Jon Bellion Talks "The Definition," Kanye, and Shaking The Shit Out of Artists
Not everyone can drop out of college and go on to become a mega successful recording artist. There is, of course Kanye West- and before long, especially after dropping his latest album, there will also be Suffolk County’s own, Jon Bellion. We recently met up with the hip-hop groomed, singer-songwriter between him trending on Twitter and his lunch (no big deal) to get the scoop on his journey from the classroom to the studio (with a short stint at a catering service somewhere in between). For a young artist who is responsible for making, as he’d put it, “possibly the best music ever,” Jon’s energetic passion, evolving style (shout out to Stephanie Singer) and fucking expensive music-videos are bound to work in perfect harmony to make him one of the most promising artists of this era.
The DefinitionWhat does Lake Grove mean to Jon Bellion?
Ha! Oh man. I’ve been there my whole life. Things have been going well, I guess, financially and career wise. So people are always like, “You must be chillin’ in The Hills somewhere with all the guap that you got, now!” I just moved into my parent’s basement. Me and two of my homies sort of bought the bottom half of the house from my parents. I like being around my family. I don’t want to move out yet. And the basement’s so huge. I renovated it and put a studio in it and all that stuff. So its like, I get everything I want, you know. My parents are right upstairs but we soundproofed the whole thing so I can bang out, make music, do what I have to do all night and nobody’s bothered. It’s funny. People are always like, “where do you live now?” [I respond] “I live at home.” “What do you do for a living?” [I respond] “I make music.” They’re like, “oh yea, sure. I’m sure you’re really killin’ the game right now.”
But do you think that keeps you grounded? Being at home with your family and your friends?
Without a doubt. My family; they would slap me if anything ever got out of hand.
Switching gears for a second. You can actually spit.
You can rap. It’s no joke. What do you attribute your hip-hop influence to?
I grew up to just hip-hop, especially in high school. That’s really all I listened to. My brother’s 10 years older than me and he used to listen to a lot of rap. That’s why I say, in Preoccupied, “Wu-Tang raised me but Death Cab changed me. You should go and ask Rihanna if the pen game’s crazy. My artistry is everything. That’s my baby. But when it comes to publishing, fuck you, pay me.” The bars kind of give you exactly what it is. A lot of people say, “Why don’t you rap more?” That’s all I get from tweets. I’ve been rapping forever. Back in college I was cyphering. I went to a music school and it was all rappers. My homie, Blaque Keyz, who’s on "Preoccupied." I met him in college. We used to spit all the time together. But I think Childish Gambino said it recently. “Rap is kind of like Jazz. It’s dead as fuck.” We have to have Kanye go on stage and scream and do weird shit to keep rap relevant. We all love hip-hop. I love hip-hop. There’s nothing wrong with it. But at the end of the day there’s a reason why Drake’s winning. Like hash-tag, capitalized winning. It’s because he’s like, [sings melodically] “Just hold on we’re going home,” (but) he’s a rapper. He might have written it in 15 minutes, but still. You can’t boom bap 90’s hip-hop. It’s been done a million times. How many white, suburban kids are trying to take over the Internet and be a rapper? I’d rather do something relatively progressive. I’m on 2DopeBoyz and PopCrush. That speaks volumes as to what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to push through.
Absolutely. Speaking of rap and Kanye. I’m going to get you to finish a line for me.
“Told ‘em I finished school and I started my own business. They said oh you graduated?...”
Ah! I don’t know. What is it?
“No I decided I was finished”
Oh yea, yea! Yes. Without a doubt. Ha!
Which is from Kanye’s, College Dropout. Of, course. Of, course.
Kanye’s influence, and correct me if I’m wrong, had a literal effect on your life. You went to school. And left. What fears did you have, going from college to deciding, “you know what I’m going to pursue music full time.”
I had a dream one morning that I was going to drop out of school. So I did. That day. That’s literally what happened. I called my father and was like, “I’m dropping out of school.” He was like, “okay.” “You’re not living at home unless you get a full time job.” So I did. I got a job at a catering hall for six days a week. Crumbing tables, the whole nine. But I would work on beats and make songs everyday as an obsessive hobby kind of thing. I wouldn’t say it was nerve-racking. I’m not really an anxiety-ridden person. I try to keep it as just crisis-in-control and that’s how it goes down; you know?
The more I realize that putting Christ first and just relying. He’s literally in control of everything. Like today, I’m sitting in traffic. I’m an hour late. Spotify leaked the album. All of this is going on. (exhales) It’s a crisis-in-control. I got a lot in the bank, my family’s healthy, I love my parents, and we’re good.
From the time I was introduced to your music to now, I see you as the guy who is crushing the music-video game.
And you co-direct these, right? Where do you get the ideas and the budget to do this shit?
Ha! I’ve been making my own videos since all the way back to Dead Man Walking. And a lot of the videos I hate. A lot of those songs I hate. I’m the type of person who likes to look realistically at what’s going on. My first two albums; they were phenomenal introductions to who I was. They’re great. It’s like, “he’s experimental, he’s positive, he’s great!” “He’s doing something cool.” But I didn’t expect, and it didn’t happen, to get on the Complex’s. I didn’t expect for Fader to pick me up because the music wasn’t good enough yet. I’m just that realistic of a person. This third album is destroying, everybody! But its not coming from a place of, “here’s my first album.” “This is the best album ever made.” Because that’s not realistic. I dropped “Munny Right” and then all the blogs just came out of nowhere like, “We’d love to premiere everything!” And I’m not going to say, “Fuck you because you didn’t fuck with me in the beginning,” because my records weren’t good enough in the beginning. Now my records are dope as shit. But that’s how strongly I feel about this third album. Sorry went on a tangent.
Ha! All good.
But with the videos, I signed to a label after my first mixtape. I signed a major deal after my fist mixtape.
They gave me a huge budget for these videos but I paid for half of it myself, through my songwriting. And I also wanted to prove a point and stick up for other artists out there. People think that, “oh he signed to a label. He sold out.” Now when I tell people that I’ve been signed to a label for about a year and half, two years, when my first album came out, and I’ve done all this on my own, organically. And I still stayed in creative control. It’s the age of cosign and the age of blogs. That’s why I was like; “Yo I just gotta get nice enough to where all the blogs take me.” Then I’ll work on my single. Then I’ll go to radio. I needed to make The Definition to prove to everybody that I’m better at making music than 99.999 percent of the people on the planet. But the first two albums didn’t prove that. This album, I feel, does.
Another thing I’ve noticed in your videos is the progression of your style. How important is style to you? Because I peeped those furry Margielas.
How much thought do you put into that?
For Simple and Sweet, especially, where the furry Margielas are, there’s a stylist named (Stephanie) Singer. She calls herself Singer Blinger. She’s been phenomenal. She’s a very close homie of mine. We just shared style interests and talked. And she picked a bunch of outfits for me. She’s great. That was where the furry Margielas came up. She actually copped those for me because she had connections. She was dope like that.
She crushed it.
I used to not care about style…at all. On my first, first, first album I was saying, “fashion’s a chore to me. I’m partying in mocassins.”I guess, as I got older, shapes and colors and designs, I realized, were all a part of music as well. So video aesthetics and colors and style and all of these things started to really be integrated into my life. And now it’s become a big part of me. I’m way more conscious about what I’m wearing, just to express myself. Plus there’s a little more money in the bank so it’s fun to experiment and wear what I want to wear.
Having released The Definition, your biggest album to date, what do you see happening for your career? Are you letting things happen organically or are there plans?
You can plan things to a certain degree. Today we trended (on Twitter) in 8 minutes. It was a United States trend. The Definition. Then we were trending world wide for a little bit. But I’m not going to say, “Okay we’re going to trend on this day.” The only thing you can plan on, I guess, from me, is that I’ll always try to creatively beat myself out. So whatever you feel about this project, just know I’m going to try to push something further on the next project. I’m going to be shedding artistic skin. Plan wise, I don’t know. I just found out we sold out, literally, half of the venues and there’s like 10 tickets left at each venue. It’s my first tour ever!
I have to get, at least, one of those 10.
Ha! I can get you tickets for sure. We sold out highline ballroom 56 days before the show. The kids care. Whatever happens happens. I’m going on with the band, Perry for four days just because they heard a joint that I did with Audra Mae called, Luxury. As a thank you for her making the record I did a record for her. I produced the whole record.
At this point in our interview, the building’s doorman kicked us out of the private conference room for taking photos. After promising we’d stop shooting and bargaining time for lunch over the next week, we bought ourselves 15 minutes to wrap up. The interview continued with…
Ha! That guy wasn’t fuckin’ around! Considering all of today’s positive energy from releasing The Definition and prepping for The Beautiful Mind Tour, I know your phone has to be blowing up. Give me the best tweet or text message you’ve read so far.
We had a girl send an email to my manager and didn’t think it was going to be read. It was a nine-page thing about how, from when she found me until now, my music stopped her from killing herself. With that being said, I don’t even like that, myself. Knowing that people look toward us, as artists. I have the most culturally relevant album in the last 5 years. If you pay for an album, even though mine is free, you’re not going to find a better album than mine this year. At the end of the day, though, this whole music fishbowl of importance, that we’re living in (and) this (notion of), “I’m important, look at me! I have answers that these guys don’t have so follow me. I have answers and I’m going to give you answers to life. I’m a god.” Man, I’m not going to be relevant forever. From a 1-10 I just hit a 2 in my career. That’s fine; I have a whole 8 steps to go. People try to make God something else so that when they finally get it they shake the shit out of it and say be my, God. I don’t want to be anybody’s, God. I’m not a god. I serve a God and a God that loves me and I think is going to take care of me when I pass away. But for the time being, don’t shake the shit out of me and ask me to be your, God because I don’t want that. Happiness is completely relative. Ask God to give you what you need. Don’t ask me, don’t ask Jay-Z. Don’t ask Kanye West. None of that shit. I’ll be the guy on the other side of the fence reporting to the fans, saying, “I’m seeing the whole thing, I know artists, I know they’re depressed, I now they’re ready to kill themselves.” I’m contradictory. I talk about God, but I also say I’m the best. Humans, by nature, are contradictory. Don’t shake the shit out of something and expect it to be your God, once you get it, because it’s going to let you down. Whether it’s money, your wife, (or) your family. You can’t put your faith in artists. Don’t put your faith in me because I’m not going to come through like that. I can provide some great music for you. Possibly the best music ever. But when it comes to real life shit, no one cares. Jim Morrison, all the way ‘til me. From “The Beatles,” ‘til now. Everybody is trying to play, God. We’re not. I’m not. Nobody else is.