Oregon Cultural Trust

Weekly preview: JxJURY, inspiring hope through craft

Local rapper/producer performs at Kelly’s Olympian this week.

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Rapper/producer JxJURY hides his messages in plain sight. Tucked within the title of his most recent album Dhope Dealer. is the word “hope” — a subversion of a word that, as he explains in the first track, was associated first with drugs and then reclaimed to mean something cool. As he explains over a flickering loop of electric piano and brushed drums, by adding the “h” to the word, it becomes a signifier for “someone or something who is not only great, who is not only excellent, but who inspires hope through their craft. Hope for love. Hope for growth. Hope for change.”

It’s a positive message that seems like the antithesis of the pose JxJURY puts on in the promo photos for Dhope Dealer. In one, he sits surrounded by $100 bills, white rocks, and prescription pill bottles. Dangling by his side is a bit of gold jewelry. When I asked him about it, he pushed me to look a little closer. Sitting amid the money and the rocks are dandelions and other greenery resting in glass vases, and running in the background of the scene is a small boy with a huge grin on his face. 

“If you took away the dandelions and the plants from that image and you just had the rocks, the pills, the gold, it’s an exact representation of what our kids are looking up to in the majority of what you hear in rap right now,” JxJURY says. “The minute you add those textures, you bring in the hopeful elements that’s like, ‘I’m the person that is going to cut through.’ And my hope is that the kid is looking at me as the other side of that.” 

In his music, JxJURY is far more direct. His lyrics are equal parts inspiring and damning. On “R. James.” he warns of the addictive qualities of drugs and fame, and wraps some harsh verbal jabs within the otherwise uplifting “Brown Hands.” And throughout “Gold Chainz.,” JxJURY lays waste to the scores of all style, no substance rappers bogging down the bandwidth in the hip-hop community (“Only stay strapped for the photo / This year you a Crip, last year you was Blood”).

This stick-and-move style of rapping has been JxJURY’s calling card since his days growing up in California’s Inland Empire and freestyling in the high school cafeteria. “I was always trying to get the oohs and ahhs from the crowd with different punchlines,” he remembers. “There wasn’t a whole lot of people who were rapping at the time, but I was the guy. I would spit something and the whole crowd would go, ‘Ohhhh!’ That was always the feeling I wanted every single time.” 

As his lyrical prowess grew, JxJURY decided he had to bring his production game up to the same level. He spent years absorbing the soul and R&B records his father would play around the house and became a Michael Jackson obsessive at a young age. “I had the glitter glove. I had the slacks and the white t-shirt tucked in,” he says. “Moonwalking in the house, pretending I was performing.” Once he fell in love with hip-hop, JxJURY clocked that producers like 9th Wonder, Kanye West, and J Dilla were pulling samples from the albums he grew up on. By the time he got hold of a jailbroken version of the production software Fruity Loops, JxJURY’s path was set. 

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“My pops got me a MIDI keyboard,” he says. “It was an M Audio Axiom 49. I’ll never forget. I just started cooking and honing in. I spent days locked in trying to learn.”

JxJURY: "Look a little closer."
“Look a little closer.”

JxJURY’s growth as a producer is audible even through the work he’s released over the past five years. “Blow,” a track from 2017, rides along a supple Roy Ayers-like groove dusted with a bit of vinyl crackle. Jump ahead to 2020’s WFH EP where the rhythms become more warped and playfully unsteady. Dhope Dealer. slips even further beyond with deconstructed trap beats and contorted jazz licks carrying the melodic weight. 

His combination of skills behind the mixing desk and on the mic have put JxJURY in rarefied air within the Portland hip-hop community. “I can name less than 10 people in the city that I would put in the same ballpark as me,” he says. But what is missing from his confidence is any sense that he wants to take this worldwide and become a star on the level of some of his favorite artists like Kanye or J. Cole. 

“I have no desire for fame,” he says. “I really don’t. I make music because it feels good. I make music because it makes me feel like my story is being told. I would love for people to see the name and know what it represents and the kind of music to expect from that name, but if I was walking in Whole Foods, you would not know me. I don’t want to be noticeable in the crowd.” 

JxJURY presents ‘Dhope Dealer.’ at Kelly’s Olympian (426 SW Washington St., Portland) on April 8 at 9 pm. 21+. Tickets: $12 adv. / $15 day of show. Masks required for entry. 

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Robert Ham is a critic and journalist living in Portland, Oregon’s outer reaches. During his time in the Rose City, he has contributed to The OregonianWillamette WeekPortland Mercury, and Portland Monthly, while also amassing a healthy amount of clips for print and online publications including PitchforkDownBeatBandcamp, and Village Voice. In 2019, he was the recipient of the SPJ Award for Best Sports Feature. In addition, Robert produces and hosts Double Bummer, a radio show focusing on new and newly reissued experimental music from around the world that airs every Tuesday night at 11pm PT on XRAY-FM. To read more of his work, visit his portfolio site or follow him on Twitter at @roberthamwriter.

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