DXnext: SL Jones
Killer Mike's longtime protege speaks about being an art student with Crip ties, coming up in the Grind Time Rap Gang, and putting on for Little Rock, Arkansas.
Twenty-four year old Bryan Jones has played the background for long enough. Even his Hip Hop beginnings were humble- beating on a table in high school as budding emcees freestyled aimlessly. Describing himself simply as the ‘son of Poochie, grandson of John Jones,’ it’s difficult to pin a label on SL. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas made it hard to avoid choosing a color side, even if his talent at drawing had him living in Michigan for a year. Young SL was a graphic artist and a Crip, who kept his love for Rap on the low. It wasn’t until he graduated high school that SL made that pilgrimage that so many southern artists make down to Atlanta, in hopes of creating a name for himself. He was able to do that and more, taking his place at Killer Mike’s Grind Time family table.
Since dropping his debut C.O.L.O.R.S. back in 2007, SL Jones has been plotting his next move. In 2011, the Grindtime affiliate is finally prepared to come into his own as one of the year’s most polished and intuitive rappers. It’s only right that he release his Don Cannon-hosted, The Number 23 mixtape next quarter- Grind Time has ignited their own fuse since January. The head of the Atlanta-based imprint is starting quite a stir regarding his upcoming LP, PL3DGE. Longtime member, Pill, has signed to the unshakable Warner Brothers/Maybach Music empire. Now is the time for SL Jones to make his mark. With his punchy one-liners, thoughtful cadences, and confident flow, he’s primed to win. It’s on SL to maintain the momentum. We think he’s ready.
Motivation: "My mentor, my brother Jimmy… In Little Rock there was this stuff they had where they called it the ‘War Zone’, where it was dangerous at. It had the most gang activity going on, that’s where I lived so they had different youth programs going on around there, and my mentor he always said, ‘You find your passion when you find something that you would do for free. But the challenge is: Figuring out what you would do for free and figuring out how to make money from it.’ So no matter what I was doing, if I’da been a mechanic, construction worker, any job I would’ve had, I always know that I would’ve loved to freestyle. Even just beating on the tables, I did that because I just had such a respect for Hip Hop that I loved to see people that loved it, doing it. So I didn’t even beat on the table for everybody, I’d always go beat on the table for those niggas, the ones who were really going in. I learned how to beat, whatever the hardest beat was, I would learn how to beat it on the table, so at lunchtime, they’d be looking for me.
He didn’t even know I could rap, ‘cause at the time I was drawing. Nobody even knew I loved rap to the point of rapping, everybody freestyled, that’s like playing basketball in the hood. Everybody that play ball in the hood don’t expect to go to the NBA, it’s just something that you do for rec… Rap is different ‘cause it don’t require a 3.0 grade average…
My First Love: "I was just a graphic artist. I’d draw anything. I used to like drawing comics. For the neighborhood I used to draw all types of graffiti and shit, niggas throwing up the hood… I remember I drew a tattoo for my homies- I drew a female on one side of the scale and some money on the other side of the scale, the money was outweighing the female and it had ‘M.O.B.’ at the bottom. It was crazy ‘cause everybody wanted that shit and he was like, ‘Ay, ay! Don’t give that to nobody. Let me get it first and don’t give it to nobody.’ So I held it for like two, three weeks, then I gave it to him. After he got it, a bunch of folks started going and getting the ‘M.O.B.’ to the point where the tattoo artist started selling it to people… Like, put it in his portfolio. One day I was at my high school job and a dude came in, he had his shirt open a little bit and I seen the chick sitting up, on the scale beam, I see her head peeking out and I’m like, ‘Nigga, I drew that! I made that up.’"
Passion To A Point: "I was up in Flint, and basically got a scholarship to go to the Flint Institute of Arts, it was crazy, ‘cause I went there for one year and after that I was going back to Little Rock. So I couldn’t stay there the entire time, it was something I had to take like, ‘I know I’m good enough,’ ‘cause they wanted me an additional year and with the scholarship, I wasn’t paying for nothing. I had to leave and go back to Little Rock, ‘cause in the end that’s where my mother and father was, and you know, as a child, your life’s experiences aren’t based on the decisions you make, they’re based on the decisions that your parents made so, good or bad, right or wrong, their decisions affect you directly- my family moved around a lot, so I moved around a lot.
I loved visual arts! I knew something was wrong though, ‘cause I only liked drawing what I liked drawing. So that was, I was always challenging my superiors, whenever they gave me an assignment, if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t like I cared about learning about Art History or mastering every medium, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. That’s it. So if they gave me an assignment, I’d try my hardest to figure out a way to give them all the requirements they wanted but still do what I wanted to do versus taking assignments that they gave me seriously and just really going hard to give them the best representation of what they wanted from me."
The Choice: "Once you graduate high school, you’re figuring out what you wanna do with your life. So I’m tryna get into a college and went to a school where said they were tryna build an art program and because I was dope enough to where I coulda got into the school in Chicago [University of Chicago] which is like, one of the biggest schools in the country, but I didn’t want to do that because I was afraid to leave my own environment. When you from the hood, that’s just what you know. It’s scary going somewhere else, somewhere foreign, everybody different, and basically it’s cultural [differences]. It would’ve been a culture shock for me, so I was like, ‘Nah, I ain’t gon’ do that.’"
Primary C.O.L.O.R.S.: "C.O.L.O.R.S. was just me wanting to exist. I got down with a team, Grindtime, we working all the time, but everything was, not in a bad way, but Killer Mike-focused, so, to me, your work ethic determines your work so you have to work for what you want, nobody’s gonna give you anything. You can’t just sit around somebody else and they doing them, and you expect them to give you a shot to do you, you have to work and show that you want it. C.O.L.O.R.S. was me just wanting to be the best and exist. C.O.L.O.R.S. stands for ’Collectively Organizing Leaders Offering a Revoltionary State of mind.’ In the hood, you got leaders and you’ve got followers.
You got people that push the line, and you got people that program the minds of the people that push the line. So if you organize the leaders, you stand a fighting chance, it’s people out here that just wanna see chaos… You not gon’change… I know niggas that get pure enjoyment out of fucking niggas up and doing dirt, you may not be able to change his mind ‘cause that’s what he wanna do but if you organize leaders, you can change the minds of people overall and change the mindset behind the way things are done. When you change the minds of people, it’s like planting a seed. You can say ‘movement’ this, ‘movement’ that all day but that ain’t nothing but having 100 people wearing the same t-shirt. But when you have a mindset, you can’t kill a mindset.
It was thrown together and everybody was waiting on the follow-up. That was the funnest. That’s the purest project you can do [the debut], because no one’s expecting anything. Nobody was asking for an SL Jones project or anything. The amount of pressure that’s on you, you can kinda measure how anticipated you are. Do I feel it honestly? I don’t feel it, ‘cause when I create music, it’s inward. I’m a fan of music, so I’m tryna make what I like. If make something and everybody in the room likes it but I don’t like it, I’m like, ‘Man, I’m doing that over.’"
Blue is His Favorite Color: "A lot of my O.G.s are from L.A., so when you come from a culture of gang banging, it’s hard to talk about it. It’s a thin line between glorification and documentation. When you talk about something, you’re being real when you’re talking about it but when you put that energy out there, there’s somebody that it’s gonna influence and it’s gonna sway them to think another way, ‘cause music is influential. So when I put it out there, I wanted to make sure, I knew the message would be mixed, but I’d rather some people to just be like, ‘Nah, he’s just telling you about it, he’s giving you the game. If you’re gonna do this, there’s a certain way that it was done. So don’t just do it any kinda way.’ And that’s not me just saying do it. I’m just saying, ‘Yo. This was happening. All this right here was happening, for real. It’s what was going on.’
With me, it’s more subtle, in this culture, you’re an O.G. at 18, so you’re not really worried about tryna to… When you’re active that means you’re out here pushing the line, when they see you, they better know you hitting niggas up, it could be anybody looking suspicious or affliated… But I’m in Atlanta, and I know it’s people out here that’s really with it, but that don’t pertain to me because I’m just out here on some paper. My big homies, the game they gave me, I call it, ‘sophisticated gangsterism,’ they ain’t really focused on that, they’re like, ‘You need to be a paper gangster, you need to be focused on your bread…’ But in the hood [Little Rock], anybody who know me, know I’m 23rd. That’s why the name of the mixtape is The Number 23."
The Grind: "There’s no way I can be the best or my name can’t even be brought up in a conversation about being one of the best if I don’t have one single disc of music where a person can just go song after song and hear SL Jones. [Lil Wayne] had 10 tapes out in one year and he’s number one, how you gon’… And you ain’t got one? The best situation people can imagine in their mind, is never really as good as they think it is ‘cause they on the outside, so they’re thinking, ‘Aww shit, you down with so and so and this is poppin’!’ But they don’t know, ‘cause they’re not in it. Never talk down on your blessings, any good energy people give you, you absorb that and use it as motivation, but the same time, you gotta work like you don’t have it, you can’t act like you got it in the bag. Like, ‘Nah I’m straight.’ Work like you not straight. Grind like you broke."