In a world where the musical content and quality of the rappers that star in the game no longer seem to matter, there’s been a resistance from both fans and artists that hopes to counter the type of songs dominating radio waves and, well, society itself.
Nobody in the millennial generation wants a “holier than thou” preacher archetype rapping – or writing – about ethics, morals, financial responsibility. The whole shebang.
Unless you’re Kendrick Lamar – who has occasionally diverged from his customary “preach to the congregation” style, one that was put into more heavy use once he became a mainstream artist – the star power you’re likely to gain by trying to promote societal advancement is limited.
Jay–Z was making songs like “Big Pimpin” before he dropped 4:44. Drake succeeds where others rappers don’t because he’s a genre-less artist who escapes the norms of the rap game. The same is true for an artist like Kanye West. The newest generation of listeners, the ones who are the biggest consumer group in the game, don’t play Jay-Z or Kanye anymore though.
If they play Drake, it’s for the Dance Hall vibes or the mellow, down-to-earth musings about his (everyone’s) relationships.
Nonetheless, rap artist Leonard Williams, who goes by the stage name of Junior, is trying to buck the trend. Last summer, his album To The People, For The People was one of the year’s best works if your interests are in the type of rap that eludes the radio waves today. It wasn’t “deep,” a word that seems to mean much more than it does, for the vagueness of it provides no definition of its meaning, no true descriptive of its significance.
The album was, in a word, “brave.” It was an album that, with musical content that would have made the Martin Luther King Jr.’s proud and with a Down South sound that provides a pleasurable tang when it’s blaring through the speakers, deserved national attention.
It still does.
Cleveland Cavaliers beat writer, Quenton Albertie caught up with Junior in a recent interview that was released to RESPECT Magazine.
The articulate artist agreed and below is a transcript of the interview with the Mart, Texas-native.
Quenton Albertie: You’ve been on the music scene for a long time. How did you get into rapping and who were some of your early influences?
Junior: When I first fell in love with music, I truly wanted to sing but I wasn’t really good at it. However, during this time I found a passion for writing as I begin to construct poems, short stories and even essays for fun. When I discovered this talent, I began to pay more attention to the hip-hop culture. This was around the time you could turn on the radio and practically hear Lil Wayne on every song. His music was definitely one of my biggest influences outside of my family and just my overall desire for music.
Quenton Albertie: What people in your family influenced you musically?
Junior: My brothers were a big influence. Growing up, I had the opportunity to listen to them rap and even watch them in action in the studio. They’re the ones that put me in the studio, so I was grateful for that. I also had my cousin, Bubba, who would always freestyle with me when he was alive. He pushed my limits. Taurus Harrison, who wasn’t my brother or family but I always viewed him as such because of his influence. He always pushed me to be better, and he would always give me tips on how to enhance my ability.
Quenton Albertie: With the number of music artists using audio effects that allow them to sing when they aren’t naturally talented singers, and the success a lot of these artists have had, do you consider or use any effects in your music to help you sing?
Junior: I’ve used some from here and there but I don’t feel as if it is for me. Then again, it just depends on who is engineering the music because they have more of an ear from that than I do. I’m actually getting better at singing but I know it’s not my strength. However, that’s something I won’t ever give up on becoming better at. It’s a latent talent if you will.
Quenton Albertie: There’s a lot of discussion about the state of rap/hip-hop, what do you think about how it’s changed since you started rapping? Especially with Lil Wayne being one of your big influences and a lot of newer artists saying Wayne was also one of their main influences?
Junior: I think the most noticeable difference is that there aren’t as many lyricists that are getting the mainstream promotion. It almost feels as if the music isn’t as important as the antics that come along with some of these newer artists. The music scene is more catered to those that make “party” music. It’s about having something catchy, although you may not have anything important to say. However, that’s life. Things evolve as they should, and that’s just what happened to the state of hip-hop.
Quenton Albertie: Your album To The People, For The People is kind of anti-mainstream in that there’s more of a message than what you’d get from the average rapper. What you consider the overarching message of the album to be and is there any song you feel reflects that message more than others?
Junior: The overall message is unity more than anything. Ultimately the goal is to fight for the rights in which this country was supposedly built on. If this country is a democracy as we were taught it’s supposed to be, then we have to fight for opportunities, liberty, and equality. Where you come from, what you do and who you are shouldn’t dictate where you can go, what you can do and who you become. The song that most implements that ideal for me would be “War”. It addresses a little bit of everything and it’s unapologetically truthful.
Quenton Albertie: That was a track that definitely stood out to me and it made me think. What are some things you’d like to see the African-American community change about or within themselves to progress?
Junior: I believe we tend to focus on the wrong things in life. We are always worried about what the next person is or isn’t doing. There is also a lot of blame being placed on the system for our failures. There are things that we can’t change and we know that but we have to work harder to prove ourselves. It’s not like we don’t know how to be successful. Also, when you see other cultural or ethnic groups you see the support system they have. We don’t support each other half as much as we should. We always have something negative to say about what the next person is doing. We aren’t uplifting. I would like to see our support system change, and more mentors in our communities because we need to push our youth to be better and to do better. Not only that, but we need to give back more as well.
Quenton Albertie: Changing gears a little bit. A few years ago you were in the BET freestyle competition. What was that experience like for you and how did it help you grow as an artist?
Junior: It was a great experience for me. I met a lot of great people and was even given the opportunity to go to the BET Hip-Hop Awards but declined to go due to being in school at the time. I deeply regret that decision, but it all plays a part in who I am today. It gave me an idea of how life as an artist would be because there was a lot of traveling and late nights involved.
Quenton Albertie: To this point in your music career, what do you feel are your greatest accomplishments?Junior: I feel like my greatest accomplishments up to this point because my music would have to be the fact that it leads the way for me to become a business owner. The music-fueled ideas for apparel, in addition to pushing my drive to create an organization that will fund scholarships as well. I’ve gained acceptance for my music everywhere I have gone to perform but to be able to own a business that will give back is easily the biggest accomplishment under my belt and it’s all because of the music.
Quenton Albertie: Do you see yourself giving back to your hometown as something that’s attainable? What would it mean for you to be able to do that?
Junior: I definitely believe that me giving back to my hometown is attainable. It would just take staying the course that I’m on now and pushing even harder. That’s the very first place I’m going to start. First, I want to provide a $5000 scholarship. From there, I’ll increase the amount of the scholarship or the number of scholarships I provide. I also want to build up the town as well, from fixing the roads to providing nice but affordable places to live. It would mean a lot to me from a personal standpoint to be able to give back to my town. There is always a lot of potentials [factors] but the environment plays a big part in a person’s success. So I want to create a more positive environment and encourage everyone else to do so as well. I also think it would mean a lot to the people there for me to be able to give back.
Quenton Albertie: What do you think your next step is an artist?
Junior: My next step as an artist would be to shoot more videos and have more performances in an attempt to build my brand. I have a lot of content that I feel could be huge if placed in the right hands. I want to make the world aware of who I am.