Twenty-one years ago two lyricists from Southwest Atlanta burst onto the national Hip Hop radar with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Since the arrival of OutKast’s debut album in 1994, Atlanta Hip Hop has undergone several transformations.
A 22-year-old A-Town rhymer is now tapping back into that funky soul well of music promoted by Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Moments into Jonah Cruzz’s latest project, Cruzz Control, listeners are hit with a distinct Southern soundbed layered with an engaging flow. Jonah’s homage to the Golden Era and hat tip to his hometown comes into full play by track two. A song aptly titled “1994.”
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“I wanted people to understand where I was from. It’s a reason I’m saying, ‘Who that n*gga swagging like he out in California?’ So many people hear my music and think I’m from Cali. Even when they meet me, they ask if I’m from Cali,” Cruzz relays to AllHipHop.com. “I wanted to let people know I’m from Atlanta. Don’t get it twisted. I might rock the Vans. I might swag like this. But y’all are going to know I’m from the ATL. I’m from that red dirt. I wanted people to respect where I’m from.”
Cruzz has a great appreciation for all things 90’s. His mother put him onto the rap music of the time, and he recalls older relatives telling him about learning of the tragic death of Tupac Shakur.
He even has his own memories of the infamous “Bite Fight” between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in 1997. But the decade’s tunes are Cruzz’s favored products to emerge from the last ten years of the 20th Century.
“I’m in love with that whole 90’s era of music. I listen to everything from that era. Even R&B music from that era,” says Cruzz. “I carry myself like I’m in the 90’s. It’s 2015, but that’s what I like.”
Jonah was just seven years old when the calendar turned to the new millennium. While he is now a buzzing entertainer, his life before the million SoundCloud plays was a difficult one. Many of his childhood days were spent in hotel rooms as his family moved around frequently.
The difficulty of the constant displacement did open Jonah up to discovering more about himself. He identified his ability to sing as a pre-teen. Soon after his mother learned of her son’s talent, she passed the information to Jonah’s preacher father. The parents then had the young performer join the church choir.
That spiritual base is also part of the music Cruzz makes today. “Windows” – a cut off of his previous mixtape Ordinary N*gga – questions the value of worshiping in the house of the Lord and discusses how the Creator responds to the choices people make to survive.
“I’m not a bible thumper. I can’t tell you nothing about the Quran. I can’t tell you nothing about any other religion. I can only tell you about my personal relationship with God,” Cruzz proclaims. “In my heart, I feel like I’m taking the right steps, and as long as I’m doing the right thing I should reap the benefits.”
The Ordinari Music Group representative continues, “Everybody makes mistakes, but we do have free will. At the same time, you can’t let that stop you from being yourself. However you want to live your life is fine. I’m not telling no one to do wrong. I’m telling people what’s really going on in the world. The truth needs to be exposed.”
Cruzz’s personal truth includes enjoying the pleasures of marijuana and sex – two vices that may be frowned upon by strict religious devotees. That still does not prevent the Henry County native from exploring those concepts in his art.
In October, Jonah released a video for “Diana.” The metaphoric song – partially inspired by Lil Wayne’s “I Feel Like Dying” and Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” – tells the story of how
addiction love can be pleasurable and destructive at the same time.
“It wasn’t inspired by real drugs. I’ve smoked weed and I’ve tried lean. But I’ve never done anything passed that,” states Cruzz. “When I made the song, I wanted to make people feel like they were on drugs. Even if you didn’t do drugs, I wanted to put people in a mind state of being addicted to something. Anything can be your Diana.”
The rest of Ordinary N*gga includes further displays of the regular guy archetype. Unlike other rapper’s tendency to sell an über-exceptional persona, remaining relatable to the audience is the goal for Jonah.
“It was time to really express who I am as a person. I didn’t want to lie to the people. I didn’t want to say I’m whipping this, I’m wearing that, and I’m doing all these extraordinary things. I don’t do none of that and don’t relate to none of that. So I wanted to tell people the truth of who I am and tell my whole story,” explained Cruzz.
The themes presented on Ordinary N*gga are deciphered even further on Cruzz Control with a twist of Hip Hop nostalgia. The love interest from the Fugees’ “Nappy Heads” returns on the soulful and sensual “Mona Lisa.” Jonah gives his fans vintage Snoop-esque vibes on the weed ode “Smoke Party.” The social issues probed on the reflective “Stoop Kid” harken back to the ripped from the headlines motif of OutKast’s “Toilet Tisha.” The collection closes out with “Multiply” which features the same rise from poverty ambitions of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.”
“Your album might be a bible to somebody. Your album might be something that somebody really lives by. So I try to watch what I say, but be as honest as possible,” says Jonah about Cruzz Control. “When I’m long gone and dead, my music is still going to be here and could still spark a brain.”
Jonah’s inspirational message is also an updated version of a quote shared by another cultural icon from the 1990’s. 2Pac once declared, “I guarantee I will spark the brain that will change the world.” Cruzz is now proudly standing on the shoulders of the legendary emcee/actor/activist as Pac’s mission continues to manifest in a new generation.
“The thing I want to achieve in my life is to inspire people. I want to change the world. I want to make the world a better place,” insists Cruzz. “I know I can’t do that alone, but I know I can inspire other people. My biggest thing is to hit people in their hearts, to really impact people, and say something that will get them to do better for themselves.”
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Read other installments of AllHipHop’s #ATLRiseUp series here.
Purchase Jonah Cruzz’s Ordinary N*gga on iTunes.
Stream Jonah Cruzz’s Cruzz Control below.