Interview With Jon Connor: That Belief went Beyond Music

“I feel amazing right now, just to be a part of history, we live in hip-hop history right now, Dre dropping this album is monumental, so I wish I could really explain to everybody exactly how I feel but its kinda like a kid on Christmas man, so I feel amazing.”

We caught up for the very first time on the streets of SxSW in 2012 and you had an army with you, like 20/30 people, carrying flags, carrying banners, never seen anything like it and we hooked up did an interview there and then on the street. Its just crazy to see from then to now.

I appreciate that you actually one of those people who got a chance to witness my grind prior to getting signed because you understand that this didn’t happen overnight and thats the biggest thing for me is that I want people to see I been grinding, I been working hard and always had my eyes set on a certain goal and this is it. Thinking back to those SxSW days, we was out there 20/30 deep till the sun came up till the sun went down all for moments like this to go hard and grind and persevere through all the BS that you gotta go through. Like I said its all worth it, all worth it to go through everything to get to this point.

Jon Connor with his team at SxSW 2012
Jon Connor with his team at SxSW 2012

…and the people that you were with, you could see it in their eyes, they had the belief in you, they knew you were gonna win, they were protective of you, they were making sure people knew about you, knew about your music and you had that determination in that interview as well, you had that sense of self belief. You’ve done the independent thing and you could see that you were confident you were gonna do something, you were gonna get somewhere.

I mean thank you so much for bringing that up and acknowledging that and saying that, that means a lot, because the thing about it is for us when we were doing SxSW and all of that, it wasn’t just about rapping, it wasn’t just about music and just for the listeners. I’m here and I don’t know if you all know about Flint, Michigan but it was rated one of the worst cities in the United States one of the most dangerous and poverty stricken cities and thats where I come from. So when you seen us out at SxSW, that belief that you saw in our eyes it went beyond like music or them just believing in me and a rapper, it was like for us it was for our city it was so that the people that saw us in Flint seen that anything is possible that you could do it if you could just keep working hard. Its like the obstacles that we have to overcome in Flint are so just astronomical that its just like that is what we were out there grinding for. It wasn’t just about music it was just to make it out, we go through so much in Flint, Michigan, not to say that I don’t wanna be the guy to get the violins out and spit a sob story but it is real and I am here to be an ambassador for where I come from in the United States. Flint, Michigan one of the most dangerous cities and so thats what was in us and thats what the thing that kept us motivated… We had to get out, it was more than about music, it was about inspiring the people of our city and our state, because Michigan has been catching hell too, not just flint but Detroit, BaseCity, all of those surrounding areas from where I come from and with the music thing I’ve just been put into such a position where I can go out and inspire my city to wanna get up get out and do better. If they see me do it then they’ll believe that they can do it.

Flint Michigan, its not the heart of the music industry. It’s not the heart of where everything happens, and like you said its the No.1 city for poverty, how do you break out of that situation and end up working with Dr Dre in the studio?

The first thing is from what you saw in SxSW, I go back to that, its just hard work, hard work. I mean there was a lot of times where I would get my CD out and people would throw it on the ground right in front of my face, but the thing is, how do you get outta poverty, how do you beat that, its that you have to wanna succeed so much that any disappointment that you face along the way, you’ll feel like thats nothing compared to what I’m gonna be going back to if I don’t succeed. So the thing is when you have that motivating you everyday, thats what keeps you going and to grind.

You said how did you get to Dr Dre? It’s so crazy man, the underground grind was so important in my career, its like Xzibit was a big fan or is a big fan of underground hip-hop and you know Xzibit he’s a lyricist and he come wit it. So the thing is, to this day he’s still checks for the underground cats and he still check for who’s hot or who’s moving and Xzibit and his son was actually a fan of what I was doing on the underground. So I went on tour with him, he hit me on Twitter one day and was like ‘Im a fan of your music, would you like to go on the road’ and at first it was crazy and I was thinking its a fake Xzibit account, I wasn’t even thinking its the real Xzibit. You gotta understand we had no prior communication, no relationship and he just honestly dug what I was doing so much that he was like ‘yo I’m a fan of your music, you wanna come on the road’ and I was like of course. We go on tour in Canada and he was tellin’ me like ‘yo whatever I could do to help you I’m gonna do it’ and you know in this business sometimes you just take things like that with a grain of salt – ‘Yeah ok thanks for saying that Xzibit I appreciate it’. One day he caught me out the blue and was ‘yo I got an idea ima let Dr Dre hear your music’ and you know I’m a fan of hip-hop and I’m a fan of music still to this day. Even though I’m in this position I’m still a fan of what we do and I’m thinking just like everybody else like ‘man Dr Dre live on mars or something’ or ‘Dr Dre is on another planet somewhere’  – like how would Dr Dre ever hear my music. You never think that you could meet Dr Dre or especially me being from Flint, Michigan but it was Xzibit who let him hear the music, and my life changed after that. The next day Dre calls and says ‘Yo Connor can you be in California tomorrow at 9 o’clock’ – I woulda hitchhiked, I woulda jogged to California that day. It ain’t matter. After that the rest was history, I got on a plane and its what you see now.

Was you there for 9 o’clock?

Oh man I was there, not only was I there for 9 o’clock I was probably there at 8.30, I probably got there a little bit early man. The funny part about that is my manager, he got there before I did, so it was just crazy. When Dr Dre give you that call to be somewhere you gonna be there super early, you gonna be there a day early if you can. So it was just an amazing moment that changed my life forever.

You’ve been working with underground producers, you’ve been doing everything yourself, what was the transition like from working with someone like Dre from where you was at before, were you nervous, how do you do that? How do you sit in the room with one of the greatest producers of all time and not choke?

You know what, someone once said and I don’t know where this expression/quote came from, but they said ‘Don’t believe in luck – luck is when preparation meets opportunity’ and I believe that. I didn’t freeze or choke when I got infront of Dre because I had been preparing for that moment my whole life. If you’re rapping or making music and your end goal is not to get to somebody like a Dre, Jay-Z, or Kanye or Pharrell then I don’t think you should be doing this. Its like my love for this runs so deep I am a hip-hop fan, I am a hip-hop historian, I love what I do. I put my heart and my soul in it and I believe that ‘like attracts like’ and Dre is the same exact way, he loves this, he loves what we do. When we got in the studio it was  breath of fresh air for me, because like I said I’m in Flint, I was the only one doing what I was doing at the time. So to be around someone who knew more than me, thats an understatement, Dre’s knowledge of what we do is limitless, its endless. So being in the studio with him was like, it was such a breath of fresh air to be able to learn and just have somebody challenge me in the studio. It wasn’t no time to freeze up. If you’re in the NBA and you’re playing and you’re not trying to win the ring and tryin to win the NBA finals, I don’t know what you in the league for. That one moment comes to you and either you’re gonna show up or you’re not. The thing was the first time I met Dre we went to his crib and he started putting on beats and I rapped and rapped and rapped and rapped until my voice was almost hoarse, until he cut the beat off and was like ‘yo what you wanna do?’. So I had been preparing my whole life for that moment. So there was no way I was gonna walk out of that house, or was gonna leave California without making Dr Dre wanna work with me.

There was no way I was gonna leave California without making Dr Dre wanna work with me.

Lets get to the album, ‘One Shot Kill’ how did that track come about?

‘One Shot One Kill’ Crazy! It was actually done in Hawaii, which was pretty crazy, the ambiance was so crazy, recording in Hawaii was nuts, we recorded I believe at the same studio that Kanye did ‘808 and Heartbreaks’ in. So just the energy of that place, to know that so much great music was made outta that place was crazy. We was in the studio and it was honestly like one of the last records, like Dre was making beats, the whole team was there, the musicians and Dre. And it was one of the last beats that we had done in that particular session, so its probably like 2 o’clock in the morning, everybody tired and yawning and then believe it was Focus who came across the sample. When it started playing, everybody got that energy and it was like everybody who was sleepy ten minutes ago, everybody got a burst of energy, so everybody got that shot of adrenaline in their arm or something. So everybody woke up and just the energy around it and Dre just kinda looked at me like ‘well do what you do’. When he give you that look once again you gotta show up. So I laid the vocals and it was money and that was actually a record that I was like so much and then we recorded a couple more joints. Then Dre decided to put Snoop on it and when I heard Snoop verse ah man, this outta the park. With the instrumentation and the rock feel – and big shoutout to my brother Craig Owens who’s also from Flint, Michigan who’s at the beginning of the record. It was a beautiful thing, thats how that one came together, it started in Hawaii, ended up two months, three months later with Snoop Dogg and that rock feel on it and it was just crazy. Dre like that dude sees the record from beginning to end, from the time he starts to sectionalise the joint and he just knows how to take it to a place you never even thought was possible.

Dre like that dude sees the record from beginning to end.

How did ‘For the Love Of Money’ come about?

‘For the Love of Money’ shout to Cardiak who did the beat, which was crazy, we was sitting in the studio and Cardiak was just playing joints for me and ‘For the Love of Money’ I’m a big Bone Thugs fan, I respect the history and the lineage of that record and it was like that. So when I heard the ‘For the Love of Money’ sample it immediately took me back to when I was a kid and what I love in the Hip-Hop I grew up on. I’m from the mid-west and Bone is from Ohio, so Bone was real big in Flint, so the thing is when I heard it I immediately fell in love with it. The first line of that song ‘say whatsup to the broke nigga at the rich party’ I had that line in my head for two months I was like ‘Ah man I gotta say this’ because thats Flint, thats me, thats the underdog, thats how I feel a lot of times and so when I said the line Dre was walking by the studio and was like ‘whats that?’ and I’m like ‘its something I’m working on’. So long story short, he called me that night and ‘yeah that urm that ‘For the Love of Money’ you might wanna finish that’ – I’m like ‘Yo word you like it?’ and he’s like ‘yo its crazy’. I finished it and Anderson came through who is such a huge part of the Compton album and I think he did phenomenal work on the album and when I heard Dre’s verse and what Anderson did on it, that took it to another level. Then when I heard what Jill Scott added to it, the song just kept going, the song ended up on steroids by the end of it. It was already crazy but then you throw Anderson on it and then what Dre brought to it and then what Jill Scott brought to it and then the production value at the end with all of that guitars and its just like, man it was just a beautiful thing.

The last thing I wanna say about that record is it was so cool because when we got done with it, it was like Dre looked at it and he was like ‘wow, you know thats one of the last songs that Easy was on’ and so just to know that for Dre that record means, the spirit of his best friend lives on on his last album, is something that I’m humbled to be a part of. That Dre started was ok and that he respected what I brought to that song enough to have me on there and that I’m there to represent, one of Easy’s last songs on his last album is just a crazy feeling.

Jon Connor its an incredible journey, I’m glad I got to witness some of it early on and I’m really happy for the way things have ended up, what advice would you give to anybody on the come up, anyone who is trying to get put on, anybody who is trying to do what and where you’re at right now.

The advice that I would give anybody who’s on the come up is crazy like, I said it the other day, give 100% of your full potential and don’t give up. And the thing is a lot of times people get to a certain point and think that they’ve reached 100% of their full potential but they haven’t. It’s like ‘yo don’t work until you ready to quit, work until you can barely breathe and then keep going and thats when you know that you’ve maxed out on your whole potential. And when you do that, I guarantee you will get whatever you want. Never give up, don’t listen to nobody around you, just listen to that little voice in your head that say that you could do it. Cos thats the only truth that you need to succeed and thats the best advice that I could give.

Listen to the full #DreDay special with DJ Semtex on BBC 1Xtra now.