After talking to both AmirSaysNothing and Jon Hope within the span of a few weeks, I’m starting to think that maybe hip-hop is headed in a new direction. Both up-and-comers wish to distance themselves from the fronting, the clichés, and the disregard for authenticity that overwhelm the current hip-hop landscape. They possess a similar desire to tell their stories, even where it means being vulnerable, and neither subscribes to the anesthetized mood that now seems inherent to millennial artistic expression. Instead, they’re interested in spreading not a woman’s legs but – brace yourself – a positive message.
Jon Hope has Life is Good tattooed on his arm, a tribute to his favorite Nas album, an album that got him through his struggle with depression. After the release of Jon’s debut album Work in Progress in 2012, his career was rapidly ascending, but his mood didn’t match. He was being written up in all the right publications, but he found himself frustrated and resentful. So he decided to leave hip-hop: “by all accounts, I was done with music.”
Jon Hope might be among the stark minority of Sway In The Morning guests who holds a Master’s Degree. To combat his depression, Jon decided to return to school, reasoning that “education is the easiest way to control an outcome.” And it worked. Three years later, Jon has a renewed confidence, a Master’s Degree in Education Leadership and Administration, and both an album and a book dropping this summer. On top of his recent onslaught of creative work, Jon uses his degree to mentor students at a community college.
Nas’s most recent album resonated with Jon because while recording it, Nas was going through a number of personal issues, including a divorce, financial woes, and a strained relationship with his daughter. But he was still able to come out and say – “Life is Good” – a brave move, Jon thinks. Jon feels similarly about Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” an unabashed rejection of hip-hop’s obsession with machismo, focusing instead on inner turmoil over failed relationships. Vulnerability, Jon explains, can be easily misconstrued as weakness, particularly in the hip hop industry, but Jon sees it instead as a sign of strength.
While he cites Drake, Nas, and Redman among his influences, Jon isn’t strictly hip-hop. He loves the Zac Brown Band and tells me that I’m “deprived” for never having listened to Sara Bareilles – he gleefully recounts doing cartwheels in his apartment the previous night out of excitement over the California songstress’ upcoming album (Life is Good!). Unsurprisingly, Jon doesn’t agree with genre-alliance. Instead, he believes there are two types of music: the good and the bad.
I speak to Jon on the phone a day before A Guy Named Harry drops. When I ask him whether he’s worried about it’s reception, he says he’s no longer concerned about what critics think. He is instead focused on his fans. “Some people don’t even have a family member to ask how their day was,” Jon tells me. “I’m just grateful that people want to even hear my thoughts over music.”
Jon sees live performance is the best way to connect with his primary motivation – his fans. When I ask about his favorite performance, he is unable to pick. The process of performing itself, to Jon, is sacred. In the age of Instagram, he explains, people are always trying to manipulate their image, buying followers, obscuring reality. But on stage, he tells me, “you can’t fake it. You’re either whack or you’re dope.”
With so many references to his message, I ask Jon what is the one takeaway behind A Guy Named Harry. “I want to empower people to be brave with their truths,” he tells me. “Because a person’s truth is the closest thing to originality.”
By Anna Dorn
Photo provided by Jon Hope's team