Eugene Weekly : Music : 9.22.11


Hip Hop Unplugged
Sunspot Jonz keeps it real with Eugene
By Dante Zuñiga-West

Sunspot Jonz is a living legend, on stage and off. He is a foundational member of the Living Legends crew that took the country — and the world — by storm during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. His song “Angels with Dirty Faces” was the title track of the most memorable Living Legends album ever — an anthem of sorts for its time. 

Photo by Todd Cooper

Though Jonz continues to further the Living Legends, producing dope tracks and music videos, one would be hard-pressed to find the entire group gigging together anymore. Jonz finds his journey riddled with the same pitfalls and potholes that his peers from the larger conglomerate groups of the “conscious” hip hop era — Non Phixion, Arsonists, Visionaries, etc. — encountered.  

From coast to coast, that scene exploded and died off just as the medium reached its prime. The lack of fiscal viability took its toll on booking agents and promoters, then the larger, more diverse hip hop groups were forced to break off and form smaller duos, or just fold. Think about it: When was the last time you saw Del the Funky Homosapien with the rest of Hieroglyphics? What happened?

Though it is common for those in the know to point the finger at audiences who stopped supporting the medium, Jonz has a different take on it. “What we created in that time was a sacred space,” he told me. “People were refreshed and excited to be a part of it, until the sacredness was diluted.”

Jonz says the advent of music technology created a massive inundation of voices. Though that would seem beneficial to a medium that began with such strong support, Jonz says it all backfired. 

“The minute that anybody could loop a beat and put their own songs they recorded up on a Myspace page, the listeners started feeling like there wasn’t anything all that special,” says the accomplished MC. “The sacred space was no longer there. That’s what happened to hip hop. I’m still here, but that’s what happened.”

Any independent musician will tell you that not everyone can be a full-time musician. Jonz believes that while he and others of his ilk keep the flame of conscious hip hop alive, it will take tons of innovation to rekindle the spirit that once embodied that art form. He continues to push and innovate.

Jonz gigged John Henry’s on Saturday, Sept. 17, to an enthused but small crowd. He rocked the microphone nonetheless, like a true professional. Maybe it was the Ducks game, keeping hard-drinking show goers at home. Perhaps it was the Andre Nickatina show booked the following night that thinned the crowd. Either way, the place wasn’t packed. 

That aside, Jonz will return in the fall, and he says he’s looking forward to that performance. “This is still sacred to me and I want to be a part of it no matter what,” he says. “That show was still all good. I’ll catch you next time around, Eugene.”