Living Proof
He was about to be the next big thing ‘til the street life caught up with him. After six and a half years in prison, Bump J is figuring out what’s next.
Words: Emmanuel Maduakolam
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Summer issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

A decade ago, a young rhyme slinger from the gritty streets of Chicago was about to be the next big thing in hip-hop. Born Terrence Boykin, but known as Bump J, the then 28-year-old was one of the most sought after free agents in the game. He was also notorious throughout the streets of Chi-Town and after his brother’s murder in 2001, decided to use rap as a way out. Over the course of his career, the young MC dropped seven mixtapes with his Goon Squad crew, including his most popular Dinner Time, Chicagorilla and Welcome to Grimmyville.

In 2003, Chi-Town producer Xtreme Beats discovered Bump J and linked him with Free Maiden, a veteran industry exec who ran his own label, Free 4 All. After aligning with Maiden, Bump inked a deal with Atlantic Records and dropped his first single, "Move Around," (produced by Kanye West) for his never-released debut album, Nothing to Lose. The song was a radio hit and was featured in Madden NFL 06, then used in a McDonald’s commercial in 2005.

Despite the success of the record, Bump and Free Maiden struggled over creative disagreements with Atlantic and parted ways with the label in 2006. With money low and things not panning out as planned, Bump made a desperate decision. On Jan. 4, 2007, he and an accomplice robbed a Chase Bank in Oak Park for $108,135. It wasn’t until the week of Nov. 13, 2008, that Bump was arrested for the crime after a routine traffic stop by downstate Carbondale police. The following August he accepted a plea deal that carried a minimum of a seven-year sentence—to avoid life in jail—for robbery and threatening bank employees with a .45 caliber handgun. On Sept. 29, 2009, Bump was sentenced to serve 10 years in federal prison for armed bank robbery and a weapon charge. Today, he is imprisoned at FCI Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio and hopes to be released in a few months.

Even though he’s been gone six and a half years, Bump J’s legend still holds strong with young Chicago MCs. The new generation of spittas from the city, like Lil Bibby, G Herbo, Lil Durk, King Louie, Lil Reese, Chief Keef and others have called Bump one of their biggest influences. Durk even had a guest appearance from Bump J on a Tyga diss record in 2014.

With his impending release somewhat in sight, XXL caught up with Bump J on the phone and via e-mail to discuss who he is today and how his bid has affected him, his connection to today’s hip-hop and much more.

XXL: How are you mentally, physically?

Bump J: I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my life, mentally and physically. I work out five times a week. At the spot I’m at now, there are no weights so it’s all calisthenics and cardio, but I’m in the best shape of my life and this whole experience has sharpened me up mentally. Before I was just out there livin’ and now I really feel like I know what I want out of life. This was like college for me.

What have the past couple of years been like?

The past couple years have honestly been like the first years. I just try to get on a program and bid, try to have the time pass by as fast as possible and I do that by staying busy. The last year always seems like it slows down for some reason, though.

Besides your family, who has stayed in contact with you? What’s your relationship with Kanye West now?

As far as industry people, not a lot of people have stayed in contact with me. I get messages through my brother from some friends I made in the industry, but nobody has directly reached out, especially recently. I really don’t have a relationship with Kanye right now either. We were never best friends or anything anyway. Both of us coming from Chicago, having mutual friends, that respect for each other creatively and as men brought us together. He helped me out earlier with my lawyer and my books and that was more than enough. More than what people who was extremely close to me have done. We will link up when I’m [out]. For now, I try not to call anyone outside my family. My father Lam, my brothers Sean, Chico and Sly, along with Parkay and some more of my family have been holding me down so I have a support system. [Head of A&R at Def Jam] NO.I.D. also has supported [me].

So, many of the young new artists from Chicago look up to you or were inspired by you. How does that make you feel?

When I first started rappin’, I was inspired by people outside of my city. It was always a goal of mine to give the youth in my city someone they could look at and say, “He’s from where I’m from and he made it out doing this, so I can.” [There’s] always been talent in Chicago, but until people realized you can actually turn that talent into money and have an example of that, people kept getting it how they knew and that was in the streets. I think by them seeing me get million dollar deals that let them know there was money to be made and it inspired a generation. That makes me feel good. Especially when I ask, “Where is this artist from?” And I’m told they’re from Terror Town or over east or Parkway Gardens or The Building or Englewood. This is the gutter. Places I’ve physically been and I know how focused you have to be to get out. It feels good to be part of the inspiration ’cause that was the goal.

How do you occupy your time in jail? What do you do specifically?

I read a lot. I write a lot and I workout a lot. That takes up most of my day. Then I watch some sports. I’m a basketball junkie, always have been, but now I’m into all kinds of sports. For the most part, I’m just trying to get my mind and body ready for the world.

Have you been making music? Have you been writing? What do you plan to do when you get out?

I write a lot of music, just trying to stay sharp and just because it’s a passion of mine. I don’t share a lot of it, but I write a lot. Especially when I’m in the hole.

I plan on picking up where I left off. I think I’m sharper business-wise, so I’ll be more hands-on as far as the business side of the music is concerned. I don’t need a lot to motivate me, but when I see the success of some of the artists that started out with me, knowing I should and would be there—if not for my situation—[that] motivates me to want to achieve or surpass those same accomplishments. Family also motivates me.

What have been your roughest moments since you have been behind bars?

The roughest moment had to be seeing my kids for the first time. They had grown up so much since the last time I saw them. I talk to them all the time, but you don’t realize how much of their lives you’ve missed until you see them and see how much they have grown. When they left it was emotional for me.

I’m bidding and I try to block out the outside world and didn’t realize ’til I saw them that I failed them by ending up here. I was supposed to be there helpin’ raise them and hugging them. Seeing them reminded me of my responsibilities and it hurt a little. Lucky for me they have a strong mother who has done a great job raising them and kept them out of trouble and on the right path. I will always owe her for that.

When do you think you’re coming home?

Let’s just say God willing, I’ll be out in a few months.

Over the last few years Chicago has been in the spotlight because of violence. What are your thoughts?

Chicago has always been like this. I believe 2003 was the highest murder rate we’ve seen and I was in the thick of it then. Right now it’s just getting more coverage in the media. I think it’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality we’ve been dealing with for a long time. I think the fact that Chicago’s so segregated has a lot to do with it and honestly, I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.

Who do you listen to right now? What albums have you heard and liked?

I listen to everything. To tell you the truth, I try to keep up with what’s going on out there. I’m just a fan of music, so I have everyone’s albums that are available to us.

How do you think hip-hop will accept you when you’re out?

I think it won’t be much different than when I was out. I’ve gotten better musically because I’m just a better man, mentally. So, I think hip-hop will love me just the same, if not more. People respect struggle and stand up niggas. I took my lick and never told, so I will always be respected as a man and that’s what’s important. Music has always been the easy part to me.

When you’re out are you looking to sign to any label?

I think I will consider signing with a label as long as it’s the right situation. But initially, I’ll get some good management and see where it goes from there. I have my new label and I’m looking for artists but it all starts with me.

Do you get a lot of letters from fans?

I get a lot of fan mail but I don’t write everyone back, which I should. I don’t write everyone back because they make you go through such a process to write [to] people. You got to put their name in a computer and then you got to go print out labels for them. So, to write everyone back would put a lot on me. I get a lot of fan mail and I’m very appreciative of it. I try to write back to them.

Are you familiar with the new Chicago scene? There are so many new guys that look up to you and are a fan of your music. How does that make you feel? Also what are your thoughts on the young guys like Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, G Herbo, Lil Bibby and Chief Keef?

Well, I listen to all of their music. I try to keep up with everything that’s coming out in Chicago. They don’t give us a lot on the computers here, but I’m able to get around and listen to some things. That really was the plan, to inspire. I ain’t really have no one to look at. We had some guys in my immediate surrounding areas. Guys like Crucial Conflict and Twista, but as far as guys I can reach out and touch, I ain’t have that. That’s kind of what I wanted to be. I know there’s a lot of talent [in Chicago] but we weren’t really getting that exposure. I wanted to bring that to the table. It makes me feel good, especially when you hear these guys that say your name, they all spittas.

What other artists in general do you listen to?

I’m listening to Drake’s new album right now. Kendrick, J. Cole, I like all of those guys. I’m a fan of hip-hop. I listen to all kinds of music.

How have you changed as a person?

I’ve grown. I’ve matured; I believe I think more now. I always had a level head, but I didn’t think before I acted.

Did you think you were a star when you got locked up?

I did. I always thought I’d be a star. But, I didn’t realize exactly what I had until I got locked up. I always wanted to be a mogul, not just a rapper. I really feel bad by how I wasn’t so hands-on with the business part of it.

Why haven’t you tried to release music since you have been locked up?

Well, technically, we’re not allowed to... I just used this time to get better, let people miss me and forget really how I was rappin’ at the time. And if they don’t forget, they realize how much better I got. I just felt like I [should] just wait it out for other purposes too because we’re not supposed to be doing that. There’s a real microscope on me.

What happened to the album you had when you were signed to Atlantic? Where is it? How much unreleased music do you have?

I started working with No I.D. before I got locked up. We were trying to put together something solid, but we only got to do a few songs recorded. I have plenty unreleased material. The album I had with Atlantic, they still have the whole album.

Before you got locked up you were a name in hip-hop that was catching a major buzz. Do you feel like you missed your opportunity? Do you think you would’ve been an XXL Freshman?

Sometimes [that] crosses my mind at times. I always look at it as everything happens for a reason. I really felt like basically I could have been in here for much worse. I was really out of control at the time and I needed to sit down. Maybe not for this long but I needed to sit down. I always think about that. Me and Trey Songz were good friends, me and Kanye West and a lot of other artists that I see that’s successful right now and I always think that’s supposed to be me at this time. I know that God got a bigger plan for me. I never really made the transition from the streets to treating [music] like a business. I always knew I could rap and continue to do that. I wasn’t focused on [music] as a business and that's what landed me here. I was still in the streets too heavy.

Check out more from XXL’s Summer 2016 issue including our 2015 XXL Freshman year-end report card, Joey Badass, Raury and Dizzy Wright talk about The Four Agreements, Show and Prove with Madeintyo and more.

See Photos of Bump J Over the Years