NMV Sit Down: Ajani Jones
Mindful artist Ajani Jones talks about his new album Dragonfly, understanding perspective, and finding his individuality through subtracting distractions.
We were lucky enough to speak with the Chicago emcee as he delved into his personal and musical mindset that he works on maintaining as he continues to blossom as a creative.
SM: Steven Mainzer
AJ: Ajani Jones
SM: Hey Ajani, how have you been? What you been working on lately?
AJ: I’m great man, hanging out, working on new music, and promoting this album.
SM: Can you delve into your latest project ‘Dragonfly’?
AJ: The album alludes to time and honestly the confidence to be better and grow, in a lot of ways, and more so than being an artist but also being a human being. It alludes to understanding that there are more things to life than what we may think, and understanding perspective. I want people to see that time is limited and you got to do what you can to make the most of it.
SM: How did you come to grow the perspective of appreciating time?
AJ: It got to a point where I was putting myself in situations where I felt like I wasn’t using the time that I had correctly. I felt like I was more so just doing stuff to do it. I told myself I want to manifest all these things but I kept using excuses instead of doing it. It got to a point where I was like, let’s change that and attack the part of my brain that wants to make an excuse, or I want to give up and kind of re-wire or do more than that. That turned into my distribution deal with Closed Sessions, me making my best project and I had a lot of fun doing that.
SM: What do you think was the turning point?
AJ: I think it hit a point after my EP ‘Cocoons’ where I was able to finally sit back and be like, “What do I want to say?” I really didn’t know. The way I do music is more of a subconscious thing. When I sit down and hear a beat, if I really like it, the words are going to come instantly. There is no need for me to force or come up with the content, because I think so much. For those people that have a million thoughts and those thoughts have children, you can’t pinpoint what you want to say. You kind of just say what you feel and the words kind of coincide.
SM: I saw your video “Lucid” seemed to have a lot of underlying meaning behind it. What was that meaning you were trying to convey in that particular video?
AJ: I wanted to put myself in a place where I feel like we all have that moment where we feel like we’re insane or crazy because no one else thinks of the crazy things we think of or no one else can understand our perspective, nor do they try to. I wanted to paint that duality of one side of being sane, trying to escape the monotony of life, and the other side that is trying to break through and destroy everything. That was the idea there. Also, in that video you see those characters meeting up together, those are suppose to be the characteristics of a person who have so many routes they can take, you can be any type of person you want to be but it’s really about understanding who are you really. Once you understand that you can really open up to people.
SM: “Pyramids” w/ Kweku Collins is one of my favorites, how did that collaboration come about? Your guys’ rapping styles mesh well.
AJ: We were on the same label and I was in support of his music because he has a sound that nobody in Chicago has. And we started hanging out and we realized we had some similarities, we come from different parts of the city but we understand we’re both black and we both love music and love the nuances of being different. That spun into a lot of conversations where I was like “Kweku would be perfect for this,” because the song in a sense is about freeing yourself and helping others. Freeing yourself is asking, who are you and where are you going. Search it, find it, enter that void, and once you find it you are who you are, no one can change that. Since that record we made a bunch of stuff, we have enough stuff for a tape.
SM: Can you spoil any details about that tape?
AJ: We talked about it recently; it would be after he did a lot of things. He has some things he has to do first. Then, I think we can sit down and figure that out, but yeah that’s my brother. I want to go on a tour with him one day, that’s a goal of mine.
SM: What did you grow up listening to?
AJ: I grew up listening to a lot of different stuff; I was a big fan of Neo Soul, that was kind of my introduction to music in general. Lauryn Hill, Floetry, music Soul child, it expanded to 50 Cent, Ludacris, Lupe, then from there it grew and blossomed as I liked rock music and indie music.
I started to become a different type of person through that. I started to understand how those things meshed together. I feel like the music today is a mix of alternative rock and hip-hop. You would be short changed to not find an artist that is a mix of one of those. My favorite rapper is Lupe Fiasco. I studied that dude for years and years, ahead of his time.
Bob Marley was a big influence too. He opened my eyes to what perspective is. Rastafarian is a religion itself, it’s a lifestyle, I practiced it for a little while when I started to grow my hair. I understood that peace and love was so important to my life, and once I embraced that my life became a thousand times better.
SM: What is a collaboration that you would like to do with an artist but they have to be alive?
AJ: I want to work with Andre 3000. That’s my dream. He’s probably done doing music now, I probably missed my shot but I would with do one with him. You really got to catch him; he got to really rock with you. Hopefully I can get him to do that one day.
SM: What about an artist that is dead?
AJ: That’s easy I don’t know why I thought about this so long, Mac Miller. That’s crazy because he influenced me a lot. His death hurt me. That was one of the first people where it really hurt me. You know, he was around our age like 27.
SM: Any special plans for the remainder of 2019 that you can talk about?
AJ: I have a very special video coming out for a song called “Black Power Ranger” on my album that'll blow people away.
SM: Favorite hobby away from music?
AJ: I love to play basketball so any rappers that want smoke or want to see what’s good on the court, that’s what I do. I love to play basketball and I love to read. I been hoopin’ a lot lately so I been looking for some competition. A lot of these rappers really don’t hoop though.
SM: What is your favorite book?
AJ: My favorite book of all time is called Native Sun, written by Richard Wright, very old book, very classic. If you are a black man, I think that is a great read for you.
SM: It seems through your life, personal and musical, you have found a sense of individuality and uniqueness. How did finding your individuality help you make that stride in coming into your own in the past year or so?
AJ: I think I kind of took a break from a lot of the pleasures that I would enjoy before. I stopped going out a lot. I had to get away from distractions. Women are a distraction from me. I broke up with my girlfriend. I had to stay away for a while so that I could really focus on me. That’s what helped me to be honest because I am tunnel vision. But when I get distractions it can really hinder that journey that I’m on.
It was really me just getting back on my square, I always have had the mindset and the goals, they never change – it’s just more so staying on it. It’s easy to get content working a 9 to 5. It’s easy to balance living check to check once you get a leg up on it, plus it’s hard to live that way, especially when you want more. That was something I had to really lock in on. Just improving myself so that those things change, I want to be able to go somewhere for a week and not have to worry about not having money or not worrying about rent or something like that. So I have to focus on that and the individuality is important because especially as an artist, we get depressed often. We got to take care of ourselves, self care as Mac Miller said, that’s really it.
SM: How do you balance a 9 to 5 and a creative lifestyle?
AJ: It’s something that during the day, you literally have creative juices, you have an idea that comes to your head and you can’t really tend to them. You have to write them down or they are gone forever. There are a lot of times, where I pull out my phone and do a voice memo. Also you get off at 5 and you’re tired, as s**t, and you just want to go to sleep but you can’t. Once you understand why you’re doing it, it makes everything a lot better.
I have a mantra that I say in my head to get me through certain moments. One of mine is “manifest everything.” When I’m looking to go somewhere or to do something, it’s like “manifest it.” You ever be talking about somebody and they text you? It’s a matter of putting something in the air, visualization in a certain sense. Or “abundance has no name.” Anybody can have an abundant lifestyle, but really understanding where you want to go, an abundance of money, love? You kind of just fill in the blank.
SM: What would be your piece of advice to up and coming independent artists?
AJ: I would say research is important. A lot of people see rappers with a bunch of cars, money, on stage but they don’t really know what it takes to get there. Research your favorite artists, look deeply into their lives and their artistry, and see what they did to get there. Look at their marketing strategy. You have to research if you want to be a part of this because then you’re going to come in here and be like, “this is not what I expected.” You should know what to expect.
There are certain things that you can’t really research. There are certain things you have to experience. I would say research and experience as much as possible. Another thing that is important is to just jump in. A lot of different artists say they want to do things, but they don’t do it, don’t wait, just do it. Just find a way.
I was in the south suburbs with my mom four years ago trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I literally just jumped in. I jumped into the circuit doing open mics. You have to start at ground zero to build an empire. That’s really what I would say. Those are the two essential things, the artistry comes with you just working hard, putting in the 10,000 hours.