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Feature Thu Mar 25 2010
If you ever get a chance to talk with recording artist/producer J'mme Love (aka j.love), you should, because he's a really bright, friendly guy who's open to all kinds of people, whether they're from Chicago or beyond, whether they're his age (he's 19) or much older. He still lives in the house where he grew up on the West Side, where West Garfield Park and Austin come together in an area known as "Ktown." Now the neighborhood is quiet, though before a huge drug bust a few years ago [PDF], it was full of drug dealers and cars with headlights that flickered as they sped over the speed bumps. He can see the dilapidated Brach's factory from his window and a burned out house practically next door.
Did you grow up with your mom, dad, or both?
Just my mom and stepdad. My real dad passed away when I was nine. He overdosed on heroin. He was a dealer at first but he started messing with the stuff. It hurt me because I can't talk to him now. But back when he died I really didn't cry that much, but it hurts, because I don't know him.
Did you ever do any music about him?
Now that I think about it, I never did.
What was your neighborhood like when you were growing up?
I'd say that it wasn't the worst place to live when I was younger, but growing up in this area wasn't the best place to be. There were drug dealers like two houses down from me, but they respected our home by not selling in front of our property, but drugs were a big problem over here growing up. But still I had friends and pretty cool childhood. Now the neighborhood is so different. Everyone who was here is gone, either in jail, or with kids.
How did you feel growing up near drug dealers?
Um, it really wasn't nothing to me. It was normal, you know? From what I knew then, all neighborhoods have drug dealers and cops. The only thing that I used to think about was the money, cars, and girls they had. That used to make me go crazy, I wanted to be rich like them. It drove me crazy because I didn't understand why they had so much money when they didn't have a job like my parents where you have to dress up, and get up early. These guys never left the block, they just always stayed outside and the police would mess with them. And they told us that the police were bad and mean, and will take us to jail if we ever talked to them, and the police hated them (dealers) because they made more money than them.
Did you ever want to deal drugs? How did you stay out of trouble?
Oh gosh, I totally wanted to sell drugs, because of how I looked up to the dealers and their money, but I also didn't want to hurt my mom, like my mom wouldn't speak to those dealers when they were in the act. Like if we'd see a dealer in a store she'd speak to them, but when they were doing their dirt, she hated their guts. I didn't want her to hate me, but my freshman year of high school I did kinda sell pot for this senior for like a month. Like all the girls liked me and thought I had money, and guys thought the same and thought I was from like the suburbs or something because of how I dressed. But they were afraid of me (sort of) only because if they'd mess with me, they'll be missing up someone else's money. That will cause major problems. But that stopped after he got locked up and he didn't rat me out. I was so thankful, I felt like God had better plans for me. And I had a girlfriend, and she told me that she was scared for me even before we went out because she liked me so much and she knew how dangerous that game was and how quick I can go away. So I stopped and got back into music real hard.
J'mme Love with his brother Brandon Speight (left) and uncle Thomas "T-Lord" Moore (right)
How did you first get into music?
Well I've been into music for as far back as I can remember. At my grandparents' house which was like 10 blocks away, they had this record player, and I would play the records and then stop them with my fingers and like reverse them. It was so so so cool to me. Then I got my own computer and I was obsessed with like sounds and I began making beats with this beat machine my mom bought me from a Spiegel outlet store, and I got like Sony Vegas 2 or something, back when it was owned by Sonic Foundry. I felt like a rapper, so I treated everything like it was a music video.
How did you start selling your music in junior high?
I first started selling CDs with songs about people from them for like five bucks, and before I knew it, everyone wanted one. That's how it started, and then people started talking about this teen club in Berwyn and they would also play the songs there. And everyone would go there. And sometimes they would play the songs and me and my friends would go up on stage and goof off, they would love it.
How were you discovered by someone in the music business?
So the producer's friend worked at the school as someone's personal security guard (some dude's parents was afraid for him because he got beat up a lot, so he had a personal security guard). So one day outside before school he was playing my CD on the phone and he called me over, and was like, "You doin' some hot shit to be in 8th grade," and he was like, "You can make some money with this." And that same day he took me up to the office where the guy worked and introduced me to him. I was so impressed with the microphones and the knobs and the amps and computer screens it was so awesome. After a brief talk we left and I went home, and he gave me a cell phone and told me I'd be receiving a call. I was 13, none of us had cells back then, so it was his way of saying "You made it," I guess. It was hard to contact him, so he used to only call me. After about a week, he personally came up to the school to present me a contract and an advance check.
How did you work with him?
So he'd call me with an idea for a song and I'd make it in one week, and he told me he'll take care of the rest. I made music with a beat and my voice over the beat. So when I'd turn in a song, there would be $250 in cash at the front desk, and a check for $250. He said that he was putting the music together for an album to be released in London. We would do this every week. My songs were the only thing I was getting paid for. But I did rap with six other guys and we'd break up the money and treat our girls, buy blank CDs, and party with it.
What did the producer do with your music?
I'm still not sure till this day. He'd take the songs in CD/MP3 format and would tell me that there's some way that a production company could fix it. But I think he was selling the lyrics, because there are songs over in London that I hear with hints of lyrics I used to say. But all I was thinking about back then was the money.
What are you doing now?
I produce up-and-coming artists like my big homie "Big Mook," "F.B.F," "Flyboy M.H," Tybo The Land Lord, and "The Section." And of course me! j.love, a new single "Shawty from the Burbs" (featuring Big Mook).
How do you keep such a good attitude and stay productive with all you've been through and where you live now?
Yea, that all happened when I was young to learn fast what's out here. And I got an attitude that's like I have to work for what I deserve.
What advice do you have for people to stay positive and productive if they live in a challenging situation?
Well, don't let your situation hold you back from anything in life. Where you live does not define who you are. Stay true to yourself, never let anyone make your decisions, and never be afraid to go after what you believe in. The sky is the limit, look past the what's-on-the-ground limits, put God first.
What or who has influenced you and supported you?
Pretty much I get inspired watching TV and talking to people who have made it in the industry, people from my church, and my family. But most of all family, which falls in with my church, First Baptist Congregational Church (on Washington and Ashland). My family loves every move I make. And it makes me happy that I'm making them happy. I want them to be proud of me and what I have done and what I shall do. And I do this for Ktown! It's more on the West Side than thugs and dboys.
This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More information.