“Side-chick” culture may be popular right now, but rising crooner JR Castro wants to bring back the times in R&B music when it was cool to sing to one woman..You".
As a kid growing up in North Town neighborhood of Las Vegas, JR Castro fell under the spell of R&B music, thanks to his parents. “My dad would play Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Midnight Star, The Commodores, and Prince all day every day,” he says. He first became interested in singing himself when he noticed that it impressed the girls. “I had two friends in junior high who would sing to the girls at lunchtime,” Castro recalls. “It tripped me out. It made me really want to try it. I actually sounded kind of decent and I realized, ‘I can actually do this.’ I started loving it. Next thing you know, there was nothing else I wanted to do.”
When Castro realized he could sing, he gravitated toward artists like Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Baby Face, Brian McKnight, and Usher, and took notes on what they were doing.
He has done just that Castro has made a huge splash since coming on the scene a year ago. With his lead-off single “Get Home” (Get Right) ft Kid Ink & Quavo hitting the Top 10. Tall and chiseled, with a smile that takes up half his face, Castro has the charisma, talent, and vision to bring R&B back to the pop charts. But the 27-year-old singer and songwriter’s story has all the epic twists and turns of a movie, complete with death, divorce, broken dreams, and the redemptive spirit of a mentor who appeared just when those dreams began to feel like a distant memory.
Castro got his first break in the music industry with the vocal group I-15, who were signed to Polow Da Don’s Zone 4 imprint with Interscope Records. The group achieved some success with their 2007 single “Lost in Love,” but disbanded soon after. “I went back to Vegas from Atlanta without a penny in my pocket,” he says. At the same time, Castro was grieving over the recent death of his mother, who had been struggling with a serious illness for many years. In addition, his wife was pregnant with their first child. Castro knew he had to do whatever it took to make a living. “It was a really depressing time,” he says. “My mom had passed, I was about to be a first-time father, and the group had broken up. I felt like all that hard work I had invested was for nothing. So music wasn’t even a factor. It wasn’t even on my radar. I was in a really dark place. I didn’t want anything to do with music because I had a kid on the way and music wasn’t going to put food on the table. I didn’t feel like I had any right to be in a recording studio.”
Castro hustled to make ends meet. He unloaded trucks for FedEx, worked in the Tire & Lube Express at Wal-Mart, and took a job at a Converse shoe store. When those didn’t work out he drove a bus and worked in the warehouse at the Golden Nugget Casino. Eventually, his marriage fell apart, and now with three daughters to support, he put all his dreams aside. “I woke up feeling like shit every day, but I had to keep a smile on my face because I couldn’t let my kids down,” he says. “The music business is a gamble, and, as a man, you gotta provide by any means necessary. So, if it meant putting music to the side, so be it.”
Over the next few years, Castro continued to write and record songs, but resisted doing anything with them, even when his inner circle insisted they preferred his music to what they were hearing on the radio. “I didn’t want to deal with the business part of the music,” he says.
It took an unlikely meeting with hip-hop heavyweight Timbaland to lure Castro back into the game he loved. The two met backstage at Justin Timberlake’s final show in Vegas in August 2014 threw mutual friend Jason "Poo Bear” Boyd introduced Castro to Timbaland, he said, "’Yo, man, what's your name? Where you from? You a rapper or a singer or something,’” Castro recalls. “I told him I sang a bit. He said, ‘Man, listen. Take my information down. I’m working at The Palms while I’m out here. Slide through so we can build.’” Castro did exactly that. He played Timbaland some records and soon after, Castro and his crew flew out to Tim's studio in Virginia Beach to work on tracks.
“It was meeting Timbaland that really made me believe in myself again,” says Castro, adding that he grew up listening to Timbaland and the records he made with Aaliyah, Ginuwine, and Missy Elliott. “He told me straight up that he hadn’t felt this feeling toward any kind of male R&B artist in a long time. That the last time was with Ginuwine. When he said that, it made me feel like my mother was speaking to me through him. She really believed in me. She was the first one who reassured me that I was good enough to compete with the majors. He basically gave me the push to get back into this. It was like he hooked his jumper cables up to mine and revved me up and I’m good now. Focused!”
Timbaland, who produced “FMN” on The EP, is one of the many hit-making producers who have lined up to work with Castro. His other collaborators include DJ Mustard (who produced “Get Home,”) DJ Camper (“MOB”), Polow the Don (“How You Do”) and his producers The Audibles, working on tracks that will be featured on his upcoming debut album. And this time, Castro will have complete control of the music, marketing, and branding — having formed an independent company, PMG, with the same core group of friends who held him down while back in Vegas.
JR Castro sets his soulful falsetto to seductive songs that explore places where romance and sexuality intersect, but he turns up the heat several notches, displaying a youthful street vibe that will appeal to listeners raised on hip-hop. “Lately, R&B music is rarely geared toward one woman,” he says. “It's always talking about sleeping with this girl, then that one, then on to the next. That doesn't make women feel special. And I think that’s why women conduct themselves like men these days. They’re player-types, too, because they’re influenced by the music. It's like that saying, ‘If you can't beat ’em, join ’em.’ And I think that's what's missing. We need to get back to making women feel special. That was my whole goal with my music. I want to be the voice of what’s been missing.”
Castro doesn’t shy away from being sexually explicit. (Neither did his idols Prince, Maxwell, and D’Angelo). “The lyrics are very provocative,” he admits, “but at the same time, they’re about love. There are many faces to loving someone. I’m just speaking what every guy who’s in love with a girl feels, from the nastiest things you want to say, to the sweetest things, it's all on here, and I think people will appreciate it. I want women listening to it to feel sexy and beautiful and special. I want them to feel like they're the most important thing in the world to someone. And if men don’t have the words to say it, they should play their lady my music. I want to help them get their message across. Maybe a couple of babies will be made in the process,” he says with a smile.