When she released her single “Straight Shooter” in 2018, then 15-year-old Jody Upshaw was amazed by the way the song took off. Already a confident singer and performer, Upshaw, who was still in high school in Halifax, suddenly found more people taking notice of her music. Among other accolades, the catchy pop tune, produced by rapper Classified, was nominated for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year at the 2019 East Coast Music Awards, along with recognition from the African Nova Scotian Music Association. As the song’s success opened doors, Upshaw moved through them, thrilled and grateful for each new opportunity, and more convinced than ever about building a career in music.

Still, she was as bowled over as anyone when, in January 2022, four years after its release, she heard her song on the hit television show Euphoria. “I was in total shock,” she laughs, remembering waking from a nap to find her phone blowing up, as friends and music community heard the song in the popular HBO series’ second season. Also featured in the episode was music by Dartmouth rapper Thrillah. Upshaw, now 18 – who’s both a fan of the show and its star, Zendaya – admits that she’s still processing the placement. “It’s just crazy. I already feel so blessed to have been able to do a song with Classified… let alone something with Zendaya!”

“I was in total shock… It’s just crazy”

Though she’d known that having the song in the show was a possibility, Upshaw had figured her chances were slim. Some months earlier, she’d been in touch with Melissa McMaster of UnitedMasters, who also manages artists like Quake Matthews and Kayo. “She’s always been really supportive, and has always showed me love, and given me great advice,” says Upshaw. McMaster told her that UnitedMasters was doing synch for the show and that she thought “Straight Shooter” would be a good fit. While she and Classified agreed that McMaster could put the song forward for consideration, Upshaw says that it felt like a longshot. “I thought that there was no way that this was going to happen to me,” she says. “But of course, you can try!”

Upshaw, who grew up singing and performing, began writing her first songs at age 11. Thanks in part to her father Marvin, a former rap artist who performed as KL, she was exposed to lots of musicians, and set her sights on a life in music at a young age. “I was really lucky,” she says thinking back. “I feel like I got a super head-start. I got to learn from a lot of great artists, from watching them and their writing and creative processes.”

She met Classifed through her dad, and the two began working together. “Straight Shooter” was a tune that he had in the works, which was tweaked to suit Upshaw. “We changed the lyrics to make it fit me more,” she explains, “and to make it feel like what I was trying to portray.”  Classified has also produced a number of Upshaw’s other songs, including her most recent singles “Guilty One” and “Evil.” The video for “Straight Shooter,” which features Upshaw with some of her pals at that time on the basketball court (she’s also a competitive basketball player) was directed by Classified’s brother, Mike Boyd. “We were hanging out and having fun,” she says, recalling the video shoot. “That’s another thing I love about that song. I genuinely felt exactly how the song sounds. It was fitting for my age and what we were doing at the time, and it’s still a crowd favourite. It’s a fun, great song.”

Just a few years on, Upshaw marvels at how her life has changed. She recently graduated from high school, and plans to attend a post-secondary music program in Nova Scotia this fall to ramp up her grasp of music theory. “My life is so different now from then,” Upshaw says with a laugh. “Back then, I thought I had ridden the wave.” Instead, “Straight Shooter” has opened more doors than she ever could have imagined, including a synch placement in an upcoming American Eagle commercial.

Upshaw’s goal now is to focus her attention exclusively on building her career, from playing more shows and working on her songwriting, to finding more opportunities to collaborate with other artists. “Even though I was always making music and performing, now feels like a really great opportunity to take that next step,” she says. “These days, my mind is fully geared towards music at all times.”