During the opening lines of his latest record, The Shoulder You Lean On, Chicago MC Rich Jones gives us his ultimate aspirations: “If I had it my way, I’d be half way across the globe. Living off the road, making friends everywhere I go.” Those ambitious, yet earnest, dreams are quickly chased by a bitter dose of reality in the following lyrics: “You know plans, they never go as you want. Stuck inside my woes, stuck inside my haunts.”
Jones, a rapper/singer/show promoter, is a self-described lover of life. He is known in Chicago as one of the music scene’s most well-known and respected entities. However, The Shoulder You Lean On shows a more somber, introspective side of the ring-clad vocalist. He has been a full-time artist and promoter for more than seven years, and he explained there are many difficult and disheartening aspects of the music business.
“There’s a lot of people out here who aren’t who they say they are. People aren’t here to look out for your best interests,” Jones said.
“Like you thought certain people had your back and were looking out for you, and just people not caring, and having to deal with that. On the flipside, seeing all the people who do care and do give a fuck. I think that’s the contrast right there. On one hand, you can focus on all the people that are just not caring, or you can pay attention to the people that give a shit. And that’s kind of the big lesson of this project, just really understanding what it means to give your time to those who want the best for you, versus those who are just there for jersey-chasing, a lot here-today-gone-tomorrow people in the game.”
The Shoulder You Lean On is a tribute to those in his corner – his friends, family, and loyal supporters. Jones explained that navigating through the seedier aspects of the entertainment industry has helped him grow a deeper connection and appreciation for those who’ve shown him love and support.
“Four or five years ago, would crater me when I would put something out and nobody cared,” he said. “Now it’s like, first off let’s see what we can do to get people to give a shit. In terms of promotion, what do I do differently to get a different result? Cause if I’m doing the same thing everything every time, you’re just going to get the same result every time.”
After releasing Vegas – a polished, soulful dance-pop record with producer Ryan Lofty – in January 2017 and Light Work – a return to rapping, backed by Chicago beat maker Vapor Eyes’ trip-hop production – in December of the same year, he spent most of 2018 quietly building for the future. The Shoulder You Lean On, released in the final months of last year, came together quickly, Jones said. After visiting Los Angeles for Lofty’s wedding, he linked up with Blended Beats producer J. Kehlr to set what would end up being the groundwork to their collaborative 7-track project.
The album is Jones’ most personal and introspective release since Pink Slips (2016) and Pigeons & Waffles (2015), a pair of projects recorded around the same time that reinvigorated his solo career. Shoulder seems to pick up where those releases left off, with tales about his struggles finding his true calling as he enters the next stage of his career and life.
“This is me most effectively articulating some of the questions I had on those projects,” Jones said of The Shoulder You Lean On. “In a way, I’m exactly where I need to be. I think I kind of nailed it. Granted, there’s ways I could’ve moved that could’ve been more profitable. Things I could’ve done that would’ve expedited certain experiences for me. But for the most part, I don’t know man, I’m kind of living the life I was meant to live in a lot of ways.”
With summer 2019 approaching, Jones has already undergone some changes, most notably ending his seven-year residency at Lincoln Park’s Tonic Room, where he hosted a monthly local hip-hop showcase known as All Smiles. He wrapped up the residency with one of the best lineups he’s put together, which included a reunion of the influential Chicago supergroup Tomorrow Kings, underground vet Psalm One, budding boom-bap purist greenSLLIME, and of course a memorable set of Jones’ group that helped start it all, the Second City Citizens.
Jones said he isn’t quite sure yet what will be his next move. Though he is confident that whatever he does, it will be an effort to bring together the Chicago music community and give younger artists a platform to showcase their talents, which he sees as what could be his true calling.
“I don’t really see an alternative path that would’ve worked really,” he said when asked if he ever considered a career outside of music. “I was meant to make things or be involved in the process of people making things. That’s a pretty exciting revelation to come to. There’s catharsis in that.”
Written by: Zach Goose
Photos by: Katie Levine