Stepping off the plane at Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA), the warmth and smell of the ocean rush to greet you. The drive to Stony Hill offers a quick, picturesque tour of the island’s capital. Down the sea-surrounded airport road, past the cultural heritage sites throughout Kingston, follow the signs until you stumble upon a series of narrow, winding, hilly roads. The sharp curves and steep slopes are home to some of the most panoramic, awe-inspiring views of the city below. To many, the quiet neighborhood is an escape from the bustling city environment.
For Zachry Jones, Stony Hill is the place he knows as home. It’s where he left for school every weekday morning. It’s where he discovered a team of trustworthy, lifelong yaadies. Its streets are the ones that hold his fond childhood memories and mischievous adolescent secrets. It’s the neighborhood that has watched him transition from boyhood innocence to confident manliness. It’s where he first fell in love with the art of music. It’s the place he returns to every chance he gets after venturing anywhere. It’s the place that has molded him into Zac – the man and the musician.
His family and closest friends are most intimately connected with the mature man, still in his late teens but wiser than most his age. Zac Jones, the musician, is the one that the rest of the world is rapidly becoming more familiar with – a versatile rapper whose songs encompass the fun vices of youth culture, personal anecdotes about his relationships, and his Jamaican heritage. “Being from Jamaica teaches you a lot, because you have to be street smart. It teaches you militancy and how to deal with a lot of different situations,” Zac recalls. “Growing up in Jamaica has had a huge impact on my music and life in general. Most of my music is based off of my life in Jamaica so far. I listen to a lot of dancehall, reggae, as well as rap and hip hop. So all those influences give me a different perspective.”
His musical tastes have undoubtedly influenced his lyrical style and rhythmical structure. They have also aided in the formation of the musical collective – $tony Crew – with which Zac associates. The crew includes the group of friends he has always known, many of whom were included in his Justin Williams-directed debut video, Tommy Hill$pitta. Zac reflects on the formation of the crew, “most of the members live in Stony Hill and we hang out there most of the time. So my bredren Keemo Jed came up with the name $tony as the official crew name. The other members are Justin, Scout, Benjam|n, Domo, Fico Don, Simon Dacosta, Five Star and Dev. But only Benjam|n, Simon and I are artistes.” Born out of the friends’ collaboration is Stony Recordings – the independent label and studio behind many of Zac’s tracks – and the new sound they have invented and aptly titled, Yaad Rap.
Yaad Rap cleverly weaves Jamaican culture, lyrics, melodies, and style into traditional rap and hip-hop music. It is certainly what will set Zac apart in a music world where rappers have lost the essence and niche that differentiates them from the wide pool of talent. “It’s very important,” Zac explains as he stresses the importance of infusing his art with his roots. “Because as a musician a lot of your music and life has to do with where you grew up, so especially for me being a rapper from Jamaica, I need the listeners to be able to understand me fully, and also to get a different experience from what they’re used to. $tony’s bringing that new Yaad Rap sound, which is something new. There are a lot of people who’ve been doing it before me and trying to get it out there. I want to give Jamaica the voice it deserves and pave a way for the rest of the Jamaican youths who love rap like I do.”
Bringing the yaad rap sound to the global stage comes easy for Zac, who currently attends university on the western coast of the United States. Lines like “I got that scotch bonnet, put your mouth and your crotch pon it, kotch pon it,” from his track, Love Docta, he effortlessly interchanges English and patois – Jamaican creole. On more collaborative songs like What I Do It For and Love with Los Angeles based rapper, Felly, he confidently delivers lyrics that trace his island heritage. His melodic art is the perfect blend between intentional punch lines and a talent that comes naturally. “In terms of writing music, I really don’t have one set way of doing it. It comes in different ways, sometimes [lyrics] just come to me, other times, I have to sit down and construct it. A lot of my inspiration has to do with my personal experiences,” he says. “Like [my song], Col’ World was written based on some fucked up relationship shit I was going through, and when I heard the beat, [the lyrics] all just came to me. And people fuck with it because it’s just a part of life – it’s real and they can relate to it.”
For someone his age, Zac has a keen understanding of himself and an awareness of his innate gifts that enables him to define his artistry and sound for himself – from writing lyrics and developing his rhythmic sound to making and selecting beats. “To me that’s the easiest part,” he explains about selecting beats. “I know I want to use beats based on the first 5- 10 seconds. It has to be able to capture the listeners’ attention too, but if when the beat drops it’s nice, then the lyrics just come to me without hearing the rest.” It’s this smart ability that will drive the momentum for his music and create the balance between stardom and the reality of his humble beginnings in Stony Hill.
Photos Courtesy of Zac Jones