As someone who was born and bred here, I can promise you this: Rhode Island gets a lot of flack. Most people think it’s an actual island. Or they assume it is part of Connecticut or Massachusetts. Sometimes, you get people who think you are from Long Island. Nope. It’s Lil’ Rhody, people, and we have some emcees and producers primed to make a mini-splash on the hip-hop scene. Though they aren’t the first to make a name here, the likes of Theo and Jon Hope are on the come up. And to commemorate both that and his free EP Somekind of Wonderful, I had Jon Hope answer some questions to provide some background on just why he deserves your attention.
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Marty: Hey, Jon, thanks for taking the time to do this. As a fellow Rhode Islander, it is, above all, a great feeling to see someone creative and talented getting some brand name recognition.
Marty: Now on that point, it’s very interesting and gratifying to see two newer Rhody emcees – you and Theo – gaining exposure right now, particularly because you both represent different niches in hip-hop. What are your thoughts on that?
Jon: I think it’s a beautiful thing. It shows the diversity within R.I. and how different our approaches are towards music. I am really enjoying this ride that Theo and I are on. We both come from the same neighborhood and worked very closely in the infant stages of our careers and to see us both blossom step by step is really great for our city.
Marty: Do you see Providence becoming a Boston-esque hip-hop city where the fanbase is built and then the talent up and leaves? I only ask because I know some of the bigger names from Beantown left for more typical hotbeds for rap like Philadelphia and New York City.
Jon: Well I think at some point you want take your art abroad and provide awareness to as many people as you can. As long as you don’t lose the core values of what got you to that point, I think growth and evolution (figuratively and literally) is a positive. For me, no matter where I lay my head I will be Jon Hope from Providence, R.I. With regards to R.I., there’s only so much one can do here before you peak. That is why I did the college tour and create other opportunities to be heard abroad. It makes no sense to just be a backyard superstar. Take it to as far as you can go.
Marty: Why and when did you decide to begin making music?
Jon: I decided I wanted to do music because I felt like what I had to offer people will gravitate towards it. I began making music in 2005 and started passing out CDs in my neighborhood and it slowly spread and gave me confidence to really go hard.
Marty: Who were your biggest influences? How about biggest influences now?
Jon: My biggest influences growing up were my mother, life experiences, Def Squad, Jodeci, Mike Nice, DJ Lefty, DJ Buck, Nas and so much more. I can go on and on. As of right now, my biggest influences are my peers within the rap game. I think this new breed of Hip Hop artists are so diverse and challenge everyone to be creatively on point. I love what B.O.B. is doing. I love Asher Roth, Adele, Drake, U-N-I, and so on and so forth. They really inspire me.
Marty: Some of the producers you have worked with include Taktix and Statik Selektah. How did you link up with them?
Jon: Taktix is from my neighborhood. We met through his brother. We both played basketball together. He definitely inspires me and I learn so much from him. Statik and I met on the internet and since then we never looked back. We speak a couple times a week about everything from Hip Hop to life in general. Both are good friends of mine. They both represent different ends of the musical spectrum which is really cool. I am grateful to know both of them.
Marty: I actually first heard you over a Statik beat on “Telescope” off Reks’ Grey Hairs. And it’s one of my favorite songs on that record, honestly. How was it recording with Reks and do you plan on more collaborations with him?
Jon: That record is definitely one of my favorites. Reks and I are like one in the same. That’s one of the most genuine people I have ever met in the music business. He’s older than I am and so he has so much insight to offer. That album was definitely one of the best of 2008. We have some other records in the stash. We even had discussions with Statik about a collaborative mixtape/album of some sorts.
Marty: Tell me about the recording process of Somekind of Wonderful and what inspired it.
Jon: The process to record SKOW took about 2 years. It really started out as a mixtape and then the more I observed certain things in the game, it evolved into a more serious project. It really developed itself. The inspiration comes from me wanting to see to a more unified climate in Hip Hop. This project has a real warm embrace. We, including myself at times, are so critical within Hip Hop. I think we need to be more open minded. Hip Hop is a culturally defined genre of music so for us to point fingers and say who killed it or who isn’t hip hop is kind of corny to me. Sonically, it is an even keeled project. There is a certain vibe to it. There aren’t too many peaks and valleys if you know what I mean.
Marty: Has this always been planned as a free release?
Jon: To be honest, no it wasn’t. I just think that despite my success via press and other media outlets, I need to engage more with my fans and build my base a bit more. This is for them and thanking them for giving me that vote of confidence in my music. It will be sponsored by Illroots.com, which is premiere blog that I fully support and they support me. Plus, I do not want money being a barrier between me and my fans. This is just the first of many opportunities for me. Money shouldn’t be my driving force at this point of my career.
Marty: So what’s next? I know you have said that you plan on making more “mainstream” stuff. Explain.
Jon: Well, I am always challenging myself creatively. I think with SKOW I definitely reached my target demographic which is the internet/bloggers/etc. I believe there is still so much of myself that I haven’t tapped into which is why I would like to try different sounds and so forth. I think people need to realize that mainstream/pop refers to ‘popular’. There is nothing wrong with having a popular song. I will be no less Hip Hop then than I am now. Was Q-Tip not Hip Hop when he did ‘Vivrant Thing?’ How about when Jay-Z did a song with ColdPlay? It’s merely creative evolution that’s all. I am just going for a broader sound. It will be a free spirited sound going forward; Not so concise and firm. I am not trying to save the world or have an agenda on every song (laughs).
Marty: Who are you listening to lately?
Jon: Right now I am all over the place. I have been listening to British singer Adele, Drake, Keri Hilson, Steve Winwood, and a lot of easy listening stuff. Early ‘80’s (Phil Collins, Sting, etc). My taste changes all the time. It really depends on the mood that I am in.
Marty: Any closing words?
Jon: I just want to thank all my supporters and tell everyone to put God first and the rest will fall in place. Nothing is promised so live it to the fullest.