The North Philly MC with the potential to go big.
Written By: Christopher Minaya
Ryshon Jones takes off his black Last Rights cap and sits down in the back of a Gregorys Coffee in downtown Manhattan. Seated next to the air conditioner, he avoids eye contact. He doesn’t seem quite at ease talking about himself, a task most rappers embrace, helping them fit in with this chest-thumping culture, but Ryshon, like his music, stands out thanks to his adept, abstract lyrics over gloomy beats.
The power forward of rap, as dubbed by Chill Moody due to his 6-foot-4-inch frame, is not even in line with the hip-hop scene of his hometown, Philadelphia. “I think what it is is that I don’t sound like a lot of Philly artists, so by nature, people don’t normally group me with all the other Philly artists,” Jones says. “So, I kinda don’t control it cause I’m just doing what I do, and I’m not really paying attention to how everything is supposed to sound.”
He spent most of his life in North Philly, and his music has invariably been intertwined with his family as, when he was 8, his cousin got him started in rapping by stealing a tape of instrumentals from a car he broke into. Once he started rapping, his parents’ expectation of him going to school and having a steady job shaped a lot of his music and still does.
“My mom always played an influence into my music because there was a point in time where I was battling her and my dad,” he shares. “‘Yo, this is what I want to do. Stop telling me not to do this.’ And, a lot my music came from arguments. When I got into XXL [for] the first time, that’s when it hit them, like ‘Okay. Maybe this is something.’”
At any rate, the 23-year-old artist’s influences also extend to musicians. Ryshon says he was a hardcore rapper in 6th grade, echoing 50 Cent and Styles P. He then tapped into more conscious rappers by listening to Common’s Be and Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. “Those two albums changed my style,” he asserts. “That’s when I started becoming more me.”
His sound, specifically the beats he chooses, is a product of his influences, which include rap of course but also artists from other genres like Little Dragon, James Blake and particularly Coldplay. Once exposed to the high-profile English band in the 10th grade, Ryshon became fanatical, ordering all their albums and listening to them around the clock, even at his day job, something he hasn’t had since 2011. His biggest turning point up to right now happened that year as he quit his job doing inventory at Cintas and went to perform at South By Southwest in Austin, TX.
In similar fashion, at this year’s SXSW, Ryshon linked with Mac Miller. After networking through a mutual contact since November of last year, Ryshon met Miller by chance at an airport leaving Texas. Ryshon reminded Miller about a beat he was supposed to compose for him, and minutes after parting, Miller produced and sent him one before boarding the plane.
Later in the day, the MC’s manager briefly leaves the coffee shop to put money into the parking meter once again, and Ryshon seems as even-tempered as always yet still slightly weirded out by the fact that he name-dropped Miller, something most artists on the come up revel in. Yet, he remains focused. He wants to be able to produce his own beats and has tried his hand at video production. “I feel that’s my real calling, to do movies and books,” Jones reveals. “I know I want to do that because that’s how I view my music sometimes.”
Comparably, Ryshon will be involved with movies much sooner than expected since fellow Philadelphian and Academy Award-nominated director M. Night Shyamalan will feature the likeness of him in an upcoming picture about an inspiring rapper who idolizes his character. “I got an e-mail, and I ignored it for two days because it said “movie,” he discloses. He has never met or even spoken to Shyamalan, but his manager, seated across from him, suspects that it was due to Ryshon’s big feature in Philadelphia City Paper and the director’s fondness of keeping up with his hometown.
The interview is wrapping up, and Ryshon is now sipping on some liquor he brought with him in a plastic bag. He will be dropping an EP titled The Platform this year and plans on dropping another complete effort, Track Fifteen, next year. He named it Track Fifteen because he began taking rap serious at the age of 15, and things are getting serious as he is performing regularly in the States and even Canada. He has also been as high as No. 5 on the Billboard + Twitter Realtime chart for emerging artists.
“I don’t know how to take compliments,” Ryshon says. “I wouldn’t know how to be cocky. I don’t know how. [My music] is not always for me. It’s for people. Naturally, I put that message out there. Although it’s me speaking for me, it does something for people that are listening to me.”