Art From An Honest Place Cuts Through The Fluff: An Interview With Jon Hope

The second week in January is where New Year’s resolutions go to die.  Fitting, then, that Potholes recently caught up with Providence MC Jon Hope, one of the most energetic, articulate and optimistic rhymers currently doing it.

His live shows only magnify his energy and enthusiasm.  From waxing personal stories to riffing on Nas’s “Made You Look”, Hope commands the audiences attention and rewards participation from start to finish.  Catch him while you still can.

Hit the jump for an interview with the Renaissance City rapper.

PIMB: First of all, you’re an MC from Providence, R.I. — that’s not a distinction you shy away from.  Instead, you embrace it and wear it proudly.  What is it about this area that’s allowed you to stay and ultimately flourish here?

Jon Hope: Well it’s the foundation of me as a human being. This is the genesis of my perspective on life and how I interpret my experiences which translates into my art. I love this city because of its diversity and rich culture. With that being said, it’s a slippery slope because I am well aware that I have to share this outlook and expression beyond Providence. Rhode Island is very small state and the Hip Hop scene is even smaller, so it’s easy to run the chitlin circuit and over expose yourself. My focus is to create and extend that fanbase which is why you see me perform at festivals like SXSW, CMJ, and spot dates across the country. There is whole world outside of the Renaissance City and only a select few of artists out here understand that sentiment.

PIMB: You’ve been working.  From a verse on “Runnin”, “Bills”, and your own cuts “Slow Motion” and “In The Loop”, (in addition to Waterfire), you’re a busy man.  What’s next?

John Hope: I’m glad you pointed that out. At the beginning of 2010 I made a personal commitment to give the fans more content and consistent material. After I released Somekind of Wonderful the year before, I didn’t release any material and I think that hindered me a bit. I was a step behind some of my peers and I think I lost some fans and people who I may have had caught their ears initially.

I noticed certain people within the industry treated me differently as well. It was then that I realized that the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ rings true. This is why ever since my last free project, Waterfire, I released content for people to enjoy and I see the positive results.

As far as what’s next, I will be releasing the single “The Bottle”, which is pretty cool and I hope people will enjoy it. It’s a different sound that people aren’t used to hearing from me. I’m really excited about that. I’m still in the studio recording and building the catalogue with LJC and Taktix. I also have a couple surprises that extend beyond the mic that I’ll keep on the low for now.

PIMB: Okay, not to nit pick and tear apart your art, but on Somekind of Wonderful (I believe it’s on  “Utopia”), you say you’re “only one song away.”  But on “Slow Motion”,  listeners find you “one verse away.”  Are you simply getting better?    Is this just another step in your ‘movement’?

Jon Hope: Well it is a personal mantra that I strongly believe in. I don’t mean it in the sense that I may have gotten better but I just feel that for any artist it takes one verse, song, or performance to breakthrough. To give you a sort of parallel: for Jay Z, it was “Hard Knock Life”. For Outkast, it was “Hey Ya/I Like The Way You Move'”. There are people who think those artists had just came out when they released those songs, but purists like you and I know that they were building their reputation/buzz way before that.

PIMB: Do you think that’s a good thing?

Jon Hope: I do think it’s a good thing.  I want to be clear when I say ‘one song’ I mean one song to breakthrough and give you the opportunity to have a long lasting career. I think what you are eluding to is the microwave, one hit wonder climate that’s lurking. Those artists DO have that one song but ultimately time reveals that that’s all they had.  I can assure you I am not that artist. Longevity is the plan.

For me it’s honesty and consistency. It’s really that simple. I think my fans gravitate to my truth and compassion in my rhymes. Those who stand the test of time are the ones who give you their truth. My last project Waterfire was 3/4 years old. It really was a lost tapes type of project. I did not put that much heavy promotion into it. I just let the music speak for itself and it sort of grew legs…It just shows that art that comes from an honest place no matter popular or unpopular cuts through the fluff.

PIMB: The tone of your music has this exuberance and positivity to it.  Is this a reflection of your personality or a reaction to a lot of the posturing found in much of the contemporary rap scene?  Both?

Jon Hope: It’s a little bit of both. At the very core I am an optimist. I always look at things from a positive perspective almost to the point of naivety. On the flip side, I think why it may seem that I am über positive is because the majority of the contemporary rap scene is a bit more harsh and maybe scratch the surface in terms of substance. I don’t think I am a tree hugger or holier than thou. It’s just I want to use my gift as a tool to improve other people’s quality of life. Songs like “Better” and “Breathin'” are very much organic. I did not sit down and say “I want to make a ‘conscious’ record.” It merely happens…

I love Hip Hop period. I love being able to make a contribution. When a person whom I have no relation with tells me that a certain lyric or song struck a chord with them, that’s rewarding to me…Creatively, I feel I haven’t even reached my zenith. This is all novice to me. I feel there is so much more I have to offer musically.

For tour dates, new releases and all news Hope-related, check out his site, iamjonhope.com.

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