J.R. isn’t yet a household name, but he’s working to change that.
The St. Louis native started to gain traction when his song “Best Friend,” featuring Trey Songz, dropped and the video garnered more than 5.3 million views. He also got a co-sign from one of his hometown inspirations, veteran hip-hop star Nelly; who remixed J.R.’s track, “I’m Just Sayin.’” Despite working with some heavy-hitters, J.R. is ready to take on all comers with a body of work that he can really call his own: Gang Season.
“[Previously] I did two records with bigger names – Nelly and Trey Songz,” he tells The Boombox. “At the end of the day, I’m appreciative of those records and the success that they had, but I still have to brand myself and make myself my own artist. So this EP is the beginning of understanding me as an artist.”
The seven-track EP, which is out now, is a collection of body-moving beats but also relay personal experiences through his lyrics. While J.R. is proud of the new songs, “Murda” is his current favorite because it sheds light on his feelings about his hometown.
“I think it really outlines me coming up and where I’m from and how the environment is where I’m from,” he says. “And we got the murder capital title. Outside of that, I want them to understand that it’s more dangerous, but there are ways to move and ways to get around that I lay out in that ‘Murda’ record.”
Despite calling St. Louis home, J.R. didn’t necessarily have the same childhood as other hip-hop artists who grew up in the Midwestern city. After his father was murdered and his mom abandoned him, J.R.’s early childhood years were spent at the St. Vincent Home for Children until he was adopted by a family who provided him with a “stable home.”
“Outside of all of that, I was adopted by a very stable, loving family,” he says. “So I can’t never put too much in the cloud of that. I did have a stable home that I was coming up in when I was a kid, God-willing, through my mother and father.”
And although he’s always loved hip-hop music, the culture was something he had to learn about as he got older. “I wasn’t deep into the culture because I was adopted,” he explains. “I was adopted by a white family. So there was always a disconnect there. It was always something I wanted to look into. Something I thought about a lot. When I actually got [older], I could do my own research and get the opportunities and go to studios with my friends.”
After immersing himself in the music and culture, J.R. channeled his different experiences and, with the help of his team, crafted music that he believes will not only catapult him into the mainstream but also give him longevity in an industry that’s can be very frenetic.
“We’re going to keep putting out good music, but the only thing we’re worried about it longevity,” he says. “We want to stick around for a while. I feel like we’re capable of that. I don’t’ think a lot of people are capable of constantly producing records to where they can stay relevant. Sometimes it takes a while, and people are coming back. But I don’t think we have to worry about that. We are a consistent team. We move pretty steadily.”
Gang Season may have only been released recently, but J.R. is already heavily immersed in his next musical project — a mixtape. While he could have gone the LP route, he wanted to keep the fans’ attention and build the base he already has cultivated.
“Of course, we could have gone the album route, but I don’t want to ever cheat my fans or lead my fans to expect something that they’re not going to get,” he says. With the mixtape, it’s just more of my music and building the fan base [with it] as well. With the mixtape, I want to give a larger variety of my music because right now I have the EP out and the two singles. I would like them to have more records to enjoy and call a favorite before I put out a body of work like [an album].”
While the mixtape is still unnamed and has no set release date, J.R. did reveal the name of one of its singles: “Too Late,” which he describes as a “feel good” tune. “It’s playing off the words ‘too’ and ‘late,’” he explains. “You just get into a situation where you and your friends want to get a bottle of liquor, but it’s 10 minutes too late. You’re trying to meet up, but you’re 10 minutes too late. It’s just about enjoying your time and staying positive about yourself because you could always be too late.”
Along with Gang Season and the upcoming mixtape, he plans to take his show on the road with a possible tour and some big shows at SXSW. “I’ve been there the last two years, but I’ve been there to get a feel for the environment and network,” he reveals. “But this is the first year, where I’m going to be doing the shows.”
J.R. may seem to be taking on a lot, but he’s ready for the challenge. And we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.