In this day and age, anyone with a mic and a computer can call themselves a rapper. People will put out a track about any trending topic for a few clicks, and are even less discerning about their beat selection and public image. Topaz Jones is more analytical than most. Even during our interview, he chews on his thoughts before carefully spitting the words out. Sharing what he wants and no more. Like an embarrassing rap name that he used to go by – that’s for Nardwaur to dig up. Right now Jones, 20, is focused on the present and his new project, The Honeymoon Suite.
I was first introduced to the New Jersey native by Thelonious Martin in the summer of 2013 after an interview. It seemed to me, at the time, that The Honeymoon Suite was nearly complete, but Jones is just as critical about his music as he is about the story behind his rap name, which isn’t a bad thing.
In a world of cookie cutter music, thoroughly analyzing your work prevents you from playing the numbers game. Artists like Future, Juicy J and 2 Chainz can turn around guest verses quicker than McDonald’s turns out fries. But for an up-and-coming emcee like Topaz Jones, the ability to scrutinize every sound on every song only ensures that their project will stand out.
I sat down with Topaz Jones this week to discuss his start in music, the story behind The Honeymoon Suite, working with his dad on the project and what he hopes to achieve after it drops.
Photos by Durty Harry
Mass Appeal: Let’s start off by discussing how you got into rapping. How long have you been spitting?
Topaz Jones: I started out writing songs; R&B, soul, funk and shit. My pops is a funk musician, I grew up around him, watching him in the studio and picked up his habits. I think I started writing songs at seven, eight years old. A year after that, I started getting more into hip hop through my cousins. At that time I just thought R&B songs were so simple compared to rap songs. One verse of a rap song, that would be a whole R&B song. So I took it on as a challenge to try and write more lyrics and be more descriptive.
MA: Has your dad heard any of your music?
TJ: Yeah, he’s actually featured on the album. He always supported me but never pushed me towards music. So for him to really recognize how far I’ve come musically and to want to be a part of this record was really important to me.
MA: You’ve said before that you’re a performer first. Can you explain what you mean by that?
TJ: I had a lot of opportunities early on – people don’t really know this but I’m a practicing Buddhist. So through my Buddhist organization they’d say, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be cute if we had the little kid rap in front of the other Buddhist members?’ Then I would just do that. There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than trying to explain and relate to people as a hip hop artist when you have a room full of old Buddhists members.
MA: What would you rap about to them?
TJ: I would do my regular raps at first, then throw something in every now and then to relate it back. I remember back in the day when no one would give us a shot, me and Thelonious [Martin], and this girl Lindsey Lombard we used to put together shows. Her mother would help us out and throw in some money up-front and we would throw these shows at the local art museum and different places. We would get people out, back when we didn’t have any material out. We were just young people trying to get nice on stage. I credit a lot of my success to being comfortable as a performer first. By the time I really started working on my studio material I was able to think in my head. Like, what’s going to connect to a person live, as well as in headphones.
MA: How did you meet Thelonious?
TJ: I don’t even remember because we went to high school together. I must have been 13, 14 when I first met him and he was just another cat. He was actually rapping back then.
MA: Oh, word?
TJ: He’s going to get mad at me, but he was a terrible rapper. I didn’t want to tell him. We were all getting started, just young rappers in this one town, so we didn’t want to throw shade on nobody. Everybody was trying to get together and cypher, work on records and stuff. One day he just started making beats. His first couple beats, they were very simple but, you know he was inspired by Dilla. He was like, ‘I saw what Dilla did and I’m in love with the way he was able to capture these sounds and make them into something completely new.’
He really developed very rapidly. He grinded. We were a source of inspiration for each other in terms of keeping each other on our toes and always working to one-up the other one. I think that’s how we came to work together because we were the main ones always going to be in the studio. We would always pick the studio over going out to party with chicks or hang out with homies.
MA: How did you come up with the name Topaz Jones?
TJ: It’s really not that great of a story, I gotta come up with a better story for it at some point. I had a really bad rap name originally that I’m not going to say.
MA: You’re not going to say it?
TJ: No. I went into high school and I was like, I gotta change this shit, so I started looking around at different words and names, what jumped out at me. I always wanted to keep Jones, I really fuck with my last name. I was in this filmmaking class, freshmen year, and our homework every weekend was to watch three classic movies and write about them. I got into a Hitchcock kick and one of Hitchcock’s movies that was playing on TCM was called “Topaz.” I watched the movie and I always had the word in my head from then on. Then, a couple months later it came on again and I decided to run with it.
At first I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out. But people started responding to it, like, ‘Yeah, that sounds dope!’ By junior or senior year teachers were calling me [Topaz]. At that point it just became more of a general nickname than my artist name per se.
MA: So how many projects have you dropped under the name Topaz Jones?
TJ: I dropped the first solo project my senior year of high school, and that was all me and Thelonious in my basement hatching out ideas, developing our sound. After that, I did two collaboration tapes with this collective, Tastemakers New Jersey, a bunch of up-and-coming cats that had the same kind of approach to music – creating hip hop that draws from that classic ‘90s aesthetic, but also experiments with more futuristic ideas sonically.
I did another EP with $aint Ros$, that was called 106 Miles to Chicago, that was more recent. Then I faded away for a little bit, just to reinvent myself and work on this project. The Honeymoon Suite is my first true, artistic statement that’s completely accurate to whom I want to be as an artist.
MA: Do you feel like it’s your first project then?
TJ: I do. There’s a lot of love for my past projects, I still meet a lot of fans who really connect with the old shit, and some of the raw talent that was shown on there, but now I think I’m far more refined. I really got into a groove artistically, and creatively, and found my niche. I think it’s a lot more of a diverse sound, which is always what I was going for.