Hustle isn’t a word Chicago rapper Rich Jones tosses about lightly. Rather, it has become a way of life of sorts for the local mainstay, one that culminates this Friday with a nearly-sold out show to celebrate his latest album release, the long-awaited, Vegas.
The headlining set this weekend represents the latest checkpoint in the career of Jones, who has plugged nearly a decade into the scene and streets of Chicago’s hip-hop scene. Constantly learning and evolving while never forgetting the penchant for a blue-collar workday that itself is innately part of the city’s DNA, the 28-year-old will arrive at Lincoln Hall able to continue forward, knowing the packed house is just the latest testament to his relentless drive to bring his art to the masses.
“There are a lot of people who work really hard and it doesn't always turn into results,“ said Jones. "So the fact that I've somehow in the last two years especially, going on three, I've been able to kind of take something that I've been working on a long time as both a hobby and now my full-blown passion and job, that's pretty special. I don't know if vindicated is the right word, but it makes all those hours and days and years spent working or hitting the pavement, whatever it is, it makes it feel worth it."
True to form, Jones found himself involved in just about every aspect of putting on his first show in months. From curating a lineup that speaks to a wide-ranging number of acts operating within the Chicago Renaissance to putting actual foot-to-pavement all over the city, diligently plastering posters anywhere he could find a square inch. It’s a throwback style of sorts, to be sure. In an age when most artists spend the bulk of their time roasting blunts in dark studios, incessantly trying to trick people into thinking they're cool enough to ‘follow’, Rich Jones stands out, if for no other reason than the fact that his hunger for success is underlined by his dedication to the road it takes to get there. You don’t become president without kissing babies (well, unless…look it’s not January 20 yet, ok?) and you don’t become the Chicago Reader’s No. 2 Rapper in Chicago behind only Chance without being seen and putting in the real work on a consistent basis.
“It really makes you realize how much work it takes just to get to this point,“ said Jones. "I'm at a point now where obviously I've been doing this awhile and I've developed whatever name or reputation I have, but now finding ways to impart what I know on other artists that I meet who I think have potential and teach them some of the tricks I've learned over the years."
Over the years, Jones has existed in just about every capacity one can find themselves throughout the scene, always doing so with a singular goal in mind: forward movement. From organizing shows like his long-running ‘Tonic Room All Smiles series to performing himself, hosting events, hawking sausages off a truck in the summertime, operating street teams for local brands and venues: Jones has been chasing this music thing by any means necessary. All that experience comes together with this latest show. The lack of tickets available at the front door of Lincoln Hall Friday wasn’t achieved by just making the booking. Rather, Jones put to use all the pieces he’d picked up over the years, utilizing both an understanding of a hard day’s work and a need to realize his dreams that, along with a huge amount of support from the community around him, turned the show into what’s sure to be a standing-room only affair.
“The music itself is very different than what I've previously released, I would argue especially in terms of the presentation of it, it demands something more dynamic and bigger,“ said Jones in an interview in Wicker Park over the weekend while taking a break from postering. "So I'm looking forward to not only showing the songs, but also showcasing them in a really big way, both with the venue but also with how we're organizing our backing for the show and whatnot."
On his latest project, Jones finds himself continuing to follow a new path sonically that diverges from what's expected and builds on the sinewy, endearing vocal stylings that he first pushed forward with well-received collaborations with Las Vegas native Ryan Lofty. Finding himself draped in upbeat, almost 80s-inspired dance aesthetics might seem a far-cry from his early boom-bap days, but it fits the up and comer like a warm jacket in February. On "Deja Vu," the latest single to arrive from the project last month, listeners got a further peak into the pulsating rhythms of Rich Jones in 2017. Rumor has it that he'll be employing a full band for the show Friday to bring the whole thing to life in what should be yet another exciting boost for the proper release of Vegas, which appears to properly build upon 2016's Pink Slips.
Performing alongside Jones is a hand-picked lineup that includes our January cover story subjects The Burns Twins & Kaina, as well as a pair of quickly-rising talents in LA Van Gogh and Qari. In the years since Jones first set out on his initial hip-hop dreams as part of Second City Citizens, many artists and musicians have come and gone from the scene, yet one constant has held solid throughout each successive wave. That constant is Rich Jones. While you’re sure to find a bigger ticket on the surface elsewhere in town, you’d be hard-pressed to realize the kind of innate love and happiness that is sure to be permeating on north Lincoln Ave Friday night.
“I'm anxious, but I'm also really excited, I think people will be really impressed." said Jones, thinking forward to the show Friday. "My friends have said they're excited to see me, but you should really come and see the whole show because so many of these artists are finding their way and finding their audience in the last year or two, it's really cool to see what we can do when we all bring it together."