Rich Jones is a prolific Chicago artist, community figure, and veteran of the cultural scene. Known for his versatile and evolving style, his new album, The Shoulder You Lean On, firmly plants the hip-hop rooted artist as a powerful songwriter and singer. Jones began in Chicago as part of the group Second City Citizens where he explored his talents as an MC. The group founded a monthly hip-hop showcase in Chicago, now known as All Smiles, that has become a staple in the local scene and has continued for over five years. Through various collaborations with people like Supa Bwe, Taylor Bennett, and The O’My’s, Jones gained praise around the city, eventually being voted second best rapper in the city by the Chicago Reader in 2016, right behind Chance The Rapper. Jones shifted from straight rapping into a more melodic style, culminating in his lush, poppy 2016 release VEGAS. That EP, and several loose singles, prompted appearances in NPR, Chicago Tribune, FOX 32’s Good Day Chicago, and Consequence of Sound.
With The Shoulder You Lean On, Jones found a place he sits in perfectly, blending classic styles with modern production and hitting the right emotional notes. With production by J. Kelr from Blended Babies (Prod. Smoke Again by Chance The Rapper), the album’s soundscapes are gorgeous and piercing, with Jones describing it as “truth telling through melody.”
Thematically, The Shoulder You Lean On deals with restlessness and contemplating the many routes life can take. Within songs like “Coin Toss” and “Dreaming”, Jones is “thinking about the road not taken. Thinking about decisions and choices. Especially, as you get older, you have less time to bounce back from certain things. So there’s definitely a quiet sense of urgency.”
That sense of urgency is palpable as Jones is an artist now firmly planted in his local scene but ready to break out. The album plays with those ideas of outgrowing a place, thinking you might be missing a greater opportunity somewhere else. Jones says, “Once you’ve seen the world, you get kind of teased by the idea of what another opportunity or place could offer you.”
Jones’ message is ultimately of love and acceptance of the realities of life and appreciating the wonderful things you are blessed with, and The Shoulder You Lean On teams with optimism and clarity. “I’ve never been one to try to fake high energy or fake feeling a high level of anxiety. I try to keep an even keel, so I think a lot of this is a way of me navigating through some questions and decisions I’ve made recently to kind of maintain sanity a bit. I think you can drive yourself insane thinking about the ‘what-ifs’ and all that. I feel the album lands on a more triumphant note. It’s not picture perfect, but it definitely allows for someone to feel there’s a certain level of catharsis.”