Missy Elliott, Sharaya J Explain the ‘BANJI’ Movement


By// Starrene Rhett Rocque

Missy Elliott has an eye for talent. Enter Sharaya J, a rapper and dancer who is hard to miss, with her ever-changing bright hair colors and lipstick. The New Jersey native via Hawaii was thoroughly exposed to music at an early age. Her mom was an avid listener of various genres while her dad, a DJ, was a part of a popular crew back in hip-hop’s early days.

Fast forward to adulthood. Sharaya had begun working as a dancer in the industry and by chance a jam session with Missy Elliott through a mutual friend, at a party, lead to the spotlight she really wanted. Shraya’s debut single, “BANJI,” isn’t just about the music. She says it’s a movement as BANJI is an acronym for, “Be Authentic Never Jeopardize Individuality.” caught up caught up with Missy and Sharaya J to chat about their partnership and the creative juices they have brewing.

How did you and Missy link up?

Sharaya: We linked up a couple years ago, maybe five years ago. I was a dancer on a bunch of gigs and we both had a mutual friend who was a dancer, and my homegirl introduced us one day at an event and of course because we were dancers, as soon as the music came on we all started jigging and doing our freestyles and everything. In that moment, Missy asked me was I an artist or was I trying to become one. I told her I was trying to get my feet wet a little bit and I’d been doing writing and always been in music from back in the day and she took me under her wing.

Missy, what did you see in Sharaya that made you ask if she was an artist?

Missy: When I first met her I thought she was unique because she had no hair in the back and a huge bang. And I was like, “Wow, this makes me think about when I came out with the finger waves.” Finger waves had been around for a long time but when I was rocking them people were done with them. And I was looking like, people been done with the bang. That was the first thing that caught me like, okay she’s unique and different. My friend said, “She’s dope, you have to meet her!” And she was dancing and she told me her father was in a group. So I said I would help her because it was something unique about her. I felt like okay, she’s colorful—Missy two.

She had so many things that are working in her favor when I met her and then she just proved that she wanted this and would do whatever it takes to get there.

How did you guys come up with the concept for the “BANJI” video?

Missy: Being that I’ve been in this music game for two decades I was just like, first of all, I had to let them know, we ain’t got the “She’s a Bitch” budget or the “Rain” budget. The funny thing is I just woke up one day and was like, Imma buy a camera. So I went and got a camera and said let’s just shoot a little viral video so we can introduce people to you. So we sat down and we were just like, “What can we do different without having a Dave Myers or a Hype Williams behind it?” At the end of the day, there’s still ways to be creative that can grab people’s attention because I do feel like those people before we started spending that kind of money on videos didn’t have money like that. When you think about Salt-n-Pepa and MC Lyte and Big Daddy Kane – they didn’t have budgets like that and their videos were still creative. So we just sat down and said what can we do that could be different and unique, and we threw a lot of different stuff out there.

Sharaya, explain the concept behind what “BANJI” means. How did you come up with the song?

Sharaya: I knew I always wanted to come out with a movement, something that would promote something, and kind of be a description of what kind of music I was putting out, and how I’d represent myself to the world. I actually always had an idea of having a band called the BANJI Babes and so I was like this would be my little crew I’d come out with. But at that time, me and Missy linked up with some record execs who had a meeting just to let them hear the record and kind of introduce them to me. We put the meeting together, I hooked up with my BANJI Babes, and we put together a little performance because we always go full out.

The next day we got a call – one of the record execs – and his feedback was we like the record, we think Sharaya has star quality and presence, but the only thing we need to do is just take some of the club clothes off, put on some heels, sell them with sex, then get a weave, and then we’ll be good to go. That took me and Missy aback a little bit because our goal initially coming out was to try to be an authentic version of who I truly was. We always had the idea that the public, they know. No matter what advice, the public can tell when something is real and when it’s not. And so, one of Missy’s big things was we have to make sure that whatever you come out with is authentic to who you are and that it reads that way. Because that was our goal, that idea that the record execs gave to us was little disheartening mainly because we always wanted to do something that stuck to the roots of what I was trying to present to the world. And I remember sitting in my room and just thinking about it and just realizing, you know, I’m going to be the person who takes a stand and is not going to let those stereotypical views define who I am. In that moment, I remember writing “banji” all over my notebook and as I was writing, the word “individuality” stuck out to me with the “I” in banji. Then I got an idea like what if I actually put a word to match each one of these letters down here that would be an acronym for what I want to represent and this could be my movement? And that’s kind of how, “Be Authentic Never Jeopardize Individuality” came about.

I know the music industry is more about singles these days but are you going to drop an album?

Sharaya: I think we are working towards an album. We have a good amount of records. We never finish working on a record. We’re always looking for the next hot thing or the hottest thing. I think that for us we kind of take a step at a time, just feeling out what our next move or what we should do organically. I think we’re very conscious of each step that we make because we just want to do what’s best for Missy’s brand and my brand and make sure that everything we do is well thought out. So I think that we just allow the music and every step kind of speak to us and that actually determines the next move that we make.

That was pretty much it but is there anything you guys want to add?

Missy: The one thing I hope we can bring is boldness, creativity into what’s going on and I’ve always been – Sharaya, she reminds me so much of myself. I was a different artist from everybody else that was out. People thought I was a little crazy at first. Like, okay, we got the big blow up bag that was cute. Oh, now you gonna give us a bald head? Oh now you gonna swing from the chandelier? So hopefully we can make it fun, colorful, bold, and creative. That’s all we’re going to try to do. And make that music that you can play not just at the club but you can play at the neighborhood house party, cookouts, whatever. We just want people to dance and have fun.