If Duval County had a hip hop hall of fame Willie Evans Jr., whose real name is Niam Jones, would certainly be one of the portraits on display. He established himself as a solo MC before co-founding Asamov, a 904 based hip hop group, alongside DJ Therapy (Paten Locke), Ja-One-Da (Joe Cox), and Basic (Vladimir Decastro). Those who were present in Jacksonville's hip hop scene in the early 2000s fondly remember the super group for both their comical antics and the quality of the material that they produced. During live performances, each of Asamov's members took turns on the mic and all but J-One-Da rotated in as DJ.
In 2002, when albums were still tangible, the group released their debut album titled "The Blow Your Whistle EP." The album was released by 6 Hole Records, a record label based in Duval that released 20+ albums between 2002 and 2007. In 2005, Asamov released the acclaimed album "And Now...," which was nationally distributed and received positive reviews from sources such as Okayplayer, Billboard, and URB Magazine. But, at the height of their success, the group received a cease and desist order from the estate of late American science-fiction writer and professor of biochemistry, Isaac Asimov. This resulted in a name change, with the group then going by the name The Alias Brothers, also referred to as The AB's.
Willie Evans Jr.'s career didn't start with Asamov and it certainly didn't end with it either. He continued to compose and release music even after The AB's disbanded. In addition to creating to fulfill his own artistic vision, he also has an extensive body of work as a producer and video editor, a process that helps Willie Evans Jr. serve others in actualizing their visions. Now in 2018, Willie Evans Jr.'s attention is on "Errthang," a Radiotopia podcast that he co-hosts with Al Letson. He also is an audiovisual artist, remixing video footage and audio clips and then splicing them together to play as one.
When Willie Evans Jr. listens to music his ears pick up on things that the average listener may neglect to hear. Certainly he can appreciate a song for the obvious reasons, but what sets him apart from the average music fan is that he hears the subtle components that rest below the surface. He listens to the whole while also observing its parts. He can then imagine those parts composed in an entirely different context. This is how Willie Evans Jr. creates. Not by focusing on what is, but by imaging what could be.
Willie Evans Jr.'s body of work indicates that one of his strongest assets is his intuition. His ability to know when he's uncovered an idea that is worth exploring. It's not an overstatement to say that Willie Evans Jr. is a thought leader. He has a track record that spans multiple decades that proves he knows how to build upon what he's previously done to continue creating work that is new and engaging. He isn't just important to Duval County's hip hop history, he's an integral figure in the narrative that composes Northeast Florida's creative identity.
You can experience Willie Evans Jr. live in person on Sunday, June 10, 2018 at Raindogs, located in Riverside's 5 Points district. Also on the bill that evening is GeeXella, a musician who Willie Evans Jr. has worked alongside in the role of producer. The two will be opening up for hip hop legends Blueprint, who is touring to promote his latest album "Two-Headed Monster."
10 Questions with Willie Evans Jr.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic and cultural endeavors?
Over years, creating content has at times been everything from a therapist to a courage crutch. As a result, I have sometimes found myself becoming consumed by making the thing and completely ignoring the step where I share the thing.
How do you define success in what you do?
Staying with my last answer, I think carrying a concept through to the stage of sharing is a success. Now what “sharing” entails is likely different for everyone. Although, if we’re speaking practically, I’d say paying bills is a success baseline.
What patterns, routines, or habits do you think advance the likelihood that any given project will be successful and how do you integrate those behaviors into your workflow?
Consistency and repetition. Making something AND getting better at making something require both.
You're a family man, an MC, a producer, a podcast co-host, a video editor, an audiovisual artist, and more. How do you manage the different identities and what type of "checking in" process do you have with yourself to determine when your well is in need of being replenished?
Well first of all, I wouldn’t say that I manage them well! I’ve only recently realized that I needed to whittle these identities down to one person. It helps that my work is my play. And, when I need to recharge it’s either alone or with my family. So MC, producer, podcast cohost, video editor, audiovisual artist, etc. all fall under creator in my mind. If I tell myself that then it’s just “creator and family man."
I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who suggested that a good book should be read at three different stages in an individual's life, with the resulting outcome of understanding the work differently due to maturity and accumulating life experiences. What are three albums for which your appreciation for them advances as you mature as an individual?
This is extraordinarily similar to a thought I have about sampling records. I have a record that I got from my dad as a kid, Ron Carter - "All Blues." It was the first record I sampled to make a beat. Over the years, I’ve returned to that record and heard different elements from different songs. Over time, the beats I made were all different but the record never changed.
If the above counts as 1 then I’d say, as a listener, 2 and 3 would be De La Soul - "De La Soul is Dead" and Goup Home- "Livin’ Proof." The last one being an album I appreciate more as a milestone in hiphop sampling technique
Willie Evans Jr, your artistic moniker, is a reference to a somewhat obscure Marvel character. His mutant powers included reality alteration. What was the thought that went into developing your hip-hop alias and what drew you to that character specifically?
Well, because of certain lessons that I’ve learned in the past (reference Asamov incident in above introduction), let me preface this by saying no, Willie Evans Jr. is not a reference to any proprietary comic book character. But, if it was, it would probably have been a name that I switched to when the group I was in at the time was losing momentum. It probably would have been because I was obsessed with continuing to make music while also being concerned that using the old name would mess the group up. It would also be possible to imagine that I was an avid Marvel Super Heroes game player (like D&D but with Marvel stuff). Said game may, or may not, have had a black child whose power was the ability to alter reality. I might have thought that such an alter ego was perfect for a black kid attempting to alter his own reality with the music that he was making. But, of course, none of that happened.
Much like the fictional account above, it has allowed me to alter my own reality and has shown me how much of my reality is shaped by my own hands. This is an important thing that I’m now trying to teach my kids.
Errthang #3, titled "No Ordinary Love," is an episode that explores aspects of fatherhood. For your segment in the episode, you invited your son, Naji, to be a part of the storytelling process. You produced a beautifully engaging and heartfelt piece. When listening to that episode, what are you proud of as a father and what are you proud of as a storyteller and producer?
Well, as a father, I’m proud of my son first and foremost for simply existing. He’ll always have that participation trophy from me. In addition to that though, the song at the end is produced and written by him. It’s not necessarily a banger, but we made it when he was seven years old. Really zeroing in on watching him go through his creative process was an amazing experience for me.
As a storyteller and producer, I’m pretty proud of the fact that no one has thrown tomatoes at me in the street yet.
As both an individual MC and as a member of Asamov, you have a track record of creating content-rich material, with heavy references to nerd and pop culture. What's a bar or verse that you've written that you think most appropriately summarizes the essence of Willie Evans Jr?
“..Medicine man manning medical area damage of self/reparation or manage to fix/and trick minds into thoughts of nonsense/when it’s obvious that sense is evident/and evidence of the dominant to understate/estimate my advancement/as avalanche ordinary genius with electric genes jumping time scenes in verse increments/with liquid ligaments/that expose the energy passing through filaments...”
What are the greatest challenges you face as an artist living and working in Northeast Florida?
As a hiphop artist, the first hurdle here is always legitimacy, which comes just after you stop caring about it. But, it is needed to face the next challenge, which is garnering support from the local arts community.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow Jacksonville's arts and cultural sector and creative industries?
I think the definition of what an artist is has been a little narrow here in the past. I have to admit that I do see that changing though. And as it does, patrons of the arts will see the benefits in the variety and quality of art that springs from their support. I hope.