Delaware might be nicknamed the “Small Wonder,” but soon people might be wondering a little more about the First State.
With big names like Sap, DJ Bran, and Aviator Keyz making waves in the mainstream, I think it’s time we add one more to the list of growing stars from Delaware. Meet 38-year old Delaware native Jon Conner.
Conner is a veteran in the Delaware music scene; rapping and producing since the ’90s and making a name for himself as one of Delaware’s most recognizable faces in hip-hop. After releasing an array of projects and videos over the years, Conner understands the value of hard work in the music industry.
Though Conner’s solo career hasn’t quite taken off as he had hoped, his production career is in full throttle as he is on the verge of helping pioneer one of music’s newest subgenres called “country rap.”
One of the latest stars to this genre is the wildly popular Big Smo, who just released his major label debut “Kuntry Livin.” Conner, who produced the majority of “Kuntry Livin,” also produced the intro for Smo’s new self-titled reality show on A&E.
Conner has relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, to continue his work within the country hip-hop genre. He’s built a name for himself after years of working with a number of independent artists, like Haystak, Bubba Sparxxx and now, Big Smo.
Conner, a Dickinson graduate, has finally seen his hard work pay off, and there’s no telling what could be next as the country hip-hop fan base grows. The video for the single “Workin” has garnered more than 2.5 million views on YouTube.
I had the chance to talk with Conner about his recent success with Big Smo, the next step for his career, and how Delaware has shaped who he is today.
Q: So how did you get into hip-hop in the first place?
A: Well I always loved hip-hop from a young age. I think once groups like the Beastie Boys came out it gave me the inspiration to give it a shot myself. I started out as a battle rapper and kind of just moved from there. I was doing talent shows throughout school when I was growing up, but once I finally graduated is when I decided to go full throttle with it.
Q: What led you to get into production?
A: Well just like any rapper, we need beats. So back then I had went and bought my first beat machine and the rest was kind of history. I taught myself how to grind and hustle to get what I needed for my career. I have been recording and producing professionally since 1996. I have dropped three albums and four mixtapes and an EP all in the streets. I have been through two different recording deals and each time ended up putting out the album in the streets after the budgets ran out.
Q: Were you more focused on production or rapping earlier in your career?
A: Back in the day I was doing one or the other usually. Sometimes I’d focus or be busier in productions, but at the end of the day I love making music as an artist as well. Production has really opened a lot of doors for me to make connections with people in the industry.
Q: So now that your music production career is taking off, are you done making music as an artist?
A: I will always love making music, it’s something I’m always going to do either way. Being a producer has provided me the opportunity to provide for my family more than rapping did, but I’ll still record my own music, even if I don’t end up using them for myself.
Q: How did you hook up with Big Smo?
A: Well since about 2003, I’ve been taking trips down to Nashville to work with an artist by the name of Haystak. At the time he had just signed a deal with Def Jam South and was recording a lot of material. In the process of working with him I met Big Smo, who was working with him as well. I was working with Haystak on a couple tracks that infused country and hip-hop, and he wasn’t really feeling it. He said he wanted to be more of a Southern rapper then a country rapper. So long story short a few of those tracks got transferred over to Big Smo and he ended up using the beats. One of the beats became Smo’s biggest hit “Kickin it in Tennessee.”
Q: How did you manage to produce his entire major label debut album, “Kuntry Livin?”
A: Well when Smo got his deal with Warner Brothers, I was thinking like “well I hope I can at least get a few tracks on the album.” Once we talked to the label, they said they liked what we had going on and to just continue working how we had been before. They ended up hiring me to handle the production as well as videotape behind the scenes. We just submitted track after track and it just worked out that we were making hit after hit and the label loved it.
Q: How do you feel growing up in Delaware has affected you as a musician today?
A: I love Delaware so much. Delaware taught me how to really grind and get my music out there. It taught me about consistency and always staying focused on what’s next. I really didn’t do a whole lot of major artist production but I continued to make beats and get my stuff out there and after a while it ended up getting me a hit that garnered millions of YouTube views. It’s all about refining your craft and building a fan base along the way.
Q: What is next for you at this point?
A: Well I am working on building a record label now that we have the resources to do it. I think it’s only smart we continue to work and build this new subgenre. There’s a whole group of people out here that are as country as can be but love hip-hop, and they need a voice as well. So when you mix that country feel and add a little boom to it, you get a beautiful thing.
NAME: Jon Conner
INSTAGRAM & TWITTER: @jonconner302