Put yourself in 17-year-old J-Kwon’s shoes: This is it, your big
chance. You’ve overcome homelessness, permanent disfiguration and
dealing crack. You finally have an opportunity to get a record deal.
You’ve landed an audition — not only with So So Def Recordings
head Jermaine Dupri but also his boss at the time, former Arista
Records honcho Antonio “L.A.” Reid.
So what do you do? Easy. You mock Dupri for being vertically challenged
and tell L.A. to kiss you where the sun don’t shine.
“Yeah, I had to,” said Kwon, star of the recently aired “Tipsy” video.
“When I went in for the deal I was like, ‘What if they don’t sign me?
Forget them. If they don’t sign me, I’mma keep rolling.’ That’s how I
approach every situation. So I’m rapping for L.A. and at the end of the
verse, my line was something like, ‘You don’t like it, L.A., bite me,’
and I turned around and mooned him, straight up.”
Dupri also received a playful barb while J-Kwon was trying to convince
the Arista staff they should sign him for his audacious showmanship.
“J.D. was up in there. I had one-lined and killed them,” recalled Kwon,
who also jumped on tables during his audition. “I said, ‘I use to sling
big papa work/ Now my diamonds big and blue like Papa Smurf, the
little guy.’ And when I said that, I pointed to Jermaine, ‘the little
Fortunately, Reid and J.D. both have great senses of humor. Reid was so
enthralled by the youngster’s nervy raps, he pulled out a pair of
drumsticks and started beating on the tables. It all worked out.
Months later, with a So So Def contract, J-Kwon finds himself
blossoming. In just eight weeks, “Tipsy” is the country’s #4 rap song,
according to Billboard, and climbing steadily up the Hot 100
singles at #8.
“It’s all right,” Kwon said matter-of-factly. “I feel there’s a lot
more work to do.”
J said he put his thinking cap on when writing “Tipsy” and that people
should use theirs before criticizing his song.
“I’m 17, so I can’t get into the club,” he explained of the chorus:
“Everybody in the club getting tipsy.” “I used to stand outside and see
people so tipsy, so drunk, they basically did like a two-step away from
the club. I took all that and was like, ‘OK, what does every teen
think?’ When I say, ‘Teen drinking is very bad, but I got a fake ID
though,’ people think I’m actually promoting drinking to teens. Nah.
When I say, ‘Everybody in the club getting tipsy,’ I mean we ain’t
drinking but everybody else is. That’s what we see, not what we do. A
lot of critics come at me about this. If I was promoting teen drinking,
believe me, I would’ve sold the song for an ad.”
“Tipsy,” along with 80 percent of J-Kwon’s April 6 debut, Hood
Hop, was produced by St. Louis production team the Trackboyz
(not to be confused with the Track Starz, who produced Chingy’s “Right
Thurr”). J.D. also produced and rapped on the album, and the whole St.
Lunatics clique makes guest appearances as well.
“You had to talk gangsta on Hood Hop or I couldn’t let you do
nothing with me,” Kwon said of making his guests thug it out in their
lyrics. The self-proclaimed dysfunctional teen and father of one
daughter said he didn’t want to saturate too many of his cuts with
guests because he believes in standing on his own. Indeed, J-Kwon had
to learn independence even before he became a teenager.
“I was in the ninth grade already when I was 12,” he recalled. “My mama
was like, ‘Look, dog, you either gonna do this school thing or you
gonna do this rap thing. But if you gonna do this rap thing, you’re
gonna make it happen, not me.’ ”
Unwilling to budge from his musical pursuit, J said he was kicked out
of the crib at 12 and slept in cars and various friends’ homes. He’d used a lighter to write songs at night, and then he’d battle MCs around the city during the day. During one lyrical face-off, he beat a
guy so horrifically the other rapper had friends jump him. The result
was a broken jaw and misaligned rows of teeth. “My sh–’s crossed,” he explained stoically.
“I was constantly flowing,” he said of his time on the street. “I got
to the point where if I seen my mama, it would be no conversation with
her. It was like, ‘I’m this young and you putting me out here like
this.’ When you striving to get something, that be the person’s most
dedicated time. It’s obvious what kept me dedicated. I ain’t have
nothing. What else you got? Crack, guns and rap — I had all
three. Even now, this is all I got. If I flop, cats ain’t gonna be
looking at me the same.”