Being the eldest son of Ol' Dirty Bastard, the most audacious foot soldier of the Wu-Tang Clan, has definitely raised a few eyebrows for Boy Jones. Living in the shadow of his father's legacy — a career as a rapper punctuated by mental instability, incarceration, and an early death due to a drug overdose — has also been a heavy load to bear. Jones, aka Young Dirty Bastard, has taken the pressure in stride, carving out his own path as an artist. But his father looms over every move the 24-year-old Stone Mountain rapper makes. On his 2011 single "Welfare," YDB spells out his dilemmas with the opening verse: "Momma on welfare. Daddy died of drugs. Not fair, but I'm still here."
Since dropping the 2011 mixtape Food Stamp Celebrity Vol. 1, Jones has acted as the model upon which the movements for a hologram of ODB were based for 2013's annual Rock the Bells touring hip-hop festival (the tour's East Coast dates were ultimately cancelled). He's the subject of a VH1 reality show, tentatively titled "The House That Dirty Built," which has fallen into production limbo. And he's also contributed to a new Wu-Tang album slated for a 2014 release. Jones recorded several verses for the record, and with any luck his uncle, Wu-Tang mastermind RZA, will keep YDB's parts in the mix. In December, he collaborated with Baby Eazy-E (Eazy-E's son) and Chris Rivers (Big Pun's son) on the underground track "My Three Sons."
Jones is in a position to do great things in 2014. His creative endeavors have become more significant as he's worked to climb out of ODB's shadow and take charge of his art. His rhymes are gruff and laced with profanity, and he carries the unmistakably guttural drawl of ODB's half-sung, half-rapped vibrato. But the junior Bastard lends a sympathetic tone to his hard-luck raps. And while his father's outrageous style propelled him to fame as something of a feral folk hero, YDB is sober, making him a lot less prone to the same erratic, sometimes menacing behavior.
He's begun work on a proper debut with plans to establish a stronger sense of his own identity. "The path has been laid out for me," Jones says. "My father made something, and now it's my turn to take charge of where it goes — steer it in my own direction. Make it my own."
Jones' first hip-hop aspirations came around age 9 when his father took him to a show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. "After that, I got a little book and filled it up with hundreds and hundreds of my rhymes," he says. "Then I got a little computer and set it up to record."
But his father was having none of it. "When I tried to show him my rhymes he said, 'No!' He wouldn't even look at them. He shoved my book to the side and said, 'You can't rap. Do something else with your life.' But he never told me what to do."
His mother Icelene Jones, on the other hand, has always encouraged YDB's musical ambitions. Jones moved from New York to Norcross in 2005 in the hopes of doing better in school and getting his life on track. When he started getting into trouble in school, he dropped out and began focusing on music. In 2007, he jumped on a Wu-Tang Clan tour to deliver a handful of his father's verses, and learn from his father's peers.
"RZA is my true master. They all showed me how to do everything, and they knew not to spoon-feed their knowledge to me," he says. "I had to be near them — be in their presence — to learn their style. I sat with all of them on the bus when I was young. It was intoxicating. I went through that chamber, and now it's up to me."
Though the title and release date for his forthcoming album are yet to be determined, YDB is kicking around a few names. The Resurrection is one of his favorites. But no matter how deep he reaches, ODB's legacy will always be a part of what he does.
"I remember the day of my father's funeral in Brooklyn," Jones says. "[Louis] Farrakhan was there, my uncle RZA, Mariah Carey — a lot of people. When it was my turn to speak on stage, I said something that has really stuck with me: 'My father never left. He's in me. He is me.' I started crying, but that's when it all started making sense to me."