Kent Jones is what happens when a hip-hop artist studies music theory.
A trained jazz musician, the Florida native names Duke Ellington, Hall & Oates, Lil Wayne and Kanye West among his influences, which serves as a testament to his ethos: music – no matter the form or genre – is symbiotic. Ask him how playing the piano and drums aids in writing melodies and rhymes, and he’ll tell you it’s all the same. Ask if he’s artist or producer first, and he’ll tell you there’s no difference. For Jones, music is a single force taking on various shapes and colors.
Enter his smash hit, “Don’t Mind.” A worthy addiction, the feel-good track infuses greetings in six languages with an interpolation of Barry White’s “Practice What You Preach” over a thumping bass. Up against relentless anthems by Drake, Rihanna and the like, Jones’s jam comes out on top as the audible screenshot of #Summer16. The song – which was almost excluded from his 2015 Tours mixtape – became the unexpected hit that catapulted its creator into the spotlight.
Gearing up to deliver a project that will serve as his defining moment, Kent Jones promises more in store. Get familiar.
(Photo: Randy Smith/BET)
So you are a trained musician. How did that come about?
My whole family is musical. Starting with my grandparents on down to my parents, my aunts, my uncles, my siblings. So I’ve always had love for music. The training just came from experience. Gigging all the time. The actual training was when I got to jazz. I started studying, and that’s when I learned what discipline was. What it was as a musician to have [discipline] and how important it is for different various styles. Having discipline to practice different styles. Jazz has different styles. You can’t say you play jazz and just play one thing because jazz is not one thing.
Talk about how being a musician aids in making hip-hop music, because a lot of people don’t have that skillset. So, how does that help you create?
It’s music. It’s the start of everything, it’s music. From music theory to the simple things that people hear on the radio or whatever the case, its music. It’s all one thing. If you understand music theory — and I’m not saying that you should generally understand music theory, because there’s a theory for hip-hop too — but it’s a matter of learning it and taking the discipline to understand it. Just like you would with jazz.
But there are artists that don’t have that and so how do you use it to your advantage?
It’s a natural thing. I produce all my own records. When my brother ain’t producing, I do my own records. It’s by default. There’s always a melody, there’s always a count melody, there’s always a bass line and it sounds good but it comes from my knowledge of music.
Talk a little bit about being a producer and an artist. How did the transition take place and how do they now inform each other?
I don’t think it’s a transition. It’s just one thing. Like I told you with jazz, you play jazz. You’re playing medium swing. You’re playing bebop. You’re playing Latin jazz. You’re not transitioning, though; you’re still playing jazz. I feel like I’m not transitioning while I’m producing because as I’m producing, I may have raps in my head or lyrics in my head. Like ‘Don’t Mind,’ I had that whole song in my head. It didn’t even get a chance to be written down or anything like that. It’s just produced and it’s in my head. It’s all one thing. Now there are times when I just want to produce the hell out of something for a week. Back to back, and then next week I want to record. That does happen sometimes. But even with that, I got a feel of what I want to hear lyrically or what I want to hear flow-wise.
Who are some of your musical influences?
I would have to say Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, Barry White, first and foremost. Hall & Oates, Frankie Beverly, Luther Vandross, Carl Thomas, Joe, Jill Scott, Ledisi, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Tommy Flanagan, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, B.B. King, Kanye West, Lil Wayne — he touched a big part of the culture when I was coming up — and Jay Z when I was a kid. I like Drake, I like what Drake is doing. I like what he stands for. Those are the people that I really like artist-wise.
Talk to me about Tours and what you want to accomplish with that.
The mixtape. Well, I would like everybody to really tune into it. I make so much music, we can’t stop what the people are gonna [like]. We didn’t decide “Don't Mind,” they did. So I definitely want people to tune into it because there’s records on there that I feel you can enjoy. “Don't Mind” was like one of the 11 records, there’s 10 other songs on there, as well as music that I’m about to put out.
So how much can you talk about the music that you’re about to put out?
Not too much, it just depends on the question.
Are you switching it up in a big way to do something that maybe you didn’t get to do on Tours?
It’s just growth. Tours to me is old. Tours was released a year ago. I made so much music; I probably made five or six projects since Tours. I’ve grown so much in life, so it shows in the music. Tours is a phenomenal body of work. By all means, I’m not discrediting it, but at the risk of shamelessly plugging, I must say I grew a lot in the past year.
So where are you now?
Now it’s just the acceptance stage. It’s like, Tours was like the mud, the hard grind. And I still touch the mud, you know, it’s where I come from. But it’s elevation. It’s growth and knowing ‘OK, cool, I’m here. This is it,’ Now that I accepted it, I got shit to do. I have a culture that I want to shift.
So, taking it back to “Don’t Mind” and the fact that the people chose your hit single for you. It almost didn’t make the tape and it’s the big song? Did you learn something from that?
Yeah, I learned music is powerful. I learned more about the power of music. More than anything, more than any publicity stunt, more than any interview, more than any anything, music is powerful. Because music makes way for all of that. I feel like my music is a publicity stunt. I don’t have to go out there and make news, I got music to make.
Because Khaled is in the light, We the Best is in a new light now. What are the “major keys” you’ve gotten from Khaled over this time?
Work hard, work the hardest. Outwork everybody. That’s what I get from Khaled. Outwork everybody. Outwork yourself. And that’s why it gets me to see some of the upcoming artists like, ‘I’m ready, I’m ready.’ You know how many times I thought I was ready? And I’ve been pursuing artistry for 10 years. You know how many times I thought I was ready in those 10 years? You know how many times I thought I was ready in my first three years of trying to pursue it, when I had no budget. I was getting T-shirts with my company name on it and was going to little hole-in-the-wall strip clubs trying to promote our music. I thought I was ready. Man, was I wrong. So that’s why I tell people always take your time. That’s a key that I can give to people from what I’ve experienced. Always take your time. It’s never a skip, hop or a jump. And if it is, be very afraid.
And you say that you waited 10 years for your chance. Khaled’s waited 10 years to get to this level that he’s at. He’s like a real testament to consistency being key. Is he the same person he’s always been and people are just starting to catch on?
Yeah, that’s all. You gotta understand, early on, Khaled was so prolific with dropping smashes, records, and hits, and chart toppers and things like that. The music is what carried him. He had a personality, but people never understood what was behind the personality until now. Which is good, because that’s Khaled. They’re finally enjoying the guy that we all know. That’s him. In private and in public. That’s the most beautiful thing about that guy.
If you had to introduce your music to somebody and you could only pick one song, which song would you introduce yourself with?
It’s hard to do that with me because you can’t predict anything that I’m gonna make. You can’t. If you ask one album then maybe, but one song? It’s tough. This album we’re working is it. That’s the answer to your question. It won’t be "Don’t Mind," that I’ll play. I’ll let you know that.
Is this the good introductory record because of all the growth you’ve been through and where you’ve arrived?
Let’s say this, it makes it a lot more fun. Knowing that y’all are happy about this and excited? Boy. Wait 'til you hear it.
(Photo: Randy Smith/BET)