Jon Connor :: The Calling Pt. 1, The Prequel :: Avie Squad Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost

While I was preparing to review this record, as usual pondering everything from its outward appearance to its deeper meaning, putting it on and putting it away again, I came across a statement on this here website, as made by our own Aaron Weaver, who in his coverage of LMNO's "P's & Q's" observes, "It seems a new fad is trying to have the personality of Jay- Z. Countless CD's are sent my way by unknown rappers trying to shine by duplicating the little things that make Shawn Carter the prodigious Hova." His words reminded me of the Jon Connor review I had to finish.

During my very first minutes with Jon Connor I noticed a rapper alternatively determined and desperate to break into "the industry." A rapper who strives for success, stressing his hunger and passion. Someone who takes his hustle serious. (And what other way to turn your hustle into a success than to take it serious?) Professionalism abound. A thoughtful delivery alluding to superior intelligence. Then I thaught I caught him referring to himself as Young Sire. His song "Heart of My City" struck me as a cross between "Where I'm From" and "Heart of the City." Later into the album, the Young Sire alias was confirmed, as was the fact that Jon Connor occasionally calls himself "Jay-C," or something to that extent. There were also the all too familiar adlibs, the lowering of the voice for emphasis, the "yessir," the "This is your host" and "Walk with me" invitations. By the time the CD stopped playing I was so suspicious that the frequently mentioned moniker Jon Connor didn't remind me of the movie character John Connor, the leader-to-be from the _Terminator_ series, instead I wondered if Jon Connor, in case that wasn't his real name, had picked the name because if pronounced accordingly it sounds a little bit like Shawn Carter.

Originality is hip-hop's holy grail. Few ever call it theirs. Those who do have searched long for it. Meaning we should probably cut this young cat here some slack. Plus, you could do worse than choosing Jay-Z as an inspiration. (Who himself has come dangerously close to biter status with his lyrical tributes to the late great Biggie Smalls.) It would be a matter ready to be laid to rest, at least in this review, if it wasn't for track 15, entitled "I'm Just Me." It's not that he channels another rapper (50 Cent on "Wanksta") to state how original he is ("Me I'm no mobster, me I'm no gangster / me I'm no actor, me I'm just me"), it's that he gives an eloquent lecture on wanksters and biters, mocks modern day "Milli Vanilla Ices" and promises, "I ain't gon' go down as a industry fuck / who career went down the drain when you looked his history up," when he's one of the rappers most clearly influenced by Jay-Z I've ever come across. Arguing, "I ain't gon' go and bite another nigga lines / and get caught out in public for usin' 'em like they mines," Jon Connor would like to have you believe that biting is all about copying rhymes, when in reality it goes beyond that. Very often it's the "little things," just like Aaron said. In the end, "I'm Just Me" gives valuable advice Jon Connor himself should be the first to take to heart: "I am a leader by nature, I make it known / I don't follow in footsteps, homie, I make my own."

The good news is that Jon Connor still comes across as a real-life character with his own biography and background. The 20 year old represents "Michigan State, Flint City, Dayton Ave, Genesee County," apparently roaming the same streets that once produced The Dayton Family. Tune in to the aforementioned "Heart of My City" and visit the City of F-l-i-n-t:

"I'm from the caine and the drug spots, liquor stores, thug spots
Niggas ain't trippin', got them thangs in the glove box
If a nigga timid and he's scared, then his gun's not
I'm from a single parent mama home, I'm from where your father gone
I'm from where niggas' ankles got a collar on
Niggas on the order flippin' quarters keep the water on
I'm from the part of Michigan most folks don't want come 'round
Parties get shot up, clubs get shut down
Niggas get locked up and then victims get found"

There's one thing about Jon Connor that's rather exceptional. Even though a lot of his tracks detail the urban danger zone portrayed in so many rap songs, he strictly sticks to the "I'm just me" mantra. Nowhere does he claim to be or have been a drug dealer or any other kind of potential felon. Jon Connor's hustle is hip-hop. He tries hard to come across like a professional rapper and succeeds so frequently that even the most critical mind will yield and (as foreseen by Connor) say: "This is not a hobby to him, this is his life." He looks back on his come-up in "I Recall," citing the death of a cousin as a motivation. With no guest appearances, "The Calling Pt. 1" is a true solo effort, and Connor is clever enough to create interest in himself, as well as to step out of the spotlight to lend a voice to the unheard. "This For My..." is a familiar concept but well executed, as he depicts the hardhips of boys "who had dads who ain't shown no effort / grew up, became thugs cause they ain't known no better," and girls equally lacking parental guidance:

"She thinkin' no man could ever love her
Love hurts, and she learned as she got older
Poppa never told her niggas got ulterior motives
How unnotchin' her belt is a notch in his belt
She lookin' to him for love that was not in herself
And it's like she can never move at her pace
cause she see a first kiss, he see it as first base
A man never was around to tell her
Don't lay with every nigga that use the L word
This for the girls without a dad, moms ain't shown no effort
got pregant at 14 cause she ain't known no better"

Even this early in his career, Jon Connor has every right to label himself "the people's rapper" (which he does repeateadly), the way his songs relate common sense and caution. You wish more young bucks had the insight to realize that "you can't live for the block / cause the block gon' be livin' whether you livin' or not" ("The Hood Report"). At the same time Connor and his Avie Squad team have an understanding for established song concepts that will hopefully not stand in the way of them trying new things. Sometimes the formula they use is yet too evident. "Heart of My City" has already been mentioned, "Like That" is a victim of the "Drop it Like it's Hot" fallout, and guess the sample used on "Street Life." Even "Down Girl Pt. 1" can't escape comparisons, despite the "We got a 'Strange Love' like Flavor and Brigitte" line.

Musically, "The Calling Pt. 1" is just as promising. Raps and tracks often match each other exceptionally well. Of course, some beats can't be saved. That is to be expected from 80 minutes of self-produced music. The abrupt song endings aren't very professional either. And a strong finish would be needed to make the diamonds in the rough really sparkle. But for an aspiring mainstream project, this hits many of the right notes. The flow is always on point, only the voice could be more distinct (MC Breed, anyone?). The producers engage in a lot of sample manipulation. Jon Connor himself shines with the self-titled theme song, a combination of chopped pianos and busy drums, and "Heart of My City," a cascade of pianos, vocal snippets and hard drums. E. Rude creates a cinematic atmosphere contrasting a solemn piano with a machine-gun breakbeat for "Pulp Fiction," and an unassuming but soulful, 9th Wonder-like background for "This For My..." Kev Williams laces "The Hood Report" with strange chants and a frail, fleeting guitar groove. All three seem to have learned from the experimental Timbaland school of thought, realizing that hip-hop can be made from the most exotic ingredients and disparate elements.

As of yet, there's little mention of Jon Connor (or Jon Conner, as his name is also spelled) on the internet. But, always keeping an ear to the streets, already had the pleasure. Half a year ago, we covered his basketball documentary "Flint Star," which he released under the name Duce-O. At this point, there's no telling if "Jon Connor the Future" is making substantial progress, business-wise or artistically. I may never hear from him again. You may never hear from him at all. But "The Calling" tells me this guy is in it for the long run and that his Jay-Z phase will eventually pass. As he says himself: "I done heard the comparisons involvin' me and my lyrics / but I'm new on the scene, it happens, shit'll pass in a minute." Hopefully.

Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10

Originally posted: August 9, 2005