JL has earned his spot on one of the most coveted rosters in hip hop: Strange Music. Now that he’s here, Doing It Big and Keeping It Strange just went to a whole ‘nother level.
We talked to the newly-signed JL to get a picture of his background, his relationship with Strange Music artists Tech N9ne and CES Cru, and what his plans are in the future. The flame-spitter gave us a glimpse into 2016 and beyond.
For the fans, tell us about yourself just in general. Were you born and raised in KC?
Yeah, pretty much. Nobody has actually asked me in an interview, I don’t think. I was actually born in Ohio, but been in Kansas City my whole life. Moved here at three.
When did you start taking an interest in music or being an artist?
It was pretty early. I was probably about nine-years-old when I wrote my first rap. I started trying to perform it like my bro, my homies on the block – we tried to have a group back then. It was an early interest in that. I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer. I was writing in my early teenage years. I always wrote raps, didn’t do much with them after a while, but yeah, it started early.
What made you want to get into that? Do you have any major influences?
Back then, my very first tape was The Geto Boys. I forgot the actual album, but I had a little white tape with The Geto Boys and that actually influenced me to write my first rap. I think that was the one right there. Of course, the radio, but that was the tape that I played over and over again. I probably flowed similar to Scarface or something like that on my first little rap.
Yeah, we all have that one tape for sure. What was that rap about? Do you remember?
I was saying something about my beeper going off and never going out on a date because I missed a girl. I missed a date with a girl because my beeper is going off too much. *laughs* Definitely didn’t have a beeper at the time!
Now, I also understand you and Tech, you know him from way back, right?
Yup, for sure. Early years on the block. I’m not exactly sure how I got introduced to their music while I was on the block, but it was probably my homie, Twan, that lived next door to where they always were. Once I found out that these dudes down the street were this dope, it was pretty crazy. They became a big influence to what I was doing.
How old was this?
This was probably in the 11-year-old range.
Tell us about your history with him, and how that’s progressed.
Well, shit. Once I knew who they all were, anytime Tech was around, it was a big deal because I was an extreme fan of his style. He’s seen me, my brothers, and my homies around the block many times. He knew who we were. Then later on down the line, he randomly ran into us again and we just talked more.
Then he started just inviting me to the studio. I can’t remember the first record it was that I was in the studio while he was recording. I think it was after Everready. But before he ever put me on a song, I was in the studio and he was recording. We started to build like that, then eventually, we did the “Far Out” joint. That was the first time he put me on a record. It just went from there, I guess.
So I guess knowing him, you were able to spit in his presence.
Yeah, I did that multiple times before he put me on a record. I would show him the B.Hood shit. We’d sit there and play song after song after song after song and he would just listen. I’d rap for him while we were playing it. He took an interest and kept me around, and it just happened like that.
How do you look at him? I’m sure as a mentor, also a friend. What are some of the things that you’ve taken from that relationship?
Man, Tech is probably one of the realest dudes, one of the realest dudes I’ve ever met. Just as a person, he’s just super genuine. I’ve always taken that – how to be a rap star, how to be out there and be a popular dude that’s super down-to-earth and be genuine. Definitely have taken that. And just the work ethic and how often he’s at it – writing and constantly trying to get better and trying to be the best he can be musically. Being around that is pretty influential.
I know you’re pretty cool with CES Cru as well. You guys sort of came up together in a way.
For sure. When I started performing on the scene, CES Cru was like the guys. Watching them perform back then, I was like “Damn man. I wanna rap like these guys. I wanna be doing what these guys are doing up here.” I got up there and did my thing, but I definitely admired them. Over the years, just watching them, we never really had a strong relationship, but we finally got to work back in 2010 or 2011, before they were signed. We finally got to do some records and the relationship grew from there.
I feel like you guys, with a plethora of other people…people like Joe Good, Miles Bonny, Lenny D, Info…you guys are part of this collective that kind of built an entire scene by yourself. What were those early days like?
It was super raw. It was all real hip hop. All guys that were serious about the art form, about performing it, writing real dope shit constantly. But it was just the rawest shit ever. Nobody was on. Nobody was getting big looks. It was just cats out there in the pure form.
That’s what I gotta wonder. What sustains someone to want to do this when you know that you’re not going to get big looks? A lot of people wouldn’t understand, since we live in this a society that’s very results-oriented, that maybe these guys just love doing it and they wanna be good at it.
It’s the love of the art. I fell in love with the art form of hip hop a long time ago. And all those guys have that same passion. They weren’t doing it for money. They weren’t doing it for the notoriety. It’s because we fuckin’ love to rap.
How does Kansas City and the scene shape you as an emcee?
It definitely teaches you to be on your toes because there are guys out here going super-hard, hustling, making great music, being really particular in what they’re talking about. But it keeps you hungry. You’re constantly going to shows and seeing dope artists that handle their business on the stage and on the mic. It makes you hungry.
Fast forward to recently. How did Tech reach out to you to be on the label? How did that whole process unfold?
Well, he’d been talking about it for a real long time. I assume that he wanted to do it a long time ago, but it just didn’t happen. Things happen, timing just wasn’t right, all of that. But this past year, 2015, over the summer, when I came back from Vegas to Kansas City and was working, we got to talk a whole lot more. I put myself in a position where it all came full circle.
Speaking of moving to Vegas. What did you learn from that?
I learned that word gets around and there’s a hip hop scene everywhere. I started to get on the scene down there. There’s a lot of guys that do their thing and are on top of their game out there. I got involved with them. It taught me that you got to grind no matter where you’re at – you can grind no matter where you’re at. There are people all around the world that are just as hungry.
Being signed to Strange Music, you’re joining a pretty elite fraternity of emcees. What does that feel like knowing some of the guys that you’re next to on the roster?
It’s exciting because I always try to be on my A-game and these guys are gonna make sure I stay on that. Elite emcees, the dopest dudes, I’ve met personally, it’s gonna be fun. There’s a high bar set at Strange Music, and I’m all about trying to reach it or raise it.
Everyone always is on their toes. Nobody who gets signed to Strange doesn’t get better at being an artist and emcee. You don’t see that very often.
What does JL bring to Strange Music that is only JL? He only brings it and nobody else does.
Well, I mean, I think all the artists at Strange Music pretty much are able to do just about everything musically. I’ll fit in there just because I’m that way too. I don’t know necessarily what I bring in particular, that’s just “my” sound. I’m just me. Nobody can be me and I do me. I don’t do anybody else. I do me.
I’m sure you have a project coming out under the label. Will that be a full album?
Yeah. We’ve been talking about an album so we’re going to do the album thing. I’ve definitely got an album ready to come out of me. I love doing albums and this project I’m taking the time to really think about it. I’m already collecting production for it, working on concepts, writing for it. I’ve got songs all ready to go. It’s going to be JL at his finest for sure.
I feel like right now you’re on a hot streak. Like when a great baseball player goes on a hitting streak.
I’m just on the beginning of that hitting streak. Something is happening in my brain man, not too long ago. I set the bar high for myself and I’m here now and I can only get better because I want to get better.
How does it feel to be at this point?
It feels extremely good, of course. It’s more humbling than anything when you realize that your platform just increased. Your audience just went “boom!” Everybody’s going to hear this shit, there’s no doubt in your mind. Everybody’s going to judge it, which doesn’t scare me at all. Just knowing that I have the ability to really, really impact people right now is something that I’m really thinking about. It’s a crazy position. I’m extremely grateful for that. It feels good and I’m super excited about it.
How has your life been different since the signing was announced?
Well the way people treat me I guess is a little different. People are always on some “You’re on”-type shit. You’re a whole new person now. Nothing in my actual life has changed except the way people look at it or look at me. I’m not just another struggling rapper out here, I’m a rapper that got a record deal with the number one independent label in the world, so people treat me different. The likes are up of course. The followers have gone up and stuff like that. I’m sure it will continue to grow and go up. Those messages in the inbox are filling up more. It’s pretty crazy.
How has the Strange Music fanbase taken to the signing?
Overall, I think people fuck with me. I don’t think I ever let them down with what they’ve heard. There’s a lot of fans digging into the music that I’ve done. They’re starting to grow a respect for me. So yeah, they’re fucking with your boy. I’m excited to reel them in even more and pull fan bases from all over the place, of course, but the Strange core, overall they fuck with me. Of course you’re going to have people that don’t like you for one reason or another, or don’t fuck with your music for one reason or another. Just as you do with Tech himself or anybody. The more people that get on your shit, the more people you’re going to have hating it, but overall the fan base is on my side.
Anything you want to tell us about the album? Any producers or guest features planned?
I’m still working on a lot of that. Definitely going to be Info Gates, Seven and some of my young gunners that I’ve got on deck. It’s going to be good stuff, real good stuff.
Anything you want to say before we get out of here?
DIBKIS. Shit is real.
Let us know in the comments!