborhoods, and aspects of New Orleans culture, which are characteristic of bounce music.
This kind of interaction, along with the lyrical references to local places, contains elements of historical African traditions that are rooted in local culture. In a city where a collective musical sensibility has been fostered through active participation in parades, parties, and nightclubs, perhaps it should come as no surprise that locals love Styles’ kind of musical interaction. Styles himself seems to understand that when he generates emotional electricity and a sense of cohesion in the audience, his message of nonviolence is more clearly heard.
Styles has performed around town at various venues, from local clubs like Siberia and Café Istanbul to area festivals, from the Boomtown Casino to parks and block parties. He recently participated in SXSW in Austin, and will next take the stage locally Thursday night at The Republic.
Styles has just released “Tazz versus JC Styles,” a new extended-play recording, that he says “is going to be epic.” The EP is out. Its entitled Tazz vs JC Styles. “The concept plays on my alter ego,” he says. “My bounce side versus my hip-hop side.”
He has also recorded a new music video for a single called “Peter Pan,” is working on a singled called “Barney Rubble,” and will be working on a few other music videos to promote the Step It Up nonviolence campaign.
“My focus is mostly on dancing, so I make songs for people to just vibe to,” Styles says. “You know, seeing people with joy on their faces, that’s my main mission and fulfillment. I just want to leave my mark. In the end, everyone will know I lived, I loved, I touched hearts, I was here.”
More information on JC Styles can be found at jcstylesofficial.com.
To get involved with the youth nonviolence movement, visit facebook.com/teamstepitup.
Meanwhile, catch JC Styles locally at these upcoming events:
This article by Michael Fishman is published as part of a service learning partnership between NolaVie and students in Dr. Diane Grams’ sociology classes at Tulane University.