An Interview with Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon

Photo courtesy of Ubuntu Graphics

This is H.D. Angel‘s first guest piece for No Bells. They also write a great column about internet music over at Finals called The Browser. Welcome!

Back in November, when I sat down with Charlotte, North Carolina rapper Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon for a half-hour phone interview, he was best known for two signatures: his sense of humor–evident in outlandish lyrical setups and song titles–and his claim to be the best rapper in his city. The former is still one of his defining attributes, and it’s what elevates him above many of the other rappers mining a similarly grainy, lyrical style. His titles capture the events of his day (“Roaming in NYC With My Bitch Who Got Attitude Problems”) and the milestones of his career (“Apple Watch Plays Going Crazy My Shit Jumping”) at their most absurd, and in the songs themselves, he’s rattled off a seemingly endless variety of ways to talk about the women in his life–my personal favorites are “when we fuck, it sound like a Flying Lotus track” and “my cougar bitch got old bread, she like a time capsule.”

Jah-Monte’s relationship with the city of Charlotte has always been an animating force behind his music, too, whether he’s called himself the “King” of the city or written songs airing out grievances against some of its publications. Some people might write this off as some cynical image-making project, but I think it’s more complicated than that. While part of his public persona is tongue-in-cheek and played up to invest his listeners in his story, I got the sense, in speaking with him, that it was all rooted in real frustration with being snubbed and feeling genuinely at odds with some of Charlotte’s institutions. (And many of his frank criticisms of the city are impossible to argue with, like when he rebukes the historic abuses of the CMPD.)

He seemed eager in our conversation to distance himself from being recognized only as a controversy and let the music speak for itself. In fact, I don’t think he’s called himself the “best rapper in Charlotte” on a record in a while. Instead, he’s enjoying the audience he’s built up over the past few years and continuing to hone his craft. Jah-Monte’s humorous approach can sometimes obscure his chops as a skilled technician who can command any beat in his stockpile. He’s equally comfortable unraveling his relaxed flows over dusty sample loops and tackling more skittish, mechanical productions that make his raps sound like the last dispatches he can send out before things go haywire. Many of Jah-Monte’s earlier songs are peppered with left-field tags in a female voice — phrases like “RobYoPlug.com” and “This is jewelry rap!” — which, just like his song titles, leave you asking questions, wondering who exactly he is, delving deeper into his stylized world.  Since we spoke, he’s dropped the second album, or Side B, called Lost in NYC, in his Seventy-Fifth and Amsterdam series, as well as a self-titled album with his group The Hovis House, comprised of some of his artistic peers and friends in Charlotte: FLLS, Simon SMTHNG, Cuzo Key, Autumn Rainwater, CJ Chat, Jay Pluss, and Darkmaster.

Of all of his speculated plans, The Hovis House was the project he seemed most excited about in our interview. It’s a loose, fun album, one that captures the sense of camaraderie shared by artists who are sticking together in a music scene that isn’t always the easiest to navigate. Jah-Monte’s relationship with the city of Charlotte isn’t just about some surface-level heel persona – it also gives his music an aspirational undercurrent, making listeners feel excited by his success vicariously as he sketches out a career path with his friends in a city that offers no prior template.

My conversation from November with Jah-Monte is transcribed below, edited lightly for brevity and clarity. Even if some of it is a little outdated, reflecting a public image that he’s started to cast off, I hope it records some insight into the outlook of one of Charlotte’s finest, most distinctive rappers.


H.D. Angel: What were the early years of your rap career like? What did you do at first to try and establish yourself in the city?

Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon: What I did at first…I would do a lot of different things. Like, around the blog era, I used to search up everybody, like 2 Dope Boyz, Miss Info, Nah Right, all those websites back then that were pretty much poppin’ artists off. I used to just search that shit up and try to find out who was the writers. I used to go to like, events that come to Charlotte; I always knew that artists have to do soundchecks, so I’m like, shit, if somebody famous comes to my city, imma go to a venue when they do a soundcheck and I’m most likely gon’ see somebody, you feel me? I just gotta be out here around the right time. Early in it, I didn’t really have any direction or guidance with it, I just knew that I had this talent that I strongly believed in and a few other people believed in. And it was just certain things that I had to do to stand out, you know what I mean?

Yeah.

To meet people who’s already in that industry, ‘cause in Charlotte, we don’t…we’re not introduced to that many people that’s in that industry, so you gotta really go for yours.

Right. In your music, and outside of it, you talk about how the Charlotte scene specifically is kind of inhospitable to artists in some ways.

I think that’s more for me. I think it works for other artists, but just for me, it’s just a little…I don’t know. But I don’t even want to turn it into that.

Yeah, I feel you. You don’t want to be too combative, it’s just that parts of it didn’t work out for you.

Yeah. It’s different, because I know the Charlotte music scene front to back. I studied this before I came out, so I already knew who to hit up, where to go, you know what I mean? So, when you already know what to do, people either try to charge you, flex on you, or just don’t respond.

So it’s hard, ‘ cause I’m not comin’ on the scene just to be…I don’t want to say “friendly”, but I’m not comin’ out just to come out, you feel me? I’m tryna do something with my music, so when I know where to go and who to hit, and they actin’ like, a little weird, that’s when I bring my whole confident attitude with the whole “Best Rapper in Charlotte” shit, and it’s just like a lose-lose situation for everybody.

Yeah. And like, a while back, somebody asked you on IG Live if you’d do a show here. And your response was a super emphatic “no”.

Yeah. If I do a show in Charlotte, I have to have my hand in it as far as planning the event, ‘cause I’m not just gonna be on a random event with somebody, you know?

Yeah. You feel like they wouldn’t handle you right, and they would fuck it up for you.

You know what I mean? Like, it has to make sense, ‘cause I’ve been out here for a long time.

Yeah. A lot of your work, especially now, is done in other cities. You spend a lot of time working in Brooklyn especially.

Exactly.

What is it about there that works so well for you?

A lot of people got love for me out there. I don’t know how it happened…I don’t know, bro. I worked with a certain producer, and he kinda just got my shit out there, and it was just, like, a domino effect.

And then I just started tappin’ in with different producers, that’s really what it was–producers were helping me out. And I was just traveling through the East Coast, like New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York. This guy named Sidewalk Kal, he booked me for my first show in New York. It was in Brooklyn, New York, at this place called Muchmore’s, for this event that he does. He booked me there, and that’s all that needed to happen. Once he brought me out there for the first time, everything just clicked after that. Everything just opened up, ‘cause I seen what I needed to do.

And it’s just like, I guess the lane of my music is more like, the main points or the key people is in New York, or California type shit.

Yeah, it’s got that kinda revivalist-type angle to it that you don’t hear a lot out of Charlotte, but I know in New York, there’s lots of people out there that fuck with that.

Yeah. Lowkey, it’s a few people in Charlotte like that, but they don’t know how to get to the forefront, you feel me? When you don’t know how to get to the forefront, and when the people you see in the forefront are not helping you, it’s kinda hard, you know?

Right. Because like, from Charlotte, there’s not that many rappers that most people can name from the city offhand, and none of them are like you.

Right.

If we’re talking New York, I know that like, Hot 97 fucks with you up there, right?

Yeah, it’s surprising. It’s kinda crazy.

You seem like somebody who is always very cognizant of the way the media approaches your work. Besides [making a song titled after] Hot 97, you’ve expressed a lot of frustration with the local Charlotte papers.

Right.

Talk to me more about that.

…Yo, that shit get deep bro. Man, I’ll have to talk about that shit, like, off-record, but, yo, that shit get deep, bro. Because it’s a lot of writers in the city, publications, who feel a certain way about me because of the whole ‘Best Rapper in Charlotte’ shit. So they do shit like they don’t mention me, you feel me? 2019, bro, I released like five vinyls, you feel me? And people not writin’ about ‘em…It’s a lot of things behind closed doors that the average artist in the city won’t know about that happens with me, you know what I mean? So I have to be the one that says “yo, fuck these publications, because they doin’ this to me…”, and it’s hard for me because I’m doing it alone. So everybody’s just looking at me like, oh, I’m trippin.. and I’m like, nah, these people not mentioning me. These people are talkin’, like, mess!

My DJ, his name is DJ Ray. He’s a DJ and a comedian around the Plaza Midwood area. If anybody know about the Plaza Midwood area, you know how that shit is; that’s where everybody be at, you know what I mean. And he tells me shit like, “yo, this person ran up to me, this person ran up to me.” And I’m like, yo, these are honorable people in the Charlotte music scene, talking shit about me. It’s a lot of stuff I’m left out on just ‘cause of the whole ‘Best Rapper in Charlotte’ shit.

When you do all your eccentric branding—you know, calling yourself the king of Charlotte…people were saying “fuck Callis” and you started saying “fuck Callis” in your records to try and reclaim it. How much of that is, like, your own creative impulses, and how much of it is trying to grab attention and get eyes on you?

The “fuck Callis” thing is something I created just off rip. I created the “fuck Callis” idea off of—around the Plaza Midwood area, you’d see those “Recall [Charlotte Mayor] Lyles” and “Recall Trump” stickers. You seen those? It’s like, they got stickers just bashing Trump and Vi Lyles for the RNC shit. I seen those, and I was like, yo, that’s good branding right there! And I started going by my real name, Jah-Monte. So I’m like, yo, if I brand this whole ‘fuck Callis’ thing, it’ll make people who don’t know me question: Who is Callis? And it just looks crazy. So I turned it into an EP, I made a EP called Fuck Callis, and I made some merch, and I had my homegirl do some voiceover tags, and we just started runnin’ with it. I flipped it—I added more to it along the way; if people ask about it like “yo, what does this mean”, I’m like “I’m pretty sure people hatin’ on me, saying “Fuck Callis”,” capitalizing off of it…

So I added things on the way, but that was really the idea for it, when I seen those “Fuck Trump” and Vi Lyles stickers. I was like “yo, I gotta do the same shit”, because people would think it’s somebody else doing it about me and not tear my sticker down, you feel me?

Yeah. That’s clever.

When I put up my ‘Best Rapper in Charlotte’ stickers, people always tear that shit down. So I’m like “yo, if I put up a ‘Fuck Callis’ sticker, nobody gon’ tear that shit down!” (laughing)

Yeah! Yeah, I feel you. So, on the one hand, you’ve talked about how that’s gotten eyes on you, and that’s like, good branding. But then obviously you’ve got all these outlets not fucking with you because of that. So what do you think about keeping that kind of branding going forward? Like, the pros and cons of it?

Yo, man…I want that shit to go away. I wish we could forget the whole ‘best rapper in Charlotte’ thing. But the reason why I did that is because…I had this idea. I’m like “okay, I gotta get poppin’, so for me to get poppin’ as a Charlotte artist, people who are poppin’ in the city, they not helping me. So I put myself in a mindset, like: OK, imma out-work all my peers in the city. Imma continuously put out music, imma continuously put out videos, and imma just keep flooding, ‘cause nobody really worked that hard. I noticed that. I’m like, “people put out shit every five months, four months, and it’s mediocre shit.” So I’m like, “I got my homeboy Darkmaster, I got my homie DJ Ray, he got the studio, Darkmaster do the videos.” I’m like, I’m gettin’ a little moneyat the time, I was gettin’ a little moneyI’m like, aye, we gon’ turn this shit up!

So I went on that run, ‘cause wasn’t nobody really fuckin’ with me in the city. So I’m like, alright, I’m ‘bout to just turn my shit up. So I went on that turn-up run, doin’ my shit, and then that’s when I was like, ok, I’m the best rapper in Charlotte. Since I seen…nobody had that claim in the city. I’m like, yo, aight, I’m about to do this whole ‘best rapper in Charlotte’ shit. As just a series of songs, you feel me? And when I did it, it clicked!

People was fuckin’ with it, but a lot of people weren’t fuckin’ with it. Like, a lot of people I thought I was cool with, they felt some kind of way. A lot of people was like, “no, you’re not the best rapper in Charlotte, I feel like this person is the best rapper in Charlotte.” And this is bloggers, man, and publications in the city doing shit like that. So it just made shit harder for me. But at the same time, me putting in all that work, I somehow linked with this guy named Gnashper, and Gnashper was fuckin’ with my shit, and he linked this dude named [SadhuGold] with my shit. And then everything just took off from there; a lot of eyes outside of Charlotte started fuckin’ with my shit, and then it just took off.

I got posted on Pitchfork, and it just made everybody go kinda crazy as far as the [local] publications. ‘Cause it’s like, how are you ignoring this shit from my backyard, but you got Pitchfork? Pitchfork was like, “yo, this guy’s damn near the best rapper in Charlotte”, so it was funny to me. Like, “see? This is what hard work does.”

Yeah. As long as we’re talking about you working with different people from all across the world, you got this dude Machacha on your latest record. Talk to me about how that relationship came together.

I know of Machacha because of Copenhagen Crates. Copenhagen Crates, they took a chance on me with my album Infinite Wisdom. Copenhagen Crates hit me up, he was like “yo, I wanna put this album out for you.” And we did it, and it worked very well; I think it might’ve did better than what we thought originally. And me and Copenhagen Crates, we built relationships from there—relationship, partnership, whatever you want to call it. We built it from there, and he was like “yo, I got this producer from over there named Machacha that I fuck with, and I want you to do a project with him.” And I was like, “okay, let’s get it.”

That’s how it was at the time. Copenhagen Crates, he stepped into my situation when I was like, gettin’ money on the other side. That shit kinda went a little dry, somebody finessed me for some shit in a crazy situation. At a crazy time in life, I got finessed on some shit when I was like, gettin’ money over there, and I really needed that money. So that shit kinda went sour, and around that same time, that’s when Copenhagen Crates, he came in like “yo, we got this opportunity for you at hand”, and that shit been butter ever since.

The thing is, I always save my money, but that [original situation] was a L, like, for somebody who ain’t have no job, who was just doing this shit straight off music, like, I can’t be taking, like, $1400, $1500 L’s like that, you know what I mean? And right before that L, I took like a $2400 L fuckin’ with something else, you know what I mean? So both of those two L’s back-to-back was crazy.

And that’s when Copenhagen Crates came, and was like, “yo, man,” and that shit was like, a blessing, you feel me? ‘Cause…(whistles) I don’t know, but that shit, it did what it did. We here, doin’ all this.

Yeah.

No more L’s.

Yeah. There’s like a whole ecosystem of people, in different places around the country, who, like…people say nobody buys vinyls anymore, but you got all these underground rappers who are just, like, running whole careers just off niche vinyl sales.

Yeah. That’s what everybody say. I really don’t even talk to nobody no more when it come to this vinyl shit, like, when I go out, because it’s like, they don’t understand…Well, sometimes they do understand, but now they look at it like it’s…how could I say it…something that they wanna do, too. At first it was like, “Yo, who’s buyin CDs? Who’s buying cassettes? Who’s buying vinyls? I don’t even have a record player!” and I’ve been tryna tell people, I’m like, “yo, people, certain artists, producers, just people who collect music, they do this.” It’s older people—it’s either younger artists or, just, like, older people in general. But they don’t see it.

But now, I guess locally in my city or wherever I go, people put me on pedestals. They’re just like “yo, I wanna do that shit too.” So now they see it, but before, they just couldn’t see it.

Speaking of moving around, you’re always bouncing around from place to place, linking with people, and in your verses, it reflects that a lot, with lots of different anecdotes, escapades, and like, stray thoughts linked together. What’s your writing process like?

How I write now…sometimes, it’s kinda like back-and-forth. I used to be able to just write at any time. Now I only really write when I know I’m ‘bout to make a album; I don’t just freely write anymore. Because I activate it—I put myself in the mindset, like, remember earlier when I said, “yo, I have to out-work all my peers?” So when I put myself in that mindset to out-work all my peers, I recorded a lot of shit. So, I wanna say maybe from 2017 to 2019, I recorded so much shit, did so much shit, so now I’m to the point where I’m just releasing shit that I been sittin’ on. Or if I get inspiration, like, okay, I link up with Zoomo, and I’m like “aight, I wanna make a fuckin’ fresh album with Zoomo,” I’ll write then.

But I got certain ways I write, though. I try to think of topics, I try to think of words, I’m like “okay, I wanna write words with more than three syllables.” I’ll put ideas down, like, “I know I wanna rap about my cougar, I know I wanna rap about my daughter, I know I wanna say…” You know what I mean? I’ll recreate certain lines, like, take it back to the cougar shit, like, “my cougar who from here, my cougar who from there”. I’ll write little notes down, like, “lemme mention this, lemme mention how my shit’s clickin’ like this.” You know what I mean?

While we’re talking all the places you work, I think we should mention that a couple months ago, you got a new apartment, I think?

Yeah, nah, that was like last December. I’m ‘bout to move again.

Where to?

I don’t know. I’m tryna…I want to move to New York, but I’m probably gonna move somewhere out here, like, probably somewhere on the south side. When I get my stream money up, when I can start making $1000, $1500 a month off streaming, then I’ll feel comfortable enough to move to New York or move to L.A.. But for a year or a year and a half, I feel like I need to live in New York for four months, I need to live in California for four months, I need to live in Atlanta for four months. I need to be able to tap in with all these people and these places for long periods of time, not just a weekend thing, you know what I mean?

I feel like once I do that, I’ll be straight, and I’ll be able to do it, like, at an independent level, like, I don’t even have to be no superstar.

Seems like shit’s looking up for you.

Yeah, a little bit, man. I’m just tryna bring the culture to Charlotte.

Thoughts? Let us know

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