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Old Into New: J. Arthur Channels ‘90s R&B

Written by on October 25, 2021

Pictured above: J. Arthur by Alter Aspect, courtesy of the artist.

J. Arthur breaks through the noise of the Chicago hip-hop scene, the old-fashioned way.

Inspired by his early exposure to ‘90s hip-hop and R&B, Chicago hip-hop artist J. Arthur combines old-school trends with aspects of contemporary hip-hop and street style in both his fashion and music. 

We chatted with J. Arthur after his single “Bones” was featured on Vocalo’s Poised to Break Through playlist and was one of morning host Bekoe’s Top 5 picks for October 2021. The fashion designer and hip-hop artist discussed his inspiration, collaborative work and his favorite things about Chicago. 

Photo courtesy of the artist, by Alter Aspect.

How long has music been a part of your life? When did you first start making music, and what does making music mean to you?

Music has been with me throughout my life for quite some time. From what I’ve remembered, growing up, there was always popular [music] playing at the house thanks to my mother. She really generally put me onto my first bits [of] music, and basically the genres I appreciate and adore now to this day. I first started really trying my hand at writing music when I was in middle school — sixth grade, to be specific. I remember writing my first raps to Snoop Dogg’s debut [Death Row Records] single “Still a G Thang” instrumental … I bought the single for my CD player that year. 

Music means everything to me. I have adored it for so long as an adolescent, and to actually create music for a fanbase in my adult years is truly amazing. I feel blessed to be able to create it and have it around me for such a long time. 

Tell us about your album 1.5, which came out a little over a month ago. What does the title represent?

1.5 originally was just to be a follow-up or deluxe version of some sorts to my debut record that dropped last year titled Bad News. I took too long in dropping the deluxe, and 1.5 kind of became its own project. A lot of stuff on it is a bit old, lots of demos that I wanted to release as “bonuses,” but they took a while to finish. I kind of treat 1.5 as a new project within itself. 

Walk us through the inspiration behind your single “Bones.”

“Bones” is somewhat of a dated record. I originally released it back in February 2018 as a single, and it kind of gained its own traction on the internet a little bit. I felt very strongly that it was a great song still and that it can move into different realms, so I decided to re-release for 1.5. Honestly, it’s my ode to one of my favorite songs — Pharrell’s “Frontin’.” You can hear a lot of those tones and nods from that song in mine. … I wrote the song about a girl I met that I was really feeling that summer. I’m not too sure if she ever actually listened to it. 

Can you pinpoint a specific memory or person who got you into fashion?

Ever since I could remember, I always felt like I was a fashion-forward person. I definitely think I got a lot of my style from my mom. She always has been a low-key design-forward person to me, and I think I picked something from her in that sense. I also grew up around ‘90s hip-hop and R&B, that also played a huge role in my fashion-forward presence. I definitely picked up a lot of my style from rappers growing up — B.I.G., Nas, Pac, Boyz II Men all dressing alike, Jay-Z, etc. — that I still instill in my everyday rituals to this day.

In some of the promo photos for 1.5 you’re holding a basketball on an outdoor court. Do you play any sports or have any hobbies outside of music and fashion? What do you like about them?

Fashion, clothing and sneakers always has been hobby of mine, collecting dumb micellaneous pop culture things has recently stirred up with me. Thanks to the lockdown, I got into designing and customizing personal sneakers for not just myself but for a small customer setting. Basketball is definitely my favorite sport. Die-hard Bulls Fan. I used to be kind of nice at hooping, but I can’t say so much nowadays.

Photo courtesy of the artist, by Alter Aspect.

What got you into writing?

I believe I have always been an avid listener of all sorts of music and just absorbed different techniques and schemes of writing a good song. I was a huge bluesy, ‘90s R&B fan … specific to ballad-style songs, a lot of those records still resonate with me, songwriting-wise. I tend to pride myself on having become a good songwriter during my time as a recording artist thanks to just being a fan of the music in general. I am still working at it and learning new things all the time. It’s been a long process.  

How would you describe the music you create?

If I had to choose one phrase to describe my music, I would say that it definitely “comes from the soul” and it has a backbone. It’s not watered down to a degree. I try not to sugarcoat anything as much. I want to have it come from an honest place a lot of the time. 

Tell us a little about your collaborative work with theWHOevers. How long have you been working together? What’s this collaboration’s origin story?

W? is a group that emerged from the Chicago land area in the mid 2010s consisting of me and my brother in arms, Lloyd Dotdot, FKA Dotkom. We met through a high school friend. Dot and my homie from highschool went to Northern [Illinois University] together, and I would come and hang and party with them. They used to have a rap group up there with another high school friend that went to NIU called “The Kitchen.” I used to be so inspired, ‘cuz they rapped and made music all together so good and it was fun. I was making music back home at a community college at the time, and they also kind of took cues from what I was doing in my solo aspirations at that time whenever I would come out here and hang with them. It all really kind of clicked with our group of friends. 

Photo courtesy of the artist.

We saw theWHOevers performed with the Tiny Chain Gang and Tobyraps in September at the Chop Shop. Can you tell us about this experience? How did it go?

It’s always a good time rocking with the homies the Palmer Squares. They had our backs a few times with shows. That was actually our first show back on stage since January 2020. Crazy. I love being onstage, and it was a great feeling to be back there.

If you could perform with anyone, who would it be and why?

At this point in my career, a dream of mine is to share the stage with any of my idols I grew up listening to. Wu (RIP ODB), ATCQ (RIP PHIFE), Nas, Little Brother, shoot … even Boyz II Men. Why not? Just to name a few. 

What is your favorite aspect of the Chicago music scene?

Chicago’s always been a hard-working, blue-collar city to me, and over time the artists that have emerged have really shown that in their music. I truly respect and love that about this scene. It’s such a vast scene of artists, too — so many different sides of the city. Everyone has brought something to the table. It’s pretty beautiful. 

What is your favorite thing to do in the city? 

I took up biking during the lockdown and basically instilled it in my regular routine. I try to bike as long as the seasons permit it. It has definitely become a favorite thing of mine to do. 

Are you working on anything right now you want to promote? Musically, or in fashion? Or both?

1.5 is out, right. Hit them DSP’s and support the kid on Bandcamp Fridays. Let’s keep that momentum rockin’ for a bit … Working on the next WHOevers album, really being nit-picky with that, but it’s coming along very nicely. Top of the new year, hopefully. I just want to create things in general. Whether it’s music, clothing  — peep the kicks and the merch at mtwthfsatsun.com — any miscellaneous design efforts … I just want to show out as much as I can. Expect more things soon. 

Follow J. Arthur on Twitter and Instagram, and stream “bones” below.

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