In 2020, a year where a lot of artists’ work stagnated, J. Crum has used it as an opportunity to build.
He’s been likened to a hip-hop Nick Fury, scooping up a strong team of “Avengers” for a collective called Streetlight Sounds. I was able to catch up with him this week to hear about the team, and the goals they have for the future.
“The goal with Streetlight is… not to be a label,” says J. Crum. “However, we’re basically an artist collective. We don’t have an exclusive deal; like if something better comes along like a partnership or something that makes sense for one of the artists, it’s okay for them to go ahead and jump in. Streetlight Sounds will function as services a label would provide, and we want to create leverage for our artists to thrive in their individual careers as independents. A lot of what we do will entail filling in the gaps for each person.”
There’s a lot to handle when it comes to this idea. I ponder a bit, wondering if there’s a model they’re going for, a mold they’re trying to fit that they’ve seen elsewhere.
Crum continues, “I think this idea of a collective is a combination of things. I think of indie tribe in their heyday. If there’s something I’d compare us to, it would be that.”
The angle that Streetlight Sounds will take can set them apart. As I’ve gotten to know J. Crum, his knowledge and his desire to bring along others and foster relationships in that way are crucial to who he is.
“We also provide these services for other people to help fund what we do,” Crum adds. “Ads management is a way we can help the culture, and any artist deals with ads, marketing, and promotion. From what I’ve seen, people have thought that the way to make money in music has to come from streaming and touring. In 2020, those two things have been virtually non-existent. So the question posed is, “how can we still make money with what we’re doing in this current environment?” Now we are putting other things in place of the things that we’ve lost this year.”
As we speak, I notice how he’s referring to his team, to what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s evident to me that this may be something outside of the realm of what one would typically call CHH. The emcees who are part of the collective, Thomas Iannucci, seni., and J. Crum, were all Rapzilla Freshmen this past year. Naturally, some of the fans might equate them with this genre. This is where the name Streetlight Sounds makes sense.
Crum explains the intention behind the name. “Let me talk about a streetlight.” Crum says, clearing his throat, “It lights up the darkness. It’s outside, it’s not really noticed until it’s not there. You wouldn’t really be able to navigate where you’re trying to go without light.”
“We’re called to be the light of the world,” He continues. “I also remember when I was a kid my parents told me that when the streetlight came on, it was time to go home. It was a way for my parents to keep me from the dangerous things that can happen at night. Streetlight Sounds is about being out there in the darkness, not being afraid of that, and pointing to people to hope through that. That’s our mission. While creating music that builds up Christians definitely has it’s place, I don’t think our music would be for that. We’re about reaching the person who is on the fence.”
As I listen to him speak, I totally understand what he’s saying and where he’s coming from, but something inside of me still wants to try and categorize what he’s doing. “Is it safe to say you’re like the outreach branch of the Church?” I ask.
He ponders for a moment, then unravels a bit of his personal journey. “I’d say the majority of my fanbase isn’t Christian. When I was touring, I couldn’t book a church show to save my life. I wasn’t ever really received well from the church. So when I moved on from that there was an overabundance of colleges, bars, and coffee shops to where I was booked every weekend.”
Crum shares from his heart as he proceeds. “It wasn’t even an intentional thing for me, it just happened. Looking back I feel like it was God saying, “This is where I have called you.” It took me a while to come to grips with that because I wanted to be able to do the occasional church show, but there was no way to get around where God was taking me.”
I’m intrigued by the list of people he’s scooped up to be part of his team. A few emcees, and a few creatives who seem to all mesh really well together. They all are from different spaces and cultures, and they bring so many different things to the table. J. Crum has accumulated a team of good people first, and it’s obvious that was the route he wanted to go.
Thomas Iannucci saw the standard that Crum sets in his art, and was eager to join up with him.
“The level of talent at Streetlight Sounds is insane, so I’d have been stupid not to sign on!” Thomas says, “But really, after working with Crum on our award-winning album Kuleana, and spending years building a friendship and an organic business relationship founded on trust and shared artistic vision, linking up with Streetlight Sounds was the most logical move in the world.”
“I’ve known Thomas for a few years,” J. Crum said, about the two time Hawaiian Grammy winner. “When I first met him he was still trying to find his sound. He was trying to find his place as an artist. I saw where his strengths were and I know he was hitting a crazy creative block so I made a few beats for him for his Kuleana project. I sent him some beats like, “yo man… I feel like when I hear you on these type of beats you really shine.” He used those beats and he just murdered it, bro, it was crazy. After that, he went on this run of features and he took off.”
To Crum, success and talent isn’t the main part, it’s more than that. “The things I look for in an artist are first the character, the hunger, and then I’m looking at talent. With Thomas he has an incredible character, he’s extremely passionate and hungry, and then he’s a dope rapper. He’s one of those people after one conversation you feel like ‘man we could be best friends’. I can see him doing great things.”
Rather than just seeing the potential in your artists, sometimes you can let them excel where only they can. “I think Thomas really has a great niche. Niches are important for independent artists. Using your niche is a way to find pockets where you can build passionate fans, building some depth there. The more depth he can build in the pockets he’s in he’ll be able to generate an underground movement.”
I insert how I’ve seen the same traits in an artist like seni. – high character, and a unique talent that hits in different areas than the norm.
“seni. is one of those people who has no idea how good he actually is, and I think that’s dope.” Crum laughs at how appalling that idea is. “He’s another guy where I saw character and hunger first. I’ve known seni. for years. We’ve stayed together and have been able to grow together. His music speaks for itself. I think our song we just dropped, “Must Be Nice” is one of my favorite tracks ever bro. I love it. With seni. he’s also another person who has a couple of niches he can dive into and build from.”
seni. sees the value in surrounding himself with strong people he can grow with.
“To be able to have a team that can help in areas where I lack is a blessing and I’m honored to be a part of this collective.” seni. says. “Crum is a person and artist whom I have the utmost respect for, so when this opportunity came I just knew what I had to do. I am so honored to be part of Streetlight Sounds.”
As stated before, this collective is more than just emcees, there are people behind the scenes who really bring it all together. In a year that’s been tough on most creatives, it’s in this collective they’ve found stability.
“Being a part of SLS has been one of the best highlights of 2020,” says Kaela Arceneaux, “Streetlight Sounds is the structure I needed this year, and space where I can grow and expand my creativity. J. Crum has built more than a collective and a team; he’s built a family.”
Crum continues introducing the team, “We have Kaela (@kaelacreates) who does design.” While Crum does illustrations and merch design, Kaela brings a little more expertise to the table.
“She specializes in photo manipulation and cover art. She’s also the art direction for us all, keeping the brand in mind and keeping us creatively consistent. Kaela is the life of the group. She is hilarious, and she’s so much more than just graphics, she’s full of ideas, energy, and encouragement. Kaela is also very connected so she helps with the networking part of what we’re trying to do.”
These women behind the scenes are the most integral parts of what this family is starting to build.
“Mele Thompson (@mele_thompson) is the COO, she helps get placement for us, she works as a manager and also helps with day to day functions. She handles a lot of the important things as an administrator, you know, emails, invoices… keeping us in line.”
I laugh and comment about how that’s probably the biggest part of the job.
“Yeah, it probably is!” He says, trying not to lose track… “I’m a person who’s always trying to educate myself. Anything that I can get into for free I’m trying to get into. This year there were a lot of online seminars and conferences and things like that that I was interested in. Everyone that I went to this year, she was also there.”
“She’s seni.’s sister so I had met her before, we had talked a little bit, but nothing extensive. This was something where I just kept seeing her everywhere. I saw her as someone who was hungry, but she’s not an artist. She’s someone who wants to soak up as much knowledge as she can. Someone like that doesn’t really have to know everything, but if you can see within them the drive to want to know more, there’s nothing better.”
Mele herself is excited to be part of what Streetlight Sounds is starting to build.
“It’s been a ride!” Mele states, “but a good one. I’ve never had a public title to put my name to, so the fact I can share this with everyone was exciting.”
“We’re ready to do bigger things to push in spaces we never thought we’d set foot in. It’s an honor. Still a lot of learning to do but great part is, I’m not doing it alone. The biggest takeaway this year, is to Keep your circle tight and keep it real. Only up from here!”