Getting Deep About Chicago With Rich Jones at North Coast Music Festival
Hip-hop is a genre that has grown even more than ever lately. In a world where so many people work with the same genre, it takes a lot to stand out. Rich Jones is a hip-hop artist from Chicago with much more to offer than simply a rhyme or two. Jones takes his art across the city, working to improve the city and help others understand what makes Chicago so special. We caught up with Rich Jones last month at North Coast Music Festival to get to know him.
Sensible Reason: So I’ve noticed your set isn’t until Sunday. What brings you to the festival today?
Rich Jones: I had to come to see my friend Edamame ’cause he’s amazing. Caught a little bit of Webster X‘s set which was tight. Bonobo, Badbadnotgood, and Gucci Mane are all on the docket for today. Oh, and Vapor Eyes! Can’t forget Vapor Eyes.
SR: Tell me about your own personal music scene, what you’ve established being an artist in Chicago.
RJ: Living in Chicago, initially, I started off mainly in the underground hip-hop community in the city, over the years I’ve kind of established myself there and now these past four years I have moved into the DIY scene and work to bring the art circuit altogether. It’s manifested itself in the events that I’ve curated or in the form of the hip-hop monthly at Tonic Room called All Smiles. It started off as SCC and Friends which was the group I was in, which we still make appearances but we wanted to re-brand it because the vibes were really positive and happy. Let’s just say this: It says a lot that 5 years in, we haven’t had any major incident of any sort for a hip-hop event. I know a lot of venues use that as an excuse to not book hip-hop or to not do those sorts of shows and honestly our track record suggests that it is possible, given the bull shit stigma that comes with the genre in a lot of ways. Bringing all of those different genres and styles together and blending it all was the whole point.
SR: Are the events at Tonic Room still happening?
RJ: Yes! Every 4th Friday of the month.
SR: How did you end up getting a monthly party started?
RJ: The monthly came out because back in 2011 we had gained some pretty good momentum and an artist we had played with hit us up about coming back to Chicago and asked if we could help them out. At the time we wanted to hit up some different promoters than before. We figured it would make sense to start our own event rather than bothering the same people about playing. This way we could play every month and have some money coming in and take care of our friends locally and potentially out of state. Once I went on a tour I finally saw what it was like to treat artists like they were guests in your own home. So, we created a pitch and a way to let national artists know that we are here to take care of them and make them feel welcome.
SR: Has it lived up to your expectations?
RJ: All Smiles? Yeah, I’d say so. I’m here to put some money in my friends’ pockets or artists that I’ve booked, I’m not in it for millions. It’s a grassroots thing to cultivate future generations of artists and people who want to share what they do and show them their worth and that they should be compensated for their efforts as best as possible. I’d say on that end, it’s amazing. Also seeing a diverse group of people there every month, it’s a nice rotation. On the off-chance I want to do something, I have the opportunity to hop on stage and test out some new records as well.
SR: What is your favorite part of that scene in Chicago?
RJ: The hip-hop scene? I think across the board Chicago has a melting pot sound to it. To see all the sounds represented in one place is really exciting, and to see that bring different groups of people to one place is also really exciting, especially in the DIY scene. Also to see a lot of artists who choose to use live instrumentation, there’s a roving group of musicians who float around and play for a lot of people. There is so much support and positivity consistently. They used to nickname Chicago “Haterville,” it was very disparate, people wouldn’t work with each other because they were from different parts of the city. Now it’s not as much of a barrier, if at all. People are taking their artistry and business seriously. It’s very easy to keep things there, but there are also more people branching out to other parts of the country and bringing their talents elsewhere which is above and beyond amazing. We are going through a true Renaissance of music and it’s really awesome to be around for this.
SR: What would be your least favorite part of the hip-hop scene in Chicago?
RJ: I really try to stay away from any kind of negativity. I think the only negative thing I would say is that I wish we really had a more institutional framework for distributing artist music from Chicago. You have a lot of things built into these big cities like Nashville or LA or New York, these are “industry towns.” While we definitely have industry here, it’s not at that level on a management or PR level. People are doing great work, don’t get me wrong, but we have enough talent where on the business end…
SR: People should be based here. Not that people need to move to LA or NYC to be successful. Big PR companies should be based here as well, that’s what you’re saying, correct?
RJ: Exactly. 100%. Our dream, when we started making music, was to be artists from Chicago that didn’t have to leave.
SR: I agree. So many people say you have to move to LA to be anything because all of the big names are out there. Therefore you have this huge influx of people and some really amazing talent can, and often does, get lost in the mold. So, you’re suggesting it would be nice to have a huge PR company representing Chicago hip-hop so if you’re from the Midwest and want to make it big you come to Chicago rather than having to move to LA and getting lost in it all, correct?
RJ: 100%! But that’s the thing. The one person so far who has proved us right is Chance [the Rapper]. I had a chance to talk to him after his set at Lolla[palooza] 3 years ago when he was out there in front of 60,000 people. He opened up for us when there were 10 people there! So, to see him going from 10 to 60,000 and now he’s everywhere, that’s some special shit. I told him point blank, “thank you so much for proving us right when it comes to our dreams.” We weren’t the ones to prove it, but that doesn’t fucking matter because it happened. It’s a launching pad.
SR: Even people from around the world who don’t know where Chicago is, they have still heard of Chicago.
SR: How would you describe what your personal style of music? I wouldn’t call you 100% hip-hop.
RJ: I would say eclectic. I have a lot of different influences, a lot of different music styles that I’m passionate about with hip-hop as the nucleus of it all. My idea of the term MC is very diverse, I take it very literally as microphone controller. You can do whatever the fuck you want, you can rap, you can sing, you can talk, you can read a poem. You are the one in the driver’s seat, you are in control. Especially with having a band behind me, I can fluctuate doing the record itself or if I want to freestyle I can. I can incorporate the hip-hop I’m known for but also do other styles I’m really passionate about. I’m an MC first and foremost. It’s great to watch an artist and watch them evolve and change. I can hang with all the older dudes who raised me, plus I can appreciate the kids coming up after me. I wouldn’t be surprised if the knowledge and music kept moving for another 20 years after me. I really just want to see this place succeed, I want to see this place shine. We are that special. Chicago does have a lot of issues, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t amazing beautiful things happening amidst that. That should be showcased just as much as all the shit that’s out there. It’s frustrating to see people denigrate us because of certain things that are happening. If you’re not on the ground, you don’t see it. We need institutions and outlets that showcase the great things happening, like the 30 Days Redbull event in November, bringing the industry here both nationally and internationally. I’ve met more people these past two years who say that they’ve moved here because of what’s happening here, even from cities like New York and LA. It’s a special time to be there.
SR: What would you tell someone, who has never been here, is the best part about Chicago?
RJ: Once you get to know a couple people to show you around, people are very hospitable and very much want to show you their best sides. Most importantly, we’re a city that has a very diverse personage in terms of who lives here. If you meet someone who has lived here their whole life like I have, they can show you some really great things. That’s true of a lot of cities, these people can unlock a lot of things that you can’t read in books. Be outgoing and friendly, because there are so many things happening just under the radar.
SR: The best thing about you as an artist?
RJ: I’m an earnest person, and that comes out in my music as well.
Rich Jones (and his earnest self) brought a great crowd to his set on Sunday of the festival, including Chance the Rapper himself who stood middle center during the entire set. It proved that the support of the hip-hop community in Chicago is continuously there. His band looked like they were having the time of their lives, as well as Jones, donning a colorful vintage-looking outfit and yellow tinted sunglasses to complete the look. He played songs that were upbeat and happy and deep to the soul as well as a tune in tribute to the mysterious Mothman. It was a great set that deserved a later timeslot, but we know that’s not the point for this humble MC.