Your new mixtape Jon Connor as Vinnie Chase just dropped. Are you happy with how it’s doing?
Man, I’m feeling good about it. Everybody is being receptive to it and appreciating what I do and what I try to bring to the game. I’m feeling good about it. The reviews have been mostly good and I haven’t heard anything negative about it. I’m feeling good about it.
Are you surprised at how things are moving for you now?
It don’t really surprise me because when somebody puts forth effort and cares about their craft like that, I think it shines through the music and people appreciate that. I’m happy about it. Not really surprised, but I’m grateful for it and appreciative about it because I’ve put my all into this music. I put a piece of me into every line and every word. I’m just happy and I think people hear that when they hear my music.
Do you make your best music when you’re personal and putting yourself into every line and word?
Yeah, because it’s not scripted and it’s not rehearsed. It’s not like I’m doing it as a hobby. My passion comes out and I’m from Flint, Michigan, where we don’t got nothing. We put our all into everything. People can hear that hunger and that passion and when you have inspiration like that, yeah, I think that’s when your best music comes out, when it’s really all or nothing and do or die. For me, that’s what it is.
You mention that in “Money,” where you say, “There’s an urgency irking me for this currency.” Do you feel a sense of urgency now?
Yeah. It’s always do or die, especially for us in Flint. We look at everything like that because opportunities aren’t there like that. For me to get the opportunities I get from rhyming, I don’t take it lightly at all. Every verse I say and every rhyme I write, there’s definitely a sense of urgency. Evertytihng I write is the realest and honest exact truth for how I feel. The urgency is most definitely there, man, for real.
You’ve been grinding for five years before dropping your mixtape. Was it hard staying focused for that long?
For one, thank you for acknowledging the fact that I have been grinding for so long. A lot of people think it’s an overnight thing and I appreciate you acknowledging that because I’ve been going hard on this for as long as I can remember. I never got discouraged. The thing is, I appreciated every level I ever was at in the game, even right now and being a new artist and still being on the grind. It was never discouraging for me. Every level I got to made me want to get to the next level. That type of stuff drove me. I’m the type of dude where I love having my back against the wall and fighting. That’s the Flint in me. That’s how we do it. If something is too easy for me, that’s when I get discouraged by it. I like fighting and I’m a fighter. Never did it get discouraging for me. Anytime there was adversity and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen, I said it was going to happen because otherwise I would be in the ‘hood and there would be problems for the world if it didn’t happen. For me, it was the only thing. It wasn’t like rapping was a hobby and there were other options for me. This was my only way out and for me, those type of situations coming up and when it looked like there wasn’t no light at the end of the tunnel, I’m the type of dude that’s going ot make light at the end of the tunnel. For me, I knew it was going to come even when I couldn’t feel it. Adversity drives me.
What was it like growing up in Flint, Michigan?
Coming up in Flint is crazy because everybody knows the story of my city and the jobs. It was No. 2 in highest murder rate and poverty. That’s what I came up seeing. I know there’s ‘hoods everywhere and poverty everywhere, but I look at it where at least if you grew up in NYC, you got to see Def Jam and you got to see fly shit and you got to see Times Square. If you grew up in Cali, you still got to see Hollywood and Capital Records and Interscope Records. In Flint, there’s none of that. It’s literally a sense of hopelessness, like what are we gonna do? It looked like there was no hope for me and that drove me. I used to watch TV and wonder why I couldn’t be that person. A lot of times, the reality of it is that it can’t happen for you. The only hip-hop artists we’ve had that blew were the Dayton Family and MC Breed. No offense to them, but it’s been over 10 years since someone put us on the map. It’s like everybody’s trying to get out of here and do their thing and there’s the crab in a barrel mentality with that. That’s pretty much the scene. It’s a sense of hopelessness and this can’t happen. For me, I want to be the voice in my city to let people know that it can happen. I was born and raised in Flint to the core. I’m trying ot let them know that the shit that happens on TV can happen to you. That’s how coming up in Flint impacted me. Just seeing what we go through on a day-to-day basis, the poverty and having nothing, it’s like, nah, I want to do something good. I want to shine a light on my city and the whole scene just drove me. It made me want to go hard.
What moves were you able to make to catch ears outside of Flint?
Since I graduated high school and was able to get out of mom’s crib and all of that, I never was afraid to travel. When I was 17, 18, I wasn’t afraid to go get it. At 17, 18, I didn’t know anybody in Florida and went out there and was hustling CDs with a book bag in downtown Orlando and Miami. I remember I used to take the bus, the Greyhound bus, from Flint, Michigan to Orlando, Florida. That’s like a day and a half bus trip and the reason I would do that was to pass out CDs at every bus terminal. I knew I had to stop at a certain amount of cities and that’s how hungry I was to get my music heard. That’s my thing. I never was afraid to get up, get out and go get it. Since I was 18 I didn’t stop from Miami to Cali to Ohio to Atlanta and everything in between. I just was never afraid to get up and get out and chase it. If the dream ain’t find me, I was getting out and chasing it and I wasn’t going to stop until I caught it. I think now that’s the thing that people are starting to see and that’s the thing that people respect about me because I’m not afraid to grind and I’m not afraid to get up, get out and work for it. I didn’t get into this game to be No. 2 and I know to be No. 1 you have to grind for it. That’s the thing that really shines through for me. Whether it was taking the Greyhound or passing out CDs in high school, it was always get up, get out and get it.
How have you grown since your first release The Calling five years ago?
The difference is I’ve experienced more. If you listen to The Calling, it’s told from an idealist perspective because I didn’t know. I was just rhyming and grinding aimlessly. I didn’t know who to talk to or what to do. I knew I was ill at rhyming and I was going to give my CDs away for free and it was going to happen. I think now my music is told from a different point of view, like “Fear,” where I looked back at my journey. It’s growth. It’s just what it is from The Calling 1 to As Vinnie Chase. I’ve grown and I’ve experienced things and I can give people knowledge now. For a person who feels like me, where it was hopeless and there was only one way out, I can talk to that person and give them perspective on how to get up, get out and get it. Seeing where my journey has taken me, I feel like I can tell people how to get up, get out and go get it. I can give people that hope through my music because I really feel like, and I know it sounds cliché, but if I can do it, anybody can do it. It just takes hard work. You can’t be afraid to work. I think that’s the difference between me then and me now, the growth and maturity. I can give knowledge and I can give back through my music.
What inspired you to name the mixtape after Vinnie Chase of Entourage?
Coming along with that growth and that journey, No. 1, I’ve experienced more. I’m a big fan of Entourage on HBO. Word to Jeremy Piven. I’m a huge fan of Entourage and the basis of the show for anybody who hasn’t watched it is that Vinnie Chase is a hometown dude who kept his people around him to keep him grounded. He goes through the entertainment business and he’s dating Jessica Alba and getting into fights with Seth Green. As things started taking its turn and I started being around other people, I started to see myself as Vinnie Chase, where I would be chilling at a party with Chris Webber or doing a radio interview and chilling and kicking it with Game or Nas. I was looking at my journey and I was feeling like my boy Vince because I’m in these different situations with people I respected for so long and they’re telling me that they respect what I do. It just seemed like that shit all kind of came together and it fit where I was in my life. I’m from Flint, Michigan and now I’m clicking it with greats of the game. That’s how that whole thing came about.
How are you going to make sure your career doesn’t hit some of Vinnie’s speed bumps?
We definitely can’t do that! Season 6 he was doing blow with strippers and porn stars and that’s definitely not the role I’m trying ot take! It’s about staying humble. There’s core things that my moms told me, like don’t forget who you are. Don’t let nothing change you. Just do you. I got a clear identity of who I am and nothing can change me and nothing’s going ot ever change me. I’ll never go through the speed bumps that Vinnie Chase did because he was losing himself. I got too much shit that inspires me to stay who I am. I spit and I rhyme for a whole community that don’t have nothing. That’s enough to keep me sane and keep me me and that responsibility is something I want. I want that burden. I want that responsibility. I want to be that person that has the voice of the whole city. With that in mind, I’m not going to let myself slip because if I slip, then my whole city is slipping and everybody I’m grinding for is slipping. I go through that and I do this with my whole fam, my whole city and my whole state. With that in the forefront of my brain, I can’t ever see myself slipping. My city’s got too much to lose. There’s too much riding on me doing what I’m doing. I can’t lose focus.
What kind of a situation are you looking for today with a label?
Well, the thing is, at the end of the day, first and foremost, I want to leave my mark on this game. I want to leave my mark on people. I want to make sure that years from now people can listen to these records like they listen to Michael Jackson and Kanye and any major, big artist and get that feeling that years from now, that person still gives you that same feeling that they gave you when they first came out. I’m not in this to be a flash in the pan, one hit wonder. What I want from this game is greatness. I want to be one of the greats. At the end of the day, I want to be mentioned with the greats. That’s what I want out of this.
What’s the next project you’re looking to do?
I started working on Vinnie Chase 2 already just because now there’s a sense of urgency, just with the response that I’ve been getting from Season 1. We’re back at it again with Season 2. I’m working with a lot of people. A lot of producers have reached out and I’m doing a couple of EPs. I’m working on my actual album. It’ll be called The Calling but for those who know it’ll be The Calling Part 3. I think it’ll be called The Calling Part 3: Vanilla Sky. I’m just staying working and doing records with everybody, whoever is down to work. That’s what’s in my immediate future. I’m showing love and hopping on joints with everybody who’s willing to work. I’m a producer as well and own a company with Mateen Cleaves and J Richardson. We got artists that we’re grooming and Jon Connor is definitely a mainstay and when people realize that I’m not going away, they’re going to realize that this is a whole movement. There’s a group I’m a part of called Blue City Club that I’m a part of with three other talented artists. We got R&B and pop records. I’m just kicking down the door. When people realize that we’re going ot be here for a minute they’re going to realize that we’re the future of music. I’m grinding and getting my name out for those who don’t know and just concentrating on making the best music possible.
Does Mateen still got it on the hoop court?
Oh, man, come on, man! Yeah! That’s one of the greatest! I was watching ESPN and he was fucking with me. It was at a show and they had the top college hoop players of all-time and I don’t even want to misquote, but I think he was on the top 5. It was funny because we were just standing there and he told me to look at the TV and Mo Cleaves was there! He left his mark on the game and when you talk about greatness and you talk about passion, you talk about Mo Cleaves. Don’t nobody want to see him on the hoop court, for real.
What’s he been up to?
He’s my big brother. He’s all in with what we’re doing. He’s also doing the broadcasting thing on Fox Sports with the Pistons. He’s doing broadcasting and all of that. But mainly what the main focus is all Varsity Entertainment. That’s the main focus. This is the beginning. This is only the beginning. I’m used to fighting. I’m used to fighting for what I want and what I plan on getting out of this game is greatness. This is not no situation where I got a record out and whatever, whatever. Nah. They’re seeing the future right now and with a humble heart, I’m letting everyone know that we’re going to be here for a minute. Put the welcome mat out for us because we’re here.