Charlotte is poised to break big, says Jason Jet.
“In the next two or three years, it will be a recognized music scene” Jet says. “It’s not going to be Nashville or New York big but it’s going to be recognized.”
Jet intends to be part of that musical explosion, and why not? Starting in 2010, when his debut single “Love Boulevard” introduced Jet’s smooth and ebullient neo-R&B to the Queen City, he’s been pushing the envelope with a genre that he coined electric soul — pop-centered songcraft that tethers afrofuturism’s computerized pulse to the heartbeat of gospel.
Concurrently, the 33-year-old Jet has been an R&B polymath, complementing his music career with vocal coaching gigs and Young Icons, a series of summer camps he launched to mentor youth and teach them how to create music and write songs. It’s a resume like this that prompted R&B artist and Charlotte native Anthony Hamilton to call Jet the “next best thing to come out of Charlotte.”
Jet brings his warm and sensuous soul to the Evening Muse on Sept. 7.
With all his focus on Charlotte’s youth, Jet’s music has taken a backseat for the past few years, but all that is about to change. He has two as-yet-untitled projects dropping soon, and big changes are in the works for Young Icons. It’s seems that late 2019 and early 2020 will be Jet’s time to soar. If Charlotte’s blowing up, it’s only natural that Jet, who’s done so much to nurture that scene, is going to ride the wave.
It’s counterintuitive that Jet, known for futuristic-but-friendly grooves that suggest the love child of Frank Ocean and André 3000, comes from the land of glaciers, geysers and fjords.
My dad was in the navy and stationed in Iceland,” Jet reveals. “My mom was crazy enough to go out there to be with him, and she got pregnant.”
Father Terence Jones and mother Janeece welcomed their son Jason to the world on July 15, 1986, which also happened to be Janeece’s birthday. The young family was in Iceland less than a year before returning to the states and eventually settling in Charlotte.
Music, it seems, was in his blood. Terrence Jones was a music producer and songwriter who released several gospel, R&B and smooth jazz albums, including You’re Always With Me, Just For You and A Golden Touch. With a background in information technology, the elder Jones was an independent, self-produced artist. His example inspired Jet to take up music and emulate his dad’s D.I.Y. approach.
“I’d come home, and he was recording his own albums,” Jet recalls. “It made it easy for me to embrace the idea of a home studio and being self-sufficient.”
In the meantime, Jet took piano lessons and sang in the church choir. When he was 10 years old, Jet’s father gave him his first computer and his first digital audio software, Cakewalk Pro Audio, which Jet used to make beats and record his inaugural tracks. After graduating from Northwest School of the Arts, Jet initially followed his father in the I.T. field. Though to this day Jet continues to use his computer and coding skills in a series of side gigs, a life in corporate I.T. didn’t take. He was 20 years old, working for Time Warner Cable in Charlotte and making the best money in his life when he decided to walk away and do things his way.
The gateway to this decision, ironically enough, was a computer screen, where Jet spied an ad for Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. He was captivated by the idea of a school that would teach him the technical side of making music. He applied, got accepted and embarked for Florida in 2007.
While he was at school, Jet’s extracurricular activities involved playing with bands in front of paying audiences. As a keyboardist, he jammed in blues rock artist Kevin Maines’ band, and plied similar duties with electrified funk outfit Bop Gun. It’s a process that initiated the transformation from tech-savvy student Jason Jones to tunesmith and crowd-pleasing performer Jason Jet.
“Being in a group allowed me to see the writing process,” Jet remembers. “That was one [piece] I had never really gotten at Full Sail.”
Upon graduation in March 2009, Jet moved back to Charlotte and started writing a song a month for nine months. The result was his debut album, Love Boulevard, which spawned the self-titled single that garnered airplay on urban radio stations in Charlotte and Fayetteville. Jet feels the single stood out because it was fresh and upbeat.
“It sounded like good cookout music,” he says.
Meanwhile, accolades and honors came on thick and fast. Jet opened for Anthony Hamilton at the Fillmore Charlotte; a gig he still counts as one of his fondest memories. Six months after releasing his debut, he received the Carolina Music Award for best new R&B artist. The New York Urban Music Explosion Award came after he played a showcase in New York City. Inevitably, the siren song of the Big Apple called out to Jet in 2012.
“I had a management team based in New York, so it made sense to move there,” Jet remembers.
Jet and his team took meetings with labels like Atlantic, Warner Bros. and Interscope, but his time in NYC was a decidedly mixed bag. On one hand, Jet feels that some career opportunities failed to materialize. On the plus side, it was a learning experience.
His New York sojourn was a way for Jet to reflect on what was important to him, he says. While in New York, Jet penned the song “Been There Before,” his heartfelt response to hardships his mother was facing in Charlotte.
“It was [also] about me missing home,” Jet admits. After less than a year, he was back in the Queen City.
A few years passed before Jet released any new music. An explanation for the hiatus came in 2016 in the form of the deceptively ethereal sounding The Great Escape EP, which Jet says is centered around self-realization.
“[The Great Escape is] an embodiment of what I had to go through to free myself from the limitations and blocks I had [during] the transition from New York back to Charlotte,” Jet explains.
The relationship that brought Jet back to Charlotte had soured. After the breakup, Jet focused on getting back into his musical world, which he felt he had neglected.
“It was almost as if I had retired for a couple years,” he confides. Jet has since made up for lost time. In the wake of the 2016 police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Jet recorded and released “Broken Black Faces.”
“I thought that we needed a record that people in our community could listen to and feel inspiration and positivity,” Jet explains.
The song features two great verses from local rapper Nige Hood. It is pro-black and anti-hate, he continues. It comes from a place of love. Concern with love and community has also informed Jet’s Young Icons project, launched in 2017. Having just wrapped its third year, Young Icons is a summer camp where children take a week to write and record an original song.
“We’re not just teaching kids how to write songs,” Jet explains. “We’re teaching them about production and how to record in the studio.”
The program also brings in big name producers to sit in, and popular artists attend the children’s final show; Hamilton is a recent attendee. In 2020, Young Icons is switching to nonprofit status, Jet reveals. There will be year-long programs featuring open studio days on weekends and open mics for youth every month.
“Our goal is to be known as the premier program for youth when it comes to live music,” Jet says.
Jet also promises new music of his own in the pipeline. Though he’s known for inspiring and uplifting tunes like his effervescent single “Up All Night,” Jet is preparing to drop a six-song EP in October that he describes as non-feel good music.
“Have you ever been with someone where your love wasn’t fully reciprocated?” Jet queries. That question serves as a hint to where he’s going with the project.
He describes the EP’s song cycle as a journey through a failed relationship that examines how someone can get through the experience. Most of the tunes are three to four years old, he continues.
“I’ve been sitting on them because they’re great songs, but they don’t reflect where I am in life right now,” Jet explains.
He feels he needs to get the tunes released before dropping his new full-length album next spring. Concurrent with recording the new material, Jet has also been assembling a new creative team, and he’s shooting footage for music videos every weekend.
In the recent past, Jet has hit pause on his music career to tend to life lessons and community education, but now his simmering soulful music is back on the front burner.
“More than ever, I’m really putting a lot of time into Jason Jet,” he says.