With a style that displays the lyrical wit of a Beanie Sigel and lyrics that show the same raw honesty as the Game, JP One has emerged as one of Detroit’s most engaging and aggressive emcees. JP is active on social media (as every other emcee these days) and also a passionate blogger who talks Detroit music along with promoting his own work. Metro Times spoke with JP to discuss his past, his new album, and the politics of the Detroit music scene.
Metro Times: You first had a record deal at 15 years old. Can you say who the record deal was with, and were any songs recorded? Why didn't an album get released?
JP One: My first record deal was with Barrett Strong's Blarritt Records. He's in the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and was the partner of Norman Whitfield. They wrote "Heard It Through the Grapevine," "My Girl," "Cloud Nine," "Runaway Child," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and a lot of other hits for the Temptations and other groups in the '60s and '70s. I signed a deal and I recorded a full album, but between 15-17, I matured a lot and the music wasn't relevant to me anymore. There are a couple songs online under Jackpot, my original stage name. The album was called Tha Chosen One, so that became my moniker. The deal was good, but I wasn't able to do what I wanted to creatively. I wanted to act, release mixtapes, and do a lot of features. In 2001/2002, this wasn't the way labels made money, so Mr. Strong didn't understand. The Motown way wasn't the G-Unit way, though. We were all still cool. His son, Chel Strong, is an artist and like a brother to me. We collaborate all the time.
MT: You were born in Benton Harbor correct? What similarities do Benton Harbor and Detroit share? How is their hip-hop scene?
JP One: I was born in Detroit, but my father was found dead in a house in Southwest Detroit when I was 5 months old, so my mom moved back to Benton Harbor, where her family was. Benton Harbor is really a lot like Chicago. Although it's in Michigan, Chicago is right down the street. So they call Chicago "the city," not Detroit. We rooted for the Bulls and Michael Jordan. The early '90s were great to us as basketball fans. All of the Chicago gangs are there too. Detroit is all about neighborhoods. I guess they have some gangs here, now, but when I first moved here, it was mostly street cliques. Benton Harbor's hip-hop scene is small, but there's a lot of talent there. There are only about 10,000 people there, but Honorable C-Note, a producer who's working with everyone from Pusha T to Yo Gotti right now. And Zapp Sola, Bossman JC, Unknown the Topic, Blamgang Smay, and a few other cats are making good music and holding the city down. It's a beautiful thing.
MT: Since you've been back on the scene, you haven't hid the fact that you were incarcerated. How did the years you were away shape your current work?
JP One: I did nine years. I've been home five years now. My time away gave me a chance to see things clearly. I am a genius who grew up in the streets, so I learned to be comfortable with all aspects of my life and personality. That is exactly what my music sounds like. I rap with the same passion and enthusiasm I talk with because there is no gimmick or front. I believe everything that I say, rather in song, or in general conversation. I am always going to be me. I was alone in prison, so there is no fear of rejection. I'm comfortable by myself. I can say what I feel and if I end up on an island for it, so be it. Having that freedom has made a world of difference for me. I didn't come home expecting to be "put on," so I went hard for my own.
MT: Your first project was 2013's Gifted & Talented. How have you grown musically since your debut?
JP One: Gifted & Talented was just my first album on my own imprint, Gifted & Talented LLC. I released two projects on XMG and two projects on By Any Means Entertainment, for both of which I was co-CEO. The projects got a lot of buzz, but Gifted & Talented had no industry beats, so it was the first project I dropped in an album format. The other ones were more like mixtapes. I learned a lot since 2013 and I continue to learn and grow each day. I know what beats I sound best on and I'm comfortable doing both hip-hop and street music, so it's all just me perfecting my craft. I have songs with some of the best artists from Detroit, from Elzhi to Boldy James to Black Milk to Seven the General to Guilty Simpson, and on and on. I just keep doing what I do, and it's paying off.
MT: You had a very public beef with Big Gov over the summer. Detroit has seen its share of hip-hop beefs, and some have had violent outcomes. What did it take for you two to resolve the situation before it got ugly? And what are your takeaways, moving forward?
JP One: There wasn't supposed to be anything public about our issue. I told him in private that we were two different types of people and we should just do our own thing. I left it there; he kept making subliminal posts, even when I took a break from social media. So, I made a few subliminal posts of my own. And when he started responding, I knew I wasn't crazy. We are never going to resolve our issues. He's a snake and I don't trust him. I don't want to work with him and we can never be friends. I don't take public shots at him until he does something to me. His shots are just usually in the dark or at the sky, so there's room for him to say he didn't do anything. It just makes me look like I'm crazy or a bully. He conceded. There's no need for me to keep poking at a dead horse. I never planned on anything between us getting violent. I'm really cool with a lot of his family. I knew a lot of them before I met Gov, so I wasn't going to take it too far. It's really not that type of beef. I wish him and his team the best. He just a different type of person, that's all.
MT: You wrote a very introspective blog post titled "The Psychology Behind Detroit's Crab in a Barrel Mentality." You basically talked about the history of Detroit hip-hop artists hating and turning against each other when a "perceived" success has been obtained. Where did the insight come to write that?
JP One: Yes, the blog was written from the inside looking in. I watch a lot of these so-called "local legends" not do anything to help other artists get further than where they went. It makes it so hard to make it that by the time you do, you don't want to be bothered with too much of anything Detroit. A lot of people in Detroit are mad at Eminem for everything that's not happening for Detroit. Eminem put D12 on. Eminem put Royce on. Eminem put Obie Trice on. Eminem did the Trick Trick joint. Eminem gave a lot of artists cameos in 8 Mile. I don't know why anyone is mad at Eminem. When Eminem got on, he wasn't the person they were championing around Detroit. So, what does Eminem really owe Detroit? All the people he put on should be here putting people on now.
The Detroit path to fame is very rarely through Detroit. Royce don't get his proper dues here. Boldy don't get his proper dues here. Danny don't get his proper dues here. It's actually pretty sad. I've had older artists that I looked up to as a teenager reach out to me, but most of them have hated on me and no one in Detroit works harder than me, so why throw shade at me? I've dropped 10 projects on my own. No label, no manager, no financier, no big homie. Just hard work and dedication. If that's not worth a salute, what is? The further you get ahead in Detroit, the more hate and content other people show. Once you're all the way on and too far away for them to hate on you, they act like you owe them. Then the cycle repeats itself.
MT: What do you see in the future for Detroit hip-hop?
JP One: To be honest, there are some great artists here, but they aren't the biggest artists here. So, things are probably going to get worse before they get better. The DJs think they're top-notch, but no one here is respected on a national level, except Bushman. The popular artists here are never going to break nationally unless they polish their sound up and quit making songs for their block. It's OK to rep your hood, but you can tell these guys have never really left it. Once one of the really dope artists break, they're going to open doors for some other dope artists, but there's no real Detroit movement in our near future. Everyone is too stuck in their ways. Maybe they're all just happy with local fame. I don't really care about that. I'm reaching for legendary status and I only want to work with artists that are aiming for the same thing.
MT: Let's talk about your most recent project, Real Motown Music with Nep Jennings. How did this project come about?
JP One: I met Nep Jennings around the time I was working on Gifted & Talented. I had an internet radio show on World Wide Core Radio with Jeter aka Bruce Wayne and we were playing a lot of local music. He came in with some of Nep's music and I liked it, so I found some more music and reached out to him. We met up and kicked it at the studio, and we been tight ever since. He loves the craft and he's a genuine dude, like me, so there's no egos or competition among us. We hadn't really did a lot of music together, though. We went on two tours together last year and before we left for the second one, we just threw a song out there. They asked me what album was it on; I asked Nep if we could just use his label's name, Real Motown Music and we did. So, we just started recording the album and we ended up with an EP too. Then we dropped a mixtape, then we gave the world the album. The response has been great, but we both knew what we had. Real Motown Music 2 is already half finished.
MT: In Real Motown Music, you stuck to a variety of Detroit themes, street narratives, and blue-collar struggles. Was there anything in particular you were trying to do lyrically on this project?
JP One: Yes, my music is very introspective and that can get boring for some people, so I used Real Motown Music to display my large array of styles. Every song has a totally different feeling, but they all flow together. That's what makes the album so dope. Me and Nep have two totally different styles, but everything flows so seamlessly. Between the Fire & Brimstone trilogy I dropped last year and Real Motown Music, I feel like I have created my own lane, lyrically. Most of the lyricists aren't able to jump on street music and most of the street rappers can't rap good enough to jump on some hip-hop joints. I am able to glide between the two effortlessly. That's what makes me so different. I'm a lyrical alchemist. People always try to box you in, but if you listen to Real Motown Music, you know there is no one box you can fit me in.
MT: What is JP One's next move?
JP One: My next move is to secure a record/label deal or some major funding to take my career to the next level. My next album has been finished for a little while, but I'm trying to put a few pieces together before I release it. I feel like I've done everything I can do alone. I'm looking for serious partnerships, endorsements, sponsors, etc. I'm an artist, but I'm also a businessman. I have already talked to a few labels, but no one has made me a serious offer. I'm open to all conversations that actually make sense. Other than that, I will continue to grow as an artist and businessman and push my brand as far as I can push it.
To hear and learn more, head to jpone.bandcamp.com.