Rising singer-songwriter Juto had his breakout moment while sitting alone in his room in Gwinnett, Georgia.
Brad Scoffern — formerly a manager for rapper Tyler Okonma (aka Tyler, the Creator), and the man who oversees the business and development of Okonma’s popular clothing brand Golf Wang — unexpectedly joined Juto’s Instagram livestream and saw him playing guitar and singing. Juto, recognizing Scoffern’s name, asked if he could get some free Golf Wang shoes. When Scoffern responded asking Juto his size and telling him to direct message him after the stream, Juto did not waste time, ending the stream in what must have seemed an abrupt move to the three other viewers.
“I DM’d him and I was like, ‘So about those shoes, big dawg, what’s up with those?’” Juto said. “And next thing I know he was like, ‘Yeah, Oct. 25 through — however many days. You’re coming here for 10 days.’ I’m like ‘Oh. Ok. This has changed. I thought I was gonna get shoes.’”
Juto, a self-taught multi-instrumentalist with an airy yet smooth voice, has an open-minded, kind and relaxed demeanor. His self-produced music often incorporates catchy bass lines, punchy drums inspired by ‘90s hip hop and R&B and warm, jazzy electric guitar chords. He layers his beats with pleasingly harmonized vocals, occasionally rapping and usually telling love and anti-love stories. When he connected with Scoffern, the then-19-year-old had been working at Walmart for a year.
“That s**t was trash. That was like the worst job I’ve ever had. Physically, it drained me. I was wearing a back brace at one point,” Juto said. “I used to work in the garden section. But like, I was the only young person in the garden section, so I did everything that was laborious.”
Suddenly, he had the chance of leaving all that behind because of a virtual connection with the former manager of one of his idols. Juto was a fan of Odd Future — the hip-hop collective co-founded by Okonwa that later included Syd (now frontwoman of The Internet), Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean. In LA, Juto attended studio sessions with Odd Future member Taco, who liked him enough to sign him as the first artist on his new label, COR/TAN Records.
After 10 days, Juto returned to Georgia, where he realized again how much he truly loathed his life and Walmart job. But that week, Scoffern offered to fly him back to LA to attend the 2018 iteration of Okonma’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, a popular music festival in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium. There, Juto met someone who had inspired him for a long time.
“Tyler took a picture in front of me and I’m just like, ‘Oh, so this is real. So this is really happening in front of me.’ The bodyguard that Tyler has moved me, was like ‘Move it, move around,’” Juto said. “I’m like, ‘I’m with— I’m with—’ And then next thing I know, Tyler turns to me and he was like, ‘Oh s**t. Aren’t you the guy that plays guitar?’”
Okonma drove Juto around the festival in a golf cart before stopping in front of a swinging ship carnival ride. As the two swung back and forth in the giant boat, a motion-sick Juto tried to pretend like he was not on the verge of throwing up. Okonma, completely unphased, casually asked Juto what instruments he could play.
Juto has been in LA ever since. Almost exactly a year later, at Flog Gnaw 2019, which packed the Dodger Stadium parking lot with thousands of fans Nov. 9–10, he played a solo set.
Compared to most other artists who performed — including Solange, Brockhampton, YG and Daniel Caesar, among other headliners, and surprise guests Drake, Lil Uzi Vert and A$AP Rocky — he had a lot less experience performing. Flog Gnaw was his third show ever, and his first festival, but you would never know it.
Despite being one of the first performers at a two-day festival with over 20 acts, Juto did not start his set with a typical greeting like “Hello, Flog Gnaw!” Masses of people who were unfamiliar with his music were milling around at food vendors and carnival games thousands of feet from the stage, but Juto trusted his music to lure them in.
“Before I started playing or anything, I told the guys, I was like, ‘I don’t want to walk out there and be like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ I just want to go out,’” Juto said.
Intrigued festival-goers headed for the stage as soon the chunky, walking bass line and dancey drums of his song “FAF” broke through the heavy air of the 90-degree day. As Juto, armed with a cream-colored Fender Telecaster, sang the song’s first few lines, those who were en route sped up their walking pace. By the end of his short set, the area around the stage was packed.
Flog Gnaw offered a considerably bigger crowd than Juto’s first two shows. His first performance was as an opener for Daisy at The Roxy Theater in West Hollywood, which has a capacity of about 500. His second show was about a month ago. Juto said he was sitting in the studio playing guitar Oct. 18 when he was asked about five or six hours in advance if he could open for Ms. Lauryn Hill in an intimate show at the Mayan.
Flog Gnaw was not only special for Juto because it was his largest venue yet.
“This is the first time my mom had seen me. She was in the crowd,” Juto said. “She walked up, she was like, ‘Hey yo, I’ve never seen you do this before. I’m so proud of you.’ I almost cried. It was crazy.”
Juto has never hesitated to get on stage and sing. When he was 5, someone at his church in Georgia handed him his first performing opportunity.
“My mom could probably tell the story better than I can,” Juto said. “But she said, ‘Yo, you were 5 and we handed you a mic and you just weren’t scared. You just went up and you did it.’”
After his first spotlight moment, Juto dove into music, learning first the trombone, then guitar, bass and keys.
He began writing songs and producing music on low-tech, unconventional platforms, first in a music creation mode in the video game Little Big Planet, and then on the GarageBand app on his iPhone, which he used to produce his first three albums, “Text Talk” (2018), “Velvet” (2019) and “Wool” (2019).
“While [my mom] would leave to go to work, I’d be in her closet recording vocals. Text Talk was made sitting in my room,” Juto said.
Juto, who grew up listening to music by Outkast and Pharrell, has a unique vocal recording process, a far cry from the state-of-the-art vocal booths common in the music industry with microphones that cost five or six figures. His microphone of choice is the one on his stock iPhone headphones, which he sings into through a pop filter.
“I sit in the corner, I have my headphones in my phone and nobody knows I’m literally making a song,” Juto said. “That’s kind of how I do it usually. That’s how ‘Move RN’ was made. I was at, like, Kendall Jenner’s house. I’m like, I don’t think I’m supposed to be here, but I’m just gonna sit and record here until somebody’s like, ‘What are you doing?’”
Lyrically, Juto sometimes takes inspiration from imaginary movies.
“I make movie scenes in my head. And then I put that into words,” Juto said. “I’m like, ‘All right, I’m in a 1960s diner, what would I tell a girl?’ [Juto starts singing the lyrics to ‘Yum’].”
Juto would not reveal his real name, but he did reveal the etymology of his moniker. The same online friend group with whom he played video games like Little Big Planet and geeked out over Odd Future originally nicknamed him Ruto, after “Naruto,” which was their favorite show at the time. They changed it to Juto, taking the first letter from his real name.
Juto performed alone at Flog Gnaw, playing guitar and singing along with his tracks.
“I’m cool with being alone but also, when I do get the chance to have a band, I’m going to f**k s**t up,” Juto said.
During some songs in his Flog Gnaw set, he put down his guitar to hop and dance around. He said it was his first time doing that, but he was just as natural dancing and commanding the stage as most other artists at the festival. He said his Flog Gnaw experience was very different this year.
“Last year I felt like — kind of sounds depressing now that I think about it — I felt like a no-one. A nobody. And then this year I was like, okay, people are actually here and people do care to see what I’m doing. So it’s a big, dynamic change,” Juto said.
Juto’s humor, energy and music are contagious. It is the same thing that Scoffern probably said to Okonma, and Okonma probably said to a bunch of other famous people — you have got to check out this talented, orange-haired, Naruto-referencing artist. After all, he came all the way from the garden section of a Walmart in Georgia just for it.