Delaware’s music scene may not be considered a major market by industry standards, but the list of Delaware natives making waves in the mainstream is continuing to grow. From a legend like Young Guru, who was Jay-Z’s in-house engineer, to new school talent like producer Jonathan “Sap” King, Delaware is on the right track.
Most recently, New York’s DJ Self stopped through Delaware and the advice he had for local artists was to take a chance and travel to a major market.
One of Delaware’s most gifted musicians is producer Jon Conner. The veteran of the local music scene has been rapping and producing since the ’90s. After his career as a rapper didn’t take off like he had hoped, he pushed his focus to production.
In 2003, Conner began to work with an artist in Nashville called Haystak, who was newly signed to Def Jam Records. Haystak is a rapper from Tennessee, where the genre of country rap has begun to flourish over the years. Conner’s work with Haystak eventually lead to an opportunity to produce for country rapper Big Smo. In 2014, After Warner Brothers signed Big Smo, he released his major debut album “Kuntry Livin,” which was produced by Conner and has sold over 200,000 copies to date.
Smo would go on to have his own reality show and tour, which would give Conner the push he needed to move permanently to Nashville. Most recently Conner has been working with Average Joe Entertainment, a major player in the genre of country rap music. Conner produces for the group I4NI (pronounced eye-for-an-eye), which is signed to the label and consists of rappers Stump and David Ray. The collective has just released their new EP “Muscle Car” and recently brought their southern hip-hop pride to Tailgates in Newark. The show was a homecoming for Conner who performed alongside I4NI in front of fans, friends, and family.
We talked with Conner about his work for Average Joe, starting his own label, and the misconceptions about the south.
Q: What has the workload been like since we last talked in 2014?
A: Well, I am not working with Big Smo at the moment. I’ve been working with I4NI on their new EP “Muscle Car,” which I’m actually rapping on. In the past two years, I’ve been blessed to work with artists like Bubba Sparxxx, Colt Ford and The Lacs, to name a few. But the main focus has been I4NI. Besides producing I am always doing videography and music video as well so that’s always been a passion for me alongside music.
Q: How did you originally connect with I4NI and Average Joe Entertainment?
A: Well after the Smo situation stopped, I was kind of looking for my next challenge. I’ve known David Ray for a while so I hit him up to see what he was doing. I had noticed that they were building a strong social media presence similar to Big Smo when he first came out. So I told him that with all the knowledge I had gained from seeing how the mainstream industry works, that I thought I could be a good asset to help them. I ended up in the studio with David and we just started cutting records because we just had a great working relationship. The music we were making led to a deal with Average Joe’s and we haven’t looked back yet. We have been making so much music that we really didn’t know what to do with it all so we also started our own label call Dammit Boy Entertainment. So not only do we have a situation with Average Joes, we also get to develop our own talent.
Q: Does country rap have a majority Caucasian fan base? If so, does the message of southern pride ever seem controversial since it is a branch of hip-hop?
A: Yes, I would say that we have a majority white fan base, but we also have fans from all races and ethnic backgrounds. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about what the South is really all about. There is definitely racism here like anywhere else, but the majority of people in the South love everybody. One thing we don’t stand for is racism, which is why we partnered with “F Racism,” and they’re one of the sponsors on our tour. Many of the artists I deal with consider themselves part of what is called the New South. It’s all about southern pride, minus the racism and segregation.