Jesse Jones (JJUrban) [Interview]
Toronto, ON – I met Jesse Jones during my time in the Communications program at the University of Ottawa. We had several of the same classes together including New Media (which MTV’s Aliya-Jasmine was also enrolled in). In that New Media class I got an early glimpse of Jesse’s knowledge of marketing and his interest in using new technologies and trends as vital promotional vehicles.
We kept in touch over the years and I began to learn more about his goals and deep rooted history within the music industry. Aside from running his own radio show and developing artists, he was also building his JJUrban brand and establishing himself as a go to guy for successful campaigns and an “outside-the-box” way of thinking. So it came as no surprise when I found out that he had been named the Brand Manager for Marc Ecko and Nautica Watches at Timex Group Canada Inc.
After some brief conversations with Jesse it was clear that he was looking to bring a new way of thinking to his brand’s marketing initiatives and aimed to embrace the urban scene in Canada to the fullest extent. It’s very refreshing to see someone in his position so in tune with the Canadian hip-hop scene. We grabbed some drinks this past weekend and the conversation regarding the scene was assurance enough of his interest in seeing its growth and overall prosperity.
JJ has taken time out of his busy schedule to connect with HipHopCanda to discuss his role at Timex Group Canada, the types of products he is managing, views of the music scene in Canada and everything in between.
Here’s how it went down:
HipHopCanada: Jesse Jones AKA JJ, thank you for taking some time out of your busy day to connect with HipHopCanada.com. First things first, we’re going back to 1987 when you’re parents Allan & Denise Jones founded Jones & Jones Productions. Fast-forward more than 20 years and you’re more or less working the same path as them and pioneering large movements in the marketing and promotions field. Roughly what age were you when you started to take notice of what your parents were doing and what kind of an influence did they have on your life’s ambitions?
Jesse Jones: Wow – to be totally honest man, I’ve been influenced by all of it for as long as I have been alive and present. I’ve seen business from the closest view point ever since coming out of my mother’s womb because my parents have always been doing promotions, productions, shows etc. Most people don’t know this but I was actually born in Sudbury, Ontario. I was born there and moved to Toronto when I was 5 years old, but that’s (Sudbury) where my parents really started putting their imprint on the Canadian marketplace and where Jones & Jones Productions was really born. My parents were always involved in the arts back in their native Jamaica as leading actors in many of the big shows and plays at that time. So when they moved to Canada, they felt the need to continue those efforts and give Afro-Caribbean Canadians (and Canadians alike) an opportunity to experience back home through the various shows, concerts, cultural plays, and other entertainment ventures they put together. So as long as I remember I was always around this type of stuff. I remember being 4 years old and being casted in many of the plays my parents used to put on. Like I’m telling you man, I actually had lines! [Laughing] From birth I’ve been involved in entertainment. So what I’m pursuing now is no surprise to them or me. It was inevitable.
HipHopCanada: Let’s keep in that time frame for now. Can you tell me about the various talent search competitions Jones & Jones would put on and the different names you remember passing through? How connected were they (and you) to the developing Canadian hip-hop scene as time progressed?
Jesse Jones: Oh man, I like this question. I like this question because a lot of the cats that are on your site right now, a lot of the cats in the entertainment game right now, all have parents who would more than likely know about the Jones & Jones movement back in the day and how it helped form what we’re seeing right now. The Jones & Jones Talent Search was kind of like Canadian Idol way before its time. My parents saw a need to do something that would give up and coming talent a chance to shine… this was back in the 80’s before there really were a lot of these types of showcases or competitions in our country. I remember being a little kid running around the various qualification rounds etc. witnessing a lot of young people that today are making some major moves. People like Jully Black way back as a young girl, Snow, Michie Mee and LA Luv performed on the Talent Searches, a lot of these cats way back were a part of this initiative. You’ve got to understand, at this time during the late 80’s there wasn’t anything else of its kind at the time for up and coming talents. It really did pave the way for a lot of what you’re seeing today. As time went on though, my parents really focused more on the reggae side of the music business because, coming from Jamaica, that’s what they knew they could market best right off the bat in a new country. At that time there weren’t a ton of hip-hop shows really going on the way you see it now. I’d say the Talent Searches were how they kept tabs on the wider array of talent because you had categories that included everything from rap to gospel, and even spoken word. It was really a forum for all urban music. The judges were also some pretty big names that at the time, and later on, went on to do some major things. Cats like Farley Flex (now Canadian Idol judge but responsible for Maestro Fresh Wes’s success), Ivan Berry (Canadian music mogul and responsible for the success of Dream Warriors, Michie Mee, and most recently Keshia Chante) – both these guys were integral in the judging and workshop process during the years of the Talent Search and as you can see they are also integral in how our scene has further developed north of the border. As far as the Canadian urban music scene at large and keeping real tabs on its development, that’s where I came in. Parents are always looking to their kids to keep them current [Laughing]. Although I do have some pretty cool parents.
HipHopCanada: What are some of your fondest memories of taking part in your parents’ events and campaigns? I’ve read about you being 5 or 6 years old and heading to bed with some of the largest concerts going down directly above you. Let us know what comes to mind.
Jesse Jones: [Laughing] Right off the bat a few come to mind. I remember countless times where I’d lay on a make-shift bed (which was made up of a couple of blankets and some jackets) in dressing rooms at some of this city’s most notable concert venues back in the day because my parents really didn’t want me staying with a sitter. Or being back stage at Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica at like 6 years old while Shabba and Ninja Man are like steps away from me. I remember being on trips in Jamaica as a kid where we visited Peter Tosh’s house. He gave me a toy car that I still have somewhere to this day. Being around the entertainment industry since birth just naturally makes you a part of it. I remember performing songs as a guest artist on some of the events my parents would put on at the age of like 9 or 10 as a young reggae DJ performing covers of dancehall hits during that time. Most of the time, people just like to see child artists perform because it’s cute, but I knew my stuff and was actually tearing the house up! [Laughing] I actually have tapes if you don’t believe me. Like, can you imagine being 9 years old, having a full out backing band, and being billed as a guest artist on certain shows? DJ Jesse was my stage name [Laughing]… That was my life at that time and, to be honest, I may have been too young to realize what experiences like that would do for me in the long run – it was all just kind of what I knew at the time, but I’m forever thankful for opportunities like that. Whether it was being involved in plays as a kid, performing on shows, or just being backstage as a small kid at some of this country’s biggest urban music shows to date, I give thanks for all those opportunities because you really can’t place a value on them. They will forever keep paying off. This was the life my little brother and I grew up experiencing.
HipHopCanada: Your mother has been recognized in a variety of different platforms including the Toronto Star’s “People with Clout” segment, Gold and Platinum records along with JUNO awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Urban Music Association of Canada, amongst many other things. So, before we discuss your own achievements and aspirations, can you comment on having a family member within the music industry and if there is any sense of pressure to fill their shoes or are you more interested in carving your own path that strays from your family history altogether?
Jesse Jones: I wouldn’t change having parents that are involved in the industry for anything in this world. There’s a reason I am the way that I am today and I attribute that all to both my father and mother. Both of them have been integral in building the Jones & Jones brand and none of their individual or collective successes could have happened without each other’s hard work in the early days. My father, from a tactical, marketing and partnerships perspective and my mother, from a kind of day-to-day operational point of view. Is it tough to have two people that have achieved so much in this country? I wouldn’t say no – the toughest part about things for me is the fact that I’ve directly inherited both of their character traits. I’m definitely the hardest critic on myself, and I see these very traits within both parents all the time. I also have a drive to be incredibly successful to the point of stressing myself out at times because I’m always looking to be further than where I currently am. It’s almost like a complex I’ve developed because I want to achieve so much success which I directly attribute to the types of successes I’ve seen ever since I was growing up. I see this in my little brother as well. The pressure we feel to do well is all self-imposed, but the drive is what I attribute to growing up in the household that we grew up in. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s definitely a positive thing. I attribute the drive and passion I have for what I do today to all of the combined achievements both parents had throughout my formative years. As for my path, I’m interested in carving out my own niche, yes, however I’d be a fool to not heavily lean on and leverage what has been built and implemented for me to take over one day. JJUrban, although my personal imprint, is directly affiliated to the Jones & Jones brand – it wouldn’t exist any other way. So while I’m looking to make a name for Jesse Jones, I carry with me the family torch and I always pay homage to it whenever I’m speaking to anyone about the things I am doing, or have done. I wouldn’t exist without them.
HipHopCanada: So after a lifetime of experience evolving around you and more than enough time to absorb the way things work up here in Canada, you decided to form your own company, an offshoot of Jones & Jones, called JJUrban. What was the main motivation to start your own branch of the company and what were the primary objectives when initially getting things off the ground?
Jesse Jones: JJUrban for me was an opportunity to build upon the Jones & Jones brand, taking elements from it as well as adding my own flavour to things. Originally it was meant to be a younger division of Jones & Jones Productions concentrating more so on music initiatives that included all forms of urban music. Although I’m of Jamaican background and grew up in a household dominated by great reggae music, I also grew up in a country, and city that had many other influences. From a music marketing standpoint, JJUrban was created to work with artists and individuals in these areas and focus on elements that would be able to help them extend their marketability and appeal. Whether they’re a hip-hop artist, R&B, reggae, rock or alternative influences… JJUrban was created as an arm of Jones & Jones that reflected this era and the young cats that were beginning to make moves within it. The most important thing for me when establishing the brand was to ensure I had a solid foundation from which to build upon, and I had that in Jones & Jones. I was able to use that to really just get the name out there through the various networks we already had at our disposal. At that point it was about ensuring that people knew what the brand stood for and what types of stuff we took care of (artist management, bookings, marketing/branding etc.). At the time of conception I wanted people to know that JJUrban was going to be the place that you come to if you wanted to work with people that are committed to extending your brand, be aligned with non-traditional type marketing opportunities, and have a foundation in this country that most other companies in our urban entertainment circles can’t really boast about. While we don’t just deal with urban music/entertainment initiatives, we walk with that swagger and market things with a close attention to the end consumer and if you look at the types of music and marketing that lead in pop culture today it’s no mistake why we’ve adopted this platform. I also didn’t want to be the guy behind the brand that no one ever hears from or sees. As a developing brand I have to be the face of that brand. If you ask people that know me right now what I identify with, their answers will more than likely include JJUrban in there somewhere because wherever I go, whatever I do, I’m always pushing my brand(s).
HipHopCanada: How close do you work with your parents these days? Is Denise or Allan at all involved with the day-to-day affairs of JJUrban?
Jesse Jones: Well these days I’m incredibly busy with my endeavours with Timex Group Canada handling the two fashion watch brands I’ve been tasked to launch here in Canada (Marc Ecko and Nautica Watches). However, with my JJUrban initiatives I’m always in touch with both parents. Even when I’m in the Timex offices during the day putting together some brainstorms on how I want to go to market with my Marc Ecko Watches campaign, I may call my dad or mom and run things by them. It’s nice to have that option one call away because you know their insights are coming from experience and the heart. When I’m looking at a new artist to work with on the JJUrban side of things, or a new partnership or alliance etc. my parents always help out. With JJUrban being a division of Jones & Jones Productions, there’s no escaping the bosses – everything gets run by them, and I don’t mind that because they know what they’re doing. Nowadays too, my parents get stuff coming across their desks that they may not totally be as in touch with and they give me a shout to get my opinion on things. So the communication is very open and never one sided, however don’t mistake things for one second… we fight and argue… it’s natural in business and family type relationships, but it’s healthy. We challenge each other.
HipHopCanada: So at the beginning of the year, Timex Group Canada Inc. took a big step forward up north by announcing that you had been named the National Marketing and Brand Manager for both their Marc Ecko and Nautica timepiece brands… watches to put that in layman’s terms, watches! Tell us how that move came about and is that something JJUrban, as a company, has ventured into, or is this more of a Jesse Jones move and JJUrban is still doing its thing on top of that?
Jesse Jones: This move for me was a God send – it really was a culmination of everything I had been doing up until this point. Every opportunity I was given and made the best of, every internship, every partnership made, every relationship established, every key learning from the earlier days. This opportunity with Timex Group really made all of that stuff worthwhile. It’s funny because I’d never get up in the morning and say to myself, I really want to market watches someday [Laughing]. I mean, when this opportunity presented itself I thought about it long and hard. What was so appealing to me were the types of brands I’d be working on. I’m the type of person that has a lot of passion, and my productivity is directly related to how passionate I am about what I’m working on and who I’m working with. Working on both Marc Ecko and Nautica is like a gift because I identify with both brands. I always knew I loved marketing and branding, but never wanted to put my talents toward brands I didn’t identify with. Taking this opportunity with Timex Group to introduce the Marc Ecko line of watches to the Canadian market and work on the re-brand the Nautica line couldn’t have come at a better time. This move is a Jesse Jones move yes, but the move (and the reason they had interest in me) had everything to do with the relationships and partnerships I had made through my JJUrban initiatives previously. Acquiring the Marc Ecko line of watches meant that Timex Group needed someone who was able to mesh the corporate lifestyle with the urban lifestyle. They wanted a person that was able to leverage the PR, music, fashion, and entertainment marketing initiatives that brought about brand awareness. It had literally, and word for word, been the opportunity for me at this time in my life which is why going to work for me is like getting compensated to do what I love to do. I get to deal with the people I would naturally deal with on any given day. It’s a blessing from God to be where I am right now. At 26 years old, I’m experiencing something totally amazing each and every day of my life.
HipHopCanada: Okay, before anything else I’d like you to describe the key products you’re working with so that people have a full understanding of where you’re coming from. What kind of timepiece am I rocking if I scoop up one of the new Timex joints you’re working with?
Jesse Jones: Well first and foremost, it’s important for people to know that although I work with Timex Group, I don’t work on the Timex brand of products. The company recently changed their name to the Timex Group because of the breadth of brands they have under their umbrella. Brands like Timex (which was probably the first watch to many of us and our parents), Timex Fashion, TX which is a very sexy high end line to Timex, Guess Watches, GC, Nautica, Marc Ecko, and even Versace, and Ferragamo. It’s important to know that I work on the Marc Ecko and Nautica lines specifically; however our group is one of the most powerful groups of watch brands in the world. So yeah, what am I working on? The Marc Ecko line of watches is very exciting right now. It fills a definite void in our watch market for that quality type of watch that makes an impressive statement (to say the least). It blends the crystal icy look with really nice color-ways and blends. The line probably has two main consumers within the 18 – 45 age range: the guy that really wants to flash and shine and make a statement with a timepiece that is quality and gives him swagger, or the guy that also wants to make a defining statement, but is just a little more subtle with it. We have pieces for all ends of the spectrum and one key thing to note is that we deal with Swarovski crystals on these pieces – no conflict diamonds here. Just like the Marc Ecko brand, these watches cater to all backgrounds. There’s no one type of consumer for these watches. If you identify with what’s cool – then you identify with a Marc Ecko watch, it’s that simple. There is a huge buzz around the watch brand right now here in Canada. We actually had to put a hold on our sales team going out to acquire new business because we sold out of inventory as soon as we got it. These watches are the most exciting thing to happen to the watch and jewellery game right now and if you’re not wearing one, you should be. Look out for the PR messaging, and marketing and promo around these brands starting this summer. Oh, and a very exclusive launch and coming out party for the Marc Ecko line will be happening in July so be on the look out for that.
HipHopCanada: Being that Timex has brought someone with your background and experience into their fold for brand managing; it’s safe to assume that the company has embraced the urban market as a key component to their sales strategy, especially with Ecko in the mix. Can you describe how the CANADIAN side of urban music can stand to benefit from a large brand embracing the culture in our country?
Jesse Jones: You’re right – I mean there’s no doubt that Timex Group has realized that there’s a market for a brand like the Marc Ecko watch brand here in Canada and worldwide… there’s no doubt about that. And because the Marc Ecko brand has the elements that it does, it is not possible to market this brand in the typical conventional forms. Marc Ecko himself started from a very grassroots level, and to this day really still has a firm grip on their core consumer. So Timex Group understood this, and thus realized the need to find someone who was connected to those worlds. What I like about being here though is that I’m able to really merge two of my distinct loves: entertainment, and corporate endeavours. I would even say that the company has done more than embraced the “urban market”. It’s about way more than that. Not only have they embraced that, but they’ve opened it up to anyone who participates within that space. Majority of those consuming my watches at retail are not “urban” or black. That’s a significant piece of information there. Urban no longer means black. Urban means cool, and thus the company has embraced a new sense of cool and swagger that really diversifies them within their competitive landscape. They can now go where other groups can’t.
As far as how the Canadian side of urban music can benefit from me being in a role like this, I’d have to say that cats in the game that are developing can most definitely benefit. I’ve been around the industry for a while now, and I’ve seen so many cats in the game that I’d love to one day work with and help brand (as long as they relate back to my core initiatives). As we roll out the watch campaign for Ecko however, there are many possibilities for collaborations with artists, producers, etc. as it relates to content for our websites or the web at large, our event partnerships, our online viral ads, etc. Possibilities are limitless, and what’s even better about the role here is its global exposure. I’m talking to our US counterparts on a daily basis, sometimes 4 or 5 times a day regarding my campaigns, assortments etc. We’re all linked through a global newsletter and blog as well that highlights activities within each of the markets so when we do something here in Canada, the world knows about it. This is exposure and brand assimilation that artists coming up in our entertainment game (especially here in Canada) couldn’t pay enough to receive. It’s a good look all around, both for my brands, and those people we choose to work with. I’ve always understood the benefit of collaboration, sharing of ideas, networking, and willingness to work with outside individuals towards a common goal. There is a virus going around in our Canadian entertainment industry – everyone wants to have their own thing going on and never really looks to collaborate or help others on their way up. If you and I can talk about our ideas and see synergies that will allow us both to flourish, why would we not go that route? It’s this vicious syndrome that I see in our communities all the time. Take this scenario for instance: six different barber shops or salons on the same block, each of them getting very minimal traffic. Sure, some of them may do well, but think what could happen if a few of them came together and ran one or two of those shops (instead of six on the block), now you maximize your exposure, limit your competition, limit your overhead, and probably have way more consumer traffic because of it. What I’m trying to say with this example is that we need to open our minds more and collaborate in this country. It’s hard enough for us to make global noise as it is, we don’t need to make it any harder on ourselves.
HipHopCanada: Can you let us know some of strategies you’re working on that will incorporate the Canadian scene into your marketing or overall strategies?
Jesse Jones: I don’t really want to give too much away to the competition, but with Nautica, I’m really focusing on re-establishing the presence at point of sale. Interesting merchandising concepts, in-store experiences etc. We’re working with the awesome people over at Nautica corporate in New York as well to loop into a lot of the global strategies they’re establishing for the brand as a whole. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Nautica, so you can count on seeing something surrounding that in the market soon. With regards to Marc Ecko, as far as the watches go we’re really catching the Canadian industry by storm right now. We’re bulldozing the jewellery trade as we’re the new watch brand that no one’s ever seen before. Trendy watch destination locations nation-wide are all a buzz. Instead of going into apparel stores (which most would think of as the best first option seeing as Ecko clothing is so huge) we’re focusing on jewellery stores and watch destination locations first and foremost. We are a watch brand and thus want to be where other watches are. We want to sit in the same showcases as brands like Fossil, Guess, Nixon, Kenneth Cole, Seiko, Citizen, Nautica, and Diesel. Throughout the development of these watch brands in Canada one thing will remain the same: we are the company we keep. Along with the attention to point of sale, with Ecko more specifically, our focus on core entertainment driven initiatives is key. This means everything from PR, to music, to fashion, to web – all of the core people within these areas will be looked at as far as collaborations are concerned.
HipHopCanada: Can you also talk about the relationship you’ve created between Timex and the Stylus DJ Awards?
Jesse Jones: For sure – I’ve always been a fan of the Stylus Group. Both Mike and Click are great guys and two people I’ve respected for a long time now. In my previous work with the marketing firm in Toronto I was once a part of, we were always looking for the right ways in which to make something happen with Stylus, but it just never materialized. When I accepted the post here at Timex Group they were one of the first people I made alliances with. Actually, Click hit me up almost immediately… he’s good at keeping tabs on where people go, especially if there are opportunities to make some things pop [Laughing] – I really respect that guy. So we chatted, Mike and I started hammering out details, and before we knew it the deal was done. We’re going to be the official timer for the awards show, so when you enter the venue you’ll see our branded timer on all the screens counting down to the start of the show. We’re also constructing a Marc Ecko Watches lounge environment where artists and DJs will be able to check out product and participate in interviews with our Marc Ecko watches on site correspondent. We’ll then develop a wrap up video of all that we do and release it virally to continue the PR buzz. Oh, and we’re doing the official Encore party that weekend with Bryan Brock and T-RexXx and their team – we’re the official timer for that event as well where DJs have an allotted amount of time to rock the crowd and the best group wins. We’ll be branded throughout the venue, but in a seamless fashion. I hate the idea of just putting banners up – the first thing I said to these guys when we were talking through concepts is that I’m only going to do the event if we can brand in a seamless and integrated fashion. If we can’t do that, and we’re just slapping banners up, I don’t want to do it. It’s about finding new and innovative ways to make your brand stand out, without really standing out. You feel me? All in all, a partnership with Stylus makes sense for the Marc Ecko brand as DJing, street culture, and music have always been a core pillar for the brand since its conception.
HipHopCanada: What do you feel is holding back the Canadian scene from a business perspective? The talent is here, but consumer support for the music has always been mediocre at best. I know you had brought up the fact that a lack of corporate sponsorship and brand-connections was key to the genre’s stagnant ways… can you speak on that?
Jesse Jones: We need more talented and aggressive individuals on the business side of things. Individuals that can merge the separation between the artists, initiatives, and the boardrooms. If we want the artists/personalities and our music to have a chance, we need to have individuals on the other side of the desks who understand their interests, their art forms, and are able to recommend and apply synergy where it fits for the best of the overall business. My role at Timex Group is not to launch the career of an up and coming artist (whatever the genre), but if there’s a synergy that makes sense for a campaign or initiative that I’m working on, no matter what type of music it is, I’m interested in seeing what we can do. The reason the Canadian urban music scene is limited isn’t necessarily because the music or the talent is lacking. It’s just that there aren’t many decision makers that are necessarily familiar with this area of music and the best ways to apply it and extend its shelf life. You can’t blame anyone specifically. Executives are going to recommend personalities and music they’re familiar with – it’s all about comfort zones really. Urban music sells everywhere else, and is the music that dictates the direction of pop and street culture as we know it, so there’s definitely power within it. It’s just where and when it makes the most sense. The urban music industry in Canada also needs more open minds. Look, I grew up in a Jamaican household filled with reggae, soul, funk, gospel etc. But that doesn’t mean that as I grow into a professional and a business person that I can’t mess with other genres of music, business, or individuals. Our urban music cats in this country need to be more open-minded in order to get their stuff out. A perfect example of this is k-os. Love him or hate him, and I love him, that dude exemplifies what reflecting your surroundings and staying true to them can do for your music. He meshes all forms of his Canadian experience and look what happens – he sells. He also has a good team around him, good business minded individuals that can help him extend his brand and market him in various areas. In this day an age you can’t do one thing or else you’re done. The evolution of the internet and the change in consumption habits of buyers has made artists need to go back to the drawing board man. You’ve got to be more than a rapper or a singer nowadays, and in Toronto I see so many cats that are rappers, and their managers are their boys that they grew up with. Now I’m not knocking anyone’s movement, keep doing what you do – however, I feel like we need way more up and coming business minded individuals to help direct the multitude of artists we have in our cities. So many artists, but no one who can lead them into the boardrooms to get real deals done. I’m happy to see cats like Kardinal finally breaking in a big way. There are so many hip-hop artists coming up in this country that I’m a fan of… cat’s like Blessed (well he’s a reggae artist, but probably one of the best unsigned people we have on our soil), King Avalanche, Tona (love that Dialtone joint), DJ Wristpect (a grinder), JD Era, Jonny Roxx even has this tune right now I’m feeling, Drake, Famous, Classified and many others I can’t even name right now. These dudes are doing something right because I know about them. But there are a lot of cats I feel are missing that business-minded element, and what’s refreshing is I’m sure most of them would agree with me. The type of cat in their crew that will try to not just build music, but build lasting themes and anthems that get customized for movies, advertisements, government campaigns that are trying to reach out to troubled youth etc. This is where you can really start making some inroads and extending yourself as an artist. This is how I think, and I know for a fact that there are a few more young people coming up in the game that think this way as well: business minded young people making some serious headway in this city… people like Yankee Red and Saint Chris of Great Lakes Music, Adrian Fenty at New Era Cap, T-RexXx at the Remix Project, Lauren Boodram, Daniella Ettiene, Nova Browning, Sonya Bhatia, Duane Bobbsemple, Get Janet, Brazen Hussay, Bossy Girls, Yvonne Kai of Longoverdew.com, Bryan Brock, Shannae Ingleton and countless others – all these people have that entrepreneurial flare to step outside of the box. Hopefully we can level off the imbalance in proportion to the many amazing artists that exist out there so that we can begin helping each other a lot more. Finally – a message to all up and coming rappers. Let’s stop watching BET, wearing shades in the parties, and talking about cars we don’t own. We don’t live in New York, LA, or Atlanta, we live in Toronto, Canada. Let’s just talk about what we actually live, experience, and feel good about that because once you believe in yourself, others will too. It’s all about passion – whether you’re an aspiring artist, or an aspiring business person. It’s hard at times, VERY hard… but as long as you believe in what you live each and every day and are true to that, people will start realizing your worth. I’m a firm believer in this, even though I get discouraged many times. You don’t have to just “pop bottles”. You can open up RRSP accounts too.
HipHopCanada: People are going to be happy to find out that there’s someone with Canada’s cultural interests in mind working the big brands and marketing to our country. What’s your overall objective with the position, beyond the urban culture connection or short-term marketing tactics?
Jesse Jones: What are my goals in this role? I want to impact the business positively and profitably with my spin on how to market products and brands. I’m also wanting to soak up as much knowledge as possible and in turn create marketing opportunities for my brands that will result in more awareness and turns at retail. At 26 years old, I’m in an amazing position with people around me that have incredible amounts of corporate knowledge. I’m looking to channel my passion and desire while beef up my knowledge of things I may now know yet. We can always learn. They brought me in to really do what I do best, and that’s to market and brand. I’m never going to be short on that. As long as I’m here Nautica and Marc Ecko watches will be at the top of Canadian minds everywhere. Ideally that top of mind stuff translates to the watches being on their wrists as well.
HipHopCanada: Aside from that, are you still pursuing a career in Entertainment Law?
Jesse Jones: [Laughing] Wow, you really did your research huh? My mom and dad are going to be reading this I’m sure so I should say yes [Laughing). You know what, at this time I’d have to say no. I’m in a very good position right now with opportunities to travel, do what I love, and learn a whole lot. I’m enrolled in the school of life right now and this is the hardest degree to earn, it’s definitely not a 4 year program. At this point in time I’m focused on becoming one of the best marketers this country has ever seen while building two exciting watch brands as a Brand Manager with the Timex Group.
HipHopCanada: You’ve been doing some work with an artist by the name of King Avalanche… What can we expect from him?
Jesse Jones: A whole lot of heat. Dude has been doing his thing for a while now, everyone knows that. What’s interesting is that his mother and my mother and father are good friends. They used to act in plays together back in Jamaica and here in Canada so the history is strong there. We knew each other all along, but Av and I recently came together on a business standpoint in 2007 and I act as an added layer to the overall movement creating brand alliances, marketing strategies, and synergies wherever possible. I also look at content he and super producer 12 Keyz create and see what other elements and non-traditional strategies can be added to them to potentially make the product even more marketable. He recently made top 20 independent videos on a YouTube/G-Unit contest that made headlines last year, and there are a list of joints set for release this year that will really get people talking. One thing about Av, he delivers real material. He isn’t talking about anything he isn’t living. He’s been through it all, and his distinct raspy voice reveals that. Expect a lot from this dude in the future – the team elements are really coming together. With everyone from Saint Chris and Yankee Red (93.7 WBLK / Great Lakes Movement / Royal Cartel) to 12 Keyz, to myself, and finally Av, things are looking really good for everyone involved. The weather network has been predicting an Avalanche this summer so I’m hoping everyone’s preparing themselves. Store up your food and stuff… it’s going to be a hard it.
HipHopCanada: You had also been doing some work with Kris Baby Boy, can you give us some insight as to what happened with that situation?
Jesse Jones: I am impressed with the homework you’ve done on this interview man [Laughing] like seriously… you guys know everything! Yeah, I did some work with Baby Boy back in the day, did some shows with Marques Houston in Ottawa (where Baby Boy is from). He’s now in Toronto pursuing his career more seriously, modelling etc. A few years older, wiser, and he’s beginning to realize the things I told him back then made sense [Laughing]. When you’re a teen artist you really want things to happen right away. He has talent, but we needed to be a bit more patient while we harnessed it. It’s funny cause we’re in touch again as we speak and looking to see what possibilities may exist in the future.
HipHopCanada: Aside from the artists you’re working with directly, who are you feeling in Canada?
Jesse Jones: Well, this is a tough question because whoever I leave out will feel like they just aren’t good enough [Laughing]. Um, let me think… urban music or just straight Canadian music? I like Feist… she’s hot right now and I have to admit, I haven’t always been on her music, but I am now… Michael Buble just has this way about him that is incredibly marketable… I dig it. Julie Crochetiere is a super dope blues type sounding artist that is really buzzing right now and I’m liking her stuff a lot. As far as urban, well I listed a few before… Avalanche for sure and it’s not ‘cause I’m working with him, he just has a hot sound to him. Blessed, JD Era, Gee Wunder, Lindo P, Rochester (love that Pull Up joint), Erik Flowchild (cool up and coming cat), Drake is interesting too… he’s really got an understanding for what’s missing in the game. He’s a full out actor, rapper, singer, brings that softer vibe for the ladies… he knows how to develop a package. Personalities like Mark Strong are really doing some major things – most know him from NBA XL and formerly the Morning Rush Show on Flow, but did you know he’s also the voice of the Juno Awards? Most wouldn’t know that… that’s big. They should have never taken the Morning Rush off of Flow. DJs and producers are doing it too: 12 Keyz, Boi-1da, Mr. Jayy, Psych Ward cats, Ebony and Ivory Soundcrew (big in the business), Team Canada DJs, and cats like DJ Wristpect. I’ve got to give you a story about this cat. I was working with a big show during Caribana weekend in ‘07, it was the Sean Paul and NeYo show. Our on stage intermission DJ cancelled and it was the morning of the show and my mom (who was running the production of the event along with my dad who MC’d it) asked me who I knew that could fill in. I called Wristpect that morning and needed him to get to Molson Ampitheatre in an hour for soundcheck and set up. He was there in 45 minutes with all the materials he needed. That’s what I like man, people who seize the opportunities presented to them. I’ll never forget that scenario. DJ ConTEJous, a cat that DJs, produces, and plays all types of drums. He’s doing some major stuff as well. I mentioned Tona already, who I think has such a distinct sound and clever artillery. I was just on his MySpace the other day. Page is a cat that kind of just brings that balling essence to the game here in Canada… like, he has a track called “Ballin’ is My Hobby”, and I’ve seen him in and around the city…. He’s one dude I actually believe, and if he is lying, he has me fooled [Laughing]. I’m forever a Kardi fan, I can’t really say enough about that dude. I mean, the recent signing with Akon, the hot track we’re hearing blowing up radio right now… all I can say is, it’s about time and we’re all happy to see him doing his thing. He never changed, just kept doing his thing – and now look. Outside of hip-hop I’m really a fan of Zaki Ibrahim, Estelle, groups like Morning Electric, Church Boyz (my younger brother’s group that he produces for. They’re really making some headway in a vibrant genre that people are now dubbing Truth Music – I’m really big on them right now and probably will be doing some thing with them soon). Jully Black…. so happy to see the way she’s revolutionizing her brand as well. Needless to say, we have so much talent in this country and I feel like we’re on the brink of making even more major things happen.
HipHopCanada: Thanks for your time Jesse. We’re about to wrap this up so if there’s anything you wanted to comment on that I didn’t ask feel free to bring it up now.
Jesse Jones: To be totally honest man, I think we’ve covered it. You guys did your homework man; you went deep in the history on this one [Laughing]. If nothing else I want people reading this article to understand one thing. I am in no way trying to say that “I’ve made it”. I am who I am, nothing more and nothing less… and if you know me you know I’m never satisfied. This write up is just a snapshot of an ongoing journey and I look forward to having more and more to talk about as the years move on. I’m definitely not stopping here.
HipHopCanada: Any shout-outs?
Jesse Jones: Yes, most definitely. First and foremost you guys (Jesse Plunkett and the HipHopCanada team) for actually doing a piece like this and feeling that I’m worthy of this type of recognition. I’m honoured. You’ve done a lot of great stories on here with a lot of great individuals, I’m just happy to be a part of it all. I appreciate it and it’s great to see the music community realizing that there’s more to its development than just the actual music side of things. I’m not sure the music people in this country realize how integral you guys are to the future of the movement. I need to thank God especially – for keeping an eye out for me in times where he could have just let me fall to the wayside (especially throughout this year). I want to shout-out my parents as well: Allan and Denise Jones for not only bringing me into this world, but for affording me opportunities you couldn’t put a price tag on. Not only that, but I’m a firm believer that being raised by the both of them, and seeing them both in my home as I grew up, has had a solid impact on both me and my younger brother – so thanks mom and dad. I don’t say that enough probably but I’m a direct result of you guys. To my younger brother, who, although younger, is taller and sometimes wiser I think. Dude has values man, and sometimes I find myself admiring him more than he probably knows. Jerimi, you are a success in all that you do and pursue and will continue to be that way. I respect and love you. McMaster is crazy for having so many recounts and not giving you the student council Presidency you ended up winning two times over before they allowed a disqualified candidate back into the race – but I’m not bitter [Laughing]. I look forward to seeing you graduate this summer. I want to also shout-out some industry people to: David “Click” Cox of Universal Music. When I got back to Toronto after finishing my communications degree at the University of Ottawa I was hungry to make some inroads in this city/country and carve out my own path. Click was one of the first people I called and although he was a busy guy, he told me that I could come into his offices and just chat a bit with him. I took time off of my part time job and drove to the Victoria Park offices and thought we’d be in there for 10 minutes before he told me he had to jet. He ended up letting me spill my heart out about where I want to go with my pursuits and my career, and after a 3 hours of building and him listening to my dreams, we’ve been cool ever since. Ivan Berry, a constant inspiration and also someone who always makes time for up and comers he believes in. You are an inspiration. Farley Flex – definite shout-out to you man, Mr. Canadian Idol. You’ve revolutionized yourself many times over and you’re a good example to follow as well. Jon Ramos, Neil Shankman (aka The Shank) and the team from REMG, Wan Lucas, Carey Riley, and Nicole Chrysostom from my Sony BMG internship days, and Dwight Drummond from City TV – You’re just a dope reporter man. You made it cool for young black males to aspire to TV/news etc. Plus, you live on my street which I think is too cool [Laughing]. As far as opportunities for exposure go, I want to thank all the media outlets I’ve had the opportunity to directly work with up to this point: Much Music for inviting me in to audition with them more than a few times and then later giving me the opportunity to host the 2006 Much Music VJ Search Roadshow Tour across the country. That experience was invaluable, and I thank you. MTV for also inviting me in to audition before they officially launched – what ever happened to that by the way? [Laughing] Definitely cool opportunities all around that really helped grow me as a person. All the radio stations I’ve worked with, campus radio, CHUO 89.1FM for giving me and my boy Scott our own show back in 2004 (What’s The Deal?!) and HOT 89FM and Rob Mise for giving me a job straight out of University after I ambushed my way into the Juno awards in Ottawa that year in an attempt to network with whoever I could. I want to thank Telus Mobility too. They were really good about being flexible around my schedule while working with them when I got back here to Toronto (after school) so that I could pursue things that eventually landed me where I am now. Blackberry gets a shout-out too as I’m attached to my Curve [Laughing]. As far as getting my first real start in the corporate side of marketing, I’d be crazy to not thank the wonderful people at Youthography (now the Y Syndicate), most notably Rick Tremblay, Max Valliquette, Kevin Goodman, Raila Gutman, and Jeff Roach, for taking the chance on a young kid with not much corporate experience at the time, but a willingness to learn and a lot of determination and hustle. You guys gave me an opportunity of a lifetime that I will totally never forget. I have to thank my new team over at the Timex Group of Canada: Paul Sine, Leo Fournier, and the rest of my team at the Markham offices. Thank you for giving me a chance to do what comes naturally to me. I look forward to learning a lot being around all of you. I can’t forget my core group of friends and those who have come and gone – you know who you are. “The Man Dem”, who stick with me and support me through whatever crazy venture or idea I come up with and are there at every party or celebration. My brother Jerimi AKA Jeri, Andrew Gayle AKA Big Diez, Scott Bryan, Alain Vixamar, Chris Martin, Duff Media himself, Chib!, Fitz, Mike Springette, Lamont Saunders AKA Chappelle AKA Lost, AKA “where the heck did he go?!”, and all the rest of the gang who are there through thick and thin. CraigSter, for being a kick ass photographer. And lastly to anyone who’s taken the time to read this (I know it’s slightly long), to the new generation of industry people looking to help take things to another level in this country, to anyone with ambition and big dreams to change the game as they see it – I salute you. I look forward to sharing in a great deal of success with you all.
Written by Jesse “Dutchy” Plunkett for HipHopCanada