Ever since hip hop came onto the scene decades ago, prognosticators from far and wide have been predicting its demise.
Well, I’m not so sorry to report, hip hop ain’t dead yet.
The reason why hip hop may have had more lives than your average tabby cat is because new blood is always entering the game.
One such up-and-comer is Jonny October (a.k.a. Jonathan Barton). The Ride talked to this Brooklyn resident about his sound and new video, “S.R.I”.
The Ride: Hey Jonny, thanks for taking the time to speak with me? First, I have to ask about your name. I know your real name is Jonathan Barton. Where did you get the name “Jonny October”.
Jonny: Well, I always felt a little cheesy about choosing an alias. I went by Jonny B back in the day because it was a nickname that had casually been given to me. When I decided to get more serious about hip hop I figured Id be more comfortable with a name someone else dubbed me. I decided to ask my father to rename me as he saw fit. He was a big Reggie Jackson fan. They called Reggie Mr. October. I became Jonny October. October is my favorite month for a lot of reasons besides, so I roll with it.
The Ride: I read that you worked as a ghostwriter for other artists. What was that like? Did you have to meet them in dark alley to exchange cash for rhymes/hooks/beats?
Jonny: I’m a big spy novel and hard-boiled crime fiction guy, but unfortunately ghostwriting isn’t generally as clandestine as that. In my experience, the backdrop for such a transaction occurs either in a well lit studio, or over the net. Which now now that I think of it, is full of shady dark alleys. So yes.
The Ride: What is it like not being able to openly/publicly acknowledge your contribution to a song?
Jonny: I enjoy the anonymity. Writing for other people is like getting to wear a bunch of different masks. (which I collect, oddly enough). I try to embody the other artist and imagine how they might say something and tailor the rhymes and rhythms to their particular cadence of speech. That being said, once in a while you come up with a hot line and think. “Fuck. I really want to say that.” I’ve been fortunate that most of the work Ive done has at least had my name tagged in the liner notes. I only work with people I admire and respect. People who want everybody to get shine.
The Ride: What made you decide to transition from behind to the scenes to out in front?
Jonny: I realized that hermits don’t generally get to have music careers. I’m so anal about the music I attach to my name that sometimes I need a kick in the ass to actually share it with people. I’ve got some great artists in my corner like Louis Logic and J.J. Brown who are willing to give me that kick when I start floundering.
The Ride: How would you describe your sound?
Jonny: Oh no! The question every musician dreads! I don’t know how I would describe my sound, but I try to avoid using the word “fusion” at all costs. I like to think my sound is diverse enough from song to song that describing its theme would be tough, but I’m sure there are plenty of critics who wouldn’t mind proving me wrong on that.
The Ride: If I’m not a hip hop head (a.k.a. hip hop enthusiast), would I like your music?
Jonny: Yep you’d love it. Buy my albums.
The Ride: I also read that, while in college, you co-founded, Hip Hop Anonymous. Was it an organization for recovering hip hop addicts? I kid. But seriously, what was it all about and why did you find there was a need to start such a group/organization?
Jonny: Hip Hop Anonymous (HHA) was a monthly showcase for local hip hop artists to come do their thing. Penn State (PSU) is geographically isolated, smack dab in the middle of Amish country. The urban music scene wasn’t really poppin’, so we figured wed fix that. There are over 40 thousand undergrads at PSU so we found an audience. It ended up becoming a kind of movement. HHA would be the worst rehab program ever.
The Ride: So what are you up to now?
Jonny: Finishing my first solo album.
The Ride: I checked out your video, “S.R.I.” Interesting. A little creepy in parts. Who came up with the concept? And what does “S.R.I.” stand for?
Jonny: The co-directors Jed Rosenberg and Ethan Blum collaborated with me in creating the concept. S.R.I stands for self righteous indignation. It makes me laugh at myself when I engage in talking about how great I am in a song so I figured the title should reflect that. It also loosely refers to S.S.R.I.s which are Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors also known as antidepressants. We tried to make the S.R.I video a kind of short film. I’m really happy with it, everyone involved busted their ass to make it happen.
The Ride: What’s the message, if there is any?
Jonny: The message is open to interpretation; although I do think a lot of rappers could use a good lobotomy. It sure feels like I’m getting one every time I turn on the fucking radio.
The Ride: Where do you hope your music will take you?
Jonny: Hopefully not back to Salida, Colorado. I did my first national tour this year and we had a head on collision during a snow storm driving through a mountain pass on the way to Fort Collins. The tour van was squished but we all walked away from it. Ended up in Salida, CO. Yeah, so the towns name is Exit in Spanish. It actually ended up being pretty fun; there are some good folks in Salida, just really bad roads.
The Ride: What impact do you hope it will have?
Jonny: I love the feeling I get when a song, or any kind of art clicks with me and gives me the sense of having some common understanding with its creator. I’d like to be able to put some of that out into the universe.
Thank you so very much Jonny.
To follow Jonny on Twitter, click here.
On Facebook, click here.
On MySpace, click here.