Mahogany Jones: Sugar Water

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Photo courtesy of Ray “Trilogy Beats” Rodgers

Mahogany Jones is an activist, an educator, and an artist. A former four-time 106 & Park Freestyle Fridays champion Mahogany Jones puts lyrics first, A Detroit resident, Jones’ music is consistent with the Motor City sound – soulful, thought-provoking, and unapologetic.

Last summer Jones released her critically acclaimed album, Sugar Water. The 13-track album displays Mahogany Jones’ versatility and growth as an artist and a lyricist. Sugar Water is produced by Mozaic, iRonicLee, and Darell “Red” Campbell.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Mahogany Jones about her Sugar Water album and its upcoming reissue, the role her Christian faith plays in her music, and her movement to empower women, A PURE Movement.

TRHH: Why’d you title your album Sugar Water?

Mahogany Jones: Oh wow. When we first started putting things together I want to say it had been Outkast’s anniversary. I was really thinking about their formula and whether intentional or not this is how it kind of fell down. It was this interesting mixture that made what they had to say and how they had to say it more palatable. It seemed like Big Boi always came with the raw what your everyday average Joe on the street was up on. Dre always had something that was always on some higher consciousness and just made you think. Their mixture made it that if you were about that street life you were gonna listen because of what Big Boi had to say and if you were on the aware conscious tip you were going to listen for what Andre had to say.

I thought about my own formula and I kind of previously had just been in your face, whether it had been my faith or different things that I stood on. The last project that I did was called Pure. It was very heavy in content with a lot of serious subject matter. Like Lauryn said, “Sometimes you gotta throw an MF’er in it so ignorant N’s can hear you.” That’s pretty much where it came from. People need this water, but sometimes you gotta put a little sugar in it so people get what they need.

TRHH: The song Dying Breed is incredible and speaks on our culture. Why was important for you to convey that message?

Mahogany Jones: Thank you. I think for a few reasons. I serve as a Musical Ambassador with the U.S. State Department and pretty much get to experience Hip-Hop globally and get to and see how certain countries are doing such a great job of preserving Hip-Hop culturally. It’s not just, “Oh, we’re out here making dope records and doing dope graffiti,” but truly the essence of the culture. Brazil actually has a department that uses Hip-Hop in its government. They get it. They get that Hip-Hop is really a tool that can be used for social change and to engage people. It just seems as if nowadays we don’t really get it. I’m not speaking about the differences.

I believe that Hip-Hop can be many truths. Sonically it can be different, the experiences that people have can be different — that’s cool. I just mean it’s essence of peace, love, unity, and having fun. The same way that rock music is passed down generationally, it’s something that we need to start taking pride in. We got so many people coming up but nobody is looking back to the roots of understanding where it came from or why it’s here, but people are making records sounding stupid and looking dumb. I feel like we need to understand it and appreciate it so we can continue to be vanguards of it. We need to continue to push out a culture that’s respectable and important.

TRHH: How did you become a Musical Ambassador for the State Department?

Mahogany Jones: It’s funny, it’s a program that actually has been happening since the days of Dizzy Gillespie. Now it’s a program that American Voices is over. Years ago someone who is my mentor, her name is Toni Blackman, she put me on to it. She was one of the first Hip-Hop Musical Ambassadors. She was like, “Yeah, it’s the program called American Music Abroad. You should apply for it so you can do what I do.” I scraped up a band because I couldn’t do it as a solo artist. It was me, a DJ, a drummer, and a vocalist. I applied in 2012 and they called us in for an audition, I auditioned and got it. My first tour was five countries in Africa. Since then it was kind of a snowball effect of individuals getting at me and asking me to come. I had my second American Music Abroad tour just recently. I was out on tour for about a month with my band in Madagascar, Pakistan, and D.C. this November. So far I’ve served about 16 countries since 2012. It’s been phenomenal.

TRHH: What role does your faith play when you go into the booth?

Mahogany Jones: I think the same role that it plays when I make decisions about how I date or how I engage with people. It’s a part of the fabric of who I am. When you listen to Kendrick or Lupe or Chance or when we think about a lot of the artists that we love we hear it in their music. And not because they have a dogma that they’re trying to shove down their throat but because it really is a part of who they are. That’s why I love music. I think about artists like Mary J, Stevie Wonder and you got their life. That’s what makes you love it. You’re sharing a perspective of your life that I can relate to. I think more as of late it’s less, “I have this agenda to share Christianity with you,” and more so I just want to share my life, I happen to be a Christian, and this is going to be my perspective.

TRHH: Tell me about A PURE Movement.

Mahogany Jones: A PURE Movement was birthed out of frustration oddly enough. It might have been 2006 when I was doing more Christian shows or events. I would get booked and people would come up to me and say, “We’re so happy you came here to present to our girls! They’re going to be blessed!” I would just be really upset because my male counterparts would come and share what they have to say and you’re not going up to them like, “We’re just so happy you’re here for our boys.” It’s, “We’re so happy you’re here and what you have to say is valid to our boys and our girls.” As a woman I would just go places and it would be like I only had something valid to say to girls. I always say this and it’s true, my brain or my spirit doesn’t have genitalia. I may be packaged as a woman but I’m having human experiences that are valid for whatever your gender. What I have to say is valid. I got to a place where I was tired of being selected or isolated solely because I’m a woman. I felt like God was saying, “You need to do a project just for women and it’s going to be called ‘PURE’.” I was like, “Eh, I’m not doing that.” I ran it by my producer when I got the epiphany and he was like, “No, you have to do that.”

Listening to him I couldn’t do a project for women and it’s just me so I invited other women to the table. I also couldn’t do a project for women and not invite men to the table so I had a few of my bros feature on the album. The album turned into a movement. I didn’t want to put out a piece of music and not have tools for people to have a conversation. I’m putting it out with a purpose for people to engage in conversations that shift the paradigm or will help create a culture where people really respect women. We did a social media campaign, I do two annual events long with my partner Get Jayne Consulting, which is now Get Jayne Sounds, and we do something for Sexual Assault Awareness Months which is in April. We do Denim Day Detroit, and we do another event called Pure Purple which is for domestic violence and that happens in October. I also have a curriculum where I mentor young girls in self-esteem and body image. I’ve been doing that for the past two years. That’s pretty much what it is.

TRHH: Keeping with the theme of women, what’s your opinion on the Presidency of Donald Trump and the reaction by so many women throughout the world to him being in power?

Mahogany Jones: It’s so funny because as soon as I was saying I really want to be in a position to create a paradigm shift on how we treat and engage women his face just popped up in my brain like a hologram [laughs]. I’m just really saddened by a lot. My personal belief and stance is I’m definitely pro-life, but I believe that women should have the choice. I don’t believe that abortion should be a contraceptive, ‘cause it’s not. I think being responsible is really important, but again, who am I to judge? I don’t think we as a government should legislate morality, so when I see all these crazy decisions that he’s making it’s very disheartening and very sad. Especially knowing that he has no regard for women and the fact that little boys are on the bus telling girls, “Trump says I can grab your pussy,” it’s like wow, really? It’s no bueno, man. It’s all bad. I don’t even know what to say.

TRHH: Me either. Back to the music. What inspired the song Home?

Mahogany Jones: Again, I think it’s a very compromising situation for me as someone who is a U.S. Musical Ambassador and has worked with the State Department and seen great things come from our country and seen how in a lot of ways the U.S. does really help a lot of countries in regards to foreign policy. But in a lot of ways we’re also pretty foul [laughs]. Being a woman of color and living in the country I’m definitely pushed to the edge in society, I’m definitely marginalized in a lot of ways. Our bodies are disregarded. This recent rash of police brutality is crazy. I live in a predominantly white neighborhood and the things that come out of people’s mouth sometimes just blows me away. I just realize that in a lot of ways we’re definitely displaced and we don’t have somewhere that feels like it’s ours. It’s very compromising because as much as I am African, I’m more American. I’ve been to different countries in Africa and it’s like, “Oh yeah, you’re an American,” and I’m like, “Wait, I’m African!” and it’s like, “Not really, shorty!” It’s rough.

TRHH: I’d never left North America until recently – I went to England. When people heard me talk they’d go, “Oh, you’re an American!” For some reason I never identified as being an American. Does that make sense?

Mahogany Jones: Oh no, it does! That’s so loaded, “Oh, you’re an American,” is so loaded with disgust, awe, it’s a lot that comes with that but it’s true and you feel it. Did you feel that for the first time that this country in so many ways doesn’t embrace me, but in so many ways I am so much a part of this country?

TRHH: Yes. The people in Europe made me feel that way. I don’t feel like an American in America, but they made me feel like an American over there. It was definitely noticeable. I had mixed reactions from people. They were all positive but it was like, “Oh my God, you’re an American! Where are you from? That’s so cool!” and then, “Are you voting for Trump?” [Laughs] The funniest thing is I told everybody that he’s not gonna win. I was literally like, “Don’t worry about it. There’s no way he can win.” I didn’t think it would happen.

Mahogany Jones: Again, I wonder if there’s someone who listens to the stuff I say and is like, “We’re not sending her anywhere anymore!” [Laughs] It just makes you wonder if there is some massive diabolical plan in the works. Sometimes it’s like, is this a conspiracy theory? It makes me believe more so in the whole idea of Armageddon. Is this some crazy social experience? Are you doing this to push us to the edge to see what will happen? Are you trying to make another Civil Rights Movement happen by putting us in the throes of the most doomsday situation? Did you put out Hunger Games to set us up to get us ready for what’s coming?

TRHH: Your style is a little bit aggressive. How do you balance your aggressive style with keeping it clean and delivering a message at the same time?

Mahogany Jones: [Laughs] I don’t know. It’s so funny. I just feel like I’m a life mixologist. I’m the kid that was like, “I wonder what chocolate and potato chips is gonna taste like?” “I wonder what happens if I mix this with this?” I get my Punky Brewster on. Everything in my life is mixed up. I like colors mixed up, I like food mixed up, I like genres of music mixed up. Just how I am as an individual is a very strange balance. Even as an educator my kids are like, “Oh my gosh, I have so much fun with you but you’re so mean!” [Laughs] I don’t mean to be, but it’s in love. I don’t really know. I don’t know if I’m always successful that’s why I intentionally hold myself and say, “Just do an album where you aren’t talking about anything heavy.” I don’t know how successful I was when I go back and listen to Sugar Water. I don’t know if it always works ‘cause that’s just what it is.

TRHH: What’s next up for Mahogany Jones?

Mahogany Jones: Wow, I’m working alongside Versatile Entertainment, which I’m really proud to say. One of my heroes that I look up to as a lyricist, J-Live, is a part of that collective. We’re working together to actually put out a deluxe edition of Sugar Water this summer with a few remixes that I can’t leak yet, but I’m excited. One of which will probably be with J-Live on Dying Breed. The deluxe version of Sugar Water will be coming out but I’m working on new music as well. I have two projects in the works. One is with a trumpeter and composer whose name is Kris Johnson. We’re working on doing a live album. I’m pretty stoked about that. Then I have an album called “Blurred” which is basically talking about once physical niceties have exchanged it kind of blurs the ability to properly see or make good choices or decisions when it comes to being with somebody. Those are the three things that are in the works.

Purchase: Mahogany Jones – Sugar Water

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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