First impressions are difficult to erase. They usually stick, unless you decide to devote enough time to disprove them. First impressions of Kent Jones are also why many think he has some Haitian in him, due to his lyrics (he doesn’t). My initial impressions of his hit ‘Don’t Mind’ were: catchy, summer smash hit and easy come, easy go. Much like iLoveMakonnen and Silentó in summers before, hip hop (the new pop) has its one hit wonders, and of course it's easy to assume that this could be one such hit.
Kent is out to prove the opposite, that he won't be the industry equivalent of a fruit fly – and with good reason, as there is more to Kent Jones than first impressions allow. Walking into a Shoreditch basement, Kent greets me with the warmth and exuberance of an old friend. He's in the midst of a hectic London promo schedule, but nice enough to try and not let me know it. Full of energy, I notice his sparkling Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers, all black, much like the rest of his attire. The newfound stardom of his hit track has catapulted this artist to what most 23-year-olds dream of. Both his first mixtape and one of his tracks have gone gold. Rather foretelling as a sign of its popularity, on my way to meet him, two young girls walk past me, holding hands and singing the hook, "telling me this, telling me that", carefree, making holiday memories to reminisce about whenever they hear his song in the future.
I’m a musician that loves music, that loves the craft, that loves studying the history.
Kent is a multi-instrumentalist, and a producer, in the proper sense. Coming from a deeply musical family (his father is also a producer), it seems it was inevitable rather than fortunate that music would be his occupation. Originally a jazz musician, the move to hip hop was an advantage. “It gives me an edge [over] a traditional rapper that makes beats and samples all the time. I don't have to call 50 guys to play instruments on my tracks. I don't have to sample all the time.”
As we sit down, talking musical nuances, Kent launches into a mini-masterclass of the differing disciplines of jazz, hitting an imaginary bass drum with his foot and tapping invisible cymbals. He vocalises all of these taps into swing, latin, beat swing, rock and syncopated grooves. Speaking about his Barry White sample, he explains how he lifted it from White’s vocal melody and gave the beat an uptempo bounce. Then, in case I hadn’t heard the original, he sings the sample to me (excellently) for added effect.
Still unweathered by the stardom and the press days that come with it, Kent’s infectious enthusiasm is refreshing. He has had a great summer so far, rising through the echelons of celebrity. While enthused and in awe of his peers (he opened for Beyoncé on her Formation world tour, and describes her as a megalodon icon), Kent still seems to have at least one foot on the ground.
“I definitely go a lot harder than I used to, I definitely understand a different level of the hustle and grind and what it takes. And as far as my life, it’s changed drastically. I remember going to the club every night for six months, Monday through Sunday, making sure the DJs played my record, pulling up in a Kia or a hooptie. Now, for people to pay to see me, to do world stages, and to have 60,000 people sing every last word of your song?! To have your own drivers and stuff, it keeps me in the mode to want to go even harder. [Don't Mind] is a hit, which we didn’t know [it would be], we just put the mixtape out. But this doesn’t represent my full ability as an artist. That’s what’s on the way, that’s what people are about to see in the coming weeks."
I definitely understand a different level of the hustle and grind and what it takes.
On DJ Khaled’s ‘We the Best’ label, Kent occupies a unique spot, in stark contrast to the grit of Ace Hood and Mavado's dancehall antics. However, he’s fully subscribed to his mentors famous snapchat-isms. Khaled has taught him to “outwork everybody, stay away from they, stay focused, and everything that we fight and pray for, we’ll have.” He is also set to feature on Khaled's upcoming album 'Major Key' alongside Jadakiss, Fabolous, Fat Joe and Busta Rhymes. Asking him how it feels to be on a track with such a slew of rap talent, he goes quiet and takes a deep breath, seemingly taking stock of his position. Instead of answering the question, he asks me to listen to the track and call him to give my opinion.
Kent is a talented artist in the making. Listening to his mixtape and numerous SoundCloud tracks, he seems not completely sure of his image, not 100% sure of his sound, and unsure of his place in the hip hop world just yet. Gifted with a smash hit, the future looks rosy, but only if he navigates through the valley of the damned that is the sophomore single. If he can do so, then Kent Jones could be an artist that defies the labels and assumptions that first impressions assign.