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Representing Flint, Michigan, Jon Connor’s name has been generating buzz as a newcomer to watch in 2012. OZONE checked in with this son of a minister to find out what message he’s preaching.
Are you signed to a major or independent?
I own my own independent company. Me, my team, Cleeze, Jason Richardson, and my man Young Savv. We’re doing it independent and shopping our situation around. Flint, Michigan isn’t exactly a hotbed for rap music. Were you seeing what other artists had accomplished independently from other regions and felt like you could bring that same success to your hometown. When I was young, like twelve years old, I came up seeing Master P and No Limit and Cash Money and Slip-N-Slide and all these independent labels doing their thing. As a kid I always wanted to do that. I idolized that idea of just being an entrepreneur and taking matters into your own hands. It probably doesn’t seem that way now because the game has come so far, but when you think back before Master P and No Limit, New Orleans really didn’t have that nationwide appeal that it has now. He took his hometown and brought it to a point where the whole world was rocking with it. Cash Money did the same thing and added to that movement. I was looking at Houston and J Prince’s movement with Rap-A-Lot; they made Houston pop off worldwide. I didn’t want to just come in the game and be a rapper. I wanted to become [an inspiration] like they were to me. I wanted to do that; take my hometown and make the whole world rock with me. Just seeing the pioneers and cats that came before me let me know that I could do it. If they could do it, I definitely could do it. I wanted to be what Jay-Z is to Brooklyn, what Wayne is to New Orleans. That’s what I’m going to be to Flint, Michigan.
The most common perception we have of Michigan Hip Hop comes from Eminem and the whole 8 Mile visual. Do you feel like that movie was an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to come up in your state?
Battle rapping was more of a Detroit thing. 8 Mile was a pretty accurate depiction of Detroit, being an industrial town and how he worked at the auto plant and all that. In Michigan as a whole, you know, once you get out of high school, if you don’t have anything else planned you end up working at the auto plant. As far as Flint, I don’t think the world has seen an accurate depiction of Flint yet, and that’s what I’m going to bring to the table. In 2012 I’m planning on writing my own straight-to-DVD movie so people can see and understand what it’s like in Flint because our story hasn’t been told yet. Right now, the only thing they have to go off of is Michael Moore movies, and he does an excellent job. But I don’t think Flint’s story has been told from the perspective of somebody who’s actually living in the poverty and living amongst all of the craziness that’s going on. Em did a hell of a job with 8 Mile for Detroit and I feel like it’s my responsibility to do the same thing for Flint. We’re only 45 minutes away but it’s different.
When the recession hit, the car manufacturing industry in particular had some heavy losses. People also have the perception that you can buy houses in Detroit and Flint for a dollar and that those areas were hit much harder than other parts of the country. Is that accurate or media sensationalism?
It’s accurate. I’m not a dude that’s going to just sit here telling sob stories in interviews, but it’s fucked up. It’s bad. Even when I was a kid Flint wasn’t as bad as it is now. When the economy crashed in Flint and the automotive industry left, that was something that offered hope at one point in time. Back when my mother was growing up, you know, you either went to college or you went to work in the [auto] shop. But that’s not really here anymore. There’s a couple plants here and there but it’s not like it used to be. It’s not flourishing, and more than anything, the worst thing about poverty is that sense of hopelessness. That’s what Flint, Michigan has now – that sense of, “What am I going to do?” Everybody can’t rap, everybody can’t play basketball. And you end up with that whole crabs-in-a-barrel mentality. Everybody’s trying to get up but you’ve got to pull somebody else down to do it. So people are turning to hustling and doing other things, and that might sound like the typical cliche rapper story, but nothing is exaggerated about Flint. Anybody coming from Flint knows they went through some shit to get out of there. Even me having this interview with you right now, this shit is not real to us. We can’t fathom the idea of me being in OZONE Magazine and doing all this stuff I”m getting to do. We haven’t had any rappers come out of Flint in like twenty-five years. So honestly, the media isn’t showing enough. It’s one thing for y’all to read about it, but it’s another thing for y’all to come here and see it. That’s what I’m going to bring to the people. It’s like Tupac said about the Vietnam War. Once people saw the Vietnam War on TV and how ugly it was, all the murders and killings, for us to stop the Vietnam War. It’s so fucked up in Flint and nobody is saying anything about it, so I’m gonna be the voice of the people. I’m going to show people how ugly it is and maybe society, people, the government, whoever, will do something about it. For real. I care about my city, I care about my people. So I’ll be the voice of change. As a young artist with a lot of potential, what gave you the motivation to stick it out in a city like Flint instead of moving to New York or Los Angeles? You have to go wherever the music takes you. I’ve been some of everywhere. Shout out to the OZONE, Orlando, Florida, man. That’s where I did a lot of my grinding. When I got out of high school at 18, I moved to Orlando. I was grinding with CDs in my book bag. I lived in Miami for a second. I did a lot of traveling and came back to Flint because above anything else, I wanted to be that inspiration and motivation to my city. Everywhere else has examples. If you’re from the North, you’re trying to be like Jay-Z or Puff Daddy. If you’re from Texas you’re trying to be Slim Thug or Pimp C. Flint doesn’t have that. Most kids don’t believe that you can really achieve this music thing.
So the DVD you’re working on is kind of a documentary or movie based on your life?
It’s going to be loosely based on my grind. All the great rap crews had their low budget movies that told their story. Cash Money had Baller Blockin’, No Limit had I’m Bout It, Roc A Fella had State Property, Def Jam and Russell had Krush Groove. Those movies told the stories of how they got on. I felt like that was missing for a minute; while I’m telling my story, I want you to see Flint and see what we go through. We’re growing up in neighborhoods where next door is just abandoned houses. That’s whack. I’m not discrediting any other cities’ poverty but Flint is just a whole other monster. The shit that we have to accept as normal is atrocious in other cities.
I read that your father is a minister? Do your parents feel like there’s a conflict between Hip Hop and Christianity or are they supportive of your rap career?
My parents understand what I do and they support me because I do have a message. I’m saying something in my music, I’m not out here promoting negativity. I have a method to my madness and my dad always told me that Hip Hop is a form of ministry. What does a minister do? He’s in front of a congregation with a microphone. I’ve got a microphone too, and even though his congregation is at a church, I’m talking to my congregation and clubs and arenas too and people are listening to what I’m preaching. So it’s the same thing as church. People are listening to the preacher and his message. My dad and mother always told me, “Just be careful of the message you’re putting out there, because people are listening to you.” Hip Hop is my ministry, and my dad understands that. The things I preach in my music are just to do the right thing, use your head, use common sense. Don’t be out here shooting stuff up. A preacher can’t say the things I say and get away with it. So I’m helping the preachers out. I can say, “Stop what you’re doing. Put the muthafuckin’ gun down, stop fucking killing people.” I can say all that, but a preacher can’t. There’s the Martin Luther King way of doing things and then there’s the Malcolm X way, by any means necessary. I’m trying to wake people up by any means necessary. If my language has to be a little more vulgar to speak to the people and get my point across, that’s what I’m going to do. My parents definitely understand that I’m riding for a cause.
What’s your main focus in 2012?
We’re not going to let the people breathe in 2012. At the end of 2011 we dropped Season 2, which is doing really good. Me and my man Andre Ward are in the process of writing this movie and we want to put that out by summertime, and the soundtrack is going to come with it. Like I said, we want to take it back to the old school, to the No Limit, Cash Money, Ruff Ryders, Roc-A-Fella days. We’re bringing back that whole rap dynasty thing. To go along with that, we’re going to do a rap dynasty mixtape series; all Cash Money beats, all Ruff Ryder beats, all Bad Boy beats, paying homage to all the great rap crews.
How did you link up with Young Savv?
That’s my brother first and foremost. I had formed a relationship with the radio head in Michigan at 93.7. My man at the station, The Real Slacker, used to always tell me to come up to the station. He was always forcing people to listen to my music. (laughs) He would be like, “Yo, you ever heard of Jon Connor before?” On that particular day Young Savv was there and he gave me that look, “Yo, is that you?” He researched me and all the work we’d been putting in, and he wanted to help take that vision to the next level. He told me, “I’m not gonna stop until you get that number one spot.” He hasn’t let me down yet.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Thanks to you and OZONE for taking this time to let my voice be heard. We up on OZONE Magazine up here in Michigan. //