Sunday, January 25, 2009

AYCE Presents: 20 questions with… Jon Hope!


Ladies and gentlemen, let me be the first to welcome you to the newest feature here at All You Can Eat: “20 questions with…” More than just “what’s your name… where you from,” we hope to help you get to know hip-hop’s best and brightest; find out why they do what they do in this art form we all know and love.

Our first victim interviewee hails from the great… North East? Yep, I can’t lie, I was late to the Jon Hope bandwagon, but not because he’s the first rapper I’ve ever heard of from Providence (let alone Rhode Island). Not because he hasn’t been putting in work for almost five solid years now. And not because he chose to turn down major label offers to start his own thing. Nope, no excuses, I was just sleepin’ (what can I say, with a buffet the size of hip-hop, sometimes you gotta rest in between helpings!). Anyway, I’m awake now... wide awake!

After sampling the Statik Selektah-hosted Audacity Mixtape, I was hungry for more. Lyrically strong, with a positive approach and an appreciation for those who came before him, Hope is squarely in charge of his bright future – literally! But don’t take our word for it, you can draw your own conclusions after Jon Hope answers 20 questions…

1. Let’s take it back to the beginning and talk about the Arbor Glenn Apartments in Providence: How did growing up there shape you as a man and an artist?

Jon Hope: Arbor Glen is the cornerstone to everything that is Jon Hope. It’s the place that I developed as a man and where I became fully absorbed by hip hop. It was there that I used to battle and with my boys and go over to my man D-Swift’s house and we’d argue about the Common/Ice Cube beef. It was just a beautiful period in my life where I had no worries and me and my crew would dream about being in bigger places. I don’t live there anymore but I’m rooted there as well as Providence as a whole.

2. You said in a previous interview that you were a baller. I looked you up, MVP in the state title game your senior year of high school, right? That said, what made you pick hip-hop over hoops?

JH: You really did your research my man!! I was actually pretty good in basketball it’s just that Hip Hop was always there lingering in the background. As I got older, more so in college, it became more evident that Hip Hop was something I wanted to be active in.

3. Why do you call yourself the “Project English Teacher?”

Jhope-01 JH: That moniker stems from me injecting positivity in my music. I’m not a tree hugger or anything like that (laughs) but my music has a level of optimism in it. I feel like I can communicate with the streets and reach people in a certain way that your average rapper can’t without being boxed in the tree hugger/incense category. It’s really the way the message is being presented.

4. Nobody wants to be pigeon-holed into a certain category of hip-hop, but how would you describe the music you make?

JH: I would say that my music has a high level of optimism as far as content is concerned. With songs like “Breathin” and “Better”, the titles alone convey positivity. The overall theme is upliftment. As far as creativity, as a new artist, I think I’m in a neighborhood of few that use virtually no samples and more live instrumentation. My project Somekind of Wonderful has only one song in which there is a sample. So my music is extremely organic from the bottom up.

5. Your lyrics are largely positive - I mean you are the only rapper to oppose a frown, right? - but seriously, how to you compete in a market where sex and bling sell?

JH: For one, I am not trying to compete. If you notice I don’t inundate the internet with weekly/minute freestyle series. I Hope3_Shhhh really believe in quality over quantity. Another thing that sets me apart is that with positivity brings range. I think my music has a lot more range than artists who do the bling/sex shit. I’ve done S.O.B.’s and Blender Theater all the way to your Starbucks and all white colleges. That is without compromising my music too. I felt ‘Better’ was a track that didn’t call for swearing or the N-word, however, there are records that I have that call for that. So I mean, I just do what really in my heart as opposed to money. My music is truly a labor of love and that’s what allows me to progress to certain heights.

6. On the Audacity Mixtape you said that someone in the game wanted to turn you into a “New York” rapper – changing your hometown for marketing purposes - but you weren’t having it. Why is it so important to you to rep Rhode Island?

JH: Simply because there is no reference for Hip Hop in RI. Up until a few years ago, there weren’t any artists that actually broke through the RI area and made noise. We still haven’t had an artist sign a major label record deal and if I had that opportunity to do so, it would be by my own merit; not because I’m from Brooklyn. This is where I’m from and what embodies a good portion of my music. For me to change that would be corny. I wouldn’t be able to come back home.

7. Instead of going the major label route, you decided to create your own: Essence Music Group. So not only are you trying to get yourself out there as Jon Hope the artist, you’re also trying to run a business as Harrison Grigsby the CEO. How has the experience been so far, and when’s the last time you slept man?

JH: I mean I try to not glorify the whole “I’m an artist and CEO thing” because it’s cliché. I’d rather have people focus on the art and the people behind it. Being an independent artist requires a certain level of patience and determination. I honestly think it’s more fruitful when you receive certain awards. So far, it’s been a great experience.

8. What’s the best part about being an independent artist? Worst?

Hope2JH: The best part is the creative freedom. I also embrace the notion of knowing that everything that success and failure rests on my shoulders. The worst part obviously, is not having the financial resources to do what you envision right away. Sometimes you have to take the road less traveled.

9. You’ve worked with some pretty big names early in your young career, and you’ve opened for some well-known headliners too. Who has impressed you most along the way? Any words of wisdom someone passed on to you that really hit home?

JH: Yes, God has blessed me to share the stage with some heavyhitters. Honestly, as far as artists are concerned, I had a great time with some of the new comers as opposed to the established cats. What I’ve learned the most is that it’s not all what it’s cracked up to be. This shit is really smoke and mirrors.

10. You’ve mentioned Nas several times in your lyrics, and of course killed a couple of his older beats on the mixtape (“The Monster” is some good work!). Besides the obvious of him being one of the greatest rappers ever, how is Nas a big musical influence for you?Hope5_SetListwithNas

JH: Nas creatively is the standard for me. The way he writes  is truly phenomenal. It’s extremely evident that his music has direct influence on me. I look at his career as my ideal career. As much as a huge megastar he is, it’s based on his music not video blogs, scandals, etc. He lets the music speak for himself. That’s one thing that I take the most. I’m really an introvert and I don’t run a blog or have this real ill huge backstory (shot 9 times, not related to famous musician, etc). I’ve managed to get to this point based on my music and self expression. Of course you have market yourself to a certain extent but not to the point where my character over powers my music.

11. As you move forward in your career, who would you like most to collab with?

JH: As far as artists, I’d like to work with B.o.B. and Scarface. Producers would be Erick Sermon, Just Blaze, and Primo.

12. Video-wise, I’m really impressed with what you’ve put out, especially considering the lack of major-label financial backing. How much do you get involved with the production of your videos?

Hope8_VideoShootJH: I’m extremely hands on. Shout out to Sway and Phil and Jesse. They really deserve a great amount of credit because they bring my ideas and vision to fruition.

13. “Give Us Free” and “Good Morning” (original AYCE review)were both very stylized and strongly graphic-driven, where “Blue Devils” and “Breathin” were visually powerful in different ways, and much more directed. How have you been able to put out such high-quality videos without mortgaging your - and your children’s - future?

JH: (Laughing) Well it all depends on what the song calls for and what I want to highlight. Certain records are lyric driven and just really performance (like “Good Morning” and “Give Us free”). Whereas others I’m trying to really visualize the message in the song. So it really depends.

14. Which video has been your favorite thus far?

JH: Honestly, I like “Good Morning” because of its rawness however I can’t deny the impact that “Breathin” has had. It’s on MTV as we speak.

15. When it comes to spreading the Jon Hope “gospel,” you have to deal with a lot of people and outlets. Used to be artists could just focus on radio, TV and magazines – like your  recent appearance in XXL. Today it’s all about viral promotion though. How do you take advantage of this form of marketing?

JH: Well the internet is where everything is at right now. I am forever grateful to the internet and the blogs. However, let’s not totally disregard real life. There is still nothing like Hope6_XXLMagPicappearing in high profile magazine, or seeing your face on tv and hearing your record on the radio. There’s a certain validation with that due to the fact that those outlets are filtered. There still is a prestige that comes with winning a Grammy. There isn’t anything called the “online Grammys” you know? I commend artists like Mickey Factz who are able to translate that internet success into things such as endorsement deals and create lucrative opportunities.

16. I mean, there are tons of us cats out there giving our opinions, both good and bad. There are also tons of people who read those opinions, and some form their own from those posts. What’s your opinion of the blogosphere?

JH: I think the blog is the new DJ and mouthpiece. It’s a two fold situation. You just have to pick and choose what you like as far as wit and opinion and bias.

17. Enough about that, let’s get back to you: You dropped the latest single - “Better” - on inauguration day. Why? And how’d you spend the rest of that historic day?

JH: With the content of the song and the dynamic of that particular day, I felt it was all relative to release it. As a people, we have reached a point where we want better (economy, communities, and leadership). That song is impactful on so many levels and I think it has the ability to help with the healing process of all the turmoil that we’re living in. As far as the day is concerned, it really was an indescribable feeling. Truly Somekind of Wonderful !!!!

18. Whatever happened to Café Society? I’ve seen interviews over 2-years-old saying it was coming, and you even mentioned it as recently as at the end of Audacity, but it still hasn’t dropped. Are you trying to keep us waiting like Dre, or is Somekind of Wonderful the new name? If so, why the change?

JH: Café Society was initially the first official release but I’ve since changed artistically. Somekind of Wonderful came about from a conversation I was having about what real hip hop is? In this “Hip Hop is Dead” that we’re in, I wanted to do something conceptually that I felt would offset that whole notion. Me being a minority in the game, I feel there are rap racists and people who show prejudice to different forms of this music. I’m just addressing the situation.

Jhope-02 19. What else should we keep an eye out for in the coming year from Jon Hope and the Essence Media Group? (tours, other EMG artist releases, clothing line (lol), etc.)

JH: This is truly the tip of the iceberg. We have everything to offer from production to artists with EMG. My friend/artist Mista Mista will be releasing his project ‘No Greater Love’ and LJC pretty much oversees a lot of the projects that will be released. At this point it’s really about brand awareness, we will be getting on the road building the fanbase via tours. Everything will spawn off the terrorist bomb that is called ‘Somekind of Wonderful’

20. The twentieth and final question (whew!), when will you know you’ve made it, or do you feel that you already have?

JH: My measure of success is when I tour the world. I really want to do a world tour. Once I’ve done that, I’ve reached the mountain top.


Jon Hope, for me and the rest of the AYCE-3, thanks so much for rollin’ with us. We look forward to watching you blow up in ’09, and the years to come!


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