Features, Music Reviews, Race + Culture

INTERVIEW: Racquel Jones

By JD Brant

“We spend so much time fighting to be who we are, and not evolving.”

– Racquel Jones on being a woman (IG video post)

Racquel Jones has gumption, a required trait for those seeking longevity in a forever-shifting industry. Gumption is not to be confused with grit. Grit is doing what it takes because it is expected of you. Gumption is doing what it takes with no perceived expectation. Despite the odds. Despite no odds. Regardless of the consequences or what people think. Gumption is correcting the uninformed with a megaphone. Whether they are receptive to the message or not, it needs to be said.

Sparks ablaze and guns blazing, Racquel Jones is that girl on fire.

To make the most of experience, you need to meet people where they are. On the album, IgnoRANT, we meet Racquel where she is, a woman evolving. A woman of substance, of reckoning. IgnoRANT is a melodrama you can dance to, and so much more: lust, betrayal, destitution, destruction, and clairvoyance on every up-front track.

In artspeak, I’m describing Racquel Jones in peak condition. The incendiary MC was happy to talk with Eloquent Mag about IgnoRANT and the experiences that guided her during the production and songwriting processes.

Eloquent: First off, I want to say I love the cover art for your album, very Basquiat/Dali-looking. Who’s concept? Also, did these artists inspire it (you mention them on the album also)?

RJ: Thank you. I am very much inspired by Salvador Dali and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Obsessed. They are two of my favorite artists, who’ve inspired all aspects of my creativity. They are constant references for me and I mention them in manic, which is my favorite song on the album. The concept of the cover was mine. My label asked me to do a painted self-portrait cover for the record, so I decided to do a surrealist self-portrait baring my soul, showing much of who I am and how that ties into the album for me in a personal way.

Eloquent: Can you discuss a little bit of your heritage/roots and how they influenced the album’s sound and direction? 

RJ: I’m in every way Jamaican, good or bad. Jamaica has the most churches per square mile in the world yet it’s one of the deadliest places on the planet. That is explored on the album through the album artwork, and me examining how religion plays a negative role in our defect and demise as a people on the song sacrilege. Jamaica is one of the most beautiful places on this planet and has a culture unlike any other. Authentic, infectious, beautiful, warm, creative, and influential. That is knitted in every fiber of my being and creativity. I come from a background with a heritage of strength, tenacity, knowledge of self, divinity, and the ability to break barriers and defy odds. That is the core basis of who I am. I’m also from a background etched with trauma and pain which also aid in the shaping of my perception of the world, how I’m perceived, and also my morals…be it good or bad. Sonically, there’s reggae, dancehall, African drums all over the album. The language and overall aesthetic are very much my Jamaican heritage exploring global relatable issues with a Jamaican vocal lens. 

Eloquent: On “Ugly,” you explore the beauty industrial standard. You are vocal about insecurity, turning it into a power, something that makes us unique. As a model and performer, are you noticing that the “typical beauty standard” is on its way out, or is it still present in the industry? 

RJ: No, the unrealistic damaging beauty standards are still very much alive, with people constantly reconfiguring to fit into them. Who has their real faces and bodies anymore? 

Eloquent: How has the music industry changed to accommodate women, if at all, in your opinion? Secondly, what challenges are still present?

RJ: Women have been more vocal about who they are, brave enough to stand up for themselves, strong enough to be themselves and clear about what their voices are and how they want to be presented; so the industry had no choice but to comply. There are changes but still a long way to go. It’s still thought of as a male-dominated field with disparities to reflect that and we suffer because of this. But given what is currently happening, I’m optimistic that it won’t be that way for long. With that said, big ups to all women beasting in this bitch with full ownership of themselves and their businesses within this industry, women who are ferociously aggressive, revolutionary, rebellious, tough as nails, dominant and sexy. 

Eloquent: What would your advice be to young women, especially young women rappers, who find early on in their careers that they are being pressured to act, sing, rap, or present themselves in a particular way?

RJ: Present yourself ONLY how you want to be presented. NEVER compromise and only do it the way that’s true to who you are. So if you want to be overt and sexual, be that. If you want to be an activist, be that. There is a place for Cardi B, Lana Del Rey, Lauryn Hill, Big Freeda, Adele, Kiarra Sheard, Billie Eillish, Lizzo, Beyoncé, Coi Leray. Just be however you want to be as long as it’s true to who you are. 

Eloquent: How do you handle writer’s block or a creative slump? 

RJ: I either push through the resistance (which always gets me magical results) or I step back from it, breathe and take a break, then have a go at it again. 

Eloquent: “Hurt” is a haunting track. You talk about getting through the hurt to achieve greatness or a better life. It’s almost another way of explaining a creative’s path, and how it’s never about the destination, but the journey to get there. Is this an accurate interpretation of the track?

RJ: I welcome that interpretation too, and that’s the interesting part about art…is that it opens up for many interpretations. There’s a lot that has hurt me immensely on this journey and this song is in a way my cathartic release of such, but more particularly relationship-based hurt. When I wrote “Hurt” it was a way for myself and women alike to address pain and bring closure without being shamed, gaslighted, or made to feel invalid by people who’ve hurt us…who are narcissistic, lack emotional intelligence, and refuse to be held accountable. It’s an outlet for pain, and motivation to move on from it. 

Eloquent: In an Instagram video you posted, you said, “We (women) spend so much time fighting to be who we are, and not evolving.” As art is one of few safe spaces for women to truly express who they are, I want to ask, do you feel like you’ve evolved on this album as both a performer and a woman in general?

RJ: For sure. Art has always been a tool that has aided in the evolution of not just the artist themselves but the world in general through cultural and creative expressions. I certainly evolved more after making this album creatively and mentally, especially from discussions I had through IgnoRANT. There’s more understanding, empathy, growth and my moral compass is more guided. 

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Features, Music Reviews

Dark, Brooding, Fierce, Powerful: Racquel Jones’ IgnoRANT is No F*cks Given

DISCLAIMER: IgnoRANT is not for the pansy class. Middle-aged white dudes, beware. This album should be blasted in residential neighborhoods at peak volume. Anything else is unacceptable.

On her latest album, IgnoRANT, MC Racquel Jones weaponizes stereotypes against women and hurls them in the other direction. She’s not afraid to puncture an existing wound or stab a man fresh off a new transgression. The trip-hip, R&B, calypso, and electronic hip hop album is hyper-conscious, hyper-sexual, and highly stimulating. Her daggers are her words, the music a sounding board for higher frequencies of high-speed voltage to bounce off of, and Racquel has the power to flip the switch.

“Manic” gives off mucha Latina vibes (Maybe she borrowed a cue from Saudade, the Bossa Nova album by Thievery Corporation), and the music sucks you into a dream, and you’re losing your footing on a winding staircase that keeps spiraling and spiraling, never reaching the floor. The feeling of insomnia, of sleep walking, a never-ending problem. 

“Siren! Violent!” we hear Ms. Jones shriek on “Arrogant,” the sixth track on IgnoRANT. With a snarl not to be messed with, Jones brings memories of Steflon Don, Foxy Brown, and Lil Kim rolled into one song, proving that the goddess MCs of today’s generation can’t be pigeonholed into one sound, one vibe. They can be girly AND rough around the edges. Like manicures AND slamming a six-pack down. They can be angry and don’t have to apologize for it. 

“Queen,” the final track, is a discotheque of epic proportions. Ms. Jones flaunts her crown in the video proudly, and here, pride is celebration, not perceived as arrogance. She calls on other women to show up as they are, without fear of consequence, and names off famous icons, queens, and goddesses in history who have owned their shit. That’s a beautiful message: No competition, only celebration. All in the name of fierce women. 

IgnoRANT is the opposite of its name. It’s the got-damn truth. It’s an invocation. This is a philosophical work of art by Ms. Jones, who celebrates her Jamaican and Black roots and addresses issues with religion, on the album. This is not your ordinary dance album. It’s deeply personal, and in listening, you can feel the blood and sweat that was poured into its creation. Bravo, Ms. Jones, Bravo.

For the full album, listen here.

Connect with Racquel Jones: Website | Instagram

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Poetry Talk, Race + Culture

Poetry by Michael Grandsoult

Artwork for a track, “Turtle Island” by indigenous artist David Strickland


           

G.B.C.

By Michael Grandsoult

2 22,

born and raised in Scarborough Ontario.

Dual/duel,

2 nationalities I bear and hold

carried over the border

by my parents through customs

cultural baggage of a Guyanese substance,

bubbling in my body

tropical hot blood

like casareep in pepper pot.

Declared not native to this nation

foreign fruit that doesn’t take root,

“climatic unsuitability.”

Snowbound by cold racism, withholding growth.

Soils used to maple,

palm trees be gone please

rejecting me to go

back home.

But home is unknown.

Only folklore fork loads of food

musical milieu,

cultures much more.

My exotics whitewashed, lost

before I ever got it.

Foreigner here, there

searching for where?

I fit in the hyphen.

Division partitioning

Guyanese                    Canadian.

Imprisoned within limbo

or,

is it a bridge

connecting the 2

creating something new?

not Guyanese

not Canadian only,

GBC.

So I soar Kaiteur on my ladder Niagara

to reach full height.

Making bull’s-eye mark on maple leaf

with golden arrowhead darts.

Synthesis of existences

my identity’s recipe.

Guyanese Blooded Canadian,

GBC. 


Michael (MikeAll) Grandsoult is a Scarborough, Ontario native and hip hop educator. He began writing poems in the primary years of elementary school and started rapping in the junior grades. He has released three solo albums; “Mike Check” (2008), “Mike Support” (2015) and “Mike All” (2018).  MikeAll’s goal is to put the poet back into rhythm and poetry.                

CONNECT WITH MIKEALL: Instagram | Bandcamp

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Features, Music Reviews, Race + Culture

Social Justice in Music: Emerging Indie Artists of the Pandemic

By JD Brant // Contributing Writing By Saliek Ruffin

Hip hop has come a long way since the OG days of “Rapper’s Delight.” The track was the first hip hop song to reach Billboard’s Top 40 at a time when music by young black musicians was easily misunderstood. Now, almost 40 years later, hip hop still dominates Billboard charts. Streaming numbers have nudged the genre, yet again, into familiar hybrid pop/rock territory (Does anyone remember Blondie’s “Rapture”? That’s where it all started). 

At its core, hip hop is a political movement, and contemporary artists’ attempts to smash the status quo offers glimmers of hope for Gen Zers, millennials, and other lost generations. Here we’ve compiled a list of standout artists who’ve emerged victorious during the COVID-19 pandemic and have taken on social justice causes as influencers in the music industry. We will post one new artist a week throughout the summer. 

1. H.E.R.

Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson is her government name. Her stage name, articulated “her,” is an abbreviation for Having Everything Revealed. The Filipino/African-American vocalist and musician rose to prominence at the height of the pandemic, and has been soaring ever since. 

After initially releasing music under her government name, Wilson reappeared in 2016 with the H.E.R. persona, delivering her introduction EP H.E.R. Volume 1. She at that point delivered resulting EPs H.E.R. Volume 2 (2017), The B Sides (2017), I Used to Know Her: The Prelude (2018) and I Used to Know Her: Part 2 (2018). 

2020 was the year of H.E.R. She was designated for five honors at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for her album, I Used to Know Her, and Song of the Year for “Hard Place.” In September, she sang Prince’s tune “Nothing Compares 2 U,” for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, and during the pre-game celebrations for Super Bowl LV, H.E.R. performed “America the Beautiful” while playing guitar. 

What makes H.E.R. a beautiful soul is her passion for activism. Laced throughout her discography are reflections of her beliefs. “I Can’t Breathe” was the singer’s premiere social justice song, an emphatic statement on the current global policing crisis. She also contributed a song to the soundtrack of Judas and the Black Messiah titled, “Fight For You,” last August. 

Listen to “Fight For You” here:

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