James Weldon | photo by William Harper | courtesy of the artist
Give Them Their Flowers: James Weldon on the impact of Common and Jay Z and the “bet on yourself” concept
Hip hop might be the only music genre that has the ability to wake up the spirit of a hustler out of anyone. Rap music is very entertaining and it has the ability to educate the masses about how broken environments can produce individuals like rappers and explain why they do what they do, even though they’re aware that it’s wrong. However, it also has the ability to motivate a listener. It’s something about songs like “U Don’t Know” or “Victory Lap” that lights a fire to an ambitious spirit and makes them want to go out and get it by taking risks in hopes of a huge outcome. Hip hop artist James Weldon is a product of that motivational feeling that rap music brings, which is why I was happy to bring him on Give Them Their Flowers to close out the series.
Whether creating music, opening up a studio, or throwing popular events such as The Juice Jam (an open mic I helped out with prior to the pandemic) and Smorefest, James Weldon is always ready to take a chance on anything he does. After the release of his sixth project, the Well Done Weldon EP, James was able to come through on The XPN Local Show to talk about his influences. We find out how his father and older brothers subconsciously guided him into becoming the MC he is today, how hip hop vet and mogul Jay-Z has encouraged him to always bet on himself, and how Philly’s legacy in black music is what he’s most proud of about his hometown. We also hear him rapping his song “Coconut Oil” over a classic hip-hop beat from Jay-Z’s “Can I Live.” Listen and read highlights from our conversation below.
…on how his older brothers taught him to rap.
[My brother] Jason was also a rapper, freestyling all the time in the house, and that was my way of hanging out with my brother, learning how to freestyle. And my oldest brother Brian helped me write my first rap, and actually structure bars and learn how to write in my notebook. I took that to school, and in between learning stuff in classes, I would be writing.
…on Jay-Z and the concept of “betting on yourself.”
Betting on yourself is one of the key things I think to making it, one, as an artist but, two, in life. You have to believe in yourself before you can ask somebody else to, and you need to do that confidently. Or at some point that will crumble because your confidence will be shaken, and there’s going to be a lot of times that your faith is tested. Theres’s going to be a lot of times where you won’t know what’s on the other side of an opportunity, but you have to take that risk and know that you prepped for it, know you did what you needed to do for it to be successful.
…on the reception his new Well Done Weldon EP has received.
It’s been a great reception. It’s just four songs I really put my heart into, and I had a chance to really do a lot of that work in the last nine months; every song since “Audible” was done in the initial lockdown, starting this time last year.
…on the widespread impact of Philly’s battle rap DVD era.
That really birthed a lot of stuff with battle rap and helped take that to another level. That’s the era I came up in, as a young’un, when you would be on a DVD. “Oh, I gotta have this sixteen ready.” You always had to be sharp. I think that’s where I get the tenacity in my rhyming, because you might have to go against somebody at a moment’s notice. You might randomly have to battle somebody, or go verse-to-verse in a cypher. That’s the love of Philly and that’s one of my favorite parts, there’s just so many blue collar legit lyricists in this city, whether you do the auto tune stuff or you don’t ,whatever style of music you make there are so many talented, unbelievable artists in this city.