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Jamal Jones

Florida Folklife asked our artists a series of questions to learn more about their traditions and how those traditions have impacted their lives and the lives of those around them. Take a look at the answers we got from Jamal Jones below.

What folk tradition(s) or traditional art(s) do you practice?

My traditional folk art is freestyle rap, which got recognized as a folk art officially in 2013 by previous state folklorist Blaine Waide. Before then, the Florida Folklife Program had not yet recognized freestyle as a traditional art form that’s passed down from generations. With Amanda and Blaine at the Florida Folklife Program, they actually have brought freestyle rap into the fray as a recognized folk tradition for the first time in history. I appreciate them for that.

How did you learn those traditions?

My father was a jazz musician. He was integral in making sure my siblings and I knew about classic jazz music. Hip-hop’s roots are directly from jazz music. My brother was involved in the culture and that’s how I got involved. I first encountered it in New York where I was born, but where I first started actually doing the hip-hop cyphers downtown, that was in Jacksonville, Florida. Where I got inspired by hip-hop was literally at its birthplace. When we moved to Jacksonville, I brought that knowledge with me. It’s generational, geographical and genealogical.

Photo of Jamal Jones teaching young kids freestyle rhyme at the Florida Folk Fest

Why is it important to maintain folk traditions?

This tradition is important because it’s communication; it’s storytelling; it’s keeping history and tradition alive and well, and through rhyme, rap and rhythm. Those things, throughout generations, those vices have been used to transmit and keep tradition and information traveling down the timeline. It comes from African oral traditions.

How did you first get involved with the Florida Folklife Program?

I did the Florida Folk Festival in 2013, 2016, and 2017. It was a great experience, and in 2016 I was able to bring my apprentice.

What Florida Folklife Program projects have you participated in and/or what folklife awards have you received?

I started the first freestyle rap apprenticeship [in the state] through the Folklife Apprenticeship Program. There hadn’t been someone yet who aspired to be a rapper to be paid by the state to learn about his craft. The credibility that comes from the Florida Folklife Program’s recognition of that speaks to everything that we’re trying to do collectively, as a community out here.

How has the Florida Folklife Program benefited you or what value does the program have?

It’s been simply great to have the Florida Folklife Program backing me and believing in what I’m doing, recognizing the importance of it and putting it out there. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life, telling my teachers, telling everybody that this is something to recognize as a Florida tradition. Not only as a tradition, but something that the youth of today uses to communicate. Now I’m in classrooms and universities speaking, and the Folklife Program recognized that first.

How can the Florida Folklife Program better serve you?

I really think that we should work together more. There’s a greater demographic of kids that aren’t reached by the program that now, because of our work together, those communities are more accessible. Now they’re in tune to recognizing the value of their folk culture in Florida, so if the program can continue to assist me, maybe develop more programming around this newly found folk art that happens to be the most popular music genre there is! For the Florida Folklife Program to recognize that in 2013, the sky is the limit from here! There are so many folk traditions that are passed down from generation to generation in Florida that we might not know about. Now we have the opportunity, and with the Florida Folklife Program we’ve been able to take it to another level. From down to Miami all the way up to the Panhandle with Tallahassee, there’s so much. And I’m connected, and I know that being part of this hip-hop culture in Jacksonville since 1992, going on 30 years now, it would be great for us to take it and facilitate it into more, to get more behind this thing and use it as a conduit for more education and growth, more community engagement and more coming together of people and different cultures. That’s what it does. With this freestyle rap cypher downtown, I’ve been able to integrate visual arts, literacy, non-violence - all of these things have been a pivotal part of what I am doing and that’s why it’s so important. That’s why I always say, freestyle is a Florida folk tradition NOW!