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 guy.' "
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."