All too often when people think of Little Rock, Arkansas, the first thing that comes to mind is HBO’s award-winning 1994 documentary Gang War: Bangin’ in Little Rock. Not any more. With the Rock on his back and a Razorbacks’ fitted cocked just so on his dome, rapper SL Jones is out to prove that Little Rock gangsters can bang in more ways than one. “I’m from one of those places where nobody has ever just stuck their chest out and made it appealing to be from where we’re from,” says Jones. “But I’m here to change that. No matter where I go, I am Little Rock.”
And in that fashion, SL Jones’ new project, The Number 23: Editor's Cut, isn’t the rapper’s claim at G.O.A.T. status or some underdeveloped basketball analogy, but instead a reference to his home turf, Little Rock’s notorious 23rd and Wolfe Street neighborhood. SL Jones grew up like so many others around his way – a true blue Crip. But Jones isn’t just another gangsta rapper waving a blue flag. He tells stories that are as different from the rest of the rap world as his sound, his slang, and his flow, and when you couple his unique perspective with his college education and his commitment to doing more with his studio time than simply squeezing off shots in the dark, you’ve got Southern rap’s new triple threat. “Sophisticated Gangsterism, I like to call it,” Jones says of his sound. “I’m not out here telling you to forget your set, but we shouldn’t be killing nobody just ’cause they Blood or ’cause they a Crip. I’m not giving you my story to glorify it; I’m trying to get you in the car with me and then make it enlightening.”
Born Bryan Jones (the “SL” comes from the B in Bryan, as in Second Letter), SL Jones first turned heads with his from-the-streets-for-the-streets approach when a verse cut at OutKast’s Stankonia Studios caught the ear of Grind Time CEO Killer Mike. “My uncle’s first cousin is Andre 3000,” Jones explains, “so my uncle brought me to Stankonia and he put me on the spot. One of the engineers up there recorded it, Killer heard it, and he started calling all the time, telling me I needed to come through. I still wasn’t taking the rap thing too seriously, but we started talking and then he said he’d take me on tour when he went out, and he did.”
The two bonded on the road over a shared commitment to Southern lyricism and the need to feed the streets more hard, intelligent rap in the tradition of Ice Cube, Public Enemy, and N.W.A. It wasn’t long before SL Jones was clocking serious time as a ghostwriter at Stankonia Studios and Killer Mike was referring to him as the Grind Time Lieutenant. “SL Jones is the future of Southern lyricism,” says Mike. “His metaphors and his flow are incredible. He always goes in!”
With Mike in his corner, SL kept his name in the streets over the years with appearances on Killer Mike/Grind Time mixtapes like I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind and Underground Atlanta. But it wasn’t long before SL realized that it was time to define himself on his own. “Killer will always be the big homie and it will always be Grind Time Official," says Jones, "but right now it’s time for me to make the world stand up and take notice of SL Jones.”
The warning shot came in 2008 when SL let off his first full-length mixtape, C.O.L.O.R.S: Bangin’ on Wax. The tape showcased Jones’s razor sharp Razorback flow, a clipped and clear delivery dipped in southern slang, as well as his street bred philosophy. C.O.L.O.R.S., which featured appearances by Clipse, Killer Mike, and Grand Hustle artists Big Kuntry and Macboney, brought listeners straight to the corner of 23rd and Wolfe, a world of blue flags, “paper bag” Dickies, and Screw tapes unlike anything rap has ever heard.
A few short years later, SL brought listeners back to that same corner with the appropriately titled mixtape, The Number 23, his second full-length release and the first through his own imprint, M.A.D.E. (Money Always Determines Everything) Entertainment. Hosted by Don Cannon, the tape, which includes features from Killer Mike, Waka Flocka Flame, Pill, Trae Tha Truth, Scrilla, and fellow Little Rock representer Errol Westbrook, along with production from Lex Luger, Don Cannon, Shawty Redd, M16, and others, puts SL’s full range on display, showing off mainstream songwriting sensibilities (“Fligher Learning,” “To The Beat”), along with an ability to craft heavy hitting street anthems (“Hit-A-Licc,” “Paper Cuts,” “Trapped Out), and unrelenting lyrical exercises (“Hear Me,” “Walkin’ Investment”).
Following will be a retail re-release for The Number 23. Titled The Number 23: Editor's Cut, the new project includes the 14 best tracks from the original mixtape, slimmed down and accompanied by two previously unreleased songs, "Out Here," a song that features Rocko and SODMG member JBar, along with the Lex Luger-produced "Michael Jordan." The Number 23: Editor's Cut, released August 23rd, is offered both as a free download through SL's website and for sale through all digital retailers.
And with these two new releases, SL is just getting started, with plans for a variety of new releases in 2011, including EP's, mixtapes, and more. "Greatness can't be proclaimed; it's just hard work and dedication until people take notice," says Jones. "I just want people to listen and they'll respect it for what it is--quality music."