"Trenton, New Jersey rapper Josue Lora has been developing a striking style, both sonically and visually, over the course of several singles and a couple years,” notes WXPN’s The Key in a June 2021 website posting titled “There’s beauty in the simplicity of Josue Lora’s ‘Regalos’ video.”
The non-commercial Philadelphia public radio station’s review continues with, “Once the co-vocalist of the duo Agudos Clef, Lora’s solo work is hazy and contemplative, and on ‘Regalos’ (Spanish for ‘gifts’) we find him strutting in stylish attire, bathed in washes of saturated lights, and backed by blocks of striking color. It’s a simple concept, but a stunning execution, and as the visual flickers from teal to red to purple and white, his confidence and command of the camera is unfaltering.”
The brief review also takes notice of the video’s Trenton-based producer,
AStaxx Thebeatlord, and says the work “grooves to a pensive trap beat.”
Lora started getting praise from WXPN in 2015 when one of its reporters showed up at a Philadelphia venue and heard Agudos Clef (Spanish for treble clef), featuring co-partners Lora and area rapper Nota G with sound backup from Trenton DJ Ahmed (aka ItsJustAhmad). The impressed writer commended the band’s “driving beats, fierce delivery, and undeniable charisma.”
During a recent conversation at his Lora Productions studio at 439 Broad Street, Lora says he started seriously making music about a decade ago when the S.A.G.E. Coalition, a movement of young street artists, turned the Trenton Downtown Association’s Gallery 219 on East Hanover Street into Trenton’s nerve center for art and music.
“I started working at 219 with (artist Will) Kasso and (Trenton rapper) Black Collar Biz,” says Lora. “I then got a studio in Hamilton and met Nota G.”
In 2016 Lora partnered with Trenton community organizer and (Puerto Rican Civic Association president) Sam Kanig to create Casa Cultura at 222 South Broad Street. The spot was designed to foster Trenton Latinx talent and culture and Lora, of Dominican heritage, established a studio.
And while the venue eventually closed for financial reasons, it served as the workshop where Lora and Nota G recorded their first album and a performance place that allowed them to develop acts to take to other venues in Trenton and Philadelphia.
“We did that and got a bunch of people to listen, and I gained more popularity with my music and got more shows,” he says as he sits back in the chair in front of a sound board.
Founded in 2014, the company’s website says it “specializes in the production of documentary, graphic design, commercial film, music videos, photography, and audio recording.”
Clients run the gamut from boundary-pushing musicians looking to get a demo as well as traditional clients such as the Office of Governor Phil Murphy, City of Trenton, and Mercer County Community College, Lora’s alma mater.
It was also a past employer. Lora got a security guard job there, took advantage of the college’s free tuition for employees, and earned a film and video production-related associate’s degree.
Providing a brief sketch of his life, Lora says, “I was born in New York and lived there until I was almost three and went to the Dominican Republic until I was 8. I lived in Paterson, but I basically lived in New York where my mom worked in a hotel. My dad lived in the Dominican.”
He says when he was 12 his mother married a Trenton-area man and the family moved to Trenton. “I lived in Trenton in the Chambersburg area since I was 12. I’m 26 now.”
He graduated from Trenton Central High School and, in addition to MCCC, spent a year at Rutgers University studying marketing.
However, by that time, the road to establishing a production company was already being paved. “In ninth grade I signed up for Upward Bound, and you have to come to school every Friday in the summer and go on field trips and get paid.”
He says he also had two mentors who asked him to hone in his interests. “I said I’m into music and I like to film,” and they used that as a compass.
“All through high school I developed my talents more. I got an internship with WIBG and got a check and went and bought a first camera and started doing video tapes for my friends and charging them $100.”
He says he tried to get a conventional job and was hired by Taco Bell, but they never followed up with him and so continued making videos for friends, sometimes making $1,000 in a week.
“Someone asked if I could do real estate videos, and I was making $500 more. I figured I could start a business and started developing more and more clients.”
He adds that at the same time he was working on his music business he decided to follow what record companies did and created t-shirts for both himself and other musicians. Then he realized artists needed studio times, “so I could charge people to use my studio.”
“That’s where Lora Productions comes from,” he says. “After years of doing the same thing, I now have the music group, the studio, and production page” (aka online presence).
Clients come from a combination of word-of-mouth and community presence, as in the case of Governor Murphy’s Trenton-based communications director’s awareness of Lora’s company, and professional connections such as AStaxx, who is Lora’s main studio engineer.
Lora’s recent collaboration with the Trenton Music Makers illustrates the layers of connections. Released by the Music Makers as part of their digital Juneteenth Celebration, the effort funded by the TMM and the I Am Trenton Community Foundation involved young TMM musician, dancers from the Trenton Educational Dance Institute, and Lora in a remix of Lora’s composition “Simple,” available for online viewing at www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iVyYJwHArA.
He met Music Makers executive director Carol Burden several years ago. “The work that I did with (her) was super interesting,” he says. “It used everything I did and had a sense of community. That’s big with me.”
Moving back to his work, Lora says, “I actually own two businesses,” translating into two spaces on different floors of the building and two accounting systems.
They are Lora Productions and a recording, audio, short films, experimental vehicle, Colmada, an independent record label incorporated in 2020.
The name comes from a small Latinx shop with flexible services to people with meager incomes.
Lora explains the connection to his company as follows, “You want a dollar’s worth of cheese? You can walk in and they’ll give it to you. For me it made sense, it’s cultural. It’s an independent record label, I incorporated it last year.”
Talking about his creative side and his approach to music, he says, “It started when I lived in the Dominican. My grandmother would take me to church three times a week. I loved it. I grew up with my grandmother and three uncles who are like my big brothers. I would always sing the songs with them.
“And I always sang Vico C songs,” Lora says, referencing the figure known as the father of Latin hip hop. “He was a pioneer in Latin music and a lot of the music he made had a positive message. He was huge,” Lora says.
When he returned to New Jersey to live with his mother, he said he became a frequent traveler between Paterson and New York City and would listen to Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee on a CD player.
“I would write poems to the songs and got started writing songs and kept going. I was in my own little world. I was daydreaming on my way to New York or Paterson. And after crossing the George Washington Bridge, I’d take the train and see people playing music and someone playing the saxophone and you may see someone playing the guitar, and it was a very magical experience. Fast forward I came to Trenton and did the same thing,” he says.
However, he says that being a reserved new student in Trenton caused some initial problems when he was put on the spot and was ridiculed by others when he said he wanted to write and rap. He says it stopped when one of the guys he had befriended stepped forward, told the others that Lora was serious and to stop laughing, and helped Lora find his way in his new environment.
Additionally, he says, he received a mixer and mic set as a gift and began recording in the attic and at small events that his mother would video tape. “We started doing shows and kept doing them,” he says.
Currently, Lora is getting ready to release some new work and talks about an album that he’s been working on during the length of the pandemic. He says he had enough means to allow him to “focus on my personal album (and) do it when I was young. It helped me evolve as a person and an artist.”
His music, he says, “has a lot of traditional Dominican influences that are hidden. It’s definitely hip hop. But it has a sprinkle of a lot of musical elements. It comes from the heart and soul of New York hip hop and live music from the church.”
He is also about to release some new singles. “I found that releasing a few singles gave me more exposure,” he says. That includes focusing on digital music platforms including CD Baby, Sinfonic, and Spotify that just added him to a curated playlist.
Lora, who is in a personal relationship, says “Trenton has been amazing. People are very supportive. And everything is close. I have clients from Sony and drove down from New York, the same from Philly.”
Then summing up his career for now, he sits back and says, “I was the guy who walked until I was 24 because I didn’t have the car because I only wanted to spend the money for things that I could invest in. Years later, it pays off.”
Lora Productions is located at 439 Broad Street, Suite 201, Trenton. For more information on Lora, visit www.facebook.com/LoraJosue.