Topaz Jones is a on a mission to put Montclair, New Jersey on the map. He’s part of the lifestyle brand Tastemakers NJ, which includes Temple's own Phil Meyer. The collective, all from the same area of Jersey, is making its mark on fashion and music across a network of universities and cities. While the members have distinct identities as artists, they all live under the influence of Jersey life and 90's music and style.
Topaz is a freshman at New York University, in the Tisch School of the Art's specialized Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Topaz has made a smooth transition to life in New York.
"Once you move here, the pace of everything is a lot quicker, so it wasn't so much adjusting to that,” Topaz said. “It was just something that I enjoyed because it helped me move at the pace I always wanted to move at and have a lot of motivated people around me.”
Although Topaz is enjoying college life and everything an aspiring musician can take advantage of in New York, up until his junior year, he didn't see himself attending college.
"Most of that was coming from the idea that there wasn't anything in college for me. And then I found a program that is really responding to the overwhelming desire of a whole new group of people and generation that want to get involved in the music industry," Topaz said.
"This program isn't a plan B; it's opening the door to a bunch of new opportunities while allowing me to pursue what I wanted to anyway."
While college may seem like an unlikely place for a hop hip artist to bolster his career, the world of academia is beginning to embrace hip-hop and, certainly, the Clive Davis program is ideal for musical entrepreneurship and performance. Topaz is in good company with a diverse array of talented and ambitious students, not to mention professors like Robert Power, engineer for classic hip hop groups including Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.
Due to Topaz' curriculum and career, his world revolves entirely around music, and in the city that never sleeps, it keeps him incredibly busy: always a music paper to write, video to shoot, song to record, or networking event to attend.
However, being surrounded by music is nothing new for this artist. He's been exposed to music since childhood from having musicians in his family.
"I decided very early on that (music) was going to be my career, way too early to be making career decisions," Topaz said.
Topaz biggest influencers are Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Biggie and Kanye West, as well as his father. Topaz started out singing and then moved on to rapping and slam poetry (he was even in a short-lived boy band when he was 6 years old).
Last year, Topaz released his mixtape Hello My Name Is, produced my Thelonious Martin. Thelonious is currently attending school at Loyola University Chicago.
"He's from there and he's always talked about going back since we were little; and it's given him great opportunities," Topaz said. "He's been able to make connections with artists that we never even imagined working with when we were just two kids in my basement making beats."
Thelonious and Topaz met when they were 14 years old and have been working together ever since. In high school, they planned local party/concerts together since there wasn't a space for them to showcase their talents.
"We gave ourselves the spotlight and a chance to perform to really get out there," Topaz said.
In the beginning, not everyone was overwhelmingly supportive of the unknown artists. Now, after years of crafting music and gaining exposure, Topaz receives a warm welcome when he returns to Montclair.
Topaz is currently working on several projects, both at school and with other members of Tastemakers. This time, he's even producing some of his own songs. As an artist, he's working to take his musical content to the next level.
"My music has always been autobiographical. But now, there's a lot more thought about whole concepts rather than freeform," Topaz said. "The feedback I've been getting recently has made me want to keep making songs that people can live to and be inspired by."
Not too long ago, he also obtained a word of wisdom from a man living on the streets of New York.
"He told me the responsibility you have as an artist is to push the culture forward and carry a message. If you a carry an idea with you, that's something that can never be destroyed, even long after you're gone," Topaz said.
Topaz has gone from getting his voice and name out there to now, taking on the challenging task to develop a transient message.
"There's two types of music," Topaz explained. "There's music that you dance to in the club and then music you put on in the car on the way home, and I always wanted to be that car drive home because that's the last thing you think about and the thing that has the lasting impact."
Topaz recently brought his music to life with a video for his song "Study Hall," directed by fellow NYU student, Simon Davis.
The video, along with the rest of Tastemaker's content, strives for quality over quantity. They pay close attention to detail to ensure that their brand stands out in the over-saturated online music market.
On a side-note, since it is an election year, Topaz will be voting for Obama and looking forward to what will happen in his second term.
"Every great president has been a two-term president," Topaz said. "It's hard to judge a man who is president at such a difficult time for the country and who is setting the precedence as the first Black president under such scrutiny. I think you have to play it a little safe. Hopefully, I'll see the change that I wanted to see in the first four years come to fruition in the second term."
When asked what’s next, he said, "Be on the look out," with a mischievous smirk.
Everyone will have to wait and see, but it's safe to say Topaz will continue building hometown glory for Montclair, as the fruits of his labor ripen.
Check out Topaz' music and the rest of Tastemakers NJ at: http://tastemakersnj.com/blog/topaz-jones-hello-my-name-is/