Critical, born Andre Jones, is an independent rapper and songwriter from Anaheim, CA. On January 13, 2017, the lyricist, named one of “The Top Rappers in OC” by the OC Weekly, presents his debut album Life In Critical Times, available here as well as iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, Spotify, and Bandcamp for purchase and streaming. The 14-track project was recorded, mixed, and mastered at The OC Recording Company in Santa Ana, by Asaf Fulks who has “engineered for platinum and Grammy winning artists Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Kendrick Lamar and others.” Life In Critical Times officially debuts the emcee in a full length, studio album-quality installment worthy of your undivided attention. Critical worked alongside close friends, lead producers, and fellow Anaheim-natives, Telli Zantana, and Absurd P to craft the sound, which authenticates both the lyricist, and the vibe of Orange County as they know it, better known to he and the local tastemakers as “The Juice.”
The 26-year-old emcee’s career began in 2011 with the release of Humble Beginnings, a mixtape that drew the attention of local music heads for its lyricism and raw soul. Thereafter, his HowManyMics? QP (2012) built upon the momentum of his debut project, further solidifying Critical as one of the most serious artists in OC. Now, following two mixtape releases, a handful of music visuals, blog features in OC, the DMV area, and the UK, as well as performing live from Salt Lake City as far as College Park and New York, his first studio album-quality installment marks the biggest step forward thus far in his bright future.
However, it was during his college years at California State University – Fullerton, where he graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, when his passion for music, writing, and Hip-Hop formatively budded to make the album possible today. Uncertain, but decisively seeking to fulfill his passion to express himself, the young emcee hosted his very own radio show “Situation, Critical” on TitanRadio.org with his cousin, producer, and creative partner, Da’Vontay “Fresh” Dyson as his weekly guest DJ. During the 2-year-running show, Critical truly realized and developed his love for commanding the mic, and experienced how captivating his magnetic voice was to his audience. The Friday noon broadcast quickly became one of the most anticipated and beloved shows amongst both the Titan Radio staff, and students alike, even drawing international listenership in Europe utilizing apps like RadioFlag, Facebook, and Twitter to market the show. Critical prided himself on delivering the most relevant news possible in Hip-Hop/Urban culture, digging, and tuning into the authoritative blogs and publications such as The Fader, 2DopeBoyz, and HotNewHipHop as his sources for fresh content.
“That’s where my love for being a fanatical ‘Hip-Hop Head’ started. I wanted to be up on the latest and hottest music and what was going on. I NEEDED to be. I became a devout student-of-the-game,” he examines. His research was not passively limited to the internet, either. Critical also celebrated a number of the exceptional, but under-represented artists he had developed relationships with over the course of immersing himself in the local OC music scene, opening the Titan Radio studio to prominent, passionate creatives, giving some their first interviews/coverage over the college airwaves. And, when he wasn’t locked in the studio, the CSUF alum was actively aware on current affairs, discerning his truth; writing stories for the school’s publication, The Daily Titan, but most importantly, writing his own.
Critical shares his sincere creativity, and deepest introspection of the world in which he finds himself situated, in Life In Critical Times, bringing lyricism, diction, and new style to the forefront on a soulful, head-knocking ride. Show dates for Summer 2017 are TBA but include dates at The Observatory Orange County in Santa Ana.
- Rose Up - Critical
What is your background? tell us where you grew up and some information about your upbringing/experiences as a youth:
I was born and raised in Southern California. My parents have been separated since I can remember, so I grew up splitting time and switching schools between the South Bay/LA area and Orange County up until High School. At that point, OC became the place I called “home,” I found a sense of belonging here: went to my first party here, made Varsity here, lost my virginity here, so on and so forth. You know, all the big memorable moments of my adolescence came in the Juice…that’s what we grew up calling OC. Before I wrote rhymes for a living, basketball was my first love…the oh-so familiar “Hoop Dream.” Anyone who knows me pre-the-locs knows that ball was life for me. For real. That’s what taught me diligence and what it took to really be good at something. It taught me to dream big and cultivated an attitude-of-a-winner, but also taught me defeat. The game of basketball truly prepared me mentally for success and how to achieve it. I wasn’t focused on much else back then, school came pretty easy for me so I procrastinated my way through enough to stay on the court and keep my parents satisfied. But, all my life I had an uncanny affinity for writing and critical thinking. That’s partly where my name comes from. I’ve always considered myself a very critical thinker, and found myself being more of a loaner keeping to myself and my thoughts. Most times I was too afraid to try and express exactly what was on my mind in fear of being misunderstood or rejected. On top of that, my high school coach would constantly tell me that I was “my own worst critic.” That always stuck in memory. Because it’s the truth.
At what moment did you know that music was part of your life and what feelings did you have towards making an active impact with your music?
Well, I’ve known music was part of my life since I was old enough to sing and dance to it. It always made me feel good and inspired my imagination. I vividly remember dancing to oldies with my grandma as a child, and sing-alongs with my parents during our travels. And, then the Limewire-era where I started exploring and discovering my own musical taste as a teen. Those were all different moments in which music was already playing a major part in my life because they directly affect who I am as an artist today.
In terms of making an active impact on music, I wrote my first rhymes in my Statistics class in 12th grade after lunch, after hearing some guys freestyle (horribly) for fun. I just knew I could do better, was really beginning to grow an interest in Hip Hop culture, and was just like ‘fuck it, why not? I always been good words anyway.’ type of thing. Plus, earlier that year I had to write a poem as an English assignment and really enjoyed that exercise of expression. So, that was really the beginning of the act of writing bars for me.
I recordedmy first song the next year, my first year in college, coincidently and unintentionally, sparking from a conversation I was having with my best friend from high school about his endeavors to start seriously pursuing music. I was still hooping at that time. He was showing me beats and ideas he had in mind, and telling me how he wanted to start a group and just go at the shit. That turned into us just freestyling and messing around the whole drive to San Bernardino where he lived. Not long after he invited me to a home studio he was experimenting with in Anaheim, like 10 minutes from my house ironically. We wrote and recorded the whole song that day on the spot, and that’s when I was hooked. I was hooked on that process, and hearing my thoughts come aloud. It was fun and therapeutic, simultaneously, like I had never experienced. This is when I really started rapping and recording. Like actually trying to do it for real and find my style. I still remember texting my bro shortly after our early sessions one night saying “I don’t exactly what it is. But, I know I have something more to say to the people.”
I made the definitive decision to impact the world, or at very least my world with my music in 2012. And, I haven’t looked back since. This is my expression-of-self in it’s most fulfilling form thus far. It feels like my calling to speak in this way. When I do this at my best I feel understood.
What artists inspired/influences you and if you could collaborate with any artist (alive or passed) who would it be and why?
That’s always one of the toughest questions in the world to answer because there are so many inspirations and influences that are vital to us as artists/creatives. It’s one of those questions that never get a fully-just response. However, Erykah Badu has always stuck in my mind and soul since I was young. My father kept her and Jill Scott in frequent rotation and always had a really clean sounding stereo system. But, Erykah Badu in particular had me so fascinated and on my level. So, I’d definitely love to collaborate with her. Baduizm might be my favorite album to listen to start to finish. The Roots are also a huge inspiration to me. It would be legendary to be on the same track as Questlove, and Black Thought, who is one my favorite MCs. Being from Southern California, of course Dr. Dre is on my wishlist for obvious reasons. The two other producers I grew up big fans of were Timbaland and Pharrell. The early-Aaliyah vibes that Timbo crafted are timeless, I’d love to something in that vein with totally new flow. It would be epic. And, everything Pharrell did in the early 2000s was my shit. “Frontin” and “Excuse Me Miss” are (along with “21 Questions”) are like my all-time favorite productions from that era. Again, Pharrell and I would do something ridiculously smooth. I think we could outdo Jay-Z and Snoop’s best Pharrell joints, which were all hella smooth. If I had to choose one passed artist, it would have to be Jay Dilla. I’m not even going to explain myself there. Doughnuts.
What do you think about the current state of hip hop/mainstream music?
I’m not the biggest fan of the mainstream side but I understand the appeal, who it’s for, and what it’s for. So, when it’s played in proper time and place, typically the club when I hear it, or the traphouse, it turns the spot up. It’s fun to dance to. It’s party music. I’ve grown to accept that, distinguish that, and now even embrace that to a certain extent because there is an art to that music when it’s done right. Shit, I like partying to it too. I don’t particularly like or agree with the imbalance of attention that the mainstream music receives, especially when there’s so many talented artists putting a substantial message into dope ass music. But, that is more of a problem with the average listener than it is with the artists. A fair share of artists actually want to make conscious music. Some just want to make turn-up music. Some want to make love songs. But, every artist would love to get paid for their artistry. You get paid based on what sells. And, it seems like the majority of the average listeners in the world buy into the mainstream more. And that’s what is sad.
Still, I believe the current state of the culture is fresh, alive, and booming. Rappers especially are revered (and equally criticized) more than ever, more diverse, and more talented than ever. We are the voice of the youth. No doubt about that. And, many exercise that responsibility with great intention and skill. Despite not being very pleased with the mainstream side, I am more of a fan of Hip Hop culture and music today than ever growing up. I’m not sure how much of that has to due with me being an active participant in the music, but, nevertheless, I STILL love Her. Dearly.
Currently, what projects do you have in the works that you are most excited about?
I just dropped my official debut EP on Friday the 13th of January, 2017 called Life In Critical Times. I am most excited about that by far. I had a couple little mixtape and visual releases that got people familiar with me, but all that was just practice and preparation for this current release. It’s all original, new ass Orange County production (aside from the 2nd half of #14 which is a dilla rip) unlikely anything heard before it. What’s more, it was mixed & mastered at The OC Recording Company by, Now Hip Hop Producer of The Year, Asaf Fulks. Life In Critical Times is my just-due introduction to the world that I am very proud and excited to take as far around it as God and the people allow. The EP was released on my official website as well, which was an ongoing project in itself to conceive, create, then finally launch. My very latest release on my website is the first official music video for the project to my single “Show Me Love.” The intention is that after watching “Show Me Love” you feel inclined to check out the EP. After checking out the EP you have to come to a show. ‘Cuz that’s where things get the most critical.
What are your short term career goals within the next 6-10 months?
My goals within the next 6-10 months are to speak my truth, within this particular body-of-work, as far across the world as God and the people allow. I want to exhaust my resources and opportunities in order to get Life In Critical Times heard by as many relevant ears as possible. I believe marketing and promotion are the biggest shortcomings of a completely independent artist. I personally know many who’ve worked so hard to create a really strong product, only to be forgotten and tapped-out a month after being released. That will not happen to my release. It is too valuable to me, to the people, and to the culture. I’ve taken a lot of time to study and research promotion/marketing, and I feel it gives me an edge over my peers which I plan to make very evident through the lifespan of this project. In the next 6-10 months I want to be known as the definitive voice in OC Hip Hop, and make a lasting impression across the entire state of California that I can build on for the future.
What are your long term career goals within the next 2-5 years?
In 2-5 years my goal is to be a prominent, or at least emerging name in Hip Hop culture at-large. I want to be actively touring with my most talented peers, and with those artists that I use to go pay to watch perform. I want to actively be in the studio building my career as a songwriter and a publisher across genres. I want music to support my family and myself, and be looked at as something of an essential commodity to the people. Finally, I’d love to start my own band, I had a short-stint of live performances a couple years ago that incorporated a 3-piece band that I had gathered. The response I got from those shows are unlike any other I’ve ever received to-this-day. I always said the music just felt more important with live instrumentation behind my lyrics. There is another level of respect and aesthetic added to the show when actual musicians are behind it. And, that moment can truly never be reproduced again. The culmination of my band will be the musical equivalent of me going Super Saiyan 4. It gets no better than that. Additionally, I would like to explore other platforms to speak to the people in a profound way. When I was in college I hosted my own Hip Hop radio show for a couple years and fell in love with being on-air speaking to the world who was tuning-in. I enjoyed the intimacy, openness, and depth at which I was able to speak over the air-waves. I definitely relish the opportunity to speak again in a similar way.
If you had one song out of the catalogue you have created to show a person what song would it be and why?
Again, very tough question for me to answer. Mainly because every song has its own mood and message, with none encapsulating absolutely everything I aim to convey as an artist, a lyricist, and a human being. All-things-considered, though, I’d say “RapWeedWater&BS.” All of my songs have a level of introspection to them but that one in particular is very insightful into to my frame-of-mind. The beat is super heavy and dreamy, reminiscent of the boom-bap sound that really got me hooked on wanting to express myself. My flow on it is so natural and mature it really sounds like I’m just having a real conversation. And, I summed up truths relative and dear to me (and hopefully to others) in the hook. The song’s title is quite accurate as well. Haha.
To the person who had never heard of you what is it about your music and story that you would tell them to entice them to be a supporter?
I would tell them that the music is genuine and authentic to me, first-and-foremost. That may seem cliche but there’s often a stark disconnect between rappers’ music in relation to their being these days, you can just tell that they’re running a gimmick. My music is not a gimmick. My music is an expression of my innermost Self. I truly put who I am, who I once was, and who I am trying to be on full-display in hopes that you might find some part of my story relatable to you, and thus use it as inspiration to see your journey through. I would tell them that I am one of the last living lyricists left in this game. I truly do this to take you on a compelling journey with my words. I don’t take bars off and I’m not dumbing-shit-down. Even when it sounds like it. It’s real rap.
If your music could be described in five words what would those five words be?
Wavy, deep, powerful, lyrical, critical.
What do you bring to the game that is unique and different?
I bring someone who sounds like no one else and isn’t trying to. I bring someone who embraces his laid-backness amongst the saturated “turn-up.” I bring a futuristic flavor emanating from an eternally old-soul. My intent is to bring-forth the highest frequency in you and me. I’m shooting for goosebumps every single song.
To the aspiring artist who is considering a career as a musician what lessons or advice would you give them to inspire them or to uplift them in the journey?
Fall in love with the process. If you’re an independent artist like myself you are fighting an uphill, but worthwhile battle. Once you finally have a brand to stand on, in which you have built, you’ve fully empowered yourself. No can take that away from you. Do your research on everything. Try. And, fail. That’s the only way to get better and realize if this is all worth it to you. Don’t be afraid to feel alone and be alone along this journey. Of course, you must have your loved-ones and friends as a support system, but when it comes to really embarking on this journey and making tough, risky, scary decisions, don’t be afraid to follow your intuition and yours alone. With that being said, it is equally important that we as independent artists learn the value and skill in networking. You must do your work for your brand, but when it comes to maneuvering and elevating yourself in this game (if not all games), it’s not what you know but who you know. One statement that really stuck to me from a book I was reading was “We know ourselves in community, not isolation.” Keep that in mind when you’re thinking about expansion, building a team, etc. Finally, be patient with yourself and be your #1 fan forever, because you will have to be for a long time before the rest of the world believes.
What are your social media profiles and where can people purchase/download your music?
SoundCloud: @themostcritical https://soundcloud.com/themostcritical
Twitter: @them0stcritical https://twitter.com/them0stcritical
Facebook: @themostcritical https://www.facebook.com/themostcritical1/
Instagram: @themostcritical https://www.instagram.com/themostcritical/
Stream Life In Critical Times: https://soundcloud.com/themostcritical/sets/life-in-critical-times
Watch “Show Me Love” https://youtu.be/z4HEBV_aqFM
What are your final words you would like to say to people that you have left out?
You can be/do/manifest anything your heart desires. Just cultivate your heart with love and gratitude and you will never need material gain for gratification, then watch the law of abundance go to work for you!