SL Jones is in no hurry to compromise his creative individuality for mainstream accessibility. The 25-year-old rapper from Little Rock, Arkansas is building on the momentum of his 2012 release Paraphernalia, which garnered well-deserved attention from the blogsphere. His latest mixtape, Trapper's Delight, a stylistically different output compared to the former, is sprinkled with 64th note hi-hats and 808s that's fitting for ratchet antics and cruises with the windows rolled down. XXL caught up with the artist to learn more about his musical, personal, and jurisdictional journey.

On His Creative Background and Growing up in Little Rock:

SL Jones: "I was an art student. I used to draw for the homeys in the hood and everybody just in general because Little Rock is a gang city, so I used to draw tattoos. Homeys that are dead and gone, I drew as a picture and they went and got it on they skin. I used to be on some graffiti shit, but not like spraying it on the walls but just drawing a comic book or something—anything, I just loved to draw. Music was something that I did for more than me. I lived in a war zone, I lived in the worst part of Little Rock, so they had made youth programs specifically for us to try to [keep us] away from being in a gang. But they don't really understand, or maybe they did and they were just trying something. It helped, but everybody is still gang affiliated, just by default. By the time you're 11 years old and you're living in the hood, you've already got it on your mind. Then when your homeys start dying, it's in your heart by then. But the programs helped because they gave you other options and it gave you knowledge of self.

"[In those programs], that was when the music started. Just like basketball—everybody is playing basketball in the hood but realistically its not like, 'Okay, just because you're playing good you're going to the NBA.' You've got to go to school and do other things before you can become a professional athlete. But with rapping, all you got to do is say, 'I'm a rapper now.' I was so good at drawing that I used to tell myself that I wasn't even going to pursue music unless I could be arguably the best. If you could take a verse from me and break it down technically next to somebody who's popping or is respected, that's when I would pursue it. And I would do it humbly and it wouldn't be on some trying to let everybody know shit."

On His Rap Name and His Hometown:

SL Jones: "I knew I was doing something right when I heard an argument in a barbershop about me and they didn't even know who I was because SL Jones is just a rap name that I came up with, not the name I used coming up in the hood. Now, thinking about it, it would be cool to use the name you used in the hood but that name is associated with so much other stuff that I just decided, 'If I'm gonna rap, it's going to be someone else.' It was going to be a name that I came up with for rap, not a name that was known for putting in work or just doing whatever.

"The way Little Rock is, it's so weird because I didn't even get attention from my hood. People from my hood know who I am, so they might've known on the cool that I was rapping, but they just didn't expect to hear nothing from it. They're still dealing with they every day, they ain't my number-one fan, they ain't my cheerleader or nothing. For instance, if there's some dude that's a Blood and he start rapping, that doesn't mean that I'll know who he is because the city is sectioned out by neighborhoods and gangs. If I seen him, it's gonna be a problem so there's no reason for us to fuck with each other coming up because it was real. Now it's different, because SL Jones is on some rap shit. So when they say SL Jones, a rapper from Little Rock, yeah, you're gonna hear me, but the only way my name would've been ringing bells is if I was killing so many of your homeys that it was like, 'We gotta find this nigga.' There's homeys like that in Little Rock that are known for putting in thug shit. Wolfe Street is like the only Crip neighborhood in Little Rock, so there were plenty of places I damn sure wasn't gonna be. I done been in my neighborhood and got shot at because it's a straightaway, so if some of my homeys did some dirt and they want to get back, they just know to drive by that gas station, they know some Crips gonna be out there and they just shoot it up and ride out. And this is like, you're a kid—you're 12 years old buying some potato chips and all of the sudden, 'Dum, dum, dum.' Every time a car drive by in Little Rock, you're just trained to look up. You react to every car, it's weird. Like when deer hear leaves ruffle—they're looking for a lion."

On His Influences and His Creative Mobility:

SL Jones: "I know I'm hard-headed and I want to do it my way and I don't really give a fuck. Artists, it's your job to push the line and be creative, even with street shit. I understand that the longer it takes for people to get me, it could hurt me. But where I am, I've still got a lot of time so there ain't no pressure like, 'Oh, man—I gotta hurry up and get out.' I feel like it's inevitable that eventually people will get it. I just love dope shit. If I hear something hard, I just be wanted to kill it. When I started rapping, what I grew up on was so different that it gave me an advantage. I would wake up to screw. My older brothers' from Texas, so I would hear nothing but screw. Like, I only heard 'Ridin' Dirty' screwed, I didn't hear it regular pace until I grew up and could get it myself. I'm talkin' bout, they would play Jodeci screwed or Blackstreet screwed. R. Kelly—everything was screwed. And then you've got Triple 6. We hella close to Memphis, so the stuff that I heard as a fan was different versus when I got my own music and when I heard rappers from the East Coast do it, then I got up on the legends: Biggie, Hov, listening to how technical they were. We had technical rappers, but it was like Bun B—that's where I got my technical stuff. But for the most part, the south was about that feeling. So it was a cool mixture. Killer [Mike] used to always be like, 'Man—you this good and you've never heard Big Daddy Kane?' Because Killer is just a hip-hop connoisseur, so he's into everything. He's not one sided. He just like to know everything. It's not even about his opinion whether it's dope or not, he just likes to be aware of music. That's a jewel he gave me: 'Just listen to everything.'"

On Inspiration Behind Trapper's Delight:

SL Jones: "I had caught a case last summer, so I was going through everything that comes with that. I really didn't know what the situation was going to look like. Just being 100, snitching ain't really no option for me, so whatever happened was gonna happen. So I just started trying to get in and do as much music as possible, just to prepare for whatever. You know how you're in court and you're having your hearings and all of that? Things just started looking brighter. So there came a time where they had me on probation for over a year. So you just get to the point where you don't even care, you're just like, 'Man—I just want this shit to be over.'

"I recorded it in a weird place—just some bittersweet shit. It got to a point where it seemed like I wasn't going to end up behind bars, but I know something was going to happen. So it was like, 'I have to do this one for my dogs.' I've got homeys that weren't that fortunate in their shit. They’re still fighting, appealing, or they're under indictment and they can't even fight it from the outside. It's hard to fight a fed case on the inside. And then they freeze all your bread, so you could be rich but you can't do nothing. You can't pay a lawyer with the money you had because they took that. You know you've got money buried in a hole somewhere, but you can't tell nobody on the phone, 'Hey, go get that for me and get my lawyer right,' you know what I'm saying? So you can't lawyer up, you can't do nothing, so that's really what this album was. It's like, a lot of times, when I talk about certain shit I talk about it in code, and that's just on some G shit. I don't just be like, 'Aw, yeah—I was doing this, I was doing that.' But this one, I just had to do it for my dogs. I mean God forbid, I got homeys that might not come home again. So it was like, 'Let me just do this for them,' and that's where the title came from Trapper's Delight. It just gets to the point where you don't have any choice and you've gotta just put it out there and say how you feel. There are so many homeys that I had that wanted to see me win. I never had the option to have both feet out. One foot in was mandatory for me. I don't owe no rap niggas—I owe street niggas. They were the ones that said, 'Go get it.' So, that Trapper's Delight is where you take everything that comes with it."

One-Producer, One-MC Formula:

SL Jones: "It helps me stay in place. It helps me focus. I've got rap ADD, just because of how I came into rapping. So, if I'm dealing with multiple producers, I get bored quickly. So if you listen to The Number 23, it was dope to me because it felt like an exhibition, because it wasn't just one producer. You had everything from Shawty Redd to Cannon beats on there. From one extreme to the next, every kind of beat and every kind of song. So it made sense to me because it's about how you arrange the album--that's an art too. But when I lock in with one producer, it helps me focus because it keeps the ADD out of the way. I'm getting a certain energy and I can express that feeling. Even with a project that's hella long, that even fucks with me because after I do so many songs with a producer, I'll just start to--, not veer off subject, but start exploring other ways to express it and it'll just get away from me. It won't start to get repetitive, it won't get repetitive and that's almost the problem. You either lose that cohesiveness or its like, 'Okay--you've got two of the same kind of record on the same project, you could've saved that song for another album or something."

Advice for the Young'ns:

SL Jones: "Anybody that's after this music, anybody that want to do you—just be you. Be yourself, don't hold back or let people tell you what to do. Just do you. Because at the end of the day, they're words. It's your point of view. It's art, so it's relative. Somebody will tell you, 'That's whack,' and then that ends up being the coldest shit that comes out. Or somebody will be telling you, 'Oh, that's the greatest shit ever,' and then it'll come out and it don't even move. But that don't mean it wasn't dope, that just means it wasn't your time. Just be patient. Take your time and allow people to get you. I use the term, 'Hurry up and wait,' because you want to do it so you've gotta turn up, but at the same time, put yourself in front of the car. Don't be always chasing a date or chasing behind the clock because you're only cheating yourself."