Flint, Michigan is anything but a joke. You could hear the cries and shrills when you walk into the city. Crime has domesticated itself in Flint, and has become destitute of any types of success. Lives have become forlorn, and mentalities are been shaken. But, one man isn’t shaken by the melancholy environment. His name is Jon Connor.
Connor, whose poignant wordplay is groomed like a New York MC, has decided to lift his city from obscurity and repaint its future. By teaming up with the hometown Kid, former college basketball star Mateen Cleaves, Connor — and his team Varsity Music — is ready to shed some light on it. With co-signs from people like Nas, Game, Rick Ross, among others, this kid isn’t here to just conquer rap, but the life of music period.
Ballerstatus sat down with Connor to talk basketball, co-signs, and his goal to be the music’s next legend.
BallerStatus.com: The way you have been coming up in the game has been similar to the path of the Grizzlies [in the NBA Playoffs]. I say that because they’re so underrated, but of all of sudden they began making that noise in the game. Do you feel that’s a valid comparison in regards to your come up?
Jon Connor: I definitely do. I definitely do man. That’s almost hitting the nail on the head man. Young, hungry, wanting it, and nobody really saw it coming-type of situation. I just came out of nowhere. I started making noise. You hit the nail on the head with tjhat one, man. I appreciate you making that comparison.
BallerStatus.com: What’s crazy is a lot of your records and/or freestyles have been seen by fans, and often times, they’re under the impression that it’s a New York rapper on the track, because of your delivery on the track. Do you feel that’s a compliment, or do you prefer being characterized as that rapper from Flint?
Jon Connor: (laughs) I always wanna make sure I represent Flint. Let people know we do have skills, and we could come with it. As far as people thinking I’m from NY, I think that’s compliment. That’s where everything started. I’m a student of the game, like for real. I grew up watching “The Show,” “Rhyme and Reason,” any hip-hop documentary I could find. Like all that. Just studying all of the craft, so when people say I sound like an NY MC, that’s a compliment to me. Some of the greats were from NY — Biggie, Jay, Nas, Rakim. There’s so many ill emcees that came from NY. I can’t take it no other way.
BallerStatus.com: If that’s the case, we should call up Tigger and get you in the booth for “Rap City,” man. (laughs)
Jon Connor: Man that would be crazy! That would be dope! (laughs) I grew up in that era with Tigger, and the basement. As a kid, I always thought about that. I imagined being in the basement with Tigger. I still to this day wonder why “Rap City” isn’t around no more.
BallerStatus.com: You know, a track like “The Heist,” it had you rapping for two minutes straight, bars. I wanna know, do you get more fulfillment in rapping, no hook, or do you prefer full fledge tracks like “Another One” and “Epic”?
Jon Connor: Well for me, I love them both equally, because music is my passion. There’s a section of me that loves both equally. Like I always say, I’m a student of the game. I consider myself an entertainer, an artist, all of that. So there’s a side of me, that’s a spitter. Like, “Yo. I do this. I does this.” But, there’s also a side when I’m a producer, when I love making records. But ain’t nothing man like going for yours, for however long. I did a track that was six minutes long. That was therapeutic. The reason I do a track like “The Heist” was that I just wanted to come into the game, and earn respect. I could come into the game, and make records all day, and make songs people wanna hear. I could do that. But, to me, I didn’t wanna just be a guy that makes catchy stuff, which I can do, ’cause that’s the point in the music business. But, I wanted that respect behind my name. So when I do start doing that, they could say, “He deserves to make those types of records, because he gave us just raw spitting lyricism.”
It feels good to just really go in. It’s like you coming on the playground for that respect. It’s like you coming up on the home court, on the playground like “Yo?” I’m sure it’s nothing like the NBA, but it’s whole different type of hunger, and hoop when you’re on the playground. It’s a respect thing. So, I guess that’s what I get out of that. You know what I mean?
BallerStatus.com: Definitely. You have been earning the respect of many from your freestyles, especially over the mainstream beats like “Moment for Life”, and “I’m On It.” Are you trying to show to fans that you could hop on a mainstream track, and do it twice as better than fans’ favorite artists?
Jon Connor: Yeah, I want people to take that from that. I want them to see when I do that, it’s a respect thing. What’s funny is a lot of times is it’s just whatever beat hits me at that moment. It wasn’t like I wanted to jump on such and such’s record. It’s whatever beat hits me at that moment. It wasn’t even like I’d go into it on such and such record, or I wanna outdo such and such on the record. I just go through whatever instrumentals I got, and if that beat hits me at that moment, then I’ll go in. Honestly, not even to sound funny, all the time I be in competition with myself because I got high standards. I’m always thinking I never wanna let me down. I wanna come harder than the last time somebody heard me. I just wanna keep raising the bar for myself.
BallerStatus.com: A lot of your records that have been coming to light, like the joints you had with a Saigon, Consequence, XV, among others. Do you maintain that same mentality of competing with yourself, knowing you’re doing a track with someone else?
Jon Connor: Yeah. Definitely. Like the people that would send me the record, I tell them, “Don’t send it to me with the verses on it.” I don’t wanna hear it. I don’t wanna hear nobody else’s verses because I don’t wanna be influenced by someone else on the track. It’s not an ego thing or nothing like that. I always look at it like I’m in comp with me. I’ll listen to the whole record after I finish my verse, and record it. Then, I’ll listen to it. I’m really particular about that, and hearing the other person’s verse.
BallerStatus.com: Because you are so particular, and you’re so also a producer, do you often find yourself tampering with the beat, or playing producer with the producer on the track?
Jon Connor: Well, because I am a producer, I know the pains of being a producer. When you have someone telling you what they don’t like about the beat, I don’t do that because I feel the producer’s pain. When a producer sends me a beat, that’s their baby. That’s like going into somebody’s house, and me telling them how to raise their child. (laughs) So when they send me the beat, this is how they wanted things to sound. I’m just going to babysit the kids for them. (laughs)
BallerStatus.com: What a lot of people may not know is about your relationship with Mateen Cleaves, the former college basketball star. Talk about how that came about.
Jon Connor: Man. Crazy. Big shout out to Mo Cleaves. Also shout outs to J-Rich. But me, and Mo man, there’s not even enough words to say. That’s my big bro, my mentor, co-company, and my tag team partner. I started Varsity Music as a dream when I was 11 years old. When I turned 12, I knew I wanted to do music for the rest of my life. When I met Mo Cleaves, I must have been 22-23 years old. The passion that he had for what I was doing … he saw me perform. He was like, “Yo, you John Connor? I’ve been trying to find you. You need to be on. People need to see you.” I could see he really believed in my dream. He had the same passion, and motivation I had. He saw what I saw. He seen where I was trying to go with it. It was like after he saw me perform, he was like, “You need to be on. I’m going to do everything in my power to help you. I will not stop.” To this day, he’s been true to his word. That’s my big brother, my mentor, and everything.
BallerStatus.com: I know you got the co-signs from Nas, Scarface, to even Game, and Rick Ross. For some people that would be enough. Why isn’t that enough for Jon Connor?
Jon Connor: For one, I never said this in interviews, but I wanna make sure I say it in this one. I’ve been grinding for years, before I even met Mo, before there were any co-Signs. It kind of rubs me funny like when you hear people say, “Oh, he got the Nas co-sign. So he’s good. He got Mo Cleaves. This wouldn’t be happening for the Rick Ross co-Sign.” Like they don’t even understand, Carl. Before any of that, I was moving back and forth. I was going back and forth in Orlando, Florida, grinding, handing out CDs in the middle of traffic. Then, I moved back to Flint to work at an automotive plant. I worked that job, and saved up money to move back to Miami to be where the music was. So, I did not spend one check. I worked at an automotive plant. I saved my money. I saved about five racks, and went back Miami. I was grinding. I was moving CDs in the middle of the street. People were throwing CDs out. I literally went through every form of the grind that there possibly was. It just was a whole moving back in Florida.
I’ve done the 30-hour bus trip. My whole mindset was if I take the bus from Flint to Florida — because we’re gonna stop at different cities — so if I take 200-300 CDs, I’m going to stop in Detroit, Ohio, Tennessee, I’m going to pass it out. I was on the Greyhound every week for a year and half passing CDs. That wasn’t enough for me, because I was born in Flint Michigan, where we ain’t have nothing. For the videos we be putting, that’s my neighborhood. That’s why I can’t just stop with a co-sign. I respect it. It lets me know that I’m on the right track. I can’t stop there man. It’s the same hunger of Biggie that made him get out of Brooklyn that I have. I’ve seen “Tupac Resurrection” with Pac grinding to get out. You got Hov out of Marcy. You got Em wanting to get out of 8 Mile in the D. I’m from Flint, Michigan where there’s nothing.
I have lived on every level of this grind. I will not stop until I am one of the greatest musical minds of all time. I want to get VMAs, Grammy’s, all of that. You can’t be blinded by people saying you nice. You could respect it, but I have so much more to do. Think about it like this: we were talking about basketball. You have the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Western Conference Finals. You don’t get people saying “Hey, at least we made it to the Conference Finals.” No, you want the Finals. I want that recognition. I want that spot.
BallerStatus.com: I remember Diddy said this: “Rappers would be lucky to have a lifespan of more than four years in the game.” Why do you feel you will have that longevity in the game?
Jon Connor: I was talking to Sav about this. There are certain people that outlast that four-year curse that are legitimate music dudes. They’re in tune with what people wanna hear, and their emotions. Those people, like a Jay-Z whose been around so long, isn’t chasing a trend or a sound. He’s just doing him, but still related to people through the music. He just has a natural connection with people. Like Biggie, that’s why when he only had two albums, it still bumps today because people relate to him. You could listen to “Juicy” now, and it’ll still have the same effect on you because it was pure music and emotion.
With today, I think people just chase the hit record. People are chasing what’s hot right now. Man, if that’s what somebody else is doing, and that’s getting them hot, that’s their lane. I wanna find my own lane. The people that were the greatest found their own lane. I know where the trapped doors are. I know where all of the rat traps are. People don’t have a clear identity of where they wanna go or be. That’s when they fall in to obscurity. I remember my man Chris Webber and me were in the studio and he told me this: “Connor, your turn is going to come at least once. But if you’re always chasing what someone else is doing, you’re always gonna miss your time, because you were so busy to do what other person was doing. Just keep doing what you do.” I always took that to heart, and I know I’m going to be here for a long time, because I wanna be mentioned with the Quincy’s, the Kanye’s, the Michael’s, and the Bono’s.