Interview w/ Jon Harris

Rating: 5 out of 5.

New York City-based hip-hop songwriter, wordsmith and producer Jon Harris creates down-to-earth tracks about his personal journey, life goals and the challenges of human connection. His poetic lyrics and conversational, emotional delivery style shed a bright, colorful light on the stories he tells and continue to move crowds during his energetic live performances. His fearless approach to crafting intricate instrumental melodies, harmonies and beats he has been inspired by modern rap and hip-hop visionaries Eminem, Kanye West, Jay-Z and J Cole. Harris’ upcoming major mixtape Destiny’s Calling 2 demonstrates his belief in the power of words as well as his commitment to bold lyrical improvisation and to experimenting with production techniques.

Harris’ passion for music began in the wide-open landscape of rap and hip-hop, the moment his brother and cousin started sharing their favorite artists. He fell in love with the many textures of these genres, and his imagination and drive to make music were ignited in general music class when he was introduced to the Fruity Loops studio. Harris found a multi-track recording program that allowed him to record over beats he had dreamed up and put together his first full mixtape in ninth grade while studying writing and putting his own spin on the compound syllable style he admired in other artists’ work. From that point on, he decided he wanted to be a professional hip-hop recording artist and also to write songs and develop a command of the studio in order to produce all his own sample-free work as well as the work of other talented artists in the genre.

With his feet still firmly planted in New York, Harris still stirs up inventive rhymes and brings out the subtle nuances of different instruments and sounds that keep all his tracks fresh and make each one even more compelling than the last. He continues to evolve his original music by pulling elements from progressive rock, pop and other genres and styles beyond the hip-hop universe in order to deepen his artistry. After graduating from college, he found himself frustrated by the at times over-saturated music landscape and launched Black Widow Entertainment, a record label and production company through which he releases his own music and, as he explains, provides other talented, developing independent artists that want to gain more visibility with “a small means to live their dreams.”

Interview by Tim Brown

Where are you from and how do you feel it has impacted your music?
A- I’m New York but I live in upper westchester. So I was born in Manhattan, I moved to The Bronx when I was young but grew up in Cortlandt Manor. I’ve lived there since I was, I think seven. I think that help me get a different style from the punchy rappers people are used to from New York.

When and why did you start playing?
A-It’s kind of funny; as much as I produce and compose my all of my tracks, I actually can’t play any instruments. I use the piano in almost all of my music, I love the piano, but I can’t play any of the melodies I created for any of my songs. I’ve been producing realistically, since about 2010 when I started working on “Destiny’s Calling” but learning the production process started in about 8th to 9th grade. Coincidentally in a music class I took because I didn’t take up learning any instrument in particular.

Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?
A-I have 4 go to artist I review and replay before working on a big project. Eminem, J Cole, JAY-Z, and Kanye West. Eminem is the one I admire the most though. I feel I’ve taken so much from him; he’s not just about rapping over a beat. He’s about the whole package, he cares about; his delivery, his presentation, if what he is saying makes sense, making sure there is a high level of quality to his verses, you can really tell he puts a lot of thought behind his music and that’s what I strive for.

What do you admire about the other artists
A- Kanye, I admire his production. I try to follow the idea of not sticking to one sound but still making it sound like me. J Cole, I feel is able to make a personal connection with his listeners which is what I strive for. And JAY-Z just has that personality, I admire where he’s laid back but yet social at the same time, somewhat how I hope to be when I am successful.

Were you influenced by old records & tapes? Which ones?
A-Growing up I never listened to hip-hop earlier than the 90’s so I hear about all of these legends and it’s like hearing something for the first time. For me I grew up with the JAY-Zs, Nas, Em, Kanye. What really shaped my career specifically was the Slim Shady LP. To me it wasn’t the content directly, it was how he unlike any rapper at the time would rhyme so differently. He never used simple rhymes and always seemed to show his imagination with these outlandish concepts and statements, I loved it.

Who are your favorite musicians? Groups? CD’s?
A- Eminem I’d say for records Slim Shady LP or Marshall Mathers LP. My top five music artist; Eminem, J Cole, JAY-Z, Kanye West, and Adele

Have you been in competitions? Fleadh’s? Any prizes?
A- No I try to stay away from competitions because they are all popularity contests.

Do you perform in public? Describe those occasions? Concerts, radio, TV
A- Yes I’ve been apart of several live concerts and hosted a few. To me they are the best part about doing music. You get to see first-hand, for better or for worse, how the public reacts to your music and more importantly, to you. Luckily for me I’ve never had a bad experience, I even go from being the no-name artist at a show to stealing the whole show.

What makes this kind of music “good” to you?
A- To me, hip hop is all about messaging. It’s the only genre where the artist’s only talent IS the writing. So what you say becomes that much more important on a rap song.

Why did you choose to play this kind of music?
A- Well this was really the only choice I had. If I had a show where I was singing, it wouldn’t be a concert, it’d be a hostage situation. But seriously I grew up with rap so it really was all I knew. Growing up I thought if it wasn’t hip hop and R&B then it wasn’t cool. How, wrong I was.

Let’s Talk about your music and your last work…
A- So my latest song is called “Great”. I made it out of this sense of excitement I felt after really hearing the beat I made. I was amped. I hadn’t released music in almost a year although I have been writing and producing, just nothing made me feel it was good enough; until I made the beat for Great. I did have a few others I liked but I felt “Great” was the best song to lead with. It’s a reminder to the world what I can do as a writer while at the same time me just stretching, or warming up before I really get serious.

How do you feel about the internet in the music business?
A- I think it’s a double edge sword. It helps so many artist reach a crowd they may never have been able to without a record label taking 99% of everything they worked for. On the other hand, it’s a megaphone for people who are destroying music.

What are the plans for the future?
A-I’m just trying to get as big as possible and hope my influence can someday change the world for the better.

How has your music evolved since you first began playing music?
A- I have mad HUGE strides in music. I couldn’t make music at all just drum patterns really with very simple melodies; the first beats I made were VERY empty. I didn’t understand the structure of hip hop writing so I would write verses with odd number of lines and a lot of times wrote 8 line verses not realizing that’s a short verse. My rhymes were very basic and generic, also I said things I didn’t even know what I was saying but said it cause it sounded cool. I was just awful,

Could you briefly describe the music-making process?
A- Th beauty of making the beats and writing the lyrics is the flexibility that comes with that. Sometimes I make the beat first and get inspiration from it while other times I will write a whole song in silence and make the beat around the lyrics and theme. I always write with purpose so something has to trigger me into writing about it whether it be my own experience, or more times than not, I hear a story about something someone else is going through.

What’s your favorite song you’ve made?
A- I’d say “Think of Me”. I’ve been told that it can be hard to feel, emotionally, what I’m feeling in my tracks unless it’s high energy. But with this one, people really connected with it. I really felt this record, I was think back to a bunch of people that I either had no way of contacting or new I shouldn’t even though I really wanted to and it really gave me this weird lonesome type feeling and I just used that to fuel this record. The beauty of this record is that it could be about anyone and it shows because I pulled inspiration from missing exes to just really good friends that were away for a while and it begged the question “do they think of me in the same way and as much as I was thinking about them? Or was I non-existent to them now that so much time has passed?”

Where do you find inspiration from for your music?
A- I’m a thinker with an almost limitless imagination, I pull inspiration from anywhere. I am very observant so when I hear about something it may spark something in my mind that may inspire me or maybe something happens directly to me but I always try to leave the subject ambiguous so the point is it could happen to anyone.

What do you do when you’re not working on music?
A- So I founded a company Living Life Our Way Entertainment back in 2016, back then it was Black Widow Entertainment, and I spend most of my time that I don’t dedicate to music doing some task for the company. I’m pretty much always working.

Do you have any formal teaching in music?
A- No everything I do is self-taught
; producing, writing, recording and engineering. I was going to go to college for music but figured it was better to go for business in case it didn’t work out with the record labels. So I went to Pace University for Business to learn how to start up and operate my own company.

When do you feel you started getting serious about music
A- I’ve always been serious just I was also aware I wasn’t good, or I had a lot to learn. I didn’t feel I was good enough to release music seriously until after college actual and in 2012 I release my first mixtape Destiny’s Calling

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