I first saw Jess Connelly on stage at Wanderland 2016. It was the time when she collaborated with electro-wunderkind CRWN, producing hits like “Wait” and “With You,” songs that eventually made up their first EP together.
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In a lineup that mostly catered to international acts and their unwavering fanbase, there she stood at par with them, unintimidated and unapologetically herself. As CRWN’s intricately placed samples and beats looped, Jess’ sultry, low-tempo range filled the open arena. Everyone vibed with her, before “vibing with” anyone was even a thing.
“I never wanted to be a leading lady. I was very young also when I did that. It’s just not appealing to me.”
Looking at Jess is almost intimidating. In pictures and in person, she’s the walking definition of a “strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man.” Her stare is strong, face beat for the gods, and her standout urban style can blow Sade away.
Everyone’s first reaction to this slick, R&B maiden is: “Damn, she got it all together.” But onlookers like me don’t know the hustle and grind before everything gets good. Nothing she achieved right now as J Con was ever easy. Still, she did the work anyway.
Where did it get her? To reppin’ the Philippines across Asia and the US, diversifying local music’s common mold. It has something to do with her making everything—highs and lows, joys and pain—work for her so she can get her sound out there.
“I never wanted to be a leading lady. I was very young also when I did that. It’s just not appealing to me. ‘Cause I wouldn’t be happy. For what? For people to tell me that I’m pretty? I’m okay. I’d rather people tell me that they love my music,” she told us back in 2015.
I belong to the demographic who knew Jess as a musician, never the PBB reality star where she got her first taste of the limelight. Her reputation as a staple in the local electro-R&B scene took a while to come to fruition. Back in 2015, she’s still grinding to be known as your late-night gig soundtrack.
People told her the artista route is the only way to get her sound out there. But after some acting stints here and there, it didn’t pan out as quick as she hoped for. That’s when she took matters to her own hands.
Coming to the public as an artista might have gotten Jessica Connelly’s name out there, but she built who Jess Connelly is now—the R&B songstress who built herself from the ground up.
After her short-lived career as Sinyma’s front-woman, she became her own hype man. She started building her own brand. Tapping producers like CRWN and Lustbass, her tracks finally found their way out to the crowd, and people listened.
The culmination of her hard work in the past years is everywhere. Her JCon mixtape released last year proves how she grew as an artist. Compared to her first EP release with CRWN, this is a 13-track mixtape, flexing what she has learned and who she is now.
“It has a consistent sound–one that reminds us of confident affection and intimate longing. Her mood-driven R&B positions itself in, while also slowly developing into something more mature, and in a way authoritative of the elements that make her sound,” we wrote about her mixtape last year.
She’s her own songwriter, manager, promoter, and publicist. Coming to the public as an artista might have gotten Jessica Connelly’s name out there, but she built who Jess Connelly is now—the R&B songstress who built herself from the ground up. “The masses would benefit so much from being exposed to real music and real artistry—and I’m not throwing shade here. [There are many local artists] creating their own content, making their own music, all of that stuff. I see that every day with my friends and that’s what I’m fighting for,” she said.
“The masses would benefit so much from being exposed to real music and real artistry.”
Right now, she’s no longer the shy front-woman performing in Route 196 for the first time. Jess Connelly commands every stage she steps on. She gets a crowd bumping with her words and beats, while defying the formulaic pop princess status our country has. Unlike your run-of-the-mill singer, she uplifts the culture by collaborating with names in the scene people need to hear.
If you go with the flow, that’s not bad. You do you. But it doesn’t hurt to create your own waves either. That’s what Jess Connelly pulled off. By being fearless on breaking and exceeding expectations, she didn’t just break out of the Philippine music scene—she went global because of it.
Still from Jess Connelly’s “Mine”