I had the pleasure of sitting on a call recently with Jonathon Eley following the release of his debut album, After the Internet, that dropped on July 28. I have to say, the album was amazing and deep and really spoke for itself. It has meaning, so it takes a few listens to fully grasp everything, but it is well worth it, and you’ll find yourself having it on repeat anyway. When looking at Eley’s social media prior to speaking with him, I couldn’t help but notice and become interested in a competition he had going on his Instagram — he had placed a secret message within his track list and it had stumped his fans for days. It took me a few minutes, but I figured it out and wound up tweeting it in the middle of the night for my ‘proof’ that I got it first. Can you figure it out?
So whois Jonathon Eley?
Jonathon Eley is a 23-year-old producer, rapper, and hip hop artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. Originally hailing from Jamaica, Queens, New York, Jonathon Eley moved with his family at the young age of about 11 and built his musical roots in South Georgia. Most of his family lives in Atlanta, which is how he grew within the Atlanta hip hop scene, however, he has lived most of his life in the slower, ‘country’ part of the state over the past 12 or 13 years.
Do you feel as though moving to Atlanta/the south contributed and shaped your musical molding?
“Absolutely.” Hailing from New York City, Eley was used to the New York “Jay-Z” sound of hip hop. Moving to the south, however, he said he’d “never forget” when he first moved to Georgia and this man 'rolled down the street' with a sub[woofer] in his car blasting Young Jeezy. A culture shock that he found laughable, he questioned the loud bass and music style while he adjusted to the new sound of hip hop he would come to know. Now, the Atlanta hip hop style is the sound he has come to know and love. “We [Atlanta] have that sound that everyone wants, and it’s a beautiful thing.” Eley grew up with the sounds and influence of gospel music, which in turn, influenced his style when transitioning to hip hop.
Even though Eley only recently released his debut album, he’s not new to the game- he has been releasing EPs and mix tapes on Soundcloud and YouTube throughout the past 6 years, including, but not limited to- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (2014) and This Is Easy (2016). Despite his prior releases, After the Internet- his debut album- was his first major work in his career.
When asked who his musical influences were, he mentioned that his first rappers he molded himself after were Big Sean and J. Cole. He mentioned that they held a high influence on him as he first started taking music seriously and began molding his style in 2011. A friend then introduced him to Childish Gambino in 2012, and that changed his game forever. Eley remarked about when he first discovered Gambino’s music, “I remember hearing it and I was like oh my god…I saw myself- I literally saw myself in him and I think that’s why I gravitated to him more and really studied him. I’m glad because it made me better- not by trying to be like him, but it’s helped me to become my own artist.” He studied him, he watched Childish Gambino evolve, he took note of the message in Because the Internet (2013), and Eley became a “student of the game”.
By watching and studying other artists, you crafted your own style, how would you describe your music in general and your style in After the Internet?
“It’s authentic.” He’s tried in the past to imitate other artists, but he stated that no matter what, “it always comes out to being Jonathon”. He described his style in After the Internet as “something to not be taken lightly”, he has worked the past 6 years to develop ‘music with a message’, something that would mean something. He said that his sound has always been very “progressive”, something that is always evolving. His sound is ever-changing from project to project, and every project is different.
One major event that brought Jonathon Eley some notoriety was in May 2014 when he entered his single “Gravity” into Ryan Lewis and David Buffalo Bitton's beat battle and won. He had entered on a whim, not expecting to get far at all, and got an email one day that told him he had made the top 12 and had only a few days to get to New York. With the help of friends and family, he was able to buy a last-minute ticket and fly to New York. He wound up winning the whole thing and was cosigned by Ryan Lewis. The greatest takeaway from Eley’s experience was getting to ask Ryan Lewis the one question that has shaped his career the past three years- How did you guys [Lewis and Macklemore] do it [Thrift Shop]? To which Ryan Lewis dropped this motto Eley has carried with him the past three years- As long as the music’s good, it’s gonna spread. You have to have good music, that’s where it all starts. The brands and the image don’t matter if the music can’t hold its own. Eley has taken that motto and ran with it for all of his projects ever since, including his first mixtape following the beat battle, Things We Didn’t Release. Following his astounding win, Eley garnered media attention from MTV, The Grammy Awards, Rolling Stone magazine, The XXL magazine, and Star magazine.
On After the Internet, Eley collaborated with CAMM, Nick Emory, and N.I, but when asked about his “dream collab”, he immediately knew his top 3 musical icons. I’m sure by now, we could all have guessed, buy Eley knew he would have loved to collab with Childish Gambino, but it doesn’t stop there- he also would want to collab with Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, “He [Frank Ocean] just makes me feel stupid every time I hear one of his songs- the way he writes and his word play is next-level.” Who could blame him? There’s a reason those three are household names.
How do you think your music has changed and evolved since you started music 6 years ago?
“Other than production? I think the music has [a] purpose now. You could listen to my earlier music and it was good, but it had no direction.” He also described his work now in comparison to prior works as “more socially conscious…more experimental but familiar so you can still vibe to it.” His ‘music with a message’, as I dubbed it, really shines through in After the Internet. “That’s what I strive to be- I would never want to make an album just to make it- I want it to mean something.”
So what is that meaning? What is Eley’s message? In After the Internet, Eley discusses a lot of what he describes as “surface topics”, nothing too in depth, but a lot of basis for an overall message. Only being 23, Eley is from that turning point in generations where he “grew up and still played outside”, but he also saw technology revolutionize the world. From Millenials to Gen-Z there has been the growing power of the internet, which in turn, he feels has ‘disconnected’ a generation. As we become more connected to the world through social media and the internet, we are becoming increasingly disconnected from people in real life. “When you have debates online that you wouldn’t have in person, I can’t get behind that.” Eley urges, “Put your phone down and engage in some conversation.” That is the message.
Who were your biggest influences in your own life that helped you get to this point now with After the Internet?
“My brother, Algee Smith (Detroit), we both grew up doing this- we’re 6 months apart- our careers are so identical but different. He’s more of a singer.” Eley described Smith’s success as motivating. They were both on similar paths and used their healthy competition and just seeing each other improving and building their careers as a way of inspiring each other. He also contributes his successes to his father, “he’s the one that sat me down and taught me how to do this. I always had a musical background but didn’t know what I wanted to do with it until I was like 13, 14...He’s the reason I’m so aware of my surroundings. He raised me into the respectable man I am.” With a support system like this, it’s no wonder Eley is rising to success.
In talking about support systems, in order to get his message out and release After the Internet, Eley created a Kickstarter account to raise funds for the printing of his hard copy albums. He set the goal to raise $400 in 30 days from donations, and if they reached their goal in time, everyone that donated would get their name in the “thank you” credits on the album. Depending on how much you donated, there were also other ‘prizes’ as a thank-you, but any amount was appreciated. In a matter of fewer than 48 hours, Eley and his team- with the help of 15 donors- raised $635, surpassing his goal, and propelling his release into motion.
So who is getting these wonderful hard copies, you might ask? Remember that hidden message? Well, I happened to figure it out the night before I spoke to Eley, so I am getting one, and another fan also figured it out a few days later. The rest are available for purchase now on his website. Have you figured it out yet?
What are your hopes and plans now that After the Internet is finally released, six years later?
As for his hopes and plans for this album, Eley only had a few words, “get it to as many people as possible.” As someone who believes in the sheer power of self over waiting for the ‘universe’, Eley is doing everything imaginable to get his message heard. “I’m not trying to change the world or anything, but it’s [the message] something that needs to be in hip hop.” His ultimate goal? To get his message heard by Donald Glover/Childish Gambino himself, “I don’t even want a response [from Gambino] - I just want him to hear what he started- this seed he planted in me in 2013.” This album [After The Internet] is not an imitation of Because the Internet, it is a response, and Eley wants it to be heard.
With constantly working, it’s a wonder how he deals with writer’s block… well, here it is, the magic trick- living life. He watches football, plays video games, and hangs out with people and listens and converses with them for inspiration. He ‘starts a conversation’. Being “in life” is his greatest method of defeating writer’s block and what keeps him from burning out, “go live life and you’ll come to it.” With that being said, he has already mentioned that he does not have time at the moment to just ‘chill’ and watch the Falcons with friends and family, he’s diving head first into his next move to keep the momentum going. With After the Internet, his six-year brainchild, finally released as of July 28th, what’s next for Eley? Simple, he is already back in the studio working on his next project.
You can keep up with Eley and his future projects on Snapchat.
As any musician probably does, Eley mentioned his dream venue, the one place in the world he would play if he could, “I would love to do Red Rocks (an amphitheater built in giant rocks in Colorado)- I saw G-Eazy play it a few years ago and I’d love to sell it out.” He also mentioned wanting to do a show in Atlanta one day, something special for the Georgia people in his home town. For now, Eley is headlining After the Internet Live in Auburn, AL on October 26 to perform tracks from his album with appearances from Camm, Malbis, Xeroh!, and Trent In The Trees.
Did you figure out the hidden message yet? Well, here it is. Now that wasn’t too hard, was it?
As someone who has just released his debut album and at the age of 23 has already found so much success in the past 6 years and continues to grow and develop, what advice would you give to other young aspiring rappers and hip hop artists?
“Keep working,” Eley urges, “Make opportunities for yourself, Don’t wait for anyone and don’t look to anyone for opportunities because it’ll mean that much more when you finally hit that jackpot.”
So to all you aspiring hip hop artists, “Stay Driven. Stay Hungry. Stay Motivated.” Keep on your grind and good things will come.
Again, when it comes to discussions,put down your phone and#StartTheConversation.
For merchandise and tour information, check out his website and listen to After The Internet on Spotify.