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The track-by-track inspiration behind Jones St.

MC Lyric Jones' new album is a day in the life of an artist on the grind


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The story of Jones St. begins in 2008, when Atlanta-based MC Lyric Jones was wandering around Greenwich Village in Manhattan with her friend and producer Radar Ellis. They were heading to the Blue Note, talking about her future. Jones had recently finished her self-titled EP, and had come to a crossroads in her life. Should she keep going and churn out a full album? At that point they looked up to get their bearings, only to find themselves standing on the edge of Jones Street. It was as though the universe had given her a sign. Four years later the album has arrived, but Jones St. does more than show off the Boston native's rapping, singing, and instrumental abilities. The album unfolds as a track-by-track travelogue, a day in the life of an artist on the grind, as Lyric details the emotional ups and downs she experiences on a typical show day. Here, she breaks down the inspiration and execution behind each cut.

"Appetizer Menu": I'm up, getting breakfast, starting my day.

"Trapped in the City Lights": This is one of the first records I finished in Atlanta and I did it with Mr. Fish — my first single with another producer and the first one where I started getting better with rhyming and performing. It really represents my time in Atlanta.

"Gotta Go" feat. Aleon Craft and Playboy Tre: I've been in Georgia since '06 and I needed to write a song with a Southern vibe, capture myself as a lyricist, like a real Atlanta voice that's dope. This is probably the last record to get finished, and it's just about being out of this world, typical ATL shit.

"23rd St.": I recorded this song in Harlem. When I decided that I wanted to do the album, Radar gave me some beats. This one became a braggadocio record. The beat was already called "23," and was supposed to drop in 2010. But it's 2012 now, and I'm 23.

"Where's the Rent" (interlude): The last year has been one of the most difficult and memorable years of my life — finding a job, trying to eat, having car issues. It's the first song to represent real life for me. I didn't get evicted, but it's a re-enactment of the realness of being an artist.

"Fearless" feat. Young Scolla: I give Young Scolla credit for this one. We're good friends and we toss hooks back and forth.

"Loss on Repeat" feat. Esperanza Spalding: Me, Radar, and [jazz bassist] Esperanza Spalding all went to Berklee College of Music. Esperanza caught wind of me and we started encouraging each other. I was like the little sister. Radar did the beat and I said, "I want Esperanza on here." That song was done three to four years ago. To me, it's the most classic record here. So organic — before she won a Grammy and before I graduated. It was dope.

"Tin Can": This is basically my statement about being a breath of fresh air for the industry. It showcases my pen work, and me as a vocalist, and it shows off my influences like Jill Scott and J Davey. I kept it on the record to show that if I come out singing later, it's nothing new.

"Sunshine Remix": It's got a real Dilla, Foreign Exchange vibe. It's about a sunny day, overcoming adversity, and just being an artist.

"Where You At?": This is another skit. I'm always running late, missing calls, and dealing with the stress of being an artist on the day of the show. It also shows that everybody fucks with Lyric.

"Downtime" feat. J-Live: This is another oldie. We did it a couple years ago. Me and J-Live are good friends and he's taken me under his wing. Initially, I sent this beat to a handful of people that I wanted to collaborate with. I sent it to J-Live and he was the missing piece of the puzzle. I had the hook and the verse in mind, about trying to balance a relationship with being busy and in the music game.

"MR. DC": It's about three different guys in my life who are all intertwined, and me not realizing that they're all related in some way till the end of the day. For a whole period of time, I was talking with a bunch of guys from the Washington, D.C., area and they all knew and were related to each other — cousins with one and brothers with the other.

"Middle of the World": The realest record here. They're all real, but I took off the veil and started picking at the scabs of things that I'd tried to let heal over time. It talks about the past year, relationships with my mother and other people, my frustration, my lack of faith at moments, and feeling alone. I feel like I'm in the middle of a field, trying to hide somewhere. Everybody knows me as a smiley, giggly, happy-go-lucky girl, but the last line, "Crying with a smiling face," that's a deep one.

"Sha Dop" feat. Stahhr and Methuzulah: It's like "shut up," but with a Boston accent. Culture Starter sent me the beat and I went ham! Originally I wanted all ladies on that record, but nobody was hitting me back. But Stahhr did. The next person I thought of was Methuzulah. Sometimes cats get in your face, always talking, slandering your name, and being fake. That one's just hushing everybody.

"Yousa Ill Emcee" Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest (interlude): That's a real voice mail! It wasn't like, "Hey Phife, can you do this?" He left me a voice mail and I was like, "Oh my god, can I use this?" He was another missing piece that tied together everything that I was trying to say.

"20 Mins": Jones St. shows you the whole the day, and this song captures all of the things that are going through my head 20 minutes before going on stage — anxiety and confusion, what you're hearing, what you're feeling, worrying about not having enough people there. That's what it's all about, and it ends on a positive note.


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