Justin Huynh reached a remarkable milestone in the music industry, and he traces a large part of his success back to his time as a student at Edmonds College back in 2014 and 2015.
Huynh, who uses the stage name Kauai45, produced and released a remake of the song “Just the Two of Us,” a cover of the 1980 hit by Bill Withers and Grover Washington, Jr. The song has skyrocketed in popularity on Spotify and has been streamed over 30 million times, a milestone number reached officially on March 16.
Huynh has been passionate about music his whole life. He grew up in Bothell, immersed in music with a mom who was a pianist and a dad who was a guitarist. He started piano lessons at a very early age, and by the time he entered junior high, he was able to play five instruments. Huynh changed directions in high school and started singing in the choir. By the time he was out of high school, he was, by all accounts, a talented and diverse musician, but he did not have the means to channel that talent.
“When I got out of high school, I was into making music, but I had nowhere to start,” said Huynh, who, besides the piano, can also play the drums, clarinet, trumpet, guitar and ukelele. “I didn’t know how to do any of the production stuff.”
The humble Huynh would ultimately learn the skills he needed to succeed in the music business at Edmonds College, but he only stepped foot on campus due to chance circumstances. Huynh went to Washington State University, intending to major in journalism. He planned to follow in his music idols’ footsteps and learn video production so he could make high-quality YouTube videos. But in his first semester, he tore the ACL in his knee playing pick-up basketball. The injury limited his mobility and, admittedly, his motivation to navigate the hills on the campus to attend classes. He moved back home after his first semester and enrolled at Edmonds College. It was at that moment his musical aspirations took flight.
“When I realized I was going to leave WSU, I started researching community colleges back home,” Huynh recalled. “Edmonds College was the only one that had music production classes actually in the studio. That is what drew my eye.”
At Edmonds College, Huynh took a class from instructor Dr. Nick Sibicky. He had an immediate connection with Sibicky that helped Huynh mold his raw talent into a finished product.
“Professor Sibicky sees a lot of potential in his students, especially those who share his interest in music and vocalize that interest,” Huynh said. “I didn’t truly learn until I got to Edmonds. That’s where Nick showed me actually how to do it right. That’s where the passion for electronic music and DJing got warped into one with production.”
Huynh realized he had a mentor in music after one of his first interactions with Sibicky during class. The instructor asked if anyone knew the name of the first song the Beach Boys produced electronically. Huynh guessed “Good Vibrations,” which drew a long, drawn-out ‘Y-a-a-a-a-a-h” from Sibicky in his best California surfer voice.
“Immediately, I knew I had to follow this guy,” said Huynh. “I just knew he got it.”
Over time, Sibicky was able to help Huynh understand what he was hearing. Huynh described it like Sibicky was “almost putting the words in my mouth. I didn’t know the musical terms and how to say them. He was just able to connect the dots and fill in the spaces, so we were able to chat about music and nerd out about old Beach Boys classics right away. It was cool to talk about that stuff.”
Sibicky remembers Huynh as a very gracious, mature student who was very much a people person and collaborated well with other students.
“Justin went through a high-growth period at Edmonds College,” Sibicky said. “He had a maturity that belied his age, and I think it helped him recognize the value that our campus brought to him.
“In my program, he went through the music production courses, but his background was as a performing musician. He was able to take his musicianship and fit that into more fleshed-out productions.”
Huynh earned his associate in arts at Edmonds College and transferred back to Washington State, where he finished his bachelor’s in journalism and media production. In Pullman, he was able to keep feeding his music passion as a DJ at local parties and clubs.
After college, he headed back to Seattle and started working as a music promoter and DJ at night and made music at home during the days. He started making new connections and meeting music producers through his gigs. He was able to get in rooms with people because their music tastes were similar, and he was able to build a list of collaborators.
In his circle, he had some who questioned whether he would make a living pursuing music, but Huhyn slowly started converting the doubters. The tides turned in Huynh’s favor when he began releasing his tracks, but still, no one, not even Huynh, could imagine that one song would blow up to be as big as “Just the Two of Us.”
In 2020, Huynh was going through a reflective period where he was trying to figure out what would make him happiest in his career. Although he writes his music, he is very comfortable making covers, so he decided to produce music that satisfied him. He landed on “Just the Two of Us” and quickly put together a cover.
“I made the beat, started singing it, and made some chords,” Huynh said of the process. “In one night, I had finished the bare bones of it, and I was like, ‘It doesn’t even matter if anyone hears this. I love this.’”
He played the song for a few friends, including fellow former Bothell High School choir member Yvonne Idro (aka, Sweet Cocoa). Idro was immediately drawn to the piece, and Huynh happily invited her to collaborate on the project and provide additional vocals. In 30 minutes, Idro was able to record her parts.
The initial plan was to put out the track for family and friends to enjoy. They put together a simple music video to accompany the recording, intended for use on Tik Tok and other social media platforms.
“It was nothing too serious; it was us just having fun,” Huynh said. “Obviously, our friends loved it, so everyone started sharing it on Instagram.”
The song took off when actress Victoria Pedretti, a Netflix star on shows like “You,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and “The Haunting of Hill House” got in the act. She is known for promoting music she likes on her social media outlets and certainly gave Huynh’s song a boost when she told her fans to check out the cover in December.
By Jan. 3, 2021, the song had 100,000 streams, reached 500,000 in March, and surpassed the one million mark on May 14. The song’s popularity reached 25 million streams on Jan. 18, 2022, just over one year after its release.
Now that “Just the Two of Us” passed the 30 million mark, he is enjoying the success and realizes it is just the start of his dream career. He hopes to release more songs soon and has aspirations of one day touring. But for right now, he’s able to reflect and has nearly 30 million reasons to be thankful for his time at Edmonds College.
“I definitely think it was pivotal for my career to have gone to Edmonds College,” he said. “I would not have learned to produce music as fast as I can, and I would not be as good of a DJ as I am. Edmonds got me to where I wanted to be when it came to honing my priorities and where my passions were. Right now, I’m full-time music, and I’m as happy as I can be.”
— Story courtesy Edmonds College