Hip Hop is among America’s most popular genres of music; it’s also among the youngest. Birthed in New York City at a house party in the ‘70s, nobody in their right mind could have imagined that Hip Hop would become what it is today. But lo and behold, here we are; 50 years later and Hip Hop is still evolving at blinding speed.
Sometimes, Hip Hop signifies positive change and growth. Other times, it signifies stagnation. Sometimes, Hip Hop reflects thoughtfulness, wisdom and togetherness. Other times, it reflects naivete and dysfunction. But one aspect about Hip Hop has remained consistent since its popularization – whatever state Hip Hop is in at any given moment, it’s likely to mirror the state of the Black plight in America. Hip Hop needs Black people, and Black people need Hip Hop. Hip Hop is much more than just music and people rhyming words over bouncy production. It’s all around us.
Jesse Boone is a Brooklyn-based independent Hip Hop artist by way of Portsmouth, Virginia. Boone, 28, was first introduced to Hip Hop when he was six years old and began rapping seriously at around 17. He has studied every aspect of the culture, but more importantly, he has lived it his entire life, unavoidably and even unknowingly. To date, he’s released two bodies of work and a handful of singles, having amassed over 1.5 million streams and counting.
Epicenter sat down with the introspective and soft-spoken rapper to have a discussion about his introduction to Hip Hop, the moment he fell in love with it, the genre’s 50th anniversary and much more.
This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Epicenter: What was your introduction to Hip Hop?
Boone: The answer to that is actually kind of unclear for me. I wanna say my introduction to Hip Hop was through living with my big cousins. I feel like the first real Hip Hop song I heard was “The Whole World” by Outkast. But the song that slapped me across the face and made me go, ‘Oh my God, what is this phenomenon?’ was “How We Do” by The Game and 50 Cent. That’s what sparked my love for it. My introduction to Hip Hop was all from just being around kids, my cousins, that were older than me. They were hip to things that I just didn’t have the access to yet.
Epicenter: Before you became familiar with Hip Hop, were you listening to any other types of music?
Boone: Anything I was listening to, I was at the mercy of whatever my parents were playing. Coming from a religious family, my parents obviously didn’t listen to Hip Hop. My mom listened to a lot of stuff that she grew up on. Stuff like James Brown, Sam Cooke, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys and a lot of gospel like Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin. Funny enough, all of this music has elements you hear in Hip Hop today, but I wasn’t introduced to Hip Hop through them. It was a lot of R&B and soul music.
Epicenter: Can you speak to the moment that you fell in love with Hip Hop?
Boone: I think I’ve had two different fall-in-love moments with Hip Hop. One was just seeing the change that Hip Hop made from the late ‘90s to the early 2000s. I was able to witness that happen. And I just had to get my hands on it because it was something I’ve never heard before. It was new, it was sophisticated, it was grown. That second moment was when I felt like I was able to discover something for myself that reflected what I actually felt. Early 50 Cent, T.I., Nelly, Lil Wayne and what I was listening to at the time… I loved it, but I didn’t relate to it. But when “The Blog Era” hit around ’08 or ‘09, I felt like that was music that was catered to me personally and the people around me and the friend groups I held close. So yeah, it was two different moments for me.
Epicenter: You alluded to it earlier, but as a millennial, you’ve experienced the continuous evolution of Hip Hop – for better and worse. What do you make of it?
Boone: Well I think Hip Hop is Black people’s thumbprint. I can’t look at where Hip Hop is going without looking at where Black people are going. Hip Hop now might be too grand of an idea to bird’s-eye-view it, because it’s so ingrained in everything I am and everything we are. But as far as the evolution goes, I don’t know. I always find ways to be surprised. I always find ways to see something different. I fall in and out of love with different aspects of it because it is representative of how we’re doing. It’s an ebb-and-flow, constant up-and-down kind of thing when I think about its evolution.
Epicenter: Not only is there more Hip Hop music being made, we also have so much more access to music than ever before. What are your thoughts of having to seek and filter for music that actually sticks with you for more than just a moment?
Boone: Even looking outside of Hip Hop, things have changed in art altogether. Things move so fast and because we have so much access; we find ways to push things as fast as we can, to make money as quick as we can and to see results so fast that we end up losing so much integrity and so much spirit. Because that’s the current model of the music industry and I feel that’s even the model of humanity right now, I do find that I have to search and dig and find the things that’s reminiscent of what made me fall in love with it in the first place.
Epicenter: Hip Hop is among the world’s youngest music genres, but it’s catapulted to become the country’s most popular. Where do you see Hip Hop going and more so, where would you like to see it go?
Boone: That’s another hard question to answer, unless I talk about where Black people are going. I don’t know where Black people are headed. I see a consciousness rising, and I see where people are caring less, in a good way. Caring less in terms of what other people feel about what they’re doing, or what societal parameters are set up, or the type of boundaries people are putting on them. People are caring less about it; I’m caring less about it. People are willing to get back to the freedom and fun in it, and what music does for other people. That’s where it started for me. That’s where it started in general. Even when rappers were gangsters or hustlers, it was fun. It was an outlet; it was a release. It was people telling their stories for people to buy in. It was for sharing. Humanity has kind of lost that, because we can make a dollar so fast. So where I’d like to see Hip Hop going is the same place we’re going, where I hope we’re going. Which is just a more unified race. Where we have each other in mind more, because then we’d be more conscious about the stuff we make and wanting that to stand the test of time. If we’re moving that way, Hip Hop will inevitably be a byproduct of that.
Epicenter: When you hear the phrase ‘Hip Hop,’ what does that mean to you? Has that meaning changed over time?
Boone: Hip Hop means the same to me as soul food. It means the same thing that Virginia means to me. Hip Hop is me. Hip Hop is what family is. It’s who we are. It’s the framework of who we are. It’s everywhere. It’s like air. So, what does it mean? I don’t even know if I can find the right words for it. It’s like a layer of skin. It’s in the way we speak. It’s in the way we dress. It’s what we’re eating. It’s what we’re drinking. It’s what car we’re driving. It’s everything. It’s an interwoven fabric of life.
Epicenter: Is there a definitive impact you could speak to that Hip Hop has had on your life outside of you being an artist?
Boone: Hip Hop allowed me to see the world early. It also allowed me to see the scope of Black people too, and the duality in that. As a kid, Hip Hop was a lens through which we were able to view the world – all people. In that, then we choose what we wanna follow and who we wanna be. You learn certain things. You pick things up, put things down. Hip Hop was like a big brother almost, like a cool big cousin. You pick up everything from it. That impact is still relevant even to this day. Hip Hop threw its arm around me. That’s what it was. That’s what it is.
Epicenter: As Hip Hop approaches 50, how does that make you feel?
Boone: It blows my mind. As old as it is, it’s also so young. It’s been 50 years, but Hip Hop is just starting. There’s music genres that have been around for centuries, and Hip Hop is only 50. Hip Hop is younger than both of my parents. It shocks me because we’ve seen so much drastic change in only 50 years. But 50 years is crazy! Again, I’ll really emphasize this: I can’t speak about Hip Hop in totality without looking at who [Black people] were and how far we’ve come. Our plight, our journey, our failures, our triumphs. I believe Hip Hop is a reflection of that.
Top 5, Top 5, Top 5:
Epicenter: You’re on a stranded island and can only take five Hip Hop albums with you, what are you taking?
Boone: “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” “Food & Liquor,” “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” “College Dropout,” “Black on Both Sides.”
Epicenter: Who are your top five favorite Hip Hop artists?
Boone: Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, J. Cole and Kanye West.
Epicenter: If you had to pick only five songs that you feel represent and embody what Hip Hop is at its core, which would you choose?
Boone: “Hustler Musik” by Lil Wayne, “Love Yourz” by J. Cole, “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar, “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West and “How We Do” by The Game featuring 50 Cent.