Some have called it the rise of “Working Man” rap, others have coined the genre “Hick Hop,” but no matter whatever you want to call Country Rap, the fastest-rising new sub-genre of Hip Hop in the Millennium, DAMMIT BOY Entertainment is starting to leave a BIG Tire print in the mud.
From Bogging to logging hundreds of thousands of Youtube views for their artist videos in just their first year in business, this label – run by East Coast-turned-Southern hip hop producer Jon Conner and hook-master David Ray – is fast becoming known as the Little Motown of Country Rap.
“Dammit Boy is not a traditional record label,” Conner emphasizes from the top of our interview at the label’s studio just outside Nashville, TN, excitedly adding, “It’s a content-creation with a record-label platform, meaning we’re here to work with other brands and other artists and other companies – marketing agencies, etc. This is a new age, this is not the old record business, we create content: we create jingles, we create documentaries, we create videos, we create audio projects, we develop brands, we consult, we’re a full-service company. So the record company platform is there for when, along with our client work, at the same time, we’re cultivating our own new artists, taking those same services we’d get paid for by an outside company and investing those services in artists that we believe in and then putting them out through our record label platform.”
Basing confidence in their product on the proven fact that “we know our fanbase intimately,” Conner’s partner and co-producer David Ray excitedly doubles down on this point, “We know a lot of our fans on a first-name basis, and the cool thing is, we’re growing together.” Joining the conversation are a cast of characters who make up true legends of the Country Rap scene, including the likes of Bubba Sparxxx, Jelly Roll, D.J. Orig, and Alexander King alongside a collective of Country Rap’s hottest new emcees: Mic Manik, Forsaken, and J Roosevelt to help tell the story of the rise of DAMMIT BOY Entertainment!
Muddy Beatz: Knowing your consumer is the first lesson in any target-market business, what allows you guys to have such a present finger on the pulse of your average fan to consistently know what to give them in the songs, videos, etc that Dammit Boy is so successfully churning out right now?
Jon Conner: For us, its about making it in the studio for them but then going out and performing for them and also participating in the culture: riding around in the 4-wheelers, drinking and smoking with them, listening to what’s going on and what’s moving them, and making them a part of what we’re doing by featuring them in our artist’s music videos and then they see themselves on screen, and all together, it just develops this very grass-roots, organic relationship. It also helps the next time we get back to the studio and motivates us to make music we know will work out there.
Both you and David Ray bring the HUGE advantage into your roles as record executives and producers of both having artist backgrounds yourselves, what kind of a leg up do you feel that provides to a newly signed Dammit Boy artist as you’re developing their career?
Jon Conner: My story is more what I learned out of my failures as an artist. I learned to produce, I learned to engineer, I learned to do everything that I do because I wanted to rap and I didn’t have anybody to produce me, I didn’t have anybody to engineer me, so I learned all these things by necessity. As an artist, I do it for fun, because being an artist costs me money, but being a producer and director makes me money. Dammit Boy is not the first time that I’ve tried to start a label, and I know Dave has tried to cultivate artists down here before too with Big Lazy and such, but to me, Dammit Boy is our chance to leave a legacy.
Muddy Beatz: Let’s take fans back to the beginning of both your stories a little bit, David, you’re known as one of Country Rap’s premier hook singers, who were some of your bigger influences musically growing up?
David Ray: My dad was a big George Jones/Merle Haggard fan, so a lot of the outlaw Waylon Jennings and traditional country stuff I definitely came up on. I’ve got a taste for Al Green and a lot of the Motown sounds, which is where a little more of the soul and bluesier side of what I do probably comes in. It depends on what we’re working on, I draw from different sources, but if there’s something soulful, if it’s a bluesy guitar lick, I’m probably just naturally gonna go there. That’s what I channel, that’s what I hear. On the Hip Hop side, my influences are just so vast. The first records I ever bought were Erik B & Rakim and The Fat Boys, and obviously earlier in my career, everything was so East Coast driven with the Biggie/Puffy era, Nas, and Twista, a fast rapper who was always one of my favorites. Then as a consumer, there was the N.W.A. craze that I really adapted to.
Muddy Beatz: What about you Jon? Most fans are more familiar with you as a producer from your work with Big Smo on “Kickin’ It in Tennessee,” but we’ve also seen you rap in other Smo videos like “Anything Goes,” which you not only rap on, but also produced and directed, and has racked up 2,386,877 Youtube views. Coming from the East Coast, what was your path like being a white rapper starting out 15 years ago?
Jon Conner: First off, let me say, when I rap now, its purely for fun, and purely for those people who over the course of 20 years, have become a fan of what I do and maybe are a little disappointed that I don’t do more of it. So I try when I do rap to have fun and to remember why I do it and give something from the heart that resonates with my fan.
Being a white rapper was very hard in the East, especially when Eminem came out, because everybody was compared to him, and what happened was, being an artist and doing a song with Haystak led me to the Nashville scene and me and Dave had been in the same circles, but hadn’t yet hooked up or really had a chance to have a meeting of the minds.
Muddy Beatz: What made the Dammit Boy team gel so well creatively when you all first got together and saw there was chemistry there?
Jon Conner: Dave had worked with Haystak, I had produced for Haystak. Later on the line, somewhere in the Myspace era, I reached out to Dave and I initially came down to Tennessee and we worked together. From the very first song we ever wrote together, It just set our relationship off on the right footing.
David Ray: And that’s a testament to what Jon was saying earlier about how you target sound after somebody, because that’s a song we never let go to anyone because there was just no one in our circle that could have pulled that off.
Jon Conner: First of all, we have similar likes when it comes to our musical tastes. It seems like if I like a beat he likes it, and if I don’t like it, he doesn’t like it. Its very rare that we disagree. There’s no ego too, so if I hear him doing something that sounds better than what I’ve got going, then I try to tap into what he’s got going on and visa versa. So the whole steel sharpens steel thing: Dave’s strengths are different than my strengths, and in 2 years working together, my strengths have improved his weaknesses and visa versa. We’re able to feed off each other.
David Ray: Its basically what he said, all the way down to making a beat. We have the same ear for music, so for instance, we hear the bass line for that track the same.
Jon Conner: We try to produce each other for the most part.
David Ray: We have an ear that is so similar, so even humming something while either he’s making the beat or I’m making the beat, usually if one of us are manning the work station and making the beat at the moment, the other one is over the shoulder like finding that melody, and once we that melody, that tells us where we’re gonna go with the track
Muddy Beatz: The Country Rap genre outside of Nashville is like the best kept secret in Hip Hop right now, because its still primarily a genre that gets little to no radio play and whose biggest stars are Youtube sensations, including pioneering artist like Big Smo, Haystak, and Jelly Roll, all of whom you Jon have produced previously to starting DAMMIT BOY with David. When did this genre first start appealing to you enough to bring you down to Nashville from the East Coast?
Jon Conner: I had already been in Tennessee working with Haystak, and was at a Gas station one day and saw a guy roll up in a muddy covered truck, 10 gallon hat and it looked like he’d just been muddin’ but he was bumping Lil Wayne. And just the juxtaposition of that, man, it struck me and made me go, “There’s a segment of people out here who aren’t being represented, because they love the beats but they don’t have anybody talking about things they can understand or relate to.” So I went to Haystak and said, “Hey man, this is something I think we should do,” and it wasn’t a new concept – Bubba Sparxxx had already been out – but the way I wanted to do it was a little bit different because he’d had the Timbaland production.
I feel like I’ve been able to, as an East Coast rap fan, to tap into what Southern fans want to hear, but I had to get my education. To produce for all these Southern rappers, I needed to what made a good Southern beat because I had nothing at the time but more East Coast-driven beats. I got my education by down at Street Flavor and producing for Haystak and being around guys like Charlie P and Jelly Roll back in the day, and I saw as just young rappers who felt Southern music how they bopped to it, just the way they moved to it, and it helped me put it together like “That’s how you feel this, I get it now.” Because the East Coast is a head-bop thing where you’re just listening for the lyrics, but in the South they feel the music more, whether they’re bumpin’ or bouncing, and that helped me tap in and tune in.
Muddy Beatz: David, as a longtime staple of the Country Rap genre, you actually got your start in Atlanta’s hip hop scene. Whether you’re behind the mic singing a hook or helping write one for one of DAMMIT BOY’s artists, how did that experience help hone your skills as a producer?
David Ray: First off, I learned time and again that to have a hit hook, someone’s gotta be able to sing along with it, and every hook’s gonna be different. Every hook is what the music just tells you to do, but some of it needs to be catchy and repetitive so that person can learn it even the next time it comes around.
On a producer’s side, being in the Atlanta scene, a lot of people would say a lot of that music is dumbed-down and loses some respect away from the lyricism side, because we’ve seen the South come in and kind of take over with these Trap beats and really melodic but easy-to-learn hooks, and that’s definitely one thing that I taken from it that’s helped me be “the hook guy.” As a producer, just watching other people vibe in and not trying to be the lyrical miracle on every song, if you know what I’m saying…
Jon Conner: What Dave was originally known for being a part of what is now considered in Nashville to be a legendary rap group called C.W.B. C.W.B. is Dave, Stump, Alexander King and Stone, and their first single, “Oh My God” featured Bubba Sparxxx and Haystak and became a regional hit and they started touring in New York, Atlanta, and started working with the Dungeon Family guys, and Rico Wade, and are in Bubba’s “Deliverance” video…
David Ray: That was a highlight, but I was young.
Jon Conner: His career would have been as a rapper, but lately, because of the amount of hooks he’s done and been approached to do by so many artists, he’s just getting the nickname of a hook guy.
Muddy Beatz: I4NI’s rise is rooted are in local Nashville legends C.W.B., Crazy White Boys, which David is a founding member of along with Alexander King. For fans, tell us about the Crazy White Boys and how they helped lay the groundwork for the rest of the Country Rap scene that has emerged over the past few years?
Alexander King: David and I actually go even further back than JC and I do, further than music even. We go back to Junior Highschool, we’ve known each other since we were 12, 13 years old, and even younger – 10, 11 – we played basketball on some of the same courts, and football on some of the same places. By 12, 13, when we went to Junior High together, we started hanging out and smoking weed together, and writing songs, and we would actually rap at parties together!
That’s the first memories I have of us hanging out, and we really close, because we started realizing that there was this recurring theme that it would always be he and I who would be the last two people rapping at a party. People would start rapping, and then hear he and I and David and I both had songs, just for days in our minds, and even at that young age, were already writing songs at a faster pace than a lot of people. Now, after working together for so many years, I realize he and I write more than most people, but even at that young age, we had an immense respect for one another as lyricists and writers and rappers.
Then as we got older, David and I were together in the late 1990s in a group called the Crazy White Boys, and we were really early in what we do. Now, there’s a lot of things that look the Crazy White Boys, but at the time, there really wasn’t. One of the things about it was we were very authentic and filled a gap at the time, because there wasn’t a whole lotta representation of groups that looked like us or people doing what we were doing who even looked like us. Even though there were a whole lotta consumers who looked like us, there weren’t a whole lot of artists you could look to that were doing what we were doing.
So David and I had our first record deal together over at Street Flavor, and that deal turned into another deal with another label based out of Murfreesboro called Dirty Bird, and then turned into us getting a management deal with a guy named Bernard Parks in Atlanta who managed Goodie Mob, and went on to manager a super-producer by the name of DJ Tool. When we were in CWB together and writing partners, it was a group of a bunch of dope writers and then we had the dopest producers in town, and for the first time in our life, had big studios to work out of. So we were in this group together that went through several different stages, and then in a period of David moving out to Dixon and me moving to the other side of Nashville, and us being an hour and a half, two hours from each other, Jon Conner and I met. So David and I go back well over 20 years, and JC and I go back well over 12, 13 years.
He was coming to Nashville and working for the label David and I were signed to, but making beats for other artists, and I would just see him in the studio, and he told me a story about going to college and having a full ride and dropping out of college to chase music, and I had an immense respect and appreciation for anybody who has the story of a gypsy. Anyone that’s willing to lay it all on the line, because that’s my story, I laid it all on the line to do music, even when music didn’t make me any money, because I knew in the long run that it was gonna feed my soul, and if you’re doing it right, and working hard and chasing the dream like JC and I were, I had an immense respect for him and what he was doing.
Muddy Beatz: Jon is the group’s newest member, right? We saw him going wild on lead vocals in one of your most recent videos, “American Made” with Curiosity Killz, which is already up to 35,822 views. Clearly, I4NI has a strong fan base, tell us more about the group’s history as part of the Country Rap scene?
David Ray: I4NI now is actually me, Bubba and Stump, and in a lot of ways, Jon in the last couple years has the unofficial fourth member. He’s not signed at AVJ paperwork-wise like me and Stump, but he’s a big part of I4NI. We’ve got a new album coming out called “Country Boy, City Slick,” and on November 1st, we dropped a new single, “That’s How We Roll” that features The LACs, Moonshine Bandits, Redneck Soldiers, J Roosevelt, Bubba Sparxxx and Demun Jones. Our live audience is black, white, Hispanic, old, young…
Jon Conner: Our drummer and our keyboard player are black, our DJ’s Philipino, then you got a couple white guys up front. It’s a diverse band even. There was a strategy that we cultivated for the group with Dave the hook guy and Jon the producer, but I write and Dave produces too. Stump’s a great rapper and writer too, and i4NI is Dave and Stump. I had the opportunity to produce the record.
DJ Orig: I4NI has a really strong fan base and live following. David Ray and Stump being two of the original C.W.B. guys, they’ve cultivated a great fan base that they’ve been able to transition from the Crazy White Boys days into the I4NI days, and then you’ve got Bubba, who’s already been a heavy hitter in the music industry for years, and then with my experience being with Big Smo for 15 years, we all bring a lot of fans and experience into I4NI.
If you look at atmosphere that we bring live, we’ve got 3-4 vocalists on stage, depending on if there’s a feature guest vocalist, so we’ve got singing, we’ve got rapping with guys like David Ray – who has always been the guy who could sing within underground rap in Nashville for a couple decades – and Stump, whose got one of the most distinct voices with his cadence and rapping, and then Jon Conner, who features in i4ni as a vocalist along with being our producer. We’ve got Jonny Knight and J.R. Swartz on guitars, and J.R. has been on the heavy metal circuit for at least 2 decades now, so having him on stage is a huge plus for us because he’s got such a great energy, the long dreads, and when he gets down, people are just drawn to him, so he adds a lot to the stage as well. Then we’ve got Danny Rich on the keyboards and he’s also an amazing singer, so he takes care of the harmonies, we’ve got a full band. Kareem Thompsom, our drummer, is a really great drummer, he’s a professional session drummer, then you’ve got me as a D.J., and where I fall into it is I’m the bridge between the studio and the stage. So I’m scratching and triggering all the sounds that are off the album while the band is doing their thing live while bringing my own authentic hip hop energy to the stage, so it’s a full spectrum, its in your face, and the energy with the crowd is great! What’s going on, I think there’s a good mix there and we can get this signed on and on the road as an act.”
So when I got here, the big thing with I4NI was to say, “Alright, what does this thing sound like? What does it look like?”, and that’s what we love about building brands is that’s what you’re always doing. It’s a constant process of figuring out what it is and trying to help it grow and become this big, beautiful thing when all said and done. So the first thing we had to do was figure out the sound, and the sound we figured out was very American-made, and that for instance inspired us to write that single.
Jelly Roll: I’m a huge fan of I4NI, I’ve been a fan since the variation of themselves before they were I4NI, I just love everything they do. I love D-Ray a lot – that’s my brother – and musically, I think he’s one of the most talented singer-songwriters in Nashville.
Muddy Beatz: Bubba, you’ve worked with A LOT of Heavy Hitter producers in your time, from Timbaland to Organized Noise, what gets you most excited about getting in the booth to put words down over a Jon Conner beat?
Bubba Sparxxx: You just need to spend 10 minutes in the room with Jon and know that he knows what he’s doing and that you can get some incredible music done with the guy. The thing is, you can work with all kinds of different people, and just throughout the course of my career, I’ve worked with all sorts of “producers,” and there’s a lot of people who call themselves producers, that are really just beat makers. They really just make tracks, and there are a lot of those who are terrible, but there’s some people who are great beat-makers, but they’re not even average, adequate producers. Then there’s artists like myself – I’m not necessarily even a musician or a track guy, I don’t really know how to make music directly, so to speak, but I know how to put a song together, so I am a producer in that sense.
Then you got somebody like Jon, who really comes at it from 3 different angles: from the angle of being a top-notch beat maker and track guy, the angle of being an elite-level producer in terms of understanding melody, understanding key, having a real understanding of how you need to put songs together musically, and that’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re talking about putting whole albums together, whole projects and shaping those types of things. Jon is comfortable with all those hats on. The third part of it that I think really takes it over the top is being an artist, being a rapper, so there’s just no angle he can’t come at it from, and that he’s not comfortable in the studio making happen.
Jelly Roll: I like working with Jon because I like working with people who are really hands-on, that I can really sit down and gel with, and he’s definitely one of those guys.
Alexander King: With J.C., I always know he’s going to be pushing the envelope of what’s next. That’s what I always look forward to when I’m getting in the studio with Jon.
Muddy Beatz: Jon, as a producer, everybody knows you best for your work with Big Smo, producing the bulk of his platinum debut LP, “Kuntry Livin,” and specifically his signature “Kickin’ It in Tennessee” hit, which you produced and to date, has over 10 million Youtube views, crazy! What is some of the science you’re bringing from that lab over to DAMMIT BOY, considering you were there helping mold Smo into the star he’s become today from the ground up?
Jon Conner: In the Smo situation, our team and what we were doing, I had a lot of responsibilities – more than just producing and actually filming and editing the videos – because I was actually going to the marketing meetings and the social media meetings and getting to participate and they were asking me my opinions, and I got to learn the business of it as well and feeling validated that they were asking and valuing what I thought. Then basically at the end, they’d tell us, “Keep doing what you’re doing, because what you guys are doing is working.”
Mic Manik: I think there’s no denying what Jon has done in the Hip Hop industry, the laundry list of where his music has been, and the artists that he has dealt with – it speaks for itself. Just go look at some of the numbers on Smo’s videos and music, and some of those beats that he was making for Smo back in the day were just bananas!
Jon Conner: When executives from Warner were asking me, “John, what do you think,” it was validation because it meant at the highest levels, they value what I think and they’re spending a lot of money and they’re looking for a secure answer, and so I’m bringing that experience in artist development and branding, which are probably two of the strongest strengths we have as a label. Because not only do we make beats for an artist, but we sit down and talk to them and find out what makes them tick, and look at their image and name and where they’re from and what they’re trying to represent, and then we try to come up with a sound specifically for them.
Also, some guys that come in aren’t yet good songwriters but they’re really good rappers, so as songwriters ourselves, we can guide them by maybe helping them with the chorus, or giving them the structure and advise them, “Rap about this,” or “Maybe don’t be so wordy on this one…” I hate the dumb-it-down part, but sometimes that’s called for, or to be more intricate, so as a songwriter/producer, we’re able to guide that new artist that maybe is not experienced in writing hit records.
Bubba Sparxxx: As a rapper, or a singer, when you’re in that booth, you gotta have that trust level with the guy whose on the other side of that board. You’ve got to be able to trust what he’s saying, and knowing its somebody who can come at it from the angle of being an artist and a rapper before, and Jon really synchs with that.
David Ray: There’s so much more to a producer than just making a hot beat, so cool drums over guitars or whatever. A producer – in the insane environment – will help create and write that song, coach the delivery of vocals, the whole nine, and Jon stresses that a lot.
I can draw obviously from my years of singing hooks too for that, because I’ve picked up so many tricks in the studio. One thing for instance I tell a lot of new artists a lot is that you can recite the most emotional quote ever written over the most emotional track, but if you just say it, it has no meaning. You’ve got to have that melody, and sometimes we’ll have a subject matter, and a beat will kind of speak to us and let us know.
Jon Conner: Songwriting is pretty much the most important part of it, and to me, finding that magical melody over the track, because once you find that melody, and when great songwriting meets a great melody, now you have a classic record. A melody can be so strong that it can compensate for maybe not-as-great writing, and realizing what is the difference between being a good songwriter and a good rapper? There’s times to rap, and then there’s times you’ve got to write a hit record for radio, and that’s what our clients are coming for. There not coming to just make a couple songs with us to just make a couple songs with us, they’ve heard something and are coming to us for a sound and for a hit.
J. Roosevelt: From a creative stand-point, its been awesome working with Jon and D-Ray. I’ve been signed with Average Joes for around a year and a half now, and have just been cranking out some amazing music with Jon Conner, D-Ray, and I4NI – the whole camp. They have the majority of the tracks on this album I’m about to put out, and from a creative standpoint, its been awesome working with such an awesome production team. They really had a chameleon approach to things, and would incorporate a lot of the things about music that I can appreciate as far as the musicianship behind it, and their understanding of percussion and bass on the bottom end, and combining that with the instrumentation from live-driven genres like country rock. I think the fusion that they bring together with that is really a unique way they do it, and it was the sound I was looking for with my style.
Charlie Bonnet III: They got me back in the game pretty quick, we worked pretty fast, and tracked a couple of songs a day. Dave is definitely the melody and hook guy, and is actually a really solid songwriter in his own right, and Jon is able to hear what needs to go where, and is pretty efficient at bringing it to life.
Muddy Beatz: Since we’re on the subject of all the great new artists DAMMIT BOY has been starting to showcase lately, let’s put the spotlight on Mic Manik, who you guys have been working with a lot lately. What first grabbed you about Mic’s voice?
Jon Conner: Well, first off, as a label, we’re not just making beats and letting different artists rock on the same sound. Like Mic Manik, whose an artist from Texas that we’re about to release a new record on, we came up with what we feel very proud is a unique sound within the country rap genre. His album is called “Muddy Water,” and our relationship started with him being a paying client and one thing we immediately dug was his image, because as an executive, you’re looking at everything, the total package. So our goal is to develop Mic into the premier country rap artist of Texas.
David Ray: Yeah, its gotta be there.
Jon Conner: For a big guy, he’s got great breath control, he’s very clear with his words, has a very good vocabulary, creative rhyme patterns, creative song titles, he sings hooks, and then like we said, we developed and cultivated his sound: “Big Mic Manik, he’s 6’4, 6’5, 300 pounds, the Paul Bunyan of rap kind of thing,” he’s gonna shake the ground when he walks. His album has a couple big singles, including a video out called “Redneck” that’s doing really well. It’s a shout-out to the mudbog culture out in Texas where I don’t know if boggin’ originated, but its prime, its huge. I think they have the most mudbogs in Texas, and the other video Mic has out now is called “Uncle Bud,” and it picked up 6,000 views in just its first 2 weeks, which is pretty good for a first single from an artist on their own. There’s no features on the record because we felt it could stand on its own, and is representing Texas really well.
Mic Manik: Jon has always had a certain sound, and angle about the way he does beats and what he does with them that just really resonated with me, called to me, spoke to me, and put me in a different place when I was writing because of the way he was making his beats. They’re just so much more of a live band, especially with guys like Jonny Knight in the studio too, and it sounds like there’s so much more depth to the music, they’re not just a bunch of electric noises sequenced. There’s real guitars and real bass lines and real keys and a lot of real instrumentation that give his beats a really full sound and brought a lot of different sides of my lyrics out.
Jonny Knight: It can start with a guitar lick or I can start playing, and just be doing my thing and they can hear something and Dave will run in there and be like “Ooh, what if you do this,” and start singing something and it will come together. Or it might start out with something he’s got in his head, a melody, it just depends, but usually the best things happen when you’re not trying. We’ve got a Martin acoustic here at the studio and then I’ve got my Telecaster, and I just play guitar riffs, they do everything else.
I grew up playing in Church and playing Bluegrass, Country, Rock… I grew up on Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix…
David Ray: Mic’s just got such an authentic sound that adapts well with what us at Dammit Boy are doing.
Mic Manik: Until I started doing the whole “Muddy Water” project, a lot of my stuff was all over the map, so I’d make Rock-Rap, I’d make straight Hip Hop, I’ve had a few Country Rap songs here and there, just stuff that was all over the spectrum. So it came to the point where I had to make a decision in my career about whether I was going to keep making mix tape music and putting random songs out or try to make a legitimate album. Getting with Dammit Boy, more than anything, I think refined me into being just what you could consider a “Hick Hop” artist. Once you hear the CD, its not like a lot of these other Hick Hop guys either though, its got a lot of rock in it, it just brought out a whole different sound and it was a real meeting of the minds: because what I was trying to portray and what they were trying to do with the beats and music really met in the middle. The sound came together and sounded like it was meant to be together. From day one when I first stepped into the studio, the chemistry was just amazing.
Click the album cover below to purchase “All My Rowdy Friends Vol.1”
Jon Conner: We also have a producer compilation dropping this month too called “For all My Rowdy Friends,” and I got the concept from Dre’s “Compton” record, where we wanted to take advantage of all the artists we know, reach out to them and we got Bubba Sparxxx, i4Ni, Jelly Roll, Charlie Bonnet III, Alexander King, and Tinn Man.
Muddy Beatz: Jelly, you go way back with both of these guys and have seen them both come a long way to teaming up and founding Dammit Boy. What do you feel like they bring to the table as a label that’s unique right now in the game?
Jelly Roll: Dammit Boy are really about the vibe, the old-school energy, the old Nashville way, where a bunch of people get in a room together and write a bunch of songs, and then produce them right there on the spot. Its an organic thing. The music’s for real, its from an honest place, and I know these guys – I’ve known them for a long time – and I just completely back everything they do.
Muddy Beatz: Jon, along with your producing credits for Big Smo and others, some fans know – but not as many as should – that you also directed the majority of Smo’s early videos, including the webisode series that helped land his A&E reality show deal. You’ve got something upward of 20 million collective Youtube views between all the artists you’ve shot for over the years, talk a little about the kind of stylized approach you bring to DAMMIT BOY’s visual side after so much experience behind the lense, that’s a whole different hat to wear creatively?
Jon Conner: The good thing is we’ve got a great team. I didn’t shoot the videos all myself, and if you’re on-set, most guys are grabbing a camera or helping write a treatment or holding a light, we’re all collaborating on shots. I did edit most of them, and direct them, taking on that role, but it was a group effort. Some of the upcoming videos we’ve got coming out are Jelly Roll’s “When I Get Rich,” we’ve got the Alexander King/Jelly Roll “Big Bottles” video, which has hit 25,000 views already, and I directed but Orig and JJ edited the Charlie Bonnet III videos for “Borrowed Minutes,” “Hillbilly Rockstar” – which is up to almost 36,000 views, and “Too Drunk to Drive”, which is up to almost 18,000. We also did “Peach Cherry Apple Pie” off Forsaken’s first E.P. “Country to the Bone,” which has 46,000 views, and have his new single coming up, “Everybody in the Mud,” which features Danny Boone and Jawja Boys, which is up to about 50,000 views. There’s a bunch of stuff in the pipeline, we also have the i4ni “Roll With Me” video which is about to drop and features Bubba Sparxxx and Chris Hurt on the hook, and the “Redneck” video.
Alexander King: Believe it or not, I put J.C.’s first camera in his hand! So for me, its like watching him go from being a young player all the way to being drafted into the N.F.L., to see where he’s at now as a director. Because 5 or 6 years ago when he was just on the music side, I was already 15 years into video, had made a bunch of money and kind of shifted into directing film and shooting music videos. That’s what I did for a living at the time, I was living in Atlanta and J.C. actually got me to go back out on tour, we did some college dates together and he saw the multi-media stuff I was doing and was so inspired that the next week, we were on the phone and he was already like, “What camera was that? What kind of film?”, and I told him then, “Hey man, everything has changed, the DSLR game is different. Anybody can be a director now, this is the game,” so to now see where he’s come in such a short period of time, again, it’s a trip.
Charlie Bonnet III: I’ve shot several videos this year with Dammit Boy, and Jon as a director is really good at seeing the final outcome before we even get started, and is pretty good at arriving at what his vision is by the end of a shoot.
Forsaken: Dammit Boy is like a one-stop shop: they produce all the beats for us, we can do all the recording in-house, Jon and David have filmed all my videos for me. “Everybody in the Mud” is the new single that’s dropping, and we shot a video that’s coming up, and they also shot my first video for my “Peach Cherry Apple Pie” video from the E.P. “Country to the Bone” that we released at the end of 2014, the Jawja Boys were in that video too, and we shot it down in Georgia. Right now, we’re working on the next album already, “Hello Friday Night,” and between Jon’s amazing producing skills and everybody wants to see you succeed, so we all work together to make sure everything’s on point, and they always make sure we’re all good. It’s a great vibe.
Muddy Beatz: Looking down the road, as Country Rap’s lines continue to blur more and more successfully with mainstream Country music culture, what gets you most excited about where DAMMIT BOY is heading as a movement?
Jon Conner: Well, what we are excited about is we’re helping pioneer a genre, along with AVJ and a lot of the other artists that are our peers, and again, we’re not just making music, but are leading the space and influencing where it’s going, and we’d like to continue to do that and see the country rap scene become a thriving scene where there’s more than just AVJ and Dammit Boy, maybe 4 or 5 labels.
DJ Orig: It’s a great synergy that we’ve got going and we’re all wearing several hats, and as Jon said, Dammit Boy is not just a label, this is a culture, we don’t just look at it like our fans are our customers, we’re very dedicated to interacting with our fanbase, individually and as DAMMIT BOY.
Mic Manik: Its like a brotherhood. We all have similar directions we’re trying to go with this thing, we don’t want to be just some flash-in-a-pan label, and behind the scenes, there’s a lot of people that are in there every day and they have a great camp. Dammit Boy’s main goal is to provide alternates from a lot of the mainstream stuff, we’re just trying to elevate the game. Once people realize we’re here and that we’re here to stay, I really feel like Dammit Boy has the potential to be a powerhouse.
Alexander King: These guys have been around in the scene as long as I have, and for me, I’ve had the blessing to reinvent myself as a new artist a few times, and for them, that’s what I see Dammit Boy as, as a re-invention, not as a new thing, because you’ve got two producers there who’ve had hits in several different periods of music, so they understand how to adapt to habitats. Because the habitat changes all the time, the players change but the game stays the same, its survival of the fittest, and they’ve already proved they can survive. So, to me, when I look at Dammit Boy, I see it as an extension of two brands that are kind of legacy brands to me, they’re a super-group together and keep winning. So will they hang around? Of course they will, that’s David Ray and J.C., they’ve been through 4 generations of artists in Nashville, and they’ve been able to re-invent themselves due to them keeping their finger on what’s next and plugging into the young artists who are the next generation. I think that’s what keeps them relevant and keeps them exciting, they know what’s next because they stay in tune with the next generation each time, and we just never get old because we hang out with all the cool kids (laughs).
Jon Conner: Coming up as an artist, you didn’t know the business side of it, and now on the other side, this is the 20 years of intellectual property, hard work, grind, resources, all trying to be done right this time. People don’t realize, they may make fun of it or whatever the case is, but out there at those Mud bogs where there’s 20,000 people, that’s what they’re listening to and its not going anywhere. This isn’t just a fad, and its funny because people tried to do the same thing with Hip Hop itself back in the early days: “Aww, there’s talking over the beat, this is never gonna last,” and so it was seen as a fad and then became the most dominating force in music and culture. I’m not predicting that for country rap, but what I am saying is traditional Country is changing, if you look at the Sam Hunts and Florida/Georgia Line with “This is How We Roll,” and with this generation, you’re going to see more of the hybrid stuff because country rap really is that: it’s a hybrid genre. It combines the best elements of country and the best elements of hip hop, and people really dig it, and inside that world, there’s a lot of different versions. We’re guys who can go have fun in the city and then out in the country, we embrace the best of both of those cultures, and it allows us to be a little bit more versatile and appeal to a little bit bigger of a base of fans.
For me, its almost like in that movie “Cinderella Man” when Sporty asks him at a press conference, “You know, you’re winning all these fights, what’s different?”, and Jimmy Braddock’s character says, “I know what I’m fighting for, milk.” I feel like we have all these hungry artists who don’t know how to turn their music into money, so what we’re trying to do with Dammit Boy is provide a company where people will be able to pay their bills off of music through this platform we’re building. We want to leave a legacy where people say, “Man, them Dammit Boys had a run, they were dominating,” and that’s what drives me for sure, because its not a game. To say that I get up every morning and make music for the love of it would be a lie at this point – I love it, don’t get me wrong – but this is a business, running a label, and competing in the business side of it is almost as exciting as making the music. That’s what excites me…
David Ray: I do still say I do it for the love of music because this is the reality: if we didn’t do it, we’d miss the hell out of it, and we do have a lot on our plate and things get stressful with the high production level, but we work well together, and we do bring out the best in each other. We’re like the hungry fighters in the gym…
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