Rapzilla Freshman J. Crum: A Vigilant, a Villain, or Just Valiant?
J. Crum is a rapper who has been humbly grinding it out for years in a state not known for hip-hop. Hailing From Nebraska, this emcee hasn’t wavered on his mission and hustle. This year when Rapzilla expanded the rules of how and who qualifies to become a Freshmen, Crum was a lock.
What was it like for you when you found out you were a Rapzilla freshman?
I found out in 2017 I wasn’t even eligible to be a freshman. Someone from Rapzilla reached out to me and said: “We’re big fans of you and we want you to be on there but with the rules, we have in place you’re ineligible because you’ve got two projects out.”
It was cool that they reached out, but now I’ve been working through the last three years without thinking that was a possibility for me. It caused me to have correct motives as to why I’m making music. Without something like that in front of me, it gave me a reason. When I saw the ballot this year I thought it was crazy, and then when I was announced it was so unexpected. But it meant a lot, and since then it’s been good to see the people reaching out in support.
So how long have you been rapping then?
I’m 31 right now, but I started rapping when I was 15. I started really taking it seriously six or seven years ago.
Are you a full-time artist?
I do a lot of different music stuff, but I work in the juvenile justice system here. I’m a tracker, so I help make sure kids get to their court dates, make sure they go to school, following curfew. Making sure kids stay out of jail, that’s basically what I do.
Do you like that job?
Yeah, I like it a lot. I ran group homes before this with my wife. With the group home, it was interesting because if you pull them out of their environment they thrive. They do well because they’re not in the same situation, but when they go back to their environment they get into trouble again. With this I can help them while they’re in their environment and help them make better decisions. I feel like I’ve seen more success here.
Let’s talk about music. You put out two projects last year. Talk about those concepts, and how they were received.
Yeah, I put out Villains in January and Vigilantes in the fall. For Villains, I took the worst parts about myself, arrogance, low self-worth, depression, addiction. I took those things that I struggled with and wrote about what it’s like for a Villain to be redeemed. Like, there’s a way out.
And then with Vigilantes when we look at our heroes, none of them are perfect. They’ve just accepted their calling. So I understand that I don’t have to be perfect to be used.
Both of these were received really really well. “Placebos” on Villains was received really well. It was one I almost didn’t put out because it talks about my struggles with suicide. There were a lot of reasons I didn’t want to put it out. I didn’t want people to think that I was idolizing it or glorifying it or romanticizing it or whatever. But once I put it out I don’t think it did that. I took it to my wife, I took it to my pastor and they were like, “You have to put this out.”
So I ended up putting it out, doing a video for it. Since then I’ve been receiving daily messages from people saying they don’t want to kill themselves anymore, they wanted to figure out what all this is about. People saying, “Man I don’t feel alone anymore, I don’t feel crazy for having these feelings” so that was really cool to see that.
With Vigilantes, it got some attention because I got a feature from nobigdyl. That got some eyes on me. Because they’re like “he got a feature with nobigdyl. but he’s actually rapping with him.” Sometimes you can get a feature but you get outdone on it, but I really felt like I was able to hold my own on there. So with Vigilantes, it submitted me as a more higher tier artist than maybe what I had been considered as before.
Do you have new stuff coming out?
Yeah, right now I’m dropping every three weeks. I just dropped a single and a video for “Chaos.” I also have a music video for “Napalm” coming out next week. And in a few weeks, I have a song dropping called “Once Upon A Time” featuring KHAM. I have a music video for that one as well too.
Do you have a project on the way or are you just releasing loosies right now?
I want to get a bigger fanbase before I drop a project again. A base that would support it, so all these singles are part of a project but I’m just releasing them as a series. The series is called Vagabonds. This Vagabonds series I’ll be dropping through August. We’ve got a lot of features on this too which is cool. For a while, it was hard for me to trust other people with my music. I treated it like my baby for a while. After really developing relationships with some people I’m trusting them with these songs and now they’ve done so well. I made the right choice because they took it to another level. So I’m excited for all this to come out this year, and it’s all part of this Vagabonds album.
Do you have any tours coming up?
I tour and perform a lot. It’s one of my favorite things to do. If you’ve seen my youtube, I perform with a live band. We travel around. We’re going to SXSW this year, and then we’re planning a few regional tours. A midwest tour, a west coast, south and east coast all through the year.
Do you have any encouragement for someone who may be reading this interview?
I’ve been making Christian Rap since I was 15, I’m 31 now. If I were to encourage anybody I’d say if you feel like things aren’t happening fast enough or if stuff just won’t happen for you… don’t give up on what you’re doing. Be patient, be content without being stagnant. If you can find a balance in those things you will be a lot happier. Don’t give up so quickly on your dream.