Joni Blu Bio
More than two million people are currently incarcerated in “the land of the free,” the largest prison population of any country in the world. And although Black people make up less than 13% of the US population, people of color are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates than other race, accounting for 33% of all prisoners within state and federal prisons, as well as in local jails. Of those numbers, roughly half will end up back in prison after release due to systemic racism, poverty and lack of employment opportunities.
South Florida’s next music sensation Joni Blu could have easily been among those numbers. After serving more than a decade in prison for armed robbery, he refused to become another statistic when he hit the streets.
Instead of returning through those revolving doors of the penitentiary, he opened his own music studio, Panic Room, has been beating the streets over the past two years with simmering singles “All In” and “Be Great” and is now prepping for the release of his first official solo project Graduation.
“Going to prison was a good thing because if it would have never happened, I wouldn’t be in the position that I am now,” Joni Blu admits. “It had its value, and it saved my life. I don’t regret nothing I did. I learned from my mistakes.”
Born Joni Charlestain in West Palm Beach, Fla. to Haitian immigrant parents, young Joni came up on the rough side of the mountain. The oldest of five children, he watched his mother struggle for as far back as he could remember. His father served time behind bars for cocaine trafficking and deported back to Haiti when Joni was still a youngster. And added to that, Joni caught hell from other kids on a daily basis because he was different.
“I got picked on all the time because we couldn’t afford stuff. My parents were old school, so we were going to school in church clothes, church shoes. When you’re Haitian, you can’t afford Nikes so you’re wearing Spaulding,” he laughs. “They used to clown us for that.”
Being the oldest child, Joni naturally took on the role as man of the house and started hustling at only 13 years old. “I was in the streets trying to get some money to help my mom because she was a single mother trying to feed five,” he divulges. “So I was doing whatever I could do to help whether it was right or wrong. We gotta eat. The lights gotta stay on. It was some nights we didn’t have no lights.”
It was doing wrong that got him sentenced to 12 years on an armed robbery charge. Ironically, though, it was in prison that he discovered a love for music. “I used to see talented guys in there rapping,” he remembers, “and I was like ‘you know what? I got the flow. I got the swag. Let me start taking this shit serious.’”
He got with a couple of other inmates and started writing rhymes. Back when he was younger, he would dabble with writing poetry, but it had been a long time since he picked up a pen. Rusty at first, Joni kept at it, and before long, he began to master his craft.
“Eventually, I started picking up the flow,” he thinks back. “I told myself ‘when I get out, I’m going to open up a recording studio.’”
And that’s exactly what he did. When he planted his feet on free ground, however, he was faced with many challenges. First, he had no money. Secondly, his mother’s house was facing foreclosure. Third, the house was in shambles and slowly rotting away. Even though the odds seemed to be stacked against him, there was no way he was going to let her house get taken away.
“I was working crazy jobs, delivering pizza, moving furniture, whatever it took to get this money to get my mom’s house out of foreclosure,” he details.
He was able to make enough to get his mom’s house out of foreclosure and start several legit businesses. To bring the house back to life, Joni got some friends together to fix it up themselves. In the midst of rebuilding the home, he formed an alliance with fellow entrepreneur Jay Blanco. They built a small studio in the den of the home and called it the Panic Room.
In 2015, he dropped his debut album Gangsta Blues. “It sucked,” he laughs. “I didn’t have any engineers or anything. We were doing everything ourselves… I didn’t know what I was doing. All I knew was that I had to do this.”
Over the years, Joni soaked up priceless musical knowledge. He formed a merger to form Born Wild/ Panic Room Studios and is now on the verge of releasing masterpiece project Graduation.
“My music is real. It’s my life. It’s facts. It’s my story. It’s where I’m coming from. It’s where I’m going,” Joni Blu describes. “It’s on the gritty side but it’s a lot of things. I got some soft music, music on the R&B side. I got crunk in there. It’s just crossover music. It’s something in there for everybody.”