Charlotte rapper Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon moved into his new apartment on North Tryon Street last December, but when I visit him there on a Saturday afternoon in July, he’s already having second thoughts.
The complex is just outside the NoDa neighborhood, where in recent years it seems any business within a couple of miles of the gentrified arts district is trying to co-opt and capitalize on the name. As much as police presence can be a burden in Charlotte’s more traditionally Black neighborhoods, it can be even more intense in areas where new white residents are moving in all the time and need to feel safe.
“I think it was a bad idea,” he says when I ask about the move. “I should move back to the east side. It’s good, but it be weird sometimes; police be outside, prices are going up, shit’s just different. They’re trying to make it NoDa.”
His doubts about his new living situation are indicative of a theme running through his life and career over the past year. As Jah-Monte has begun to see more success, he’s also begun to rethink some of the things that have defined his come up: his outspoken critiques of the local scene and the media that covers it, his longtime claim to the “Best Rapper in Charlotte” title, his outlandishly long song titles that read more like run-on sentences, and even his very presence in Charlotte, where he’s lived since arriving from Ohio at 11 years old.
Jah-Monte Explores New Worlds
When I come by his apartment, he’s just returned from a 24-day trip to Brooklyn, New York, where he’s been spending a lot of time over the last year, making music and connecting with local creatives. Before COVID-19 hit, he was just about ready to move there. Now, as with many other aspects of his career, he’s rethinking that decision.
“There’s a lot of conversations being had around me, a lot of ideas,” he tells me. “Some people with my best interests are steering me in certain ways, so everything is kind of like in the air. My idea is to bounce back and forth from L.A. to New York, Atlanta and Charlotte.”
It sounds like an ideal situation for any rapper with a local presence, but as Jah-Monte has seen his name grow in cities beyond Charlotte — thanks to attention from national outlets like Pitchfork and regular radio play on Hot 97 in New York — it’s looking like a realistic plan for him moving forward.
In December, Jah-Monte dropped Infinite Wisdom, his fourth project of 2019, following up on Jewelry Rap, Alkaline Water, and God, Body & Soul, respectively. Infinite Wisdom remains his most recent, and its momentum hasn’t broken yet. He’s been pressing vinyl records for his back catalogue of 2019 releases, as well, and has seen each release sell out online and in local shops. Infinite Wisdom stays on track with Jah-Monte’s well-known style among Charlotte hip-hop heads, a grimy and boastful flow featuring nonstop witty one-liners over boom-bap beats.
Reaching New Fans
In January, Pitchfork’s Alphonse Pierre published a write-up on Jah-Monte’s video for “Keep It or Sweep It But My Bitch Still Getting Oprah Winfrey Money.” The track wasn’t featured on the album; in fact, it was just one of many throw-away songs he’d been kicking out at a rapid pace throughout the year.
He filmed the video in a Topper’s Pizza because of their colorful walls, shot it on his own camera in one take, and posted it. After Pitchfork reviewed the video, it blew up, and Jah-Monte started to see his plays on YouTube, SoundCloud, and all other platforms grow exponentially. He learned a valuable lesson from the “Keep It or Sweep It” experience: If the music is raw, nothing else matters.
“It’s crazy that he posted that one out of everything,” Jah-Monte says of his first Pitchfork review. “He didn’t post nothing that was really thought out, just a one-shot video, so I’m like, ‘Yo, I don’t have to listen to people when they tell me my stuff gotta look like this, I have to do this, I have to do that.’ It’s really just a matter of doing your own thing.”
And that’s what he plans to continue doing. He’s got two more albums worth of music ready to release, with his first full-length of 2020 dropping in September and the second coming in November. After that, he plans to take a small break and plan his next move.
Practicing New Habits
While his inextinguishable work ethic over the last two years has paid off for him, the success has made him comfortable enough to slow things down. “I recorded a lot of music because I put myself in a weird mindset. It was just kind of like, outwork everybody else around you and that’s how you get noticed,” he says. “It’s kind of toxic in a way.”
However toxic it may have been, it worked. And now Jah-Monte is ready to be more purposeful about the work he produces. His run-on song titles — “Vegan Chicken Over Rice With My Cougar Bitch Who Like Jada Pinkett Smith” is a personal favorite — are one aspect of that change.
“It’s just weird,” he says, laughing when I bring it up. “I did it to gain attention, I don’t know, I want to go back to regular titles. I’m about to take a break and come back normal. I had to do a lot of outlandish things but I don’t have to do it no more.”
Another thing he’s beginning to have second thoughts about is the “Best Rapper in Charlotte” moniker that he’s laid claim to for years, even as he’s done everything to prove it a credible claim. The September album was originally going to be titled King of Charlotte, he says, but he’s walked that back after deciding it “would be the worst idea.”
Same Old Love for Charlotte Hip-Hop
He says that the folks who take the most offense to the claim are always the ones he has the most respect for, like when New Jersey rapper CRIMEAPPLE called him out for it on Twitter. His feelings on that are part of a broader issue he’s had with social media, where he posts critically on things he feels passionate about — including Queen City Nerve’s hip-hop coverage at times — only for folks to take it personally and hold it against him.
“Sometimes I think I’m tripping,” he says. “I know sometimes speaking out on certain things online, people don’t understand what you mean. People don’t know how you feel, they just think you’re hostile but you don’t feel that way. I learned that this year.”
Despite stating in “Best Rapper in Charlotte Part 10” in July 2019 that he may never step foot in the city again, I can tell how important the local scene is to him when he speaks about it. He has no intention of leaving the Queen City behind for good, he says, but he strives to see a change in the way people place competition over collaboration.
“In Charlotte, nothing is word of mouth. Nobody’s ever like ‘Yo, this person told me about you,’” he says. “Everywhere else there’s more acceptance … I think we could kill that narrative, that nobody in their own hometown is gonna be respected. I think we can change that. But there’s a lot of clout holding that comes into it; people that’s more poppin’ than another artist don’t want to share what they have. If we could kill that…”
He trails off, leaving me to envision any number of potential avenues for Charlotte hip-hop to take. One more thing to reconsider.