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Never Say Die



George Washington University


Never Say Die

An interview with rapper Jon Rodriguez


Redefining the stigmatic genre of rap, 21-year-old artist Jon Rodriguez unites his love for making music with his devotion to God in his debut track- “Never Say Die”. Armed with God-given talent and the elysian “heart of a child”, Rodriguez promotes the Christian ideals of positivity, progress and perseverance to inspire listeners all around the world. But up-and-comer Rodriguez doesn’t want his religious devotion to isolate others from enjoying his music. “I’m not here to convince anybody of anything. I’m not here to judge anybody. I’m just trying to tell the truth I’ve been shown and give glory to God as it plays out my life.” This is the journey of a motivated musician working towards superstardom on his own terms.

I meet Rodriguez on a chilly afternoon outside of an Au Bon Pain, his favorite place to grab a bite to eat on our campus at The George Washington University. “The staff all knows me by name” he laughs, “I come here way too often”. Comfort and confidence radiate from his demeanor, the eagerness in his eyes to talk about his passion for music is all but discrete. He’s excited to share. “Let’s do this!” he initiates, and our conversation commences.

Wondering about the places I’ve been /
Wondering about the messes I’m in /
I promise now to keep my feet on the ground /
I promise now to never let you down /

Raised deep in the Bronx, in the borough's neighborhood that divides the wealthy and impoverished, Rodriguez was offered a unique perspective into both financially distinct communities. His father is a homecare nurse and his mother a special education teacher; he describes their Puerto Rican home as filled with “love and support”. Rodriguez explains that the private school he went to was instrumental in formulating his musical identity. “Our school had this little music tech lab and we would go there and make these crazy beats. That’s where I really found my voice. That’s how I came to be.”

Unknown musicians constructing original songs and posting their tracks online is a commonality today with easy-to-access resources like Youtube and Soundcloud. Rodriguez, however, unleashed his rap prowess before the rise of these platforms, having to rely more heavily on raw talent than a connected viewer base, a testament to how long and hard he’s been working. When he began producing songs at age 13, “I couldn’t rap to save my life. I had no sense of rhythm. But every summer I would just make another trash mixtape. And even though it wasn’t good, each time it got a little better. By continuing to do it over and over again, I got good at it.”

Heard a thousand times that this thing takes time /
But when I’m playing jump rope with the date line /
And standing on stage spitting all these great rhymes /
When my rhymes save lives, You know You saved mine /

Christian hip-hop artists like Lecrae, for example, helped guide Rodriguez in determining that “faith was my foundation”. The artist would “build his music up from that”, adding influence from a plethora of other artists like Eminem and Kanye West. Even drawing inspiration from K-pop (the up-and-coming Korean Pop genre that is dominating the charts) to struggles he was facing in his personal life, built up from his “foundation of faith”, was the method to his madness.

Rodriguez’s study abroad journey to South Korea also served as a major influence towards fine-tuning his musical direction. Though tough times were at hand, Rodriguez embraced the culture and vitality of South Korea, saying that “Even with all that stuff going on, when I was in Korea I was surrounded by all these amazing people... There was just so much good stuff, so much good vibes and so many blessings in my life at that point that I really found a happy rhythm in my music.”

Sit here missing those I used to know /
Thinking bout the places I’ll go /
Remember all those standing by my side /
And I know that’s why I’ll never say die /

November 20 marked an integral milestone in the career of Jon Rodriguez. His single “Never Say Die” was released on Spotify and promoted on every one of his social media accounts. His Facebook, Twitter and Instagram now house encouraging comments from friends and fans alike. Rodriguez has been performing “Never Say Die” all around Washington D.C. at various Open Mic Nights and venues. He’s organizing gigs with various student organizations, rapping for crowds confidently and enthusiastically, solidifying his name in the rap game.

Rodriguez performing at The Bitter End in New York's historic Greenwich Village.

When asked about what the idea of never saying die means to him, Rodriguez answered “it’s a promise to keep going. To keep moving forward. To encourage people listening to truly ‘Never Say Die’”. He’ll be releasing another track come January 2018 and a mixtape called New Managment sometime after that. The future is bright for Jon Rodriguez, his potential only continues to grow.

I know I’ll never make everyone a fan /
I know there’s always someone to tell me I can’t /
But I know as long as You say I can /
Nothing in the world’s gonna slow my advance /

Rodriguez, when he isn’t making songs in the studio, very much likes to keep busy. “Complacency is not an option”, he explains. The college senior is involved in Agape Campus Christian Fellowship, serves on the executive board of GW OLAS (Organization of Latino American Students) and is an executive board member of GW THiNK, an association dedicated to raising funds and awareness of North Korea’s inhumane domestic activities. A Political Communication major in the School of Media and Public Affairs, Rodriguez hopes to one day bring his music to a greater audience as a force for good, productive change.