A local hip-hop artist’s decision to focus on his music full-time has been paying off in small dividends.
Pittston resident Jonathon Merrick, who creates under the name J. Merrick, has received positive reviews from both music industry professionals and followers on social media in response to songs he’s released recently.
The 33-year-old takes on subjects that range from personal turmoil to societal issues that currently affect his native Wilkes-Barre, and according to Merrick, he’s just getting started.
Merrick will perform on Nov. 22 at the Ali Baba Lounge in Wilkes-Barre in support of Philadelphia-based recording artist Cassidy.
A self-proclaimed “hip-hop head,” Merrick got his earliest opportunities to perform on King’s College Radio’s 88.5 with DJ Evil Bee.
“At the end, he would let people come up and freestyle,” Merrick said of Evil Bee. “I’d call in on the cordless phone and spit over the air — super nervous and super young. That turned into going to the radio station on Wednesday nights. I’d prepare all week. DJ Evil Bee was a big part of that and a big supporter of me as an artist.”
Merrick kept develop his craft, but a bout of trouble in school led him to a vocation — the culinary arts.
“It naturally was something that I fell in love with too,” Merrick said. “Food then became a part of my life. After four years of doing the food thing, I was a senior, and it was time to make a decision. I was going to go full-sail (with music) or go to culinary school. Society had a louder voice at that time.”
But Merrick’s decision to continue his culinary education didn’t stop him from making music. Even in college, he turned heads with a mix tape he produced.
“People who heard it were like, ‘What are you doing in cooking school?’”
Merrick said it wasn’t until roughly a year ago, when his long-term relationship ended, that he gained the perspective he needed to push forward.
“I was on the verge of the whole settling down mentality, and I saw myself there, and it was a delusion I feel,” Merrick said. “I’m alone with my own thoughts and readjusting.”
The artist said he reached a level a self-awareness that allowed him to leave behind the notion of being judged by surrounding forces and hone in on his creativity.
“During that time, it was like riding a bike,” Merrick said. “I felt rusty, but I felt true happiness and joy.”
Over the last year, Merrick said, he’s written more than he had throughout his entire life. He also built a home studio in his apartment and has become determined to network with producers and other industry professionals.
Recently, Merrick has garnered some attention by submitting his work to hip-hop contests. In September, he entered his lyrics over a stock beat to Sirius Satellite Radio station Shade 45.
“I lost week one, but I won week two,” Merrick said. “The second week was a recap of week one and how I should have won. I threw out this line that if they put their money on Mayweather, they better put their money on me, because I’m warmin’ up like May weather.”
Advancing to week three, Merrick turned toward personal issues in his writing.
“I wrote about my grandmother,” he said. “My grandmother has been dealing with some health issues recently. She’s been on painkillers for a lot of years, and now with the epidemic, they cut her down. Literally, symptoms of withdrawal. It was a good record — maybe a little too personal for the contest.”
Although, he didn’t win the Shade 45 competition, Merrick quickly entered another contest, this time on the website rhymestars.com, in which he wrote a song over a beat created by producer Just Blaze.
“Wilkes-Burial,” Merrick said was rooted in the constant complaints he’s heard from local residents about the state of Wilkes-Barre. In it, Merrick addresses several hot-button city topics — the most pervasive of which is the municipality’s involvement in the national opioid crisis — including corruption and close-mindedness.
“I was basically reporting what we hear people complain about,” Merrick said. “It’s less my personal opinion and more expressing the opinion of the community.”
The song and accompanying video have received over 136,000 views, and is being considered among other submissions in the competition. A winner will be announced on Nov. 16.
In the meantime, Merrick plans to release at least one single a month to keep people engaged with his work. He’s working on an EP called “Packin’ Bags” that he hopes to release early in 2018.
“That album is going to tell a lot of my stories,” he said. “I’m bringing people into my world.”
As for the Thanksgiving Eve show, he’s excited to give back to people who have promoted his music.
“I want to show people I care about the positive support,” Merrick said.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Cassidy with special guest J. Merrick
Where: Ali Baba Lounge, 219 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre
When: Doors open at 8 p.m. Patrons get in free before 11 p.m.
Additional information: Meet and Greet tickets are available for $50 at bit.ly/2lYm6qX and include a picture with Cassidy and a poster.