JP Reynolds is not yet a household name, but he should be. The New York native is one of many often unseen insurgents in Hip-Hop that seek to uplift the lives of those they touch. He an artist through and through – a rapper, songwriter and leader that blends Hip-Hop, jazz, funk, gospel and into a soulful gumbo.
In honor of Black women, the Yale University grad has crafted a new song that reminds us of the beauty, energy and specialness of God’s finest creatures. “Black Love” ventures well past the prevailing images of our queens in pop culture, capitalist cannibalism and commercial voyuerism. “Black Love” is a thoughtful examination sisters and the relationships with their counterparts as well as an open challenge to society. This is rap as necessary art and critique.
Read this interview between JP Reynolds and Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur.
AllHipHop: Talk to me about the song “Black Love” and what made you make it?
This song is really a celebration of a major part of my life that I’m actually pretty private about. I usually try not to idolize the concept of Black love. So I’ve really tried to center my own love journey around a person as opposed to an idea. But when I zoom out, look at my experience, and recognize how pervasive love exists for, through and between Black people I couldn’t help but to write a song like this. Black love raised me. I grew up watching my parents’ version of it. I grew up with examples of it in my church community. I heard aspirational versions of it on the records my dad would play in the car. I experienced the vastness of Black love when I started developing bonds with people across the gender spectrum. Bonds that hold firm to this day. The way we love ourselves, especially in spite of how much we’re unloved in this world, is really special. It’s powerful I think. It’s resilient and visionary. I think that’s another reason I made the song. I’ve written a lot of songs that are lamentations. Songs that tell the story of how anti-Black this world is. But this time I wanted to celebrate. And I wanted to celebrate in a way that ain’t gotta do with nobody else. Us. All of us. That’s what made me make it.
AllHipHop: Is it self-produced?
I’m in a space where everything I create is self-something. Self-funded. Self-distributed. Self-promoted. But I partner and collaborate with a lot of folks. For this joint, I linked with a beatmaker named Soul.Dope.95. His name is exactly what his beats sound like. Soulful. Really, really dope. Inspired by the 90s for sure. Dilla vibes with the lazy drums. Jazzy overtones. I loved this one, in particular, when I came across it on BeatStars. Matter fact, the song was originally on an entirely different instrumental. But I discarded that version of the song because it just wasn’t hitting for me. It was about to be completely left to the lost files. But I believed in the song so much, man. I liked that I was doing something a bit different with my voice. Plus I had started putting together a Soul Raps project, and I thought this song was worth recovering so I could add it to the collection. That prompted me to search for beats that would sync up and I came across this one. From there the song got some new life.
And besides the beat itself, it is entirely self-produced. For the first time, I mixed the entire Soul Raps project that this song is a part of. I recorded myself for the whole thing too. Maybe we’ll talk about the project a little later. But generally, I like to work with engineers who can translate the sound I’m going for. So it was a bit of a leap for me to hop on the boards for these tracks. I tried something new. And my Art Director, ZILLA, always lends an extra ear to my work to help me stay aligned with the sound I’ve been developing over the years. ZILLA also shot the snippet video for the song. And we collaborated on all the visual elements like fonts and colors for the song, as well as the whole Soul Raps project. So yes, high-level self-produced with collaborators and partners. I tend to like it that way.
AllHipHop: Odes to Black women from Black men are fairly rare in 2022. Why is that in your opinion?
I mean, I think it’s unpopular. I don’t think it would hit. Black sex? Sure. Black bodies? No doubt. Black love? Not so much. While I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about how Black men actually feel about Black women, I still think that for money-making enterprises it doesn’t help to talk about loving Black women. It’s not shiny enough. I honestly believe that in real life, Black men have a LOT of love for Black women. Is it complicated? And should we talk about these things on more circumstantial levels? And sometimes in private as opposed to on social media? Absolutely.
But I do believe the love is there. And I believe it’s deeper than many of us give it credit for. It’s definitely deeper than what the music industry can capture. In music there’s plenty of attention for fake things, for glitz and glamor, for accessories. We want to be entertained. We don’t always want to feel. And if we do want to feel, we want to feel like a savage. So many folks have been deeply hurt. So we don’t want to be vulnerable or penetrable. The energy I get from a lot of records is about who can not care the most. Who can be hurt the least. Who can move on the fastest. In this type of space it’s no wonder that songs about Black love feel like a rarity.
AllHipHop: In the song, you make specific reference to “others” that have co-opted the looks and features of Black women. Why include that in the song?
Frankly, I just always want to pay homage to the originators. It’s absolutely insane to me how often a “new trend” pops up that Black women and girls have been doing for years. Black girl does a TikTok dance and it’s crickets. White girl copies the Black girl’s TikTok dance very poorly and she gets a press junket or an appearance on Ellen or whatever. Black women rock braids forever. White women copy braids very sloppily and they get beauty campaigns. Like. What are we talking about?? This isn’t new either. So I’ve been watching The Gilded Age. And if I get in my historian nerd bag, which I often do, I wonder about those Victorian-era dresses from the 1800s. Why were those dresses shaped like that? With those high arching booties built into the dress? Generally speaking, white women aren’t naturally shaped like that. So seriously. Why?
It’s not lost on me that Sarah Baartman was literally on display in front of the world around that time. Tell the readers to Google Venus Hottentot to see what I’m talking about, Chuck. Folks are still copying Black women’s bodies. Except now the copying happens by surgeons and tanning salons and hair stylists instead of just tailors. Truthfully it p##### me off how ironic and hypocritical it is that Black women have been demeaned, degraded, and made to be thought of as ugly when women around the world turn around and copy exactly what has been demeaned, degraded, and made to be thought of as ugly. And then the copycats get the credit and attention and financial compensation. I know that Black women have been bold and resilient despite this and have reclaimed so much. But the fact that Black women have to go through all that is just unfair. And I want Black women to know that we see y’all. And we know.
AllHipHop: What is so special and unique about them to you?
Well, when I think about the Black women in my life – my grandmothers, my mama, my partner, aunties, close friends. There’s a lot there. Black women have a particular sharpness that is intriguing and inspiring. When I say sharpness I mean wit. I mean edge. I mean an energy that’s not to be trifled with or trampled over. There’s often a knowing in their eyes. There’s often a rhythm in their spirit. A grace in their grounding. On the track I say “your voice box carries Light.” And I meant that. Black women’s light shines so bright, especially in spite of all the opposition.
And culturally I think it’s special when we see each other. You know what I mean? Lucille Clifton has a poem that captures what I think is so special. She says at the very end, “come celebrate with me that every day something has tried to kill me and has failed.” We know what has tried to kill us. And there’s a connection in that knowing. At our best, we’ve been familial. Outside of blood relation. We’ve been protective of each other. Jovial with each other. We’ve danced together to a beat only we truly know. We’ve rapped lyrics and sung songs with a depth only we truly understand. We’ve broken bread together. And drank together. And cooked together with recipes tucked away in paths our ancestors’ forged. We’ve prayed together in ways that resonate beyond tongues and traditions. We’ve imagined worlds together beyond current contexts and conditions. It’s just special.
AllHipHop: What role does rap play in how we interact with each other relationship-wise?
I think rap plays a pretty significant role there. I think we often communicate with each other in rap lyrics or make references to rap culture in our intimate conversations. For better or worse, I think a lot of rap songs have informed how we attract one another or how we see one another. How we shape expectations of relationships. How we date. Again, for better or worse. I remember “21 Questions” by 50 Cent. And I’m pretty sure teenage me jokingly said “I love you like a fat kid love cake” to a shorty. And I’ve definitely told my wife I’d give her “all the keys and security codes” like Jay said in “Excuse Me Miss.” I can think of so many lyrics I’ve used to describe my lady or lyrics that have helped shape who I wanted to be with in the first place. Like when Drake said “Sweatpants, hair tied, chilling with no makeup on” I felt affirmed in what I wanted and who I was partnered with (laughs).
I think there’s an underside to this too. And this is the worse of the ‘for better or worse.’ I think there’s also a lot of emptiness when it comes to how rap plays a role in our relationships. Or really our visions of self and each other. Like, when Wayne said “beautiful black woman, I bet that b#### look better red” I was like come on, not colorism rearing its head so egregiously. There’s a long history of lyrics disrespecting women. And then there’s a history of rappers trying to explain the disrespect. Jay got a song that tries to point out the distinction between “B###### and Sisters.” Lupe tried with “B#### Bad.” Were their efforts successful? I think the answer to that depends on the context. I do know that there’s a too-long lineage of lyrics and songs and videos clearly disrespecting women, and I don’t really want to give those examples light. And there are a bunch of songs and lyrics that influence what we expect women to do in relationships. I know I’ve had to do a lot of unlearning there. I’m still doing unlearning there. And, of course, those expectations aren’t only couched in rap music. But, this is the underside. For me, it’s not the fullness of rap. For me, the disparaging narratives don’t get a monopoly on the stories we’re telling and the perspectives we’re shaping. There’s too much out there for that.
AllHipHop: You have been creating this sort of content for a while. How has the journey been?
It’s been beautiful. I look to create from a place of light. To do that, I get to bathe in a lot of light. That’s a blessing. It’s also a blessing to have earned not only people’s ears and eyes, but to have earned their belief in my vision. Maybe that comes from the light I try to reflect. I’ve successfully crowdfunded multiple times. I’ve been able to build teams of creatives and strategists for my projects. I built a really reliable band. And they’re all insane players. I did a national grassroots tour in the kitchens of my super supporters. And that will forever be crazy to me. Folks gotta REALLY rock with you to invite you into their home. Into their kitchen to perform music. And I was going all over the place. I hit the NYC tri-state area of course. But I also went to Philly, Rochester, Maryland, Detroit. Before the pandemic I was set to hit Atlanta, Oakland, Chicago, and Alabama too. All independent. All love. All vibes. To me, that means I’ve been making music that’s connecting with people. And it also means I’ve been building something people can feel. And that’s always been the dream.
At the same time, though, it has been really difficult. Being truly independent in a saturated space with a lot of folks clamoring for clout, doing literally whatever they can to be seen. Trying to attain resources and spark relationships in an industry that, frankly, doesn’t recognize or honor artistry or originality. It can get tiring, discouraging, and even dark, man. So the journey has had lots of twists and turns. And I’ve endured some lumps and almosts and maybes that have made my skin tougher.
Overall the journey has increased my gratitude. I’m just thankful. And it feels like I’m just getting started for real.
AllHipHop: Who did you admire growing up?
This could go a lot of ways, Chuck! If we’re talking about true admiration, it’s my grandmothers and my mother. My grandmothers were different when I was growing up, but they were both so admirable. Both women of faith. One is an artist, a thinker, a firebrand. The other was quiet with a big presence, stylish, and sassy. My mother is all of the things. I could do a whole interview about Rev. Dr. Lillian F. Reynolds. For now I’ll say that she’s a brilliant, prophetic, creative force whose passion is absolutely foundational for my journey. I also grew up admiring church mothers, deacons, aunties – blood and extended, and the young women my parents elected to babysit my brother and. We were often exposed to powerfully thinking, independent, and consummately beautiful Black women.
If we’re talking crushes? Whitney Houston. Janet Jackson. Alicia Keys. Whitney used to sing me to sleep when my family first moved to New York. Cassette tape days. The white boys I went to prep school with tried to play me for having a crush on Janet Jackson. I’m glad I never got too impacted by their racist and immature standards of beauty. Alicia Keys was the baddest out with them cornrows. Sheesh.
AllHipHop: What else do you have going on?
Thankfully I have a bunch going on. “Black Love” is the second installment of Soul Raps, an unfolding music exhibit with monthly additions throughout 2022. For every song there’s artwork, videos, merch, and special edition items. So I have a lot rolling out this year. A big part of this project is my entrance into web3. I’m selling NFTs associated with each song from Soul Raps. Maybe we can talk more in depth about my experience entering the metaverse in another interview. But for now I can say this has revived my energy for creating and releasing music. I’m continuing to build with my longtime supporters and I’m finding an entirely new and very energetic community of people interested in my music. It’s all still pretty new, and I’m relatively early to the music NFT table but so far I’ve felt like I can be as creative as I want to be without fear about short attention spans or algorithmic data or clout chasing. I’ve already been able to sell a couple NFTs, and I’m looking forward to building out new worlds and new ways for me to connect with the folks who have been riding with me.
I’m also slow cooking a live album with my band called Peace and Power Planet. I’m super excited to drop that after this Soul Raps run. We’re bringing to life a lot of the music that we’ve been brewing in late night NYC music venues over the past 5 years. We’ve been in the mixing process for almost a year now and it’s sounding truly special. Really proud of this project already.
Outside of music, I joined my family’s business as the Chief Creative Officer of American Legacy Network Productions. My pops, Rodney J. Reynolds, built the American Legacy brand initially as a magazine that celebrates Black history and culture. The brand has evolved to include many different elements including ALN Productions, which is a multimedia company developing films, documentaries, television and short form content based primarily on our magazine’s extensive archive. That role and our company is still pretty new with a lot of exciting projects on the table. And it’s been a real privilege to see my father catch another wave and contribute to our family’s American legacy.