JONATHAN SMITH

January 10, 2018

 

S: Hey! So tell me who you are and what you do.

 

J: Uhh…I am Jon [laughs] I’m an entertainer, DJ, producer, rapper, and husband, father, all that stuff.

 

S: Do you have any hobbies?

 

J: Hobbies? Watching movies and sleep.

 

S: [laughs] So what you think about the phrase “carefree black boy?”

 

J: I guess I was a carefree black boy growing up because where we from you know it’s all black neighborhoods and everybody does the same thing. But we used to skateboard and listen to new wave music and punk rock music. I was totally opposite of everybody else and even throughout my career I kind of didn’t do exactly what everybody else did. I always venture out. Doing records with Pit Bull, and different artists from all kind of different genres of music—E40, doing stuff with The Bravehearts. Just never doing what a southern dude is supposed to do and so I guess I’ve always sort of been that [carefree black boy.] That’s made me the entertainer I am today. You can drop me out of a plane anywhere and I can fit in with whoever, whatever crowd it is.

 

S: Do you think that coming from a southern background it was harder to be yourself?

 

J: I mean, I think that in the south now it’s a lot easier for people because you have the internet and people are open to different things but in the 80s, when I was a teenager, it was like "you black. you listen to rap music, you do this, you do that.” Everything was pretty segregated and it was “you’re supposed to listen to rap” or “you’re supposed to listen to R&B” and that’s it. If you’re black you’re not supposed to listen to rock—“Why are you listening to this punk rock shit? Why are you listening to this white boy music?” So now society is more open to other things but we were kind of outcast when I was in high school. I would go in with my combat boots on and my army jacket or crazy little haircuts and it was not the norm. It was definitely harder, but it definitely made me who I am today. For example, skateboarding. If I didn’t skateboard I wouldn’t have got into all that [different music and alternative trends] and skateboarding also helped me to be around other different kinds of people. White, Black, Asian, whatever. Because coming from an all black neighborhood that’s all I saw but I learned just how to be around everybody, and love everybody, and everybody is good. You know?

 

S: For sure. Something I really appreciate about how we are progressing as a society is people realizing we can’t associate certain behaviors, specifically negative behaviors, with minority races. I see what a lot of black people are doing now is blurring the lines of what is expected of us.

 

J: The lines are definitely being blurred.

 

S: So you definitely think you embody this?

 

J: I definitely embody it and like I said, I grew up with it and that’s what made me who I am today. I’m a diverse character. I mean look at me today I’m sitting here with my lil rasta hat on and chillin’ so it’s great.

 

S: What’s the most important message you want to put out into the world as a man, a black man, a human?

 

J: Don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t be or do something. Believe in yourself and understand that the one thing about this generation is that you can fake it. Back in the day you had to really grind and do this and do that and you know talk to people. It wasn’t no internet. You couldn’t just reach billions of people by a click. You couldn’t stand in front of somebody’s car and take a picture and act like it’s yours or be in someone else's house and act like it’s yours and all of this stuff. You had to really do the shit. This generation it’s just a lot easier and people want everything easy. They don't want to have to work hard— Like I was saying don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t do something. Stick with it hard and you can achieve whatever you want.

 

S: Do you think that with social media and the internet that it’s been more negative or positive for you?

 

J: I mean it’s making it easier. You promote, in my world, music and yourself but it’s also making us an impersonal society. People don’t even know how to communicate anymore. People sit at a table and if it’s silent for too long they pick up their phones and start using their phones instead of engaging in conversation. People also don’t understand how to interpret body language, energy, and all of that because they are so caught up in social media and everything else. They don’t know how to interact with another human being. The fact that Tinder and all of those sites are so huge is crazy to me. I remember having to go ask somebody out on a date or court them to eventually get them to go on a date. Now you can just be like “Oh! I got a match!”  

 

S: [laughter] For you, do you think social media has hurt or helped you more?

 

J: It hasn’t hurt or helped me. I haven’t done anything crazy where I’ve been all over social media [negatively.] Ummm… I mean it definitely helps you to reach your fans if you have something special. So say, the "Turn Down For What" video. Social media helped to spread that around the world. The internet in general helped to spread that to millions and millions of people and to also push the song to a whole other level. So I can say it’s helped in a lot of ways but I can’t really say it’s hurt me. I mean it’s apart of what you have to do as an artist these days, any kind of artist.

 

S: Yes yes. So give me some examples of stereotypes placed on black men.

 

J: [laughs] So many stereotypes that we have. That we all sell drugs. That we can all play basketball. Like...I’m not good at basketball. We’ve all been to jail, or we know somebody in jail.

 

S: So what advice do you have for young black boys and girls?

 

J: Just don’t follow everything you hear from your peers or in rap songs because I know—we were just talking at dinner about that—how this younger generation is. Some of the things the rappers say they take it very literal and they try to go do exactly what they’re doing and not understand the consequences of what they’re doing. All of the drugs and stuff they’re talking about. “I’m on this drug, and that drug, and this drug, and that drug all at the same time." When that might not be true. They might be partaking in those drugs but they also have to understand that can kill you. Like...you don’t know what you’re doing so don’t try to be like these rappers. Don’t put them up that high on a pedestal.

 

S: How can you separate that unhealthy reach from kids and their responses to it?  

 

J: I think it falls on the parents to teach your kids not to follow everybody. I think that’s part of it—and teaching your kids common sense, and teaching your kids that you don’t have to be like “Johnny.” You can do your own thing. It’s okay not to be doing what everybody is doing. That’s actually cooler than doing what everybody is doing. That’s what you’ve got to teach them.

 

S: To tie this all in I think that’s what makes a carefree black boy. Just doing your own thing, not caring, and naturally going against these negative stereotypes and not becoming a statistic. We have to see more black men come out the other side.

 

J: The deaths of young black men in the last five to ten years show that you have to be...how do I want to put it? You just have to be on guard because, you’re black. We’ve been taught that forever. That’s been passed down from generation to generation to generation and it’s still true today. You’ve got to kind of watch what you’re doing, and watch how you talk to officers and so on and so forth to not get yourself caught up in this fucked up situation.

 

S: It’s really sad that we’re “trained” to not do certain [harmless] things or act a certain way because you’ll be perceived as a thug or as “this type of black person.” Especially when some [black] people are genuinely just trying to be themselves. There’s clearly bad people in every race why can’t we be carefree without always being seen as bad?

 

J: [nodding in agreeance]

 

S: So I know I reached out to you but why do you think I chose to interview you?

 

J: Oh I don’t know why the hell did you chose me? [laugher] I guess maybe you’re just reaching out to a diverse group of people. You know, you were around me when you were little so I don’t know what the hell you remember but— [laughs] I mean you were around positive black men all your life and maybe you remember some of that from me when I was around or... I don’t know. You tell me!

 

S: Yeah that’s pretty much it. I mean, I think that where you’ve gone and what you’re doing is really amazing. I think that just seeing that you have a success story where you’re showing how black people can transcend society’s view on us through music and art or whatever medium is really admirable. All the black men I’ve interviewed, they all have different majors, all different backgrounds, all different things that they are doing but their main goals are to stay true to themselves, do them, and put out love and good vibes into the world. It’s really inspiring! I want people to see that of black men.

 

J: That’s what life is it’s like, live your life. Don’t worry about other people. Live your life.

 

S: Well that’s the interview! Thank you!

 

J: Cool!

 

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