It's a sunny LA afternoon and Justin Love has just landed in the city with a new sense of freedom. "I was on lockdown from this contract, but I'm still out here working," he says over the phone. "I'm creating a bunch of beautiful things that I couldn't share, and it felt like I was in jail. I was free to do whatever I want, but I still couldn't do what I want. Locked-up free."
Freshly out of his old deal and just ahead of his new EP release When Love Returns, the 23-year-old singer is just getting started. Grinding his way up through the industry with writing credits on big name tracks like Focus (H.E.R), Love's artistry drills down deeper than just being the Internet's MCM. A singer, songwriter, and producer all in one—Love is the R&B artist who brings it all to the table.
The New Jersey native starting singing at the age of four and writing his own songs and making beats when he got a computer in middle school. Navigating the industry proved a steeper learning curve than his natural knack for songwriting, he says. "I ran into understanding that you needed to understand the business aspect of things if you really wanted to do this," he said. "I was unable to put out music for almost three and a half years, but now I'm finally about to drop When Love Returns. I'm back. I'm here. I've been gone for a while, but I didn't let y'all down."
Long before songs like "Stress No More" earned over 1 million streams on Spotify, Love was already engineering music. "I started on YouTube when I was 16," he said. "I actually started writing my own songs and making my own beats, and I was posting that on YouTube, but then someone scared me and was like, 'Yo, someone could steal it.'" He gained traction though, cultivating a fan base that recognized him in the streets. "When I turned 17, I would go to the mall and a bunch of girls would come up to me like, 'Oh, you're Justin Love!' I had my Bluetooth speaker, and I would perform for them right then and there. It was a dope experience. I felt like a little local celebrity."
As a modern artist, it was ultimately social media that propelled Love's career to the next level. His R&B covers of hip hop songs starting going viral on Instagram and Twitter. And though it's the covers that initially got him noticed, like other young artists getting their start online, Love wants to be known for the work he creates. "I want to show people, look, one day you guys are gonna see the process of me making a beat, writing the song, recording myself, mixing my sessions, and doing everything myself with absolutely zero people in the room but myself. And I know there's other people out there that can do it too, but they need to see me, or just anybody, to believe they can."
Love is passionate when discussing his creative process. "I don't know what it is, I got this soul in me that, once I hear something, it just punches lyrics out my mouth. It beats colors into my mind, it's so beautiful," he said. He draws musical inspiration from his life and the stories of those closest to him, and it seems that above all his intention is to lift up others, which is part of what makes his charm so infectious.
"All my pain, how much fire I got in my heart, everything that everybody around me is going through that I really don't want them to be going through, I got you, man. I appreciate all of this whole heartedly," he said. "Looking at my mom and seeing her smile, that's inspiration. Looking at my mom and seeing her cry, that's inspiration."
When Love Returns is full of tracks that smooth and laid back—perfect to smoke to, Love says. "If you're of age, smoke something and then listen to it. If not, definitely set your lights off, catch a vibe. Be with somebody, be with your man, be with your girl."
But on the heels of all this success, there is only more in store. "Once the album drops, we're definitely going to plan a tour. I'm doing everything independently, but I have my team with me. I'm pretty sure that we'll be all over the world."
Stream When Love Returns below: