As a child just beginning to grasp the possibilities present through music composition, Jay Weldon gravitated toward rap as a means to express himself and convey compelling messages. Over the years, his work has grown even more conscious of the consequences of certain thoughts and behaviors, including the omnipresent risks of texting while driving. When a friend lost his 16-year-old twin daughters to a car crash as a result of it, the Point Breeze native knew he needed to make an artistic statement, composing “Phone Epidemic” to decry the dependency on devices.
“It was a tough pill to swallow, especially because I had known them their entire lives,” Weldon, 35, said of the girls, who died in North Carolina. “People are fragile to begin with, so for them not even to have reached adulthood really stings.”
Their demise and a matter in which his father figure, Keith Mungin, barely avoided becoming a crash victim proved powerful sources of inspiration for Weldon. Under the auspices of the House of Reconciliation, 1217 S. 23rd St., with Mungin as president, he combined compassion and frustration into a three-minute call to keep one’s eyes on the road no matter the temptation.
“I get the infatuation with wanting to stay in contact with people,” Weldon, whose video for the increasingly popular song features collisions attributable to distracted driving, said. “However, people have to realize that one second can stop that forever. One second. It’s just not worth it.”
He recalled retreating to his “cave” to construct the piece, emerging last February with the tune/public service announcement. Reactions to it have helped him to believe even more in the reach that music can have and the insights that it can engender.
“People love a good message, especially one’s that going to help them out,” the rapper, who also works construction, said of receptivity to his brainchild, with a retweet by Ellen DeGeneres; an opportunity to fraternize with industry pioneer Ice Cube, his boyhood idol; and placement on France’s hip-hop charts among the noteworthy boons. “I’ve never looked to be someone I’m not when making music. I am an advocate for positive forms of expression. I’ve never dealt with guns, so why would I sing about them, you know? I’m into helping folks to make realizations. In this case, I’m going to argue there’s no bigger cause than protecting life.”
Nearing a year since he channeled his resolute regard for others into the song’s verses, Weldon, who has performed it in Maryland, New York, Ohio, and Virginia and will eventually receive West Coast exposure, hopes the track will continue to resonate with locals, whom he especially cited as susceptible to texting-while-driving’s quick fix appeal, when it appears on “Show You More Than I Can Tell You,” his 14-song debut album set for a mid-April release.
“I come from a generation where songwriters used their work as a platform to getting answers to tough questions,” he said. “These days, well, preferences make that a little harder, but there are still people dedicated to putting out stuff that will make you think. I always want to be one of them because people need something to hold on to, and music can be that life preserver.”
Growing up in Point Breeze, Weldon relied on many positive influences, including his schoolteacher mother, Ola, and attendance at Greater Bethlehem Temple Church, 23rd and Tasker streets, to develop the positive worldview that informs his art. Engaged with the writing process, he found that well-crafted material could come to help him to stand out among his peers and sustain a presence in the field.
“You know how Forrest Gump said ‘I just felt like running’?” he inquired in referencing the title character from the 1994 Academy Award-winning film. “Well, I just felt like rapping and getting my thoughts down and out there for people to take in. There’s just something so exciting about being able to make a nice hot song that you take pride in because it’s trying to say something valuable and meaningful.”
Gleefully prone to having ideas wake him early in the morning, he earned a scholarship to the North Philly-based Freedom Theatre while a student at Charles Audenried High School, now Universal Audenried Charter High School.
“I really wanted, even at a young age, to have an individual voice,” Weldon, whose evening coursework at Freedom Theatre consisted of music and business management, said. “Back then, and it’s held true two decades later, I wanted rap as my primary career because I believe it’s where I blossom the most. It’s where I think I can tap into emotions with the most honesty and integrity.”
Weldon, whose sympathy for the complex situations that people experience also inspired a stint as a behavior therapist, has called New York and Delaware home, too, but he will forever revere Philadelphia for nurturing his creativity. Since the release of “From the Muscle” in 1999, his birth city has never turned its back on his forward way of thinking, with “Philly Stand Up,” a chart-topper that he penned in 2004 as the Eagles made their march to the Super Bowl, and a sponsorship from sports apparel icon Mitchell & Ness giving him even more clout. While renown has certainly been an appreciated product of his dedication, the quick-tongued deliverer likes to deliberate when considering what the music world has truly given him.
“It’s great to be able to say I have a song that you can find anywhere, which is the case with ‘Phone Epidemic,’ but I think this whole journey is more about encouraging others than it is about building myself up,” Weldon said, giving a nod to the mission of peace and accord that he hopes his connection with the House of Reconciliation will continue to foster as he plots the next steps in his career. “If you have beats in your head, put them out there for people to get some wisdom to apply to their lives.”
Blessed with a pleasant personality, a wonderful booking agent in Paul Edward Smith, dedicated contemporaries in Nickel Bag, Ace Leone, Journalist, and Pound $, and the support of Mungin, Weldon can certainly envision a future where people put down their phones and other objects long enough to take in his themes and thoughts.
“It’s all about belief,” he said. “If you have it in yourself, you’re ready for the battles. Just be mindful of how you conduct yourself and definitely, no matter what, put your phone down when you’re driving. You don’t have to be Einstein to get that through your head.