Q&A: Yung Jewelz, Mental Health and Representing Mississippi

Rapper Yung Jewelz talks to JFP about her debut album “MVP: Moods, Vices and Problems,” which released April 22 across streaming platforms. Photo courtesy Mdub

Rapper Yung Jewelz talks to JFP about her debut album “MVP: Moods, Vices and Problems,” which released April 22 across streaming platforms. Photo courtesy Mdub

Rapper Yung Jewelz spoke with Culture Writer Aliyah Veal about her new album, “MVP: Moods, Vices and Problems.” Read their conversation below.

How are you holding up during the pandemic? Is it spurring you to be more creative?

I haven’t been stuck in the house. I’ve been working every day. It gives you time to be with yourself creatively. It gives you more free time. A lot of people are not going to work everyday, not doing nothing, but having free time on their hands, so that gives you the opportunity to connect better with yourself as far as if you got certain things you might need to work on. And it gives you a better opportunity to connect with what’s going on in reality because I know a lot of times we tend to separate ourselves from things that’s going on around us because we have other shit to worry about. But if we are at home not doing shit, then boom, we got time.

I feel like everybody got the time to take the time out to do stuff for themselves and getting stuff together, whether that be your thoughts, your household, your creativity. At this point, it’s a waiting game, so why not try to better yourself, mentally, physically, spiritually, creatively? I’ve been able to write more per se because to be honest, if I wasn’t working, I was probably performing or in the studios. That being stopped a little bit has helped me be grounded more because I’m not all over the place as much as we are when outside open.

So, “MVP: Moods, Vices, Problems.” Is this your debut album?

This would definitely be my debut album. (As for) “Earth Day,” some people call it a mixtape, I call it an EP. However you want to look at it.

A lot of musicians have been dropping surprise albums since we’re in quarantine mode and are stuck at home. Was the release of your album planned or was this a spontaneous decision?

I’ve been planning “MVP” since last year, if not before then. It’s been a year in the making. I started recording “MVP” I think May, beginning of June 2019. It’s been a process, but I’ve been writing the album probably since I finished “Earth Day.”

The title of the album is “MVP: Moods, Vices and Problems,” but the acronym also stands for most valuable player. It’s also the last track on the album. But I think it’s fair to assume that both meanings apply. What makes Jewelz an MVP and why do you think this term applies to you?

The first track on my album is called “Mood Swings” and the original title for the album was called “Mood Swings.” Shout out to Shawty OD, she dropped an album last year and her album name was “Mood Swings,” so I had to revamp my whole idea and come up with another title. Then I just went from that to “MVP” because I still feel like with the album originally being called “Mood Swings,” moods, vices and problems are all considered your mood swings. Because of your vices and problems you have mood swings.

I went with that and then I feel like the MVP because I’m versatile; it’s not a lot of artists that have my sound, have my style, flow like I flow. I just feel like you’re supposed to think highly of yourself because if you don’t support yourself and believe in yourself, nobody else will. Who hotter than me? I’m the MVP. I’m the most valuable player. It’s not a game, but it’s a game. If you want to get on that court with me, you can go there, but I’m gone always been the top dog. I feel like this is a sport like anything else, so I just gave myself the title.

From the first track with “Mood Swings,” you get really personal and vulnerable, going into how your father is incarcerated and how certain people may be using you for clout. Why did you decide to start the album with this song?

Because it’s straight rapping. I have no hook. “Sideline Stories” doesn’t have a hook either. I wanted to go ahead and put it on the table. This is it. I’m not playing games. This is an album, so you’re going to get full artistry from me with it being straight bars and a little vulnerability. Ultimately, when you finish the album, people who don’t know about me will feel like you know a little more about me now and that you’re a little closer to me. Just getting it out there and putting it all on the table because it’s straight bars. It was no other choice.

I notice that the first half of the album is a bit more fun, braggadocious, but the bottom half is a lot more reflective and introspective. It switches moods, like the title says. Is there any reason behind the sequence of the album?

People probably don't pay attention to certain stuff. It’s me. I’m a mental person about what I do, so “Earth Day” started off slower and ended hyper to me. I know “Butterfly” was technically the vibe, but I didn’t really have any upbeat, hype songs on there besides “Get Some Money.” I wanted to give a different feel this time and start it off with the hyper, upbeat songs—to just show that everything doesn’t have to be slow and vibey with me, but I feel like that’s the thing that’s gone catch your attention.

I’m still a person, and we all go through things. I just felt like it was what it is. My moods, my vices and my problems. It’s, for me, all a mental thing to how “Earth Day” was vibes and upbeat. If you listen to “Earth Day” and then “MVP,” your moods don’t really change. I just wanted to continue going in that direction, to separate myself from the vibes for a minute.

“Friends” ft. Vitamin Cea is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The beat reminds a bit of “Down Down Bad” from Revenge of the Dreamers III or something I’d hear Earthgang rap over. You and Cea paired well together. What made you decide to put her on that track?

I feel like J. Cole, Dreamville, them boys and girl, they be snapping. Me and Cea be snapping, and it was just fun to make that song with Cea.

Did you think about her immediately?

I heard the track, and we were already talking because that’s like my little sister, and I was just like, “I got a song I want you on. I think I’m gone put it on the album.” I told her it was a remake of the Down Bad beat, and she said I’m gone write something to do this tonight. I don’t even think I had my verse done yet, but I already had the hook idea in my head. I sent her the hook, so she could get the context, and it went from there.

She was still on the Coast at the time, so originally, we didn’t record the song together. I went ahead and laid my verse, so she could have an idea of it. After that, we went to the studio and she did her verse and the background vocals for the hook, and that shit was fun. The song is fun. I already have a video idea in my head. The whole process of making it in the studio was fun. It’s just a fun record. It ain’t got no type of depth to it. It’s not supposed to be no type of logic, it’s straight fun and bars because Cea is rapping her ass off.

Do you prefer getting in the studio or sending someone a beat?

I guess it just depends. If they’re not here, of course I have to send it to them. But I like the experience of being able to be there with that person because our energies can be the same in a sense. The only two songs on the album that I was not in the studio for were the other two features on the album. Because of my work schedule, I couldn’t make it for Coke and Jo’De Boy did his one day and KC Young Bone did his the other day.

There’s mentions of depression throughout the album and on “Up Up and Away” ft. Krystal Gem, you say “You don’t have to go to war to get PTSD.” You reference a lot of traumatic incidents that have occurred in your life or friends you’ve lost. Can you talk to me about mental health and in what ways you cope with what you’re going through?

Mental health is a big deal, just in general, especially in the black community. A lot of times we get told that it’s okay, you’re not going through nothing. Or you might be going through something, but it’s not that big of a deal. Deal with it, it’s okay. We hear it’s okay so much that we have to force ourselves to think it’s okay. I really as a kid growing up, life was good. Life is still good, and I’m blessed and thankful for the stuff I have.

You heard “Save Me.” That’s what really took me down through there. When I lost my bro, I dealt with it alone and the depression took over because I wasn’t talking to anybody about it. I was just facing it and that’s not healthy. Now knowing what I know and as we grow older, we learn more things and we learn more facts about certain stuff we go through as kids, it was just traumatic for me.

It happened at the peak of where things were starting to go good. I was just about to graduate high school, we had just went to prom together so life was real and good. And then that just boom, crashed everything and I just went downhill from there. And it’s other stuff that we go through in our communities because we go through experiences that shit is real. When I talk about coming home and not having shit in the sockets, that’s real. I came home to my house being flipped upside down.

That shit will scar and it will leave you paranoid. You have to deal with those things of being anxious, alert at all times, looking over your shoulder. That’s some stress. It’s not as simple as just being a regular individual. Thankfully, my mom was able to provide a good life for me, so I wasn’t out there in the streets, but some stuff we just can’t avoid, and it’s scarring.

You have a song called “Teyana Taylor,” and unlike your song “Patrick Ewing,” where you reference him in the chorus, she isn’t mentioned anywhere in the song. Why that title for the track? Is she sampled or is she a crush?

Because she is sexy. It was between Kehlani or Teyana Taylor because I feel like they are the staple for R&B women. For our generation, we got Ciara and them but we were still kids when Ciara came out. Now that we’re adults, we got Kehlani and Teyana Taylor to be there. I just chose that title because she is sexy, the song is sexy, so there it is. I feel like that’s gone attract girls to it. Ultimately, that song is for women. Men are going to like it too. I didn’t mention her at all, and I hope she wants to listen to it because she sees her name.

Are women one of your vices?

Yes. I guess that’s why the song is on there. I’m a woman, so I want to be able to cater to women because a lot of times, music isn’t made for us. Everything ain’t always gotta be sexy, but for “Earth Day,” I had more of the poetic songs for women. Right here, with this one, I wanted to be a little more sexy and I’m older now. That was two years ago and I know two years doesn’t make much of a difference, but I’ll be 26 years old when the album drops.

I thought “Serene” was an interesting track because I think it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t have as much rapping on it. After the first verse, you sing the rest of the song and it feels like you just let the music move through you and whatever comes out comes out. Would you say that was the case?

“Serene” was originally supposed to be the interlude and it still kind of is because I think it’s the shortest song I have on the album. It was just supposed to be the verse and the hook. I was in the studio, I did the song and I recorded the whole album with Dolla. Dolla was like keep going, and I was like, “What you mean, keep going?” and he was like, “You’ll get what I’m saying, just keep going.” I put the headphones back on and kept letting the beat play and I just kept going and that’s what came from it. Like you said, I just fell off into and I just went with what came out. I just sang the rest of it and it’s probably one of my favorite songs on there because it’s personal, as well as me being more vulnerable because as you said I don’t sing too much on anything else besides that and probably “Wishes.”

On “Wishes,” you say, “I might make it and I may not.” What does “making it” look like to you? Is it being played on the radio? Is it signing to the label?

Nope. Making it for me is not being played on the radio. I mean it’s a good thing, nothing wrong with radio play. “Higher” got played on the radio and in that aspect, I have made it because I have made it to the radio. I feel like it’s just different levels I want to reach with my career that makes me feel like I made it. Ultimately though, me making it is where I can get to the point where this is what I do full time for the rest of my life, taking care of me and my family and getting my momma out of Shady Oaks and being successful. I don’t have to be super famous. I don’t have to have a deal. I just want to be able to provide for my family and still continue to do this because it’s what I love to do.

Also on “Wishes,” you speak about flying away from your problems and you also speak about drug abuse. You give some advice at the end of the verse, saying “Don’t pop that pill.” We’ve seen a lot of rappers die from drug overdoses from Mac Miller to JuiceWrld and they use drugs and alcoholism as an escape. What is escapism for you and how do you cope when life gets hard? What do you think about the current state of hip hop and its relationship to drugs and alcohol as it saturates everything from music to personal life?

Escapism for me kind of getting rid of whatever dark cloud or thoughts that I might have. Most of the time, it’s music. It’s how I get out, even if it’s just me writing it down or recording it or just expressing it anyway I can on some paper or in my notes, music has always been my escape route.

With this new generation, we’ve lost a lot of artists to drugs and that’s what we see nowadays. You mentioned Mac Miller. Mac Miller and Biggie will probably be the best way to describe my sound and losing Mac Miller was like losing a homeboy in a sense because I don’t know if you paid attention, but on “Young OG,” I said, “Remember when I first heard Mac, I gotta rap.” That’s just what it was, so those drugs are something that’s a problem.

Don’t get me wrong, some of that drug music is cool. Future be jammin sometimes. I ain’t popped a percocet in my life, but when it comes on we jamming to it. We do make it seem like it’s okay in a sense, but at the same time, we have to own up to it. I have younger cousins or brothers or sisters or nieces and nephews, I have those people around me and you know, it starts with us. We have to be the ones to say that’s not cool, don’t let that get to you. That’s what it is. It sound like I’m talking to the younger generation of hip hop, but I’m really talking to my brother, like he used to battle dealing with that and so that was something where I just know how things go, I know how you feeling, but please don’t direct your pain to that source because it’s not worth it.

What was it about Mac Miller that resonated with you so much?

He was a kid doing the same thing I wanted to do. We are probably two years apart age-wise, so to see somebody that close to my age making music and he was making kid music as a kid. I’m not gonna say kid music because that makes you think teeny bop music, but I could relate to it because we were kids. He was on the same type of vibes I was on. When we first started music, we were skateboarding and this little nerdy white boy was skating, making hip hop songs. He was jamming, I like alright, this is it right here. When I first heard the song titles he had and the direction he had in general, man had a song called “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza,” that’s what you eat in the summertime. Then one of his projects was called “K.I.D.S., Kickin Incredibly Dope Shit.” I thought that was the coolest thing in the world, so I just adapted to him and his vibe. It fits me. We were skateboarding, wearing vans and you not gone have too many more people in hip hop that’s rapping with that style. For me, this is it.

Who was that rapping at the end of “Wishes”?

That is my brother or best friend, the person who the song “Save Me” is about. His name is Kadarrius Bullie, most people know him by Bully or KB. He went to Terry High School, but he died in a car accident in 2012. He was leaving school. It goes back to us as a group, when we all first started rapping, he was there. That’s a Youtube video. He was doing stuff on Youtube, so we all were rapping. Everybody hasn’t had the chance to get to the stage or level I’m on per se. I wanted to be able to put that into the world and keep his legacy going as well.

There’s an effect when he says Jacktown and it echoes, which seems deliberate. How important is it for you to be a representation not only of Jackson, but Mississippi as a whole? You have an artist like Big K.R.I.T, who always shouts out Mississippi and Meridian. He never wants you to forget and I’m wondering if it’s the same for you.

When you think of southern hip-hop, you think of Atlanta (or) Texas. You never hear too many people mention Mississippi. He probably was like 15 or 16 in that video, and so as kids we were repping Jackson and Mississippi because that’s where we’re from, that’s all we know. I’m not gonna go to Atlanta and act like I’m an Atlanta rapper. Naw, I’m from Mississippi and that’s just what it is. I feel like as long as we keep putting it in my songs and keep representing it, that’s how people are gonna notice it. Oh, Mississippi really ’bout it.

All are the features on your album artists from Jackson or Mississippi? If, so do you try to keep it local or will you eventually venture out for artists in other states?

Yes, every single person featured on my album was from Mississippi. My first project I got a song called “Maintain.” Josi Green, he’s originally from Chicago, but he stayed in Texas. I love working with artists that I can connect with in general. All the music was mine of course, but this album I didn’t really want too many features. I know I don’t have too many still. I feel like “Earth Day” had more features than me on it, so I tried to keep my features to a minimum and I definitely wanted to keep it local, homegrown. The first project, I didn’t have any local producers on it, but this project had local producers as well.

On “Save Me” ft. Jo’De Boy, KC Young Bone Char.Is.Matic, you reach out to God and ask him for help. How big of an impact does religion play in your life?

It’s a big part. You can’t do nothing without him. I feel like he gave me this gift, so I’m supposed to use it. I feel like a part of my gift is to spread his word as much as possible. You know it don’t have to be in no super religious way. That song is basically like my gospel. I just tried to put it in there to where it’s not only about these other things that were mainly focused on. We gotta have God somewhere in our life. My God and your God can be two separate Gods, but ultimately we feel like we have someone that gives us light, gives us hope and without them, we wouldn’t be where we are. That’s that for me.

I wouldn’t be anywhere without God and that song was real. I feel like when I wrote that song and the verse, I didn’t have a hook. I was like I’m gonna write whatever comes off the dome, whatever comes from my heart. And I kid you not, people say they have their own experiences with God in their own way, I feel like when I was writing that, he just took the pen and my hand wrote that out. It was real and at the time that’s how I was feeling. And to get Jo’De Boy and Bone on it, it was meant to be in my mind. Just like you asked me the song with Cea, with that song I knew that I wanted them on it. It was no questions to ask. I hadn’t even purchased the beat yet and I sent it to Bone and said can you hear yourself on that? For me, when I think of God and artists that represent that for me, Jo’De Boy is one of the first dudes to pop in my head. I feel like I had to get him on that as well.

Who are some of your musical influences? Local and in general?

Mainstream, definitely Mac Miller, Nipsey Hussle, J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T, Da Brat, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and that’s just hip hop wise. I do have some R&B vibes. I love old school R&B. The Isley Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, Teddy Pendergrass, Anita Baker, so I feel like all that groove feel. Like Outkast. Biggie is probably one of my bigger inspirations out of anything. I feel like I’m the female light skin Biggie in my mind.

Locally, Dolla Black, Sika, Coke Bomaye, Savvy, Tricky LT 45, Vitamin Cea, DevMaccc. I don’t like to box them in as the trap rappers, but I like a lot of those cats, like Bob Street and Bankroll and Niko. Unknwn and Django, she’s from west Jackson. It’s a lot of us and I feel like people don’t really tap into that market, but they influence me as well because it’s a healthy competition. Okay, I see what they doing; it’s hot.

I know we’re approaching the second anniversary of Lil Lonnie’s death. In what ways is he still inspiring you today?

Just to be the staple for our city, not necessarily giving up because that could have rushed a lot of us and gave us the red light. We could have just stopped. Losing him was hard for everybody. I feel like him being gone, alright we gotta do it for him. We gotta make sure that Jackson is more than just the negative. That’s what he was doing for us. He was giving artists, especially us as rappers, a better look on what we had going on. It wasn’t just a regular hood like everywhere else, it’s Jackson. We’re separated from everything else.

I just feel like we have to continue to keep his legacy alive because that was somebody doing it in our age group, still here at home. Why not so we can still keep that going and still keep that positivity because you never saw so many neighborhoods and communities come together the way you did when it was time to support Lonnie. I feel like that’s what of the biggest things we can take from that.

What makes “MVP: Moods, Vices and Problems” different from your previous projects and what should people take from it when they listen to it?

For me, I joke with my homies all the time and say everything in my raps is real, but it’s real. For me, people need to hear that because when all the hype dies down from all these different fads and waves that we are listening to, that’s what you want. You’re gonna want some real, you gone want some southern. I feel like it’s gonna be a project that will have some type of attention from every aspect of what you look for when you listen to music. Whether you want a “Patrick Ewing” or you want a “Teyana Taylor” or you want a “Save Me,” they’re there on the same project. That puts you in the position where you could be attracting somebody who only wants to hear “Friends,” and they hear the rest of it and they be like, “Damn, it’s more than that.”

What I want people to get from it? I want people to understand me more, even if you think you know, you might not. I want people to be more comfortable with certain stuff they’re going through because a lot of people, we deal with stuff and we keep it to ourselves. I just want people to know that they’re not alone. We might not be going through the same things, but we might have the same feelings. We’re all human at the end of the day and the emotions we experience are real. I just want people to appreciate it and appreciate me more as an artist.

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