There's at least a decent chance that Kent Jones is more familiar with Ella Fitzgerald than he is with Jay Z. Years before he became a chart-topping rapper, the talented We the Best Music Group artist was a jazz pianist with so much skill that he even earned himself an award from legendary trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. For Jones, music comes naturally, and it has since before he even conjured his first memory.

“My mom said that when I was a newborn she was singing a song and I was humming along with her. The exact same pitch. Of course, I don’t remember,” Jones tells XXL. “What I do remember is when I was two I used to pull out the pots and the pans and go ham … go ape shit.”

These days, the singing-rapping-songwriting talent has traded in kitchenware for his trusty keyboard, and he’s now one of hip-hop’s most dynamic up-and-comers. Hailing from Tallahassee, Fla., Jones began his gradual ascent in the rap game after being discovered by the super-production tandem Cool & Dre years ago. Jones’ relationship with Cool & Dre proved to be an invaluable one, as it helped enable him to produce tracks for the The Game, Fat Joe, Queen Latifah and Busta Rhymes. At some point, Cool & Dre introduced the young MC to DJ Khaled, the man who eventually signed Jones to his We the Best Music Group label in 2015.

Since then, Jones' career has gone into overdrive. He dropped the Tours tape and one of the bangers off that project took on a life of its own. Jones unleashed the video for his single “I Don’t Mind” onto the world, seemingly cementing his status as a major force in hip-hop and the pop world as a whole as soon as it hit airwaves. Building on that momentum, Jones landed a slot on Beyonce’s Formation world tour, gaining more exposure than ever with each stop. Jones is all set to make more noise throughout the rest of this year and beyond, and here’s why you should get to know him.

Name: Kent Jones

Age: 23

Hometown: Tallahassee, Fla.

I grew up listening to: "Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire; Boyz II Men, Joe, Carl Thomas, Jay Z … , who else? I rock with Wayne, for sure — that’s my brother. I rock with, I’ve been rocking with … I could say I got to grow up with a little Drake, because Drake came out when I was in early High School. I’m 23. Kanye for sure."

"We had the Ella Fitzgeralds, the Duke Ellingtons, the Nancy Wilsons, the Count Basie Orchestras, the Oscar Petersons, the Tommy Flanagans, the — what’s my guy’s name that just passed? McCoy Tyner. James Moody, that’s the guy that just passed, rest in peace James Moody. James Moody, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. You know for contemporary jazz you know I rock with Robert Glass, the Clayton Brothers. Hall and Oates. I can’t forget about Hall and Oates (?). Drake, Kanye, Lil Wayne … Fat Joe. Fat Joe is classic. I like Rick Ross. Yeah, rappers. Eminem. I gotta give Eminem the respect."

"When I was a kid my aunt used to work out to 'Thriller,' so I fell in love with it. From the way Quincy Jones arranged the horn parts, to the string sections, to Michael Jackson’s vocal performance on the songs, to the bridges that he does where the music totally changes. Quincy’s just a beast. I would love to interview Quincy Jones."

Most people don’t know: "I play by ear and I read the jazz charts, but the way I improvise it’s like, 'How are you doing that?' Because they can’t play by ear, because their eyes are stronger than their ears. When I did The Breakfast Club a couple weeks ago, I had [DJ] Envy play five or six of his favorite tunes that I’d never heard before and I played it from scratch. I brought my keyboard."

My style’s been compared to: "I’ve heard silly things. I’ve heard Schoolboy Q. People say I look like Schoolboy Q, which I strongly disagree with. I strongly — like, come on, like …Sound-wise, they say him too sometimes. I get the Drake feeling. The Kanye — I definitely get the Kanye. I get the baby Kanye. People can hear, lyrically, where I was raised up off Lil Wayne. They can hear it, not even as far as my sound, but my words — the way I put my words, the way I stay stuff."

"Eminem was definitely like part of my career, ‘cause that’s why i can do certain things now. Busta Rhymes is responsible for me being able to rap fast. Yeah. Andre 3000 and Big Boi. I gotta give it to em’. The essence of me being able to tap into soulful music. They’re solely responsible for that. And D’Angelo. They’re solely responsible."
"I fight long and hard, you know, to build my own lane, and I’m sure they fought long and hard to build their own lane. So I don’t really get into the — it’s not like I’m pulling like a “Panda” and sounding exactly like somebody else. Even though shout out to Desiigner, he got lyrics, the boy, he’s rapping. You may not understand what he’s saying, he’s rapping though. But nah, like, I feel like I’m coming with a new approach. I feel like I’m coming with something where I don’t have to have nobody on my shit to get number one. Or to chart, or my song is no features. It’s produced by me. That’s it."

My standout records or moments to date have been: "I got to perform with Lil Wayne. He brought me out during his set. That was a big moment for me because I grew up off him. I got to work on a record with Puff. It’s not out yet. I’m not going to say anything about that song."

My goal in hip-hop: "My goal is to be here for the next 20-plus [years] and you know, inspire the youth to never settle and to know what real musicianship is. Because a lot of these guys out here — they’re setting the wrong example. They’re musicians. They’re more like gymnasts. They like to hang off of things and perform upside down and fall off the wall. They grow their beards out, they get golds in their mouth, then they’re something else that they’re not. Like, stop. You’re not a musician."

"Musician is, go on Breakfast Club, pull that keyboard out and show them what musicianship is. That’s what that is. A musician is, actually produce a record. It’s called, this is real. This is no gimmick here; you can’t fake this. And that’s what gets me about these guys. Don’t listen to nobody that can’t show you what they’re telling you. Don’t listen to nobody that does that. Don’t listen to em’. Don’t listen to em’. Don’t listen to em’. So my goal is to break the barriers of music, to properly educate the kids on what musicianship is, to show em’ what real musicianship is and to birth new stars in the next 10 years. That’s what I wanna do, you know, and the only way I’m gonna do that is by showing the world what it is I really do. Too many guys talk to much. They talk too much."

I’m gonna be the next: "I’m gonna be the next historic, iconic figure. It’s already happening, I’m breaking records already. Things that’s happening right now don’t happen for new artists that’s happening for me. It doesn’t. You don’t jump 12 slots every week on [Billboard] Hot 100 as a new [artist]. It doesn’t happen. You don’t go on Beyonce’s tour as a new artist, it just doesn’t happen. You don't go on Summer Jam as a new artist, it just doesn’t happen. Not on the main stage."

"So it’s a lot of things that are into play that, your spans of beating out certain people, you sure don’t know how, you know how — it’s just a matter of like … the first mixtape I put out ever as a artist, as Kent Jones had a hit on it. I can name a lot of people who took two or three mixtapes to get a hit, which is cool. I know a lot of people that took years to get their own number one. That’s cool. It ain’t no race; it’s a sprint. However, I’m breaking records and I’m producing on other people’s albums simultaneously. And I have artists, I have a record label. Hybrid Music Group."

Follow Kent Jones on Twitter and SoundCloud.

Standout: "Don't Mind"


"Rocket Ship"

More From XXL