Jon Bellion is passionate about his music. This comes through when the 23-year-old artist from Long Island describes his new album, The Definition. His third release in the last two years, The Definition is his most complete project to date, with Bellion narrating personal stories of love, heartbreak, family, and how this next chapter in his career will define him. Prior to the album's release, Jon asked his Twitter followers to tweet #TheDefinition. It was trending nationally in a matter of minutes.
"I’m realistic enough to know my first two albums, I wouldn’t have [them] played for my heroes. I wouldn’t have put my life on it," Bellion mused during our interview. "This third album, I’m realistic enough to know this could be the most culturally important album, between pop, the Death Cab for Cutie kids, but also the kids who love J Dilla." He continues, "I’d play this album for Kanye [West] and be like, 'If you don’t like it, then fuck off.' I feel that strongly about it."
An hour before The Definition went live on his website as a free download, Jon Bellion went in-depth about his latest project, the duality of life and being successful, and how much he has grown as an artist since co-writing Eminem and Rihanna's 2013 smash hit, "The Monster." The Visionary Music Group member also talks about his relationship with Logic, his plans for "The Beautiful Mind" tour, and the biggest paycheck he's ever received for his contributions on "The Monster." Warning: It might make you vomit.
Interview by Edwin Ortiz (@iTunesEra)
On Twitter, someone asked what your album title, The Definition, meant. You said, “It defines what I’ve always aspired to create.” Can you expand on that? What were you doing before, and then what changed in order for you to make that creative jump?
It’s just development. People don’t realize I make records eight or nine months before they come out. I’m directing the videos; I have a lot of work to do. I’m very involved in all that stuff creatively. So in past years, everybody is seeing prior versions of me. Even when “Dead Man Walking” came out, I made that in my first year of college. I’m 23 years old now; I was 18 or 19 at the time, so I’m growing.
Translations Through Speakers was literally, I’m translating very spottily what my aspirations are. The Separation was, “Wow he’s kind of separating himself from everybody else. There’s something interesting that if he comes out with something else, I’m going to check for it again.” The Definition is, “Thank you for sticking with me. This is the finish line, now let’s begin." Now let’s be on the caliber of all of these mundane, corny ass 808, singy rapping artists that aren’t really that substantial. My first two albums were cool. Now you’re not allowed to overlook me, unless you wanted somebody to critique your taste in music.
[Laughs.] It’s gotten to that point.
I don’t have enough time; it doesn’t come from arrogance. I’ve worked my whole life for this. So now people are finally saying, “I see what you’re doing. It inspires me.” It gives me more courage to say, you know what? This third album is going to be crazy. I think this is going to change a lot for me and for the scope of what people think is cool.
I think a big part of that has to do with you having minimal features. Was that something intentional, or did it just work out that way?
It’s something super intentional. Again, this is going to be the definition of Jon Bellion, what Jon Bellion has to offer. And these are the people I chose to put on my album. Audra Mae’s vocals on “Luxury,” she sounds ridiculous. I’m not going to name any names, but there’s a lot of artists that could have sang that, but they couldn’t have freaked it like she did. So it doesn’t matter to me that she’s only got 5,000 followers [on Twitter]. Because when the 15-year-old who doesn’t give a shit who Jon Bellion is or Audra Mae is hears it and doesn’t see what I look like, that’s what’s going to live on through time.
Blaque Keyz is also on The Definition, and he’s pretty much been working with you from Scattered Thoughts Vol. 1 on. Tell me about that relationship.
He’s my best friend. We became brothers in college. In fact, all of my bandmates are homies from college. They go by BTP. At the time, I said, “If this takes off, will you be my band?” I would love to put them on. And all these things are going to come. I’m carrying the football right now, and I’m going to get it past the frontline. And once I get near the end zone, that’s when the shuffle pass goes to someone else.
You’re very vocal about your influences, especially on “Pre-Occupied.”
The first 12 bars of “Pre-Occupied” explains my entire career. My brother is 10 years older than me, so whatever he listened to is what I listened to, and it was all rap. So Wu-Tang raised me, but then my sister showed me Death Cab for Cutie and I was like, "This is giving me the same goosebumps as Wu-Tang, but they’re not talking about the same things." It’s completely different ends of the spectrum.
So Wu-Tang raised me, Death Cab changed me, and even though I blend all these things, you should go ask Rihanna if my pen game’s crazy. I had the No. 1 record [in the country]. And my artistry is everything, that’s my baby. I’m trying to change music and put music out for free, but when it comes to making records, “Fuck you, pay me.” Realize that I’m funding my own videos through writing records for other people.
My whole album destroys “The Monster.” I love that song. That was my first No. 1 record, and that’s phenomenal. But every record
every record on my album literally takes 'The Monster' and breaks it over its knee.
on my album literally takes “The Monster” and breaks it over its knee, and that’s not a shot to Eminem or Rihanna. I considered that song a stepping stool, not a validation. It’s amazing that people like my artistic point of view when writing for other people, but my artistry is everything.
There are several drug references on the album. I’m not trying to make this some kind of expose, but what kind of role, if any, did drugs have in the process of making this project?
None. I don’t do drugs. I barely even drink anymore.
So these are more outside references to paint a picture.
On “Pre-Occupied” I say, “Get that bag out of my face/God made me a full-blown genius, what the fuck would I need coke for?” So I don’t like drugs. Actually, drugs have affected my family pretty harshly.
I’ve seen family members literally change into different people over the course of a decade just from what drugs can do to your brain. We live in an age where these young kids are watching these rappers—not even rappers, just artists in general. And they think it’s cool to be like dismal and depressed, and using drugs as this way to say, “I’ve done this drug, so respect my point of view.” You could also live in reality and realize that drugs are terrible for you. That’s not a cool thing to say. Who would do that? Who supports drugs? It’s just ridiculous to me.
Switching gears, I wanted to point out this specific line you have on “Luxury.” It’s this moment of innocence where you say, “We’re not sad at all/We know you have to leave, and we’re not mad at all/You’ll be back in town, and we’ll play basketball.” It’s very pure, like your family is saying to you, “Even though you’re going off and doing these great things, when you come back home nothing has changed. You’re still the same Jon.” I love that.
A lot of those things are so important to me. There’s a duality to it. Even with “Luxury,” there’s a duality. The success comes, but you don’t realize like, Robin Williams. That’s all I have to say. Robin Williams. Happiness is so relative. I know people with zero dollars that are happier than some of the artists I know that are millionaires. So you’ve got to really keep your head on straight. The money is going to come, and it’s going to go. You’ve got to get right before God. That’s the end all be all, to me at least. So it has a lot to do with that, keeping your head on straight.
What role does Capitol Records play in your career?
Let’s be real here. I signed a deal after my first mixtape. I purposely made it so my label didn’t mention it so people could realize I’m signed, I’ve been signed throughout this whole process, but now no one can say I sold out. Now nobody can say that I sold out throughout the whole process. No one knew I was signed this entire time.
I wanted to purposely stick up for other artists, because when they sign a record deal, they lose fans because people think they sold out. I’ve been signed this whole time, and I’ve done everything on my own. I still have creative control. I didn’t have to announce to my fans, “I’m not going anywhere, everything’s going to be fine.” I signed a crazy deal right after Transitions Through Speakers, but I purposely said to the label, "Don’t say anything." I want to prove to these kids that, “Damn, Jon’s been signed this whole time? He still seems pretty independent, he still seems to have creative control of everything. Damn, I guess signing to a label maybe really isn’t the devil.”
Yeah. I’ve noticed this in past interviews you’ve done that there's a genuineness to you. Maybe your bank account changed, but you haven't.
I get passionate about my music because it’s my life. I’m going to McDonald’s if this doesn’t work out for me. I don’t have a college education. I dropped out of college for this.
What artists do is we try to make you believe that we have answers. At the end of the day, what are we all trying to do on the Internet? “Follow me. I have answers that other people can’t provide for you. If you follow me I will give you something that no one else can bring you.” But at the end of the day, I am just as anxiety-ridden, I am just as upset, or happy. The money hasn’t changed anything for me.
In this day and age, I’m not afraid to say that. I’m not going to fill any gaps in your life. I can’t take it that serious. And what everybody else is trying to play is disturbing. I see a lot of artists comparing themselves to God and to all of these things. Nothing’s sacred. We’re trying to make people follow us at all costs, but if you see how contradictory all of these artists are, including myself—“The size of half these checks could make me vomit on myself/But I’d give it up to heaven ’cause it isn’t Jon.” I’m not more justified in being followed than anyone else. That’s what kids need to know.
You referenced your line about getting checks that could make you vomit. What is the single biggest paycheck you’ve ever received in the mail?
[Laughs.] I can’t...
You can’t say it? Six figures?
Well, six, but not on the low end. No, don’t even say that. [Laughs.]
We’ll say $100,000 exactly. Not a cent over.
You’re hitting the road next week. This counts as your first headlining tour. What can fans expect?
They can expect a Rage Against the Machine-style show. We’ve taken every record that I’ve made and transposed it for live turn-up craziness. When you go to a Jon Bellion concert, you think it will be piano, and things are beautifully sung, and the drums are really nice. It’s not like that. It’s like rock, heavy turn-up, Rage Against the Machine-type stuff.
We sold out Highline Ballroom, which is great, but a lot of these venues in like Florida have like 250 people. They’re going to expect the sit down, keyboard thing. Instead, these kids are going to get an eight-piece band where people are jumping and fucking going crazy. That’s how I grew up with my homies in college. We’re live dudes.
Have you had an opportunity to work with Logic on his upcoming debut album, Under Pressure?
No. We don’t force anything. Any collaborations that have ever happened are like, I get out of a session, and he’s there, so it’s like, “Let’s just rock.” “24 Freestyle” was like a joke.
It was just for fun.
It was his birthday. We just dapped him up, and 6ix made a beat in like 20 minutes, so we all just rapped over it and put it out to see what people think about it. And I think that’s important. We don’t force anything. Logic’s the homie, he’s one of my best friends in the industry. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to do six songs on his album just because he’s my homie or we have to force it down the pipeline.
It’s all organic.
Exactly. It has to be. That’s what makes it believable.