The Linden-born rapper has been aspiring to greatness since he crafted his first rhymes at age 13
October Jonez still remembers the first hook he wrote at age 13, and he won’t hesitate to sing it unprompted outside of a Bexley coffee shop.
“Number one in the sun/Nuh, nuh, nuh/In the sky,” the rapper crooned unexpectedly in the midst of a late-September interview. “Everywhere/Un, un/I’m ready to ride/Ready to ride.”
Boiling it down, Jonez, born and raised in Linden, said the song is “about being the best you can be,” which has remained an ongoing theme for the MC, carrying into his most recent album, SAVEURSELF4, for which he’ll host a release party and listening session at Oranjudio Recording Studio on Friday, Oct. 4.
“Growing up off Cleveland [Avenue], you’d see people that gave up: the addicts, the people on the corner,” Jonez said. “I’ve seen the effects if you give up. And I’ve seen the effects if you keep going. And I’d rather keep going.”
“SAVEURSELF, it [covers] the things I deal with, and the things that cross my mind on that journey to get where I want to be,” the rapper continued. “When I first started, I didn’t have any help, no connections. But by being persistent and getting back up when I got knocked down, I was able to make those connections and build those relationships and figure out where I was going. And I didn’t wait on anybody for that. … Save yourself. Hard work always pays off.”
As evidence, the rapper points to early efforts to land opening slots at PromoWest shows. Initially told “no,” he embraced a sales technique, stepping back to analyze the steps he could take in order to turn that rejection into an unqualified “yes.” So he started building a local fan base and proving himself a sales draw to promoters. He has since opened shows at PromoWest venue Express Live for rappers such as Migos and Lil Wayne.We were scheduled to open for Lil Wayne once but he canceled the show: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Even when Jonez got caught up in the rare illicit scheme — he was arrested on weapons and identity theft charges years back, both of which have since been expunged from his record — he viewed it as the only available means to taking that next big legitimate step. “I knew the difference between right and wrong,” he said of the incident, which fuels album track “Save Yourself.” “The blessing is that I’ve learned from my mistakes, and now I know how to do it the right way and not compromise who I am.”
The release of SAVEURSELF4 coincides with a busy month for Jonez (he’s coined his namesake month “Droptober”), who will also release a collaborative tape on Oct. 11 in addition to opening a slew of high-profile shows, including Roddy Ricch at Express Live on Oct. 12 and Calboy and Lil Keed at the Newport on Oct. 19. For three years running, October has been a big month for Jonez, who said the Halloween season usually coincides with an across-the-board bump in sales, streams and shows.
Jonez was introduced to hip-hop at a young age. His parents played rap radio in the home, where he absorbed everything from Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On” to Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz “Bia Bia” (“I can’t believe that was on the radio,” he said, and laughed). But when Jonez finally decided to create his own tracks, rather than patterning his flow after the rappers he knew and loved, he started from scratch at the urging of his Uncle Bonez, who stressed originality over everything.
“He said, ‘You can’t be sounding like them, man! I can go buy their album if I want to listen to them,’” Jonez said.
After tearing this house back to the foundation, it took Jonez years to rebuild, a process that included first learning to be comfortable with his own voice, and then developing his own cadence, tempo and tone. Through it all, though, the material remained consistently aspirational — a drive captured by a single word in new song “Macadamian.” “I ain’t famous yet,” he raps. Considering how far he’s already come, who would bet against him?