Rapzilla Freshman Jaylon Ashaun: Defying Expectations with Creative Versatility
Even if you may not know Jaylon Ashaun by name, you’ve undoubtedly heard his punchy flows and suave voice or have hummed lyrics he’s helped pen for other artists. The singer/rapper’s talent first blossomed in Houston, TX where before singing (at the tender age of 4) he was already flexing his musical prowess by making beats before forming words.
His versatility makes him in high demand and he’s appeared on projects like Reach Record’s The Gift and had a major supporting role on Swoope’s Two For One. Additionally, beginning in March 2019, Jaylon began to release “rough drafts” of various songs; one-minute or fewer tracks that could be as short as hook or half-verse. They increased in popularity so much that he released twelve of them as full-length tracks as a Final Draft project.
Quarantine hasn’t stopped Jaylon one bit as he dropped the groovy dance track “Pretty Girls” with Jesse LeProtti last week in addition to “These Things Take Time” and an acoustic version of “Strawberries and Wine.” He spoke with Rapzilla about what it meant to be a freshman, his songwriting process, and what he has in store for 2020.
What does being named a Rapzilla Freshman mean to you?
Honestly, it’s dope. I’m honored and am so appreciative and grateful. It’s neat Rapzilla does this and it’s a cool way to honor artists within the community and support and highlight the work they’re doing. Even hearing from you about how you’re excited about my music and that there are people at Cornell who listen to it is neat.
In terms of your artistic journey what’s been a highlight moment, whether with a fan or even musically?
I remember last year when we were cranking out the rough drafts I went to the store for groceries. I forget which rough draft I had dropped but someone stopped me and was like, “Hey are you Jaylon Ashaun? Did you drop that rough draft yesterday?” It was really cool because this was the first time someone approached me just out of the blue.
Dang. That’s a verified-status level! (Laughing) People need to act a little differently around you.
(Laughing) Ah, I still got a long way to go.
Speaking of Rough Drafts, I really loved the idea of you releasing song “ideas” or giving listeners a sneak peek of tracks in progress. Rarely does an artist give such an in-depth look at the workings of the music they make and more often than not, the tracks listeners are presented with have been fine-tuned and crafted over a long period of time. You definitely broke all barriers by sharing these rough drafts as you invited listeners to experience the joy of creation and growth alongside you. How did you choose which songs appeared on Final Draft and for the incomplete ones do you have plans to release them as full songs?
It’s funny when I first started the Rough Drafts idea, the goal was never to put out a project at the end of it. But once you call something a rough draft people start saying, “Ah you gotta finish this!” In a good way, this helped keep me and my team accountable because we knew we couldn’t leave people hanging. As for which ones we chose to finish, it happened super organically. We asked the people to tell us which ones were their favorites.
As far as if I’ll release the other ones, I just want them to live on their own as ideas. “Honesty” was originally supposed to be on Final Draft with two of my friends but we couldn’t turn their verses in on time by the time we wanted to get the project out. But it will come out at some point.
OnBeat Tweeted about where his song was at and you replied you had something special saved.
Is our joint on there tho????
— OB (@OnBeatMusic) November 11, 2019
(Laughing) Yeah that track with OB was for this other project I was working on before Final Draft. I originally wanted to put out this smaller EP that had OB’s track on it but then the idea for Final Draft came around. But like “Honesty” I still have plans to release it (cuz the beat was fire). I’m just waiting for the perfect scenario to release it.
Speaking of collaborations, you were on a lot last year! I loved hearing you link with a legend like Swoope and the tracklist on Final Draft was crazy. Generally, how do you approach the collaboration process? I know it must vary depending on the artists you work with.
Yeah, a lot of the time with projects you have a concept and then hone in on the idea you’re trying to create. With features, they have to make sense within the canvas and scope of the album. Even if you really want to work with someone, if it doesn’t make sense, then should it really happen?
But the beautiful thing about Final Draft was that it was a project built for collaborations. I was inspired by Ed Sheeran’s No. 6 Collaborations Project and how it was a cross-genre and had a variety of artists on it. Similarly, I thought Final Draft could be an opportunity to work with all my friends and the people who I was like, “yo you’re dope” but we never had the time to link prior. With Final Draft, I felt the tracks were spaces where the artists could shine versus for any other project there would always be this tension of, “hey you have to fit this concept if not it’s going to mess up what I’m working on.”
That’s fantastic. I know a lot of times people want collabs and as you say, it feels forced. Or they just want to get a big feature so they can get a moment or headline. It was especially cool to see you and Aaron Cole collaborate on “Seventeen.” I was like “shoot…Jaylon doesn’t even know me (yet) and I got to see a dream come true.”
Yeah, shoutout Aaron Cole. There was just mutual respect between us. I put the rough draft of “Seventeen” out and he was like, “Yo let me get a verse.” At that point, I didn’t know I was gonna be making Final Draft but once I knew, I hit him up.
Like Aaron, both of you have the ability to rap and sing with equal prowess and often within the same song, you can employ both. When you have a song idea or want to write, how do you know whether to sing or rap? Is it something you actively think about or just organic?
A lot of my style at this point has been singing R&B over rap cadences and hip-hop flows.
I think of Chris Brown where he raps but primarily you think of him as a singer. As my career progresses I want to lean more in that direction. (Laughing) Hulvey was trying to get me to freestyle but that’s not my thing. A lot of it depends on the production. My natural bend is to make something singable but sometimes it’ll warrant bars. I think we’re in a cool moment of R&B and hip-hop fusion so it’s neat to be in that space.
It’s neat that you’re remaining true to your gifts and personality at this time and moment. I remember when I shared Final Draft with one of my friends Efe and one of the things that stood out to her was the relatability and honesty with which you spoke and rapped about love in a refreshing way. Often when Christians try to work on it, it comes off very cheesy or one-note that mitigates the complexity and reality of love that is talked about in the Bible. How do you navigate talking about love in a music industry that can seem to opt for safe art than honest art?
That’s a good question. When you’re rapping, because of the genre and niche it can be hard to be as fusion bending or genre-bending. But because of my style and the space that I’m in I can more comfortably make music that’s true to me. A lot of people are just discovering me and no expectations and there’s the freshness of what they see that is cool. Like the way you shared with Efe, it was just, “Hey I think you’ll like this” and she was able to listen to it objectively without having to fight preconceived notions necessarily about, “This is how something should sound.”
It was a more personal experience as you listened. We live in a society with all kinds of people and I want my music to connect with all kinds and encourage them and speak to them.
Also, you got married! Congratulations. How does that influence how you do music now?
Looking back at when I was dropping rough drafts it really documents the journey from where I was to marriage. The music I’m making now is really a celebration of being in this new season and is a form of documentation of how we’re growing together.
What’s planned for 2020? Shows, tour, project, etc.?
I want to continue building out my team and crafting a community of creatives that can help develop the brand. I definitely want to put out more music and visuals to accompany the music. We’re kind of winging it as we go but there’s an excitement that comes with spontaneity. But don’t worry: I’m coming hard with the music.