Soon after, JAQ and her team went out looking for industry support, a way to formalize their work. But as she learned the intimacies of the music business, the structures of record and management deals, she became increasingly turned off. “They basically say, we’ll invest in you for all of your IP, in perpetuity,” she says.
“I was like, I’m not showing that to anybody,” she says. “I wouldn’t even ask that of my own child.”
JAQ threw out all of those deals before ending up with Caroline, which was the most flexible and amenable to her needs. A lot of other labels had an equation, JAQ explains, and would turn down the types of artists VFiles was prone to feature—saying they’re too young, too new, they don’t have enough followers, they’re not trending, the right people haven’t picked up on them yet. “That’s kind of the whole point of why VFiles works,” JAQ says. This was about fostering the greatest youth community in the world—not waiting until someone else approved it first.
One evening last May, A$AP Rocky was trapped in a glass box at Sotheby’s, but JAQ’s attention was squarely on a 20-year-old kid named Delly. She was at the auction house for Rocky’s Testing album-release event, but JAQ is always talent scouting. Delly—who happens to be A$AP Ferg’s younger brother—looked cool and seemed interesting, and when you might be downtown’s most productive, efficient and on-point tastemaker since Fab Five Freddie, that’s all it really takes. “Most VFiles employees have a special thing and it’s enthusiasm and energy. He has both of those,” JAQ says. She asked if he had any interest in interning at her store.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, why not, let’s do it,’” Delly says. He’d been making music for about seven months by then, alternately calling himself the “Prince of Harlem” and “Silky Papa.” At VFiles he worked the floor and also served as a talent scout for new music, spending nine-hour stretches on YouTube looking for new acts, eventually working his way up to being a full-time community ambassador. His recipe for success: “In order to be relevant you have to know who’s relevant.”
In those YouTube holes he’s looking for good music, of course, but that might not even be the most important thing. “When someone doesn’t have a presence that can go along with their songs, then they’re not much of an artist,” he says. “Chief Keef wouldn’t have been Chief Keef if he wasn’t a dread-headed ashy kid with guns from Chicago.”
The day I meet him Delly is working the floor, but also blasting his own music, and dancing to it. He slides and hops around the store. He likes the energy. “VFiles is a crazy cosign,” Delly says. “Once you’re affiliated with VFiles you’re seeing the talent that comes through.” He’s met Soulja Boy and Blueface there. Other folks, too: “If somebody’s underground, but they’re lit, like Yoshi24K, and they want to get involved in VFiles, they gotta talk to someone that will respond to them.” He’s the liason.
He’s also VFiles’ first homegrown artist, the first person to go from intern and shop clerk to releasing music under the VFiles label. JAQ can’t talk much about the future details of their partnership, but he goes into work at the VFiles store every day—and when he’s released music, he’s preferred to do it with them, too.
JAQ also plans on expanding to music videos this year. She recently spent an afternoon counting all of the product placements in DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One.” JAQ imagines a fully integrated circular system: a VFiles stylist, VFiles videographer, VFiles clothes. She recently launched the VFiles Yellow Label, their first in-house higher-end clothing line designed by Paul Cupo, who used to work at Hood by Air. “We’re probably the only place that can do incredible fashion in the music videos and the whole thing is VFiles.”
And as for the rest of the music they plan to release, JAQ is focused on her community right here in New York City. “All we hear about is LA,” she says. “Coachella is the influencer Olympics.” But what about right here? “We want to focus on the artists that we are exposed to and hear on a daily basis.” The doors on Mercer Street are wide open.