In his new full-length, The Definition, Jon Bellion’s lyrics illustrate biting candor, defiant proclamations and intimate autobiographical detail. Durable rhythm tracks align to irresistible hooks and airy, high-gloss productions with Bellion’s tenor voice and honeyed, multi-tracked harmonies soaring high above.
The disparate musical points of reference––some of whom Bellion name checks in songs––include Lupe Fiasco, Death Cab for Cutie, Wu-Tang Clan and Band of Horses. “I wanted this album to sound like J. Dilla,” he says. “But like J. Dilla made a Pixar movie.” The sound of The Definition that he characterizes as “super bright, super attractive and super colorful” has a visual frame of reference. “I was watching Pixar movies before going into the studio,” he says. “They are so futuristic, so digestible and so full of color.”
As a songwriter of pop hits like Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets” and Eminem and Rihanna’s “Monster,” Bellion might seem like the latest in a string of collaborative pop wunderkinds. With the release of The Definition, it is essential to Bellion that listeners understand that this is not the case. “Every song on The Definition is better then ‘Monster,’ that goes without saying,” he confirms.
In his song “Munny Right,” he sings “Fast forward now I’m 22/Half a million after taxes just to make a couple songs.” The economics of a hit song that grant him artistic autonomy do not go unappreciated. “The fact I wrote a hit is phenomenal,” he confirms. “It’s not that I’m ungrateful. I just want to make sure people listen to what I take pride in. The publishing thing is amazing, but the artistry is really my baby and what I think is going change the culture and push it forward.”
Growing up in a suburban Long Island, N.Y. community, Bellion began dabbling with a keyboard his older brother brought home that enabled him to create beats. “It was just a long process of making whole songs,” he remembers of his childhood explorations. “And I slowly got better at the craft of making full records by myself.”
Dropping out of college, Bellion made a mixtape that found its way up from the underground. “I had just been fired from my job. Two days later I get a call from this kid named Matt who was an intern at Warner Bros. I had no idea who he was. He had gotten my number from my college or something. He said, ‘Kara DioGuardi wants to talk to you.’”
Bellion had no idea who DioGuardi was either. Googling her, he discovered that the former American Idol judge was a hit songwriter and influential music executive. “I took the meeting and saw there could be a publishing deal. I knew that her company, Arthouse, could really take care of that aspect of my career; getting in with successful producers and writers who I could learn from and apply to my own artistry. They are great publishers who set me up to succeed.”
Although the studio is his home, Bellion relishes live performances. His current tour includes large clubs and listening rooms and will conclude at the Highline Ballroom in New York City. “I think a lot of people expect on this tour for it to be a ‘sit down piano’ type of feel,” he qualifies. “It’s super live. It can’t be the same record with stems that a DJ is spinning, playing through the house speakers with me singing. We really do a ‘Rage Against the Machine’ transcription of all my songs.”
Bellion, who is an avowed Christian, believes that there is much more to life than perceived levels of success. “The money, who you are, all of these things come and they go. We live in a world that’s going to disappear and we are going to leave one day. If my career fell apart tomorrow, if I had zero in my bank account, that does not affect the way I feel about myself or the way God made me, because none of that defines who I am. My identity is not in my music. I am a child of God before anything else.”
The Definition is available for free download at http://jonbellion.com.
- By Dan Kimpel