Born and raised in the Bay area, J Rich, born Johnny Taylor, found himself getting caught up in illicit street activities at the tender age of twelve. A crack baby raised in a notorious crime-infested neighborhood of San Francisco called Outta Control, or just OC, his happy childhood memories are few and far between. He had an older brother on his dad’s side, and three older sisters and an older brother on his mama’s side. But with his father being nonexistent serving an 18-year prison stint by the time he was two years old, and with his older brother in and out of prison (he provided large sums of cash from time to time but it was sporadic), J Rich was left as the man of the house and it was up to him to fend for his family.
When he was barely old enough to tie his own shoes, he would grab side jobs anywhere he could to help provide for his mama’s needs and put food on the table. “I would pump gas at the gas station down the road and then run home and give my mama all my money so she could go buy crack,” he said. But despite these earliest memories, he doesn’t fault her for failing him as a mother, he says, because learning to navigate through the deadly, drug-plagued and mold-infested public housing projects on his own are what made him the man he is today.
After the OC housing projects were torn down in the 1990s, J Rich’s family relocated to the North Beach Projects where he learned the hustle from kids at his new school and refined his street skills in between the crumbling high rises and decaying walls of the public housing community.
Growing up, he frequented between his home in the projects and his grandfather’s house. Eventually, by age 8 or 9, he moved in full time with his grandfather who lived in a little house by Candlestick Park in the Bayview District. His grandfather took him out of the projects for a while, kept him away from the streets and taught him discipline and responsibility. He credits his grandfather for saving his life from the all-too-often outcome of either prison or death.
When he was 10 years old, J Rich was kidnapped and held for ransom by local gang members. His older brothers were big time dealers but didn’t have the means to meet the steep cash demand of $250,000, so they used street tactics and some strategic manipulation to save their little bro from his captives. The trickery worked and the kidnappers eventually let him go, but not before leaving a permanent scar across his right cheek from the blade of a sharp knife.
J Rich’s beloved grandfather passed away when he was only 13 years old, but he’s thankful for the years he had with him… years that instilled priceless values within him, cultivated his character and shaped the rest of his life. He continued to get into trouble and spent a good chunk of his childhood running the streets, but his grandfather’s voice guided him through some very sticky situations and helped him avoid some real life-or-death consequences.
Soon after his grandfather’s death, J Rich began to stand on his own two feet. At just 13 years old, he paid a friend who was a dope fiend to rent out her one bedroom apartment in the North Beach projects, giving her a few hundred dollars and some crack every month. It wasn’t a life he chose, but it was a life he was forced to live until he could find his way out. For him, an overachiever, that meant hustling hard, which earned him the name J Rich. “The streets gave me that name,” He explained. “Since I was 13 years old, I was coming through in all kinds of shit like drop tops, brand new 5.0’s in high school. Everybody was like J, you’re rich… J, you rich. And it just translated from J, you rich into J. Rich.”
It’s a nickname he sometime regrets. “I wish my name would’ve been J Smart instead of J Rich. I wish that was the nickname I would’ve had. I would trade all that stuff for the real route, the CEO business man route,” he reflects.
As he continued to run the streets during his teenage years, he was protected by the reputations of his two older brothers who were well respected on the streets. But he soon found himself caught too deep in the lucrative but highly dangerous lifestyle. “I just always tried to force everything,” he says. “I wanted it then, then, then. I didn’t ever think I was gonna get 25 or 30 years old. So I wanted everything at 15… and then I wanted it at 16. So I tried to force so many situations, and it backfired a lot of times.”
One of those times was when he was 16 years old. Shot twice while being robbed, he was left on the street for dead, bleeding profusely from his back and leg. He survived, but was sent to a juvenile detention center soon after for unrelated charges. “I was thinking I was doing the right thing by hustling and out there running the streets. I was probably making hundreds of thousands of dollars at the time, but I wish I could’ve gone to school and enrolled in college and had a Masters Degree now. I could’ve been the CEO of a big company or something like that, you know what I mean?”
Early Rap Career:
With his brothers in an out of prison and his mama still catering to her addiction, J Rich turned elsewhere for inspiration: hip-hop. He started experimenting with rhymes when he was young but didn’t start rapping seriously until he was 16 and locked up in juvie where he had ample time to perfect his craft. He was released from the detention center fourteen months later, more centered and focused on his rhymes than ever before. He was locked up again a few times between the ages of 16 and 19, and each time he would polish his writing and his flow a little more, turning his real-life circumstances into cadences and rhythms that other people could relate to.
A few years later, J Rich relocated to New York where he began to really take his music career seriously. He did short stints in jail here and there and 2 years in Federal Prison, as the street life kept pulling him back in from time to time, but for the most part he was cleaning up his life and learning the true essence of hard work from the Mecca of Hip-Hop.
In 2003, J Rich lost his oldest brother, known as “Big Lou”, to the streets. A heartbreaking ended for a man he admired, and a tragic story told one too many times by families with loved ones caught up in the hustle game.
A couple years later, in 2005, his brother, Jason “Jas Corleone” Mathis, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder, alongside San Francisco rapper Mac Minister, for the slayings of Anthony “Fat Tone” Watkins and his friend, Jermaine “Cowboy” Akins — a case that garnered national headlines when attorneys listed Snoop Dogg as a potential witness. The murders were the final shots fired in a bloody Midwest/West Coast rap war, and thought to be in retaliation for the November 2004 killing of Mac Dre, an MC from Vallejo, California. His brother, only a year and a half older than him, is currently serving a double life sentence without parole.
J Rap’s style, he says, changes depending on the track. “Someone once told me to treat the beat like a blanket and wrap yourself in it. So that’s what I do. I’m a chameleon and my style changes with the beat.” His content, however, never migrates from reality rap. He sticks to subjects that he’s lived and lyrics that go to the heart of real issues for people facing similar situations as his.
He admits that although he’s not a big fan of the new style of rap because he feels its “watered down”, he stays current with the times and incorporates melodic elements throughout his music. He lives on the music of Young Jeezy, Yo Gotti and Jadakiss and lists Adele and Timbaland as the top two people he’d love to work with someday.
He attributes many heavyweight West Coast rappers as his top musical influences, but having also lived in New York, Boston, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto, he appropriates styles from other regions as well. San Francisco, especially, figures prominently in his sound.
J Rich’s dedication to his art eventually paid off. He embarked on a tour with Young Money which landing him on the same tour bus as Lil Wayne and Drake at times, sparking occasional debates over which record label he would sign to. He mulled over the many offers in front of him for a while, but eventually decided to began his own brand with an independent record label, Stay Focused Empire, even after discussing with Lil Wayne and his Young Money Records outfit.
His musical endeavors quickly gained him momentum and credibility in the industry, landing him on the front cover of Ozone Magazine, among others. He toured with The Game and collaborated with him musically, as well as heavy hitters like Gucci Mane, Glasses Malone, Short Dawg and Baltimore rapper, Ellis. He’s been longtime friends with R&B diva and Bay area comrade, Keyshia Cole, and has connections with Brooklyn emcee, Fabolous, as well.
J Rich later returned to the west coast, where he dropped a slew of self-released projects, including Independently Major 1 mixtape hosted by DJ EFX, followed by Independently Major 2, hosted by DJ Drama which earned him some major respect and blog love.
Continuing to stay focused on his music, J Rich plans to follow up with Independently Major 3 in the spring, but in the meantime he’ll be dropping four singles between December and February, including “Respect”, “Higha Then Eva”, “Everyday is Christmas” ft. Taj-He-Spitz and “Ima Die Rich” ft Rich Homie Quan.
He also has plans to release a single and a mixtape by another artist signed to his label Stay Focused Empire, buzzing Bay area rapper Taj-He-Spitz. The release dates will be announced via his website www.sfemusic.com
Staying true to his reality rap passion, he has some words of advice for young kids today facing similar problems: “Have patience, young man. It’ll come. Don’t try to do it all in a day, it ain’t gonna happen overnight. Take the disciplined, slow route. Stay in school, and off the streets. It might be boring in the beginning, it might be slow in the beginning… but eventually it will pay off.”
Citing hard lessons he learning, he says, “Once you get older, you see that overtime you would’ve been there and it would’ve been more stable because your foundation would’ve been stronger, instead of dealing it on the hustle — which is cool because no one can ever take that from you, but seldomly does the hustle make it. Definitely where I’m from, I’m one of the few that made it out — and I barely made it out. It just doesn’t happen. Like I say, you got a thousand times to get away and one time to get caught.”
When asked about the mounting pressures kids face to wear designer brands and have all the latest stuff, he responds, “You know, I’m from San Francisco, and some guys I used to go to high school and middle school with were nerds back in the day in my school. Back then, I was the one riding around in drop tops and they was the one with ten books in their hand at the bus stop. I used to drive by them, looking like fucking nerds… but you know what? Now, at my age, they’re actually millionaires and billionaires working in Silicon Valley. They’re overly successful because they took the disciplined, slow route. And this is real life.” He continues, “When I do eventually have kids they won’t go through none of that… they won’t know about any of that.”
“You got a thousand times to get away… but only one time to get caught.”
“The odds are stacked up against you no matter how good you think you are.”
“The person at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”
J Rich in His Own Words:
“Loyalty is a lifestyle and if you ain’t with a solid team with a solid structure, your chance of success is zero to none. Everything is about structure and loyalty. Without structure and loyalty, your chance of winning is zero to none. You gotta be able to trust your team with your life.”