J Town The Triple Threat

EDDIE BLAY 14 11 2015
J Town has definitely come long way from the day he won the rap music reality show Emcee Africa. He has firmly established himself as a rapper, designer and TV host, and shows no signs of taking his foot off the gas pedal. After spending some time working in South Africa, he’s back in Ghana, so I caught up with him for a chat.

What have you been up to lately?
J Town: I’ve been busy trying to start my own production company, where we’ll be doing artiste management, music videos, documentaries, short films, commercials, etc. I’ve also done a deal to launch my clothing line Tristan Blake, which is executive wear, suits, etc. I’m still the first and only Ghanaian VJ on Channel O. I was supposed to do it for one year but I’m going into my third year now. I enjoy that a lot. It’s fun and the money’s good. I get to travel a lot and meet some very influential people. Music wise, I’m still doing my thing. I’ve got some collaborations coming up with some pretty big international acts. My album got great reviews and it’s selling as well. So things are good.

What’s the journey from Emcee Africa to now been for you?

J Town: My journey as a whole has been a difficult one, but Emcee Africa opened up a new page for me. As soon as I was done with that, I got approached by a label to give me a deal. I worked with them for about a year and got the chance to understand the business. It opened up some doors for me and then we parted ways amicably. I then started my own label, Home of Original Dreams (HOOD), and put out my single ‘Guns & Roses’ which blew up massively. I was shocked at how big it became because it’s a cross between rap and rock. I got nominated for a Channel O Music Video Award and a Ghana Music Award. From then on, it just didn’t stop. I just kept putting out music. I did a collaboration with Ice Prince which made me become the first Ghanaian to go number one on the Nigerian top ten charts. I’ve also been producing a lot. I produced some stuff for this R&B cat I signed called Skreech, who is about to drop his mix tape. I’ve really been interested in the business side of music, because I believe you can open many doors with that. With my clothing label, I looked at the opportunity to create clothes for business-minded people as opposed to street wear. It’s my niche. I have learnt a lot over the years.

What are some of differences you’ve noticed between working in South Africa and working in Ghana?

J Town: Precision is everything to South Africans. For example, for the Channel O Awards, they fly you in five days before. You have your script as soon as you land. All the timings are already calculated. Sound check is done four days before the show. In Ghana, they do it only on the day of the show. They are very thorough when it comes to production in SA. In Ghana, I think we lack that. A lot of people say it’s because of money, or the lack of it, but if you want a good show, you need to put in some extra money to make sure it comes out right, and not cut corners. We cut corners too much in GH. Another thing I noticed in SA is everything is about paper work. There is no mixing of friendship with business. They’ll be cool with you and all, but as soon as it’s business, the paper work comes out. Even before we start deliberating about an idea, contracts are signed.

As a VJ on Channel O, how do you rate Ghanaian music’s popularity on the world market?

J Town: Some people outside seem to think there’s not enough variety in our music. They think that all we have is the Azonto and that sounds Nigerian to them because Nigerians are doing the same thing. They don’t know that we have other genres of music in Ghana, because they don’t get that much airplay. It’s a slow process but people outside are starting to realize that we have other genres apart from Azonto and Afrobeats. People say that hip hop is not going to do well in Africa, but AKA who is the biggest rapper in SA is always on tour around the continent. He does big shows and is always getting endorsement deals. There’s no brand meeting that his name doesn’t get mentioned, and he raps in English! In Ghana, we don’t see how a rapper who raps in English can be marketed around Africa. No disrespect to Twi rappers, because I love what they do, but when they go outside, they tend to perform only for Ghanaian crowds. Marketing is the problem. If we can market ourselves well, our music can go everywhere.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career?

J Town: Getting my music played on air! I’ve always been against paying payola. Why should I pay you to play my music when you keep telling me that you love it, and you playing it can also get you good ratings and sponsors? I was very aggressive about that in the beginning. Early in my career, I was even saying “forget Ghana, I will promote my stuff outside.’ Sway actually said that to me. He said people accepted him more because he blew up outside before Ghana. So I started promoting my music in Nigeria and SA. I’ve had to prove myself. Then my new management has also explained to me that you also need to be big in your home in order to be successful outside. So it’s a fine line, and I’ve had to be very patient with all this.

What advice would you give to upcoming artistes?

J Town: Well, you need to carve a niche for yourself. It’s also important to have the right people around you as opposed to just having ‘yes men’. You need the right aggressive, business-minded, management that can open doors for you. The kind that will find another opening when one door closes. Artistes need to work on their craft. Cheesey music is almost over. That time has run out. Good music with strong verses and lyrics is coming back. Study the greats and understand why they lasted. In Ghana, there is a new hit every week and many are soon forgotten. You need to make music with substance that can stand the test of time. The more you study, the more you know about music, the more you work on your craft, the better you become and the more you stand out from the rest.

A message to your fans?
J Town: I know everyone says they love their fans, but I REALLY do! They’ve been so supportive over the years. I was going to quit a couple of years ago, but they kept me going. I thank them so much! Much love to all of them, and they should check out my new artiste, Skreech.

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