We talked to Jean about his slightly gloomy documentary - with his extreme emphasis on why he, well, couldn't help himself.
You have an extremely old-school style, even down to the rhyme. Who are your influences? Is old school hiphop your direct influence?
I listen to new artists, watching hiphop films and digging in the crates to listen to samples – even early hiphop songs – the culture is forever my influence. I got a few emcees I’m influenced by: Gangstarr, Jeru the Damaja, Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest. Forreal-forreal, it’s the culture as a whole because I’m just amazed with it, and it’s something that’s part of me. It makes me happy to do what I’m doing because I feel that I’m contributing to it.
So have you seen the Tribe documentary?
Yeah, I seen it. I loved it. That blew my mind! I felt like a little kid at the candy store, but then at one point I was so shocked. It was perfect though because they showed you the whole story and answered all the questions that you wanted to know. I always wanted to know about the samples – I always wanted to know about the music-making process.
I never really try to emulate people, but if I had to, I would wanna be like Q-Tip. The documentary got me to buy a record player. I got my music equipment down in the basement, and I started to buy records for the player just because Q-Tip’s interest in vinyl. With his knowledge of records, especially in the mp3 age, he stands out, so I wanna accumulate that same type of knowledge so I stand out too.
How have you developed as a musician, beyond emceeing?
I had the same set-up at OU as I do now in Canton, but I now own my own set. There were times I couldn’t record with iShine because I been out of school due to my grades, but I’ll be returning back to OU in January hopefully.
I got all that stuff because I wasn’t sure that I would be able to come back, but I looked into my papers and realized I had a chance to go back since it was only a suspension. It helped me a lot though because it made me do it on my own, and it gave me the feel to do everything on my own. I’ve got my website on my own, got my logo on my own and everything I got it was just me. It’s been like experimenting the same way a kid would do with toys. Like, I’ll play on my Akai for a really long time and find myself making a beat. My free time isn’t partying and all that, it’s being on my equipment.
Is it because you’re in Canton now? How have you been adapting to the Canton scene as opposed to OU/Athens?
The music scene here is buzzing. There’s a few artists here, but not like “oh my God! Canton’s the place for hiphop.” Being here has made me realize the importance of being in school. It was a real wake-up call. While all my friends were in class I was going to work at Goodwill, or just sitting at home in my room. I really sat and thought about it, and I love my city to death, but I don’t wanna be here sitting on a dream. I know I can rhyme. I know I can be a musician. But I know I worked hard to get to OU, so I need to work hard to get a degree. Being at home helped me realize that if you gotta sit in a classroom and study, I’d rather do that than be working a 9-5. When I was slacking off at OU, it wasn’t like I was doing it on purpose. It was just that I got so caught up in being Jean P, the rapper, that I wasn’t focused on being Jean P, the student. When I go back in January, I’ll be way more focused. I’ll still be performing, don’t get me wrong, but I’m gonna form a balance. I think I’ve built enough of a buzz for the past two years, so I can buckle down and focus on getting my degree.
Being here in Canton has caused me to wake up because there’s not a lot of success stories here – just negative things going on like crime, poverty and it’s just a small place. I don’t wanna be a product of my environment.
Seeing the video Can’t Help Myself, I see a lot of emptiness and abandoned buildings and whatnot in Canton. Same deal for your album cover. Is there an underlying theme behind this video that is parallel to what I’m seeing in this documentary?
That was exactly what I was trying to say through all of these projects. If you’ve noticed my music before, you’ll think Will Rap 4 Food is very depressing! It was honest, it was one of my most successful projects I’ve done and got me a lot of buzz, but it’s really depressing. I had to let it all off my chest – the birth of my son, not being out with my friends, my life – I was being real on Will Rap 4 Food. I put a lot into and pulled a lot out because I felt like I was done since I wasn’t in school anymore, plus the birth of my son. I really wanted to give up, I’m not gonna lie. But when I got the attention from the album, I wanted to keep going. I’m glad I didn’t give up because you wouldn’t have seen me on KevinNottingham, ThisIs50 and DJBooth.
You said it took a lot outta you to do Will Rap 4 Food, and the content has changed since the last time you were on this blog. Tell me about how the writing and lyrical content has developed since then.
I’ve matured. I listened to my other projects and saw what I wasn’t doing to step it up for Will Rap 4 Food. Like, I can’t even listen to Thought Process anymore because I sounded so juvenile, so different. I love doing more projects because I know it’ll be nothing but growth.
Tell me about your upcoming project with Lakim Opposites Attract.
Lakim is a producer out of Virginia. He’s a hybrid of all the great producers I’ve wanted – like 9th Wonder and J Dilla – rolled up into one person. When he sent me those beats, I was like “damn, man. You make all these beats for free?!” The title comes from, one, I’m from Ohio and he’s from Virginia. Two, I’m an emcee and he’s a producer. We attract together because we want to bring some real hiphop and give yall a dope album. He was originally gonna be on Will Rap 4 Food, but when he sent me those beats I wanted to do a whole album with him. I’ve always wanted to do an album like that too – like Pete Rock & CL Smooth or Guru and DJ Premier. While I’ve sort-of done it with iShine, Lakim has that boom bap-style I need. iShine is his own man because he has that DC sound that’s kind of R&B and pop, so when he was making hiphop beats for me it wasn’t a style he was used to. At the end of the day though, we’re still family and part of one team.