By Savvas Savvinidis
“I make music that I like to make.”
Jon Ditty studied copper etching at UCF, works as a graphic designer at the Dunedin Brewery, teaches classes at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, and, for the moment, he’s very much engrossed in hip hop, currently promoting the physical release of his most recent album, Hopefully More Than a Blanket of “I” Statements. I sat down with Jon at the Wine & Brew in Dunedin to talk about where he’s at, where he’s going, and how exactly he plans to keep it real.*
(*I never found out in plain terms how Jon Ditty keeps it real, but I have my suspicions. Keep reading.)
Q: So you’re a rapper. Are you okay with that term?
A: More or less. Usually it’s one of those things — you know, when everyone asks, “oh, you make music?” because I try and start it like that, or, “what instrument do you play?” “Uh, I play the microphone” — where I try and swing the way I present it to people so that I’m not just saying, “hey, I’m a rapper,” because I feel like that has a certain connotation these days. I like to think I’m more than just a rapper.
Q: So you’re sort of a rapper, but not really, but yes, you are. I think. In terms of hip hop, which artists do you find yourself relating to?
A: I’m a big Aesop Rock fan. I’m a big Kendrick Lamar fan. I’ve been a huge El-P fan for a hot minute — run The Jewels is absolutely killing it. I’m really digging Homeboy Sandman too.
Q: Is hip hop your sole musical influence?
A: I try and listen to a lot of music in general, not exclusively hip hop. When I first started making hip hop, it was very rock influenced. I used to be big into Rage Against the Machine and, you know, nu metal as they call it. I definitely think there’s this rock edge to what I make, since I’ve always been drawn to music that you could call edgy, stuff that pushes the envelope in whatever capacity, be it musically or lyrically, maybe stuff that isn’t widely accepted, at least at its debut. Something your parents are sad you’re listening to. [laughs]
Q: You know, I listened to your album, and it seemed that one of its major motifs was the idea of turning the lens on yourself as an artist and as a person. That’s reflected in the title — a hilarious and poignant title considering the genre — Hopefully More Than a Blanket of “I” Statements. Would you say that a lot of your lyrical content stems from self-examination?
A: 100%, definitely. It’s a a lot of me kind of looking inside myself and finding topics that I think other people would relate to. I mean, I write about myself in the hope that others can find something to latch on to. As an MC, as someone who speaks into a microphone, it’s unavoidable that there will be a lot of “I” statements. People aren’t necessarily telling stories anymore. For me that’s sometimes difficult; it’s hard to do that, to get outside yourself and make up something creative that has nothing to do with you. A lot of rap is “me” this, “I” that, and most of it comes off as, I dunno —
Q: Maybe a little trite.
A: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I listen to stuff that’s structured that way and I’m like, “well, I don’t relate to any of this, you’re either writing for an extremely narrow demographic or you’re literally just writing this for yourself,” so if I’m going to do that I’ll at least say something people care about.
Q: So what’s your demographic? I mean, do you have one in mind?
A: I don’t think so. I don’t think I have any particular agenda with my music, to tell you the truth. I know I would like my next project to have some more direction, whereas Hopefully More Than a Blanket of “I” Statements is thematically pretty broad. I’d like to do something that’s more tied together conceptually.
Q: Let’s do a 180 here. You’re based out of Dunedin, right?
A: Yeah, I live in Dunedin. I’m about to be a homeowner, actually.
Q: That’s highly dope. So do you see yourself staying in the Tampa area? For an artist, is it a healthy scene?
A: I think Dunedin, specifically, has something really good going for it, and it wasn’t always here. I’ll go ahead and give myself some credit for that, not that it’s exclusively my doing; there’s a handful of like-minded people that are making things happen in this community. Like, I grew up here, and Dunedin 100% wasn’t this cool even ten years ago. I’d say in the past five years it’s started to pick up. There are more young people coming out, more young people moving here, and Dunedin is slowly becoming more of a destination. As for Tampa Bay as a whole, part of me has always thought about moving elsewhere, just for the sake of experience, but I’m pretty happy right now. It’s one of those things where there’s so much good happening in my life and happening locally that I don’t necessarily want to give that up, to abandon it, so to speak. There might be some cool opportunities elsewhere, but I’m not yet stuck on the idea of planting myself somewhere else.
Q: What are your rules as an artist? I feel that all artists, whether they’re musicians, painters, or whatever, have a set of rules for themselves, a creative code or something. Do you have rules?
A: Regarding the writing process?
Q: The process. Your standards. Rules for your work in general.
A: Well, with writing lyrics, every single line needs to have something in it that I deem to be cool. Whether its my cadence, my word choice, the rhyme, the actual content of the line, there has to be something that’s awesome about that one particular line for it to make the cut. I’m going to redo it a million times until I get something perfect. Eventually I might get to a point where it becomes me figuring out a puzzle, and I’ll sit on that line until I feel that it’s up to my standards, and then I’ll continue with the song. It’s funny: sometimes a verse will take me minutes to write and other times one line will take me days or weeks. I guess my rule is that every single word is worth being heard. Other than that, I just try and make sure I don’t say anything in my lyrics that’s not true or isn’t something I stand for as a person.
Q: How integral do you think background and upbringing is to rap music? I mean, when we look at rap historically, it came out of the ghetto, it came from some totally shitty lives, or at least a lot of the most revered material did. How important is struggle to good rap music?
A: Everybody has their own struggle, regardless of your walk of life. Some people have struggles that are maybe more accepted, more validated. Of course everyone’s rooting for the underdog, someone who grew up poor, never got a proper education, and somehow pushed through that and got their music out there, and I think that music is great. A lot of the music that’s comes out of that kind of struggle is fantastic. I think that there are plenty of other situations too, including mine — and I’ve definitely lived a blessed and fortunate life, I’m not denying that — plenty of other situations that don’t devalue the music. This is a genre that I’ve fallen in love with, that I’m trying to give back to because I think that it’s helped me in a lot of ways. It’s something that I enjoy making and… I think that I have something to say that is valid on some grand societal level. [laughs] I’m just doing my thing, basically. No disrespect to anyone else. If anything, all my respect to anyone else who’s managed to be successful despite adversity.
Q: Word, as they say. So I know you’ve got your album on Spotify because I’ve been listening to it in my car. Do you have any videos online?
A: Very much so. I have a video for my first album’s single, one for this most recent album’s single, and an animated video for the track “2000-Something Social Commentary.” I’m good friends with a gentleman in the Dunedin area, Simeon Liebman, who teaches flash animation at the Art Institute of Tampa, and he was like, “yo, give me a project! I need some real world projects for my students to work on.” I gave him the track and the lyrics, which he provided to his students, and they killed it. It’s funny. Maybe it’s funnier to me than anyone else. It’s just a really amusing video. The other two videos were shot locally. “Natural Selection” is just a goofy video that took way too long to film, just a million places in the Tampa area where I grew up. A lot of Dunedin shots, the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary, the Tampa skyline. It got some good reception. The other one is “Ode to Mr. Bungle.”
Q: Hopefully More Than a Blanket of “I” Statements was a July 2015 release. Do you have any solid plans for new material?
A: My first album, which is College Radio: The Music That Beck Wishes He Had Made, was released in February 2012 —
Q: That’s a great f*cking title.
A: [laughs] Everyone just calls it “College Radio.” That album was an eight song EP that was released when I was still living in Orlando. It was self mixed by me and my best friend, but it’s still self mixed, and I’m out of physical pressings of that album, so I’m thinking I’ll do a new vinyl repressing which will include those eight songs remastered, as well as some bonus tracks that never made it onto the original release for College Radio and Hopefully. Life has just been crazy lately, and it’s a matter of getting hold of all the masters and getting new artwork ready. I’ve also been itching lately, I’m listening to so much new music and going, “ugh, I want to write new music,” but I’m so busy that I don’t have the time. There’s just not enough time in a day. For now, I know I want to get that rerelease out, I want to get at least another EP out soon, and, yeah, I dunno. We’ll see if, in the next year or two, you see another album from me.
Jon Ditty’s music can be heard on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Google Play, as well as on BandPage and Bandcamp, where Hopefully More Than a Blanket of “I” Statements is available for purchase. You can also find him on Instagram and Twitter.