Who Is JonJon Scott?

Defining black music with a departing record impresario

How you and I define ourselves in public might come down to nothing more than a hairstyle--and the small investment required to get one. How a would-be pop star defines herself can be a matter of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. From Billboard magazine we learn that the cost of promoting a genre-defying newcomer like Res (pronounced "reece") as "R&B" runs about $250,000. Going "pop" requires a cool mil. So when the Philly neo-soul diva began recording her debut album, How I Do with former St. Paul musician Martin "Doc" McKinney, an associate asked her how MCA was going to market her.

"She's like, 'That's not my problem,'" says JonJon Scott, who is Doc's business partner, and a longtime employee at the Electric Fetus. "Obviously I want her record to do great, but if a young black kid comes in the Fetus and holds up Res and holds up Alicia Keys, I have to say, 'I think you would like Res, but I know that you want Alicia Keys.'"

On the dinosaur phone with Minneapolis: Genre-busting diva Res
On the dinosaur phone with Minneapolis: Genre-busting diva Res

Scott may have unique insight into the irony of MCA's current strategy: to promote Res via her "blackest" song, "Sittin' Back," rather than, say, the hidden guitar-rock track closing the album. (Heads up, Radio K.) Like Res, Scott is an African American whose passions defy music-industry boxes. And like Res, he's a punk fan. (How I Do was written largely by Sati White, a member of the New York group Stiffed.) Scott is also a zealous hip-hop promoter and manager who has become--as a columnist in Pulse and a consultant to the Minnesota Music Awards--a sort of liaison between the bohemian rock scene and the local black-music community. This week he leaves Minneapolis to relocate in New York, coat-tailing on Doc's raised profile. There, he'll open an office for their joint record label Black Corners.

In conversation the thirtysomething Scott sounds more like a lucid jazz cat on a roll than a salesman on the make--you never know quite what he's pitching, but you enjoy watching the ball zip by. He addresses you as "babe" and pauses before punch lines. And if his own tastes are unfathomable (Mogwai and Beanie Sigel?), his aesthetic might be a relativist variant on "the customer is always right." You can see why Lisa Jones, daughter of Amiri Baraka, made Scott the subject of a chapter in her 1994 book Bulletproof Diva: Tales of Race, Sex and Hair. Described as a "brother who could be the son of Valentino or Eddie Kendricks, but dressed up Sixties mod," Scott waxed eloquent about life as an "alternative Negro," growing up on AM-radio rock, and living in both poor and affluent neighborhoods of Chicago.

He met Doc in the early Nineties, and the two instantly clicked. "I was in Hot Sauce, which was sort of a Fishbone rip-off band," Scott remembers, speaking over the phone from New York. "And he was in Soul Reaction, which was a Living Colour rip-off band." They stayed friends when Doc later moved to Toronto, where he made a modest name producing and playing with Esthero--a would-be Dido who sounded like Björk doing Xanadu as sunny trip-hop.

Current "projects" at Black Corners include Graf (a Toronto MC-singer tight with Talib Kweli), and Minneapolis's own Muja Messiah, a breakout from the Raw Villa crew. This explains the appearance of Muja Messiah on Res's "Ice King" single on KMOJ-FM (89.9)--during the same measures that feature Nas on the version in stores! ("They needed a 'name,'" Scott laments.) In the era of Jill Scott and Macy Gray, who better than JonJon Scott to do A&R for these artists, defining them for a public that seems less defined that ever?

 
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