No rims, no grill: Jason Kelley raps a new styleWritten by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
Jason Kelley rolls in a white Lincoln with tinted windows. He comes from a family of Ohio rednecks. He has served in Iraq for six months. He has managed a Denny’s. He has a degree in business. And he writes in a notebook for his 13-month-old daughter, Mikiyah Jo.
“I’m not your typical rapper,” Kelley said. “I wear ties during the day, I drive a Lincoln. I don’t need the 22s, the grill piece, the chains or the long T-shirts.”
On the verge of releasing his third piece of work, “Starting from Scratch: The Mixtape,” Kelley has weathered numerous moves and job losses within the past year. Nov. 1 marked Kelley’s debut on the DJ Richie show.
“I like to let the music speak for itself. I don’t like to play the race thing,” Kelley said.
“I’m not trying to create new words to create a hook.”
Rapping and writing songs isn’t a challenge for him, Kelley said. He writes about his life in a way that’s relatable and real, including how he feels standing in line behind a confused customer or getting out of bed for work. Kelley’s raps are a strange reminder of the humorously autobiographical style of the Flight of the Conchords song “Hurt Feelings.”
Kelley said he doesn’t focus on money, girls or cars.
“I don’t do it just to get crazy or wild out,” Kelley said. “I do it more so because I feel like I have something to say. I do it as a profession. A lot of people just want to be popular.”
Kelley writes in a notebook every day for his daughter so that she has memories of him.
“My daughter’s a big driving passion. I want to leave a legacy for her,” Kelley said.
Kelley’s father died in an unsolved homicide when Kelley was 12. Although he says he raps about it, he doesn’t do it to build street cred. Kelley said he uses the feelings of loss and emptiness to write songs.
“I talk a lot, read a lot, write a lot,” Kelley said. “I’m not a confrontational rapper. What I do is artwork.”
Building a legitimate fan base is something that’s important to Kelley.
“In this area it’s hard to get a good, quality show,” Kelley said. “The audience is full of 80 to 85 percent rappers and their rapper entourage.”
Club owners don’t like the kind of crowd that is usually associated with rap shows, so they’re afraid to host rappers, Kelley said. If Kelley plays a show with rappers that have an entourage, not a fan base, the show will be choppy and uninspiring, he said.
“I don’t do a lot of shows because of that,” Kelley said. “The gangster thing is old now. You don’t have to be gangster; you don’t have to be hood to rap.”
Kelley’s been recording himself for the greater part of 10 years, but has only approached it seriously in the past three years. He released his first independent album, “Can I Get a Word In,” in February 2008. One year later, Kelley put out his first mixtape, “Here’s a Sample.” Dec. 6 marks the online debut of his most recent mixtape, “Starting From Scratch.”
Calling his releases “mixtapes” legally allows him to voice over other artists’ work and distribute it, Kelley said.
“I can do a song where it’s upbeat and pop-y, or be like a Lil’ Wayne, Young Money song and the next day I can dumb it down for people,” Kelley said.
His newest album, “Simple as That,” is scheduled for release in the beginning of 2011.
“I don’t know what else to do if I can’t work on my music,” Kelley said. “I’m hoping for the day where I get a break. I’d be happy with a one-hit wonder.”
Kelley said he listens to everything but country and “scream-o” music, and stays in touch with Top 40 songs. Rap mogul Jay-Z gets the credit for Kelley’s inspiration.
“He owns clubs, he was the president of Def Jam for a while. I consider Jay-Z as my muse,” Kelley said.
Kelley loves Jay-Z’s line, “I’m not a business man, I’m a business, man,” akin to Kelley’s own motto, “It will work if you work it.”
Kelley said he also is inspired by Kanye West, especially because of his interference with Taylor Swift’s speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Although many people looked down on West for the act, Kelley said he thought it was a smart move since no one talked about anything else for weeks.
“You’ve still got to appreciate the artistic element to it,” Kelley said of West.
Andrew “Z” Zepeda found Kelley working in the dish room in one of his restaurants. Before long, Kelley was DJ’ing for Andrew Z and working on 92.5 KISS FM radio show. In April 2010, the feud between Andrew Z and the host of the Tampa, Fla., radio show Wild 94.1 over their respective hometown “American Idol” contestants got serious. Andrew Z put together a group of white rappers, including Kelley, called “Snow Storm” to travel to Tampa to spoof the 94.1 host in his own studio. “Snow Storm” also traveled to the 2010 Miller Light Festival, where they opened for Tone Loc, Young MC, Naughty by Nature and Coolio.
Kelley also regularly writes parody songs for 92.5, including one for Tornado relief efforts that he performed with “Snow Storm.” “I was an individual artist first and I always will be,” Kelley said.
Kelley’s music can be found online at www.facebook.com/jasonkelleymusic.