Student releases debut album


Jalen Smith, who performs under the name Visionary J, self-released his debut album, “Apple Juice Is Better Than Orange Juice,” to streaming services, such as Tidal and Apple Music March 30.

By Cris Rojo

DeKALB — Freshman art major Jalen Smith is rapping his dreams into existence by debuting his first self-released album, “Apple Juice is Better Than Orange Juice.”

“It started when I was 3 years old,” Smith said. “My cousins were older than me, and they were into streetlife and they rapped so I just picked it up. They ended up getting into gang activity. I learned not to do that, but I still watched what they did and rapped what I saw.”

Smith grew up in a rough neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago and was surrounded by hardship. He said he had to face the harsh realities of drug dealers, gangs and the fear of not knowing if his loved ones would live to see another day.

Being exposed to violence at a young age and drawing inspiration from the likes of Kanye West, Smith said his stage persona and vision for rap were born.

Performing as Visionary J, Smith said his favorite music is mostly of the past such as West and Eminem with contemporary exceptions including J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar.

“I think I am very lyrical,” Smith said. “I really resonate with older rap. I hate today’s wave of mumble rappers because there is nothing you get from it. They say nothing interesting. You really have to give your hat off to the producers. Back in the day the beats could be okay, but it was the rapper who came from struggle and that’s something I can relate to.”

Smith said the current wave of ‘mumble rappers’ trending today are lyrically talentless and have nothing valid to share. The rapper said he is an artist who promotes songs with powerful meanings and fun beats.

Smith released his album to streaming platforms such as Tidal and Apple Music March 31 and said one key factor to his success is his confidence. Smith said his confidence helps him achieve new heights since his art might not always be able to do so.

Nicholas Stroud, a close friend of Smith’s and a student at Columbia College said he is proud of the work his friend is doing and considers the streaming service availabilities to be a big step forward. He said being able to purchase copies on Amazon is something he thinks will really help Smith.

“Getting on Apple Music and Tidal is a milestone,” Stroud said. “As well as having physical copies available to ship from Amazon.”

In “Apple Juice is Better Than Orange Juice,” the rapper said he explores the materialistic side of himself in some songs but wants listeners to see the inspiring messages matched to the catchy beats in his music.

In the opening track, “Believe In,” Smith raps, “Now I am chilling by the lake. Now I am chillin out of state. All this money I done made. Dude might need a rake.”

Smith said these lyrics depict a very arrogant Visionary J and the success he feels he has and is going to achieve.

While this is the case in the opener, Smith said he tries to bring listeners into deeper topics as well. In songs like “Comin’ at They Head,” Smith raps about his doubters.

“I told you that I would be here,” Smith raps. “Bottom feeders are hatin’. But I was very patient, God told me to wait.”

Smith said in these lyrics, Visionary J reveals a sense of anger toward those who doubted him on the road to pursuing his dreams.

Smith said he brings listeners into his fears through the song “Memories,” in which he recites lines revealing his more personal side.

“What are memories, cradled thoughts in my mindscape,” Smith raps. “If I don’t ever wake do they ever escape from me?”

“Memories” was inspired by a car crash in July 2017 which dramatically changed Smith’s perspective on life seeing as he could have been seriously injured. He said the accident serves as inspiration.

Smith said the goal of the album is to define his unknown legacy for listeners and to contrast the current wave of top 40 rap hits. He said he hopes to produce inspiring and raw lyrics on catchy beats.

“I attended almost all the sessions where [Smith] recorded the songs and the process was the epitome of dedication and perfection,” Stroud said. “When the major labels hear this, the people who know what real rap [and] hip hop is will really enjoy this and get a spark in their mind that hip hop isn’t dead and Chicago is bringing a new wave of dope music.”

Smith is very involved in his craft and said he has his foot in eery aspect of what he is doing.

He is responsible for buying his beats, writing the lyrics, creating a concept for the cover art and naming the album. Smith said he loves to get people questioning themselves when creating music, something which drives him in his art.

“I named the album ‘Apple Juice Is Better than Orange Juice’ because it’s one of those opinions comparing apples to oranges,” Smith said. “You aren’t supposed to compare two things that are widely loved, but I just said, ‘I’m gonna do it anyway.’ So people can say it’s not true, and if you say an opinion [as if] it’s a fact, it bothers people.”