Kontrol Talks With Mahogany Jones to Discuss the Sugar Water Everyone Needs to Be Drinking
In the world of Hip Hop, female rappers are hard to come by. Of those listed, it’s seldom to find one who doesn’t exploit her body for riches, stays humble, and has the sickest bars that can go head to head with the best of them. Fortunately for hip hop, there’s Mahogany Jones. The Detroit-based rapper does it all. From being the US Cultural Ambassador for Hip Hop Music and the adjunct instructor for Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) to being the co-founder of Women in Hip Hop and creating her own organization, aPUREMovement, Mahogany Jones lives, breathes, and embodies hip hop music and femininity.
Mahogany Jones first made headlines in 2001 when she became the first four-time undefeated champion of BET’s Freestyle Friday rap battle. Since then she’s been handpicked by the US Department of State for the American Music Abroad Program where she’s traveled bringing hip hop music to people all around the world. With all that she has accomplished thus far, it’s surprising that Jones never thought she’d do anything remotely close to music as a profession.
“The closest I thought I would get is a Maya Angelou, said Jones. “But when I first saw MC Lyte rap, I knew I wanted to do that but for some reason in my head even though I knew she was a woman I said I would never be able to do that, I’ll just stick to poetry.”
It wasn’t until Jones enrolled in college and met her first love who later introduced her to underground hip hop that she realized she could merge storytelling and her love for music into one. With that epiphany, she was sold on being a rapper and at 20 years old she joined an organization called Freestyle Union and the rest was history.
Being a talented female rapper in a male dominated industry is no easy feat. Many sexually objectify women who emerge in the music industry by stripping their music abilities to merely being seen as meat. Jones, too, have dealt with difficult encounters but have learned to embrace who she is and let her talent speak for itself.
“The older I get and the more I embrace the skin that I’m in and my own uniqueness, I’m ok when I get stares and looks like what is she about to do.”
In the early part of her career, every time Jones stepped on stage, she felt she had to reestablish who she was as an artist or prove herself because some would judge her abilities based off her gender. She understood that her male counterparts didn’t have those filters to go through. They were fortunate to perform without a second thought and eventually Jones was able to master that same skill.
“The more present I am, the more I let all the other stuff like disbelief, doubt, not being taken seriously, being flirted with…I’ll let all that fall to the side. Love wins, I do this because I love music and I love people. That’s why I’m here.”
Mahogany Jones was first considered a Christian rap artist. She’d be booked to go to churches and one of the first things people would say to her before performing was that they we’re so happy she was there to minister to the girls of the church. Having that frequent conversation frustrated Jones because she felt her talents were being overshadowed by her sex.
“I would be frustrated because I work really hard on my craft for you to just slap a vagina on my brain,” Jones said. “It was then, I was coming out of the airport and I could feel God tug on me and say, ‘You’re going to do a project about being a woman just for women’.”
Out of her obedience, birthed aPUREmovement. It started out as a CD with topics that are usually swept under the rug about women, i.e. domestic violence, sexual abuse, self-esteem, healthy male relationships, etc. Jones said she was doing the project as a means to spark conversation about these taboo topics. The PURE album was complete but Jones felt the needed to be extended conversation so she enlisted her friend, Jane Marie Smith, to help Jones cultivate tools such as a curriculum, a 12 week girl mentorship program. Jones also holds two annual events, PURE purple and Denim Day Detroit.
When she’s not uplifting young women, she’s traveling as an US Cultural Ambassador spreading her music and becoming enriched with every culture she encounters. She’s traveled to 13 countries and finds France and Brazil to be the most beautiful places she’s seen thus far. However, there’s one place she’s visited that’s become a second home.
“Though it’s not aesthetically appealing and doesn’t have all the amenities that I’m used to as a spoil American Khartoum, Sudan has become my second home,” said Jones. “I’ve visited like four times and I love it because they became family. The people there are so beautiful and so kind and their cultural is so rich.”
With all the traveling she does, Mahogany Jones still finds time to educate the future as an adjunct instructor for DIME and a lead facilitator for three other Detroit programs. Though she’s always had job security, Jones didn’t feel she was fulfilling her purpose in life. Various opportunities started to present themselves and she winded up in educating the youth being a substitute teacher. She discovered she could teach youth and adults about art while she perfected her craft.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for somebody taking the time to read what I wrote and saying it was really good and that they really needed to hear my story,” Jones said. “People in general, we always second guess ourselves and rarely take risks in life and I think it’s really important that people feel like they have the agency to tell their story. To be able to have the power to express yourself is so integral. It’s like gospel for me. Next to me feeling like people should know the love of God, people should be able to express themselves.”
Mahogany Jones is of the few that is considered a “conscious rapper”. Though some reach stardom, most political and conscious artist are never recognized in mainstream media. Jones reasoning behind it being obsolete is because the government knows how powerful music is and how much of an influence it can have on the world. She also feels that conscious music makes people have to think too much and they would rather be numb.
“Honestly, I think Sugar Water came out of that revelation. I was very intentional about not being too heavy but slipping in a little bit of sugar,” Jones continued. “Like you need water, you need this truth in order to survive but you’re not drinking it so I’m going to sweeten it up a bit. The cover art is me being seductive. Here, take this sexy but you’re going to take this truth.”
Coming off the heels of her EP, PURE Vol 1, an album filled with 24 tracks of heavy content, Jones wanted to make music that had good vibes. She teamed up with her label head and producer Mosaic and decided to make an album as an ode to Detroit soul. Sugar Water, was supposed to be an EP made up of six songs but once she added more seasoning to the project it became a full album which was released August of this year.
“It became my heart cry for music to have soul again,” said Jones. “Music is very digital and we’re living in this digital age where it’s easy to become disconnected. I wanted to make something where you can feel it.” Jones continued, “It was also my heart cry about my love/hate relationship with music, being an independent artist and not being heard or being ignored because I’m telling the truth. So Sugar Water was simply y’all need this water but I’ll put a little sugar in it so you can drink it and tell your friends.”
Too often Mahogany Jones have felt the pressure to succumb to the stereotypical over sexualized female emcee but with grace and integrity she’s managed to deliver top notch lyrics while still maintaining her beauty as a woman. Through all the adversity, Jones finds solace in her relationship with God and credits him for her success. With the music industry being cutthroat at times, Jones encourages the women wanting to be a part of the industry to study the business behind their craft and establish their own relationship with God.
“Have a relationship with God so you can have a relationship with yourself because there’s going to be so much that comes at you that will question the very essence of who you are. It’s very easy to do this and lose yourself and it’s not worth it.”
She also adds that women shouldn’t be afraid to believe in themselves.
“As women, we’re taught to take up less space, to shrink ourselves, to be accommodating and we aren’t nurtured in the art of being assertive and we can be just as cocky and confident as Kanye. Make no excuses for being great.”
Jones is headed to a three country tour and setting up a national tour for Sugar Water. She’s also preparing for the 5th year of Denim Day Detroit in April. For more information on Mahogany Jones, follow her on social media and visit her website, www.mahoganyjones.com.