Jon Hope speaks to WBRU about the values that grant him longevity as a musician, his daughter, the Hope Scholars Initiative, and much more
Jon Hope doesn’t stop after one good performance. He performs and practices for his live session at the WBRU station relentlessly. After an impeccable rendition of his new song “REALER,” he asks to do one more take simply because, to him, artistry doesn’t stop when it starts to get good. It only begins there.
Jon Hope has been on the Providence music scene for a while now (when asked about his relationship to the city, he responds, “Oh my god, I don’t know if we have enough time!”). This long career has left many wondering how his endurance has propelled him this far. He explains that his consistency stems from his motivation, not for fame or fortune, but instead, to create the music he feels deep within his heart. “The sentiment or the notion that I’ve created for myself is that I’m doing this based off love and not off any kind of monetary whatever. That’s afforded me longevity.” Truly, he’s in it for the passion, stemming from the relationships between himself, his music, his fans, and his firm ideology.
His love for music began quite early. When he was young, he would “rap in the laundry room” of the housing complex he lived in. He and his friends would gather there as he explored his “intrigue for telling [his] story.” Rapping emerged as a form to discuss his complex background, ranging from being in foster care to having a single-parent household. “Hip-hop gave me the confidence to tell my story…It wasn’t until I got a lot older that I started forming my own style and sensibility.”
His own style emerged from years of practice and many musical influences. “The first music I can remember is EPMD, Rakim, Redman–I was a big Redman fan–and the Geto Boys.” As a young student, Hope was “one of those that was just so curious.” He was immediately drawn to rap and hip-hop, so drawn, in fact, that the limits of listening to just ‘East Coast’ music were too restrictive for him. “I was the one that was like, ‘hold up, this guy from the bay area named E-40 is talking different, or Scarface from Houston.” He expanded his taste outward, much to the confusion of his peers, to other coasts and regions. He bought albums that other people questioned. He requested “songs on the radio station like Warren G and Snoop Dog.“ In the process, he formed a taste that was all his own.
This individualized aesthetic is essential to understanding who exactly Jon Hope is. While many claim to be fully themselves, for Hope, being true to himself is an active part of his daily mission. He infuses every song with his own struggles, his own thoughts, and his own persona while presenting it all over a nice beat and smooth rhymes. He works through the same themes that many of us struggle with on the daily. However, if you don’t relate to Jon Hope’s music, he’s not too worried about it. What makes his style so distinct is that, even as he strives to create better music, he doesn’t fuss too much about making sure everyone loves his sound or his messages: “I’m not here to convince.”
Hope is able to be so easily individual and outspoken about himself because of the morals that lead him through his career and his greater perspective on life. In this case, Hope references and praises an “affinity” that allows him to pursue his sound with no fears of impressing the gigantic public around him. As he puts it, “Affinity, for me, is just really developing those organic connections at every single touchpoint.” These connections extend to what he feels for his friends, family, and fans. He emphasizes these valuable relationships instead of trying to “get a DJ to listen to [his] track and to like it.” This sense of affinity has also helped him navigate Providence: “I think it’s easy for someone to feel like they can only go to this side of town or these particular venues, but the more that you venture out…you recognize that there’s so much out there and how much these people and city have to offer.” Hope knows that people who support him will naturally come and that they will “grow together.” In the meantime, he isn’t too interested in playing into toxic relationships or competitions.
Instead, Hope is trying his hardest to use his platform and his support network to propel a vision of hip-hop that can be seen as genuinely beneficial. He says, “I’m just out here trying to use those platforms to inspire and connect with people, basically just improve their quality of life through music.”
To help this mission, Hope created the Hope Scholars Initiative to “provide viability for hip-hop culture in the academic sphere” in order to assist students in having their interests become respected and valued. Hope has a unique connection to this issue because, while we may all know him as a local star, he has also been a professor for over ten years. He had grown accustomed to “not being able to be [his] truest self” in academic settings. He says, “part of being true to myself is having that hip-hop identity and that whole aesthetic.” He realized that if he, as someone with the resources to express himself, is having trouble with authentic expression, young people with unique tastes may also be struggling.
Hope Scholars Initiative emerged in the aftermath of this realization. The initiative is comprised of many programs, one being the “Big Homie Network” that places students with mentors who have a “hip-hop sensibility” while also maintaining full-fledged careers. They serve to show the students how a love of hip-hop is far from detrimental. “They see someone who might be a CEO but also has dreads and a diamond in their ear.” Additionally, the initiative hosts “Deeper than Rap,” a sort of album book club where albums are analyzed in the same way an author’s work would be. The point of all of this is to show students that their interest in hip-hop is not unprofessional or stupid, but rather a valuable intrigue that can lead them through the classroom and beyond. “This says, no, we’re going to center that conversation and provide an academic context with merit in that.”
At his point, you might wonder how Hope is able to be so dedicated to his music and his mission. Of course, he credits affinity, but how did he even become so sure of that? At first ask, he’ll jokingly credit his optimism or “being a Pisces or whatever.” Yet, the true answer to that is hidden in his very name: hope. He isn’t attempting to preach “blind positivity.” Instead, he defines hope as “being in a difficult situation and accepting that situation while figuring out how to continue, to move forward.” He emphasizes the need “to act. You have to do and decide to do.” From that, Jon Hope has learned that he “is all [he] needs to do whatever it is [he] needs to do.” That knowledge has, evidently, carried him far as he crafts ample inspirational songs surrounding it.
It also helps that Hope has his very own secret weapon hidden away back home. His daughter, named Hope, gifts him new “firsts” even as he grows older. On the subject of her, he says, “She’s taught me to respect other people’s process. She’s taught me to enhance…and has provided more clarity.”Additionally, she encourages him to keep writing in his most authentic fashion. Perhaps, this is why Jon Hope still relies on a “pen and pad,” using those tools to capture his thoughts as they organically come; He values the scribbling, the ability to literally see his thoughts form and rewrite themselves in front of him. That way, when he finishes and records a song, his songs become future letters to her, showing her where he was in his life at the point he wrote that song. As he says, “Now, I’m writing about legacy. Even if the song isn’t directly about Hope, I’m thinking about her no matter what I write. I want these thoughts to be able to be consumed by her when she is able to.”
Jon Hope, in truth, is writing letters to us all. He is gifting us all moments in his life to be returned to as they relate to our own truths, our own struggles, and our larger affinities.