For Charlotte rapper Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon, everything is about growth. When Queen City Nerve spoke to the always-evolving wordsmith in August, he was contemplating his space in the Charlotte scene. Since then, he has stayed on the grind, continuing to build connections across the country and build his name far beyond Charlotte, while staying true to the Queen City scene with local gigs when he’s in town.
In the lead-up to his Oct. 4 show at Snug Harbor with Detroit rapper Boldy James, Queen City Nerve contributor Lamont Lilly caught back up with Jah-Monte to discuss how he got to where he is and where he’s going next. If there’s one thing for certain, he won’t stay stagnant.
Lamont Lilly: The name ‘Lord’ has a very rich hip-hop legacy, from legendary producer/rapper Lord Finesse to Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian. How did you come up with Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon?
Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon: It pretty much comes from that same lineage. There was a time I went by King Callis, but eventually I wanted to go by my real name. It reflected my school of thought at that time. I was introduced to the conscious community through the Hebrew Israelites and Nation of Gods and Earths. I also got into Rastafarianism and African history, which is where Ogbon comes from.
I put the ‘Lord’ in front of my real name in honor of what I was learning and added an H in there which made JAH-Monte. I got the last name Ogbon on African Liberation Day, the same day my daughter received her name as well, Halima Kujali. We were renamed by a community elder here in Charlotte. Kujali means “the one who cares.” Ogbon means “wisdom.” I just wanted to bring it all together and be a source of empowerment and positive energy.
Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon, “Where Are You,” released Sept. 8.
COVID-19 brought a lot of musical artists to a slow down, particularly with social distancing and limited venue spaces. You’re still creating new music, new videos, even touring. How have you stayed so productive and inspired?
A lot of artists during this period second guessed themselves and automatically fell back when things got rough, uncomfortable and unstable. I always believe that regardless of what’s going on around you, though, you have to continue to put your thoughts and energy into your art. That’s definitely where my energy is right now.
I’m also determined to keep making the moves I need to make to reach my goals, not only here in Charlotte but across the country. For example, when I was out in Los Angeles, it was a whole different pace. People were still making moves at 3 a.m. Sometimes you might be at a party just to meet people. Then again, you might go to a business meeting at 2 a.m. like it’s 2 p.m. You would see celebs just at random and everybody was doing something. It kind of exposed me to a new level of work ethic and grind. This was 2019.
It’s those moments that keep my battery charged. The goal is for those moments to become a lifestyle. Some people might think of my last year-and-a-half as being irresponsible. I was supposed to stay home, stay inside, not be on tour. That’s what the governor said. I was like, “Nah man. I have to pick up this microphone, keep grinding, creating and getting better.” I just looked at it as being persistent and taking a chance on myself.
You’re opening for Detroit’s Boldy James on October 4 at Snug Harbor. James, who is now signed to Griselda Records, is a well-seasoned hip-hop veteran. How did you link with him?
Well, the link that pulled me in was actually the venue, Snug Harbor. [Laughing] I wish I could say that Boldy himself called me up a few months ago and invited me on tour, but that wouldn’t be the truth. [Chuckling] That would be some serious clout chasing. No, we’re not there yet, but we’ll definitely be ready for the show October 4.
What I can say is that one of the producers I worked with had also done some production for Westside Gunn [who founded Griselda Records], and that’s who Boldy is signed to. This same producer shot some of my music around their network. I went from doing local Charlotte shows in NoDa and Plaza Midwood to linking up with SadhuGold. He’s a Philadelphia producer.
Once I linked up with SadhuGold, I started getting some serious looks out of the New Jersey and New York area. My sound kind of blended right in. I guess when Snug Harbor booked Boldy, they thought I was a good fit from the rappers here in Charlotte. This is the moment we’ve been preparing for. It’s a blessing however it comes.
Most people associate the South with mumble and trap rap. Your energy, style and flow remind me more of MF DOOM, though, or some old Wu-Tang. Unorthodox, gritty, dare I say grimy, but still very boom-bap and soulful. Where do you fit within the Charlotte hip-hop scene, or in the South for that matter?
This question is exactly what I’ve been going back and forth on right now. Where do I fit in here? Do I fit in? If not, is it ok if I don’t fit in? Or maybe I’ve outgrown this place? But there’s also lots of unorthodox rappers here in the South now. I think it’s very possible to have that classic East Coast influence and still be Southern-rooted at the same time.
When I reach the heights I’m really aiming for, I would love to work with folks like EarthGang. They’re just as unorthodox, definitely not your everyday Southern rappers. In reference to Charlotte though, sometimes I feel like, “Wait, do we have to have a certain sound?” Especially when you think about how North Carolina is such a melting pot now.
This may sound weird, but sometimes I feel like people are more focused on your look than your actual sound and music. No disrespect to anyone, but no, we don’t all have to wear Charlotte Hornets gear and Carolina Panthers jerseys. I just want to create freely and be the best version of me. But you know what, I think I’ll fit right in in the South when I’m a little more established. These things matter a lot more when you’re making the climb up. Once you’re established, you can create your own sound and bring the listeners to you.
By the way, MF DOOM is my favorite rapper of all-time! If I remind anyone of DOOM, that’s love!
Did you have to work at being unorthodox and practice that? Or was that just a natural delivery and content fit for you?
I had to work on it. I used to study Big Boi from OutKast…a lot! This was around 2012. I would memorize Big Boi’s lines word for word, just to catch his cadence. Big Boi was just different. That Aquemini album was a foundation for me! Aquemini also came with a rhyme booklet so I could read the lyrics. I was studying everything Organized Noize put out. Organized Noize was Boom Bap but still country and southern with it. Cee-Lo from Goodie Mob was another major influence.
I also studied and learned a lot from Big KRIT. KRIT really had the content and something to say, along with his unorthodox delivery and cadence pattern. Then when I heard Kendrick Lamar’s “Rigamortis,” I was like “Ohhhh, now this dude really different.” Kendrick pushed my delivery forward. I knew once my delivery was down, everything else would eventually fall into place. Around this same time, I was also becoming more consciously aware of history, culture, society and aware of myself.
Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon, “My Bitch Balling Like She Play for the Knicks.”
This was when I started to put my hip-hop influences together with what I was learning from the teachings. That 2012-2017 period was pretty much my underground conscious blog stage. A lot of my content then was about being the chosen people and our collective struggle. My content now has more of a balance. Instead of beating folks up with wisdom in every line, now I sprinkle the knowledge in so more people can digest it. I’m still learning though, man. Still growing.
I love that you’re a proud “Rap Dad.” You really embrace that role. How do you balance fatherhood and the grind of ascending in the rap game?
It’s hard for me right now because I’m not with my daughter’s mother. Time has become a dilemma, I would say. It’s hard because I feel like I have to choose between one or the other. With the moves I’m trying to make, more of my time is being pulled in the rap game. Balancing a little more here and a little less there has become very difficult.
I’m also not a Wells Fargo guy. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. I could say “fuck music” man and just find a job and ride life out like that. There’s something inside of me though that says, “I gotta make this rap thing work.” Good thing is, we’re already in motion. We just have to keep grinding. Then I can really support my daughter.
Man, but before? It was much easier. She was with me all the time, from the studio to shooting videos. That was just something I wanted to put in my art. It was also something I really wanted my people to see. It’s father first, then artist second. That was the role and priority everywhere I went. I know the media likes to portray us as not being dads, especially in hip-hop. But I was like, “Nah, you’re definitely going to see my daughter.”
She’s my biggest inspiration, not just with the music — I even tell people that on the business side. I have a child relying on me. I can’t be lazy! I have to get out here and work and grind. I also want her to grow up and be able to see my art. This is a part of her history too now. It’s very important to me to give her that.
After the Boldy James show on October 4, what’s next for you?
Right now, I’m working on a new album with this producer/rapper named Navy Blue. It’s a big connection for me because I really follow his music and what he does. Blue is a different kind of inspiration. He’s also tapped in with The Alchemist and Earl Sweatshirt, and with [brands] Supreme and Calvin Klein.
That’s big right there, bruh! Navy Blue is one of my new-school favorites.
I honestly feel like this all stems, though, from SadhuGold bringing me into that lane. Before Sadhu, I was just local. I wasn’t traveling to New York or L.A. As soon as I was able to make my rounds though for like a year or two, things really opened up.
Navy Blue and I connected on IG, and he sent me a few beats. But he also wanted to know what kind of person I was, as a human being. Most rappers forget that part, you know. A few weeks later I had a chance to visit him at his place up in N.Y. Yeah man, Blue a good brother, which is one of the reasons I’m super excited about this next project.
After Snug Harbor, I’m actually planning a break for a few weeks. I’m just going to continue working and increasing the quality — the quality of the music and the quality of the vision. I already believe; eventually others will too.
Brother Jah-Monte, how can folks plug in, support your music and what you’re building?
On the booking, scheduling and business end, folks can contact Miss Amy Goudy at email@example.com or my homie Leo Ganz at firstname.lastname@example.org. People can also holler at me personally. Unless I’m with my daughter, I’m very approachable anytime. I’m literally approachable right in the street just as much as I am on social media, or even after a show. My Twitter and Instagram handle is @JahmonteOgbon, the same for Snapchat and LinkedIn. I’m also on Apple Music, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube. Man, we’re just blessed and working right now. Charlotte, y’all tap in!
Lamont Lilly is an independent journalist, poet, activist and community organizer based in Durham, NC.