John Vincent: Finding the Right Hook

NYC rapper John Vincent burst onto the scene with his freshman album Far Away Places, but the journey started outside the studio with a pair of boxing gloves.


The gym sat in a dangerous part of the city. John had never fought in the ring before. His friend Ned, a Golden Gloves finalist and fellow classmate at University of Loyola Maryland, pushed him to go. In a leap of faith, John drove to the spot. “It was like something out of a movie,” he said. Before John Vincent the rapper stepped in the studio, John Vincent the fighter taped up at a boxing gym in rundown Baltimore. One of the head trainers who fought on Muhammad Ali’s undercard at Madison Square Garden changed his life. He taught John how to minimize weaknesses and harness strengths. “I woke up, ran five miles, went to class, then went to the gym at night with Ned for eight months,” recounts John. In a sparring session, Ned cracked John with a right hand. He felt concussed for a week. At the time, John was taking pre-med classes and focusing on a career outside the gym. Not wanting to suffer the effects of recurring concussions, he hung up the gloves. “I didn’t want to sacrifice doing something intellectual later on in life,” admits John. Even though he was no longer throwing punches, he took with him the drive and discipline from the sport.

Right after his sophomore year at Loyola, the Westchester native embarked on a spiritual retreat in Ossining, NY. His uncle founded Handicapped Encounter Christ, an organization that runs Gospel-based retreats for people with physical differences. “My boxing experience led to this decision,” tells John. He craved an outlet to connect after putting down the gloves, and this weekend helped him find happiness. John’s partner for the retreat, Chris, suffered from cerebral palsy and spoke through a communication board on his wheelchair. Despite his disorder, Chris smiled the whole weekend. “He made me question my own condition. If this man can smile on a daily basis, then why can’t I?” said John. “I felt an overwhelming sense of unconditional love and wanted to share that through one of the greatest avenues of expression.” He chose music.

After the retreat, John wrote the song “Crazy” based on that weekend. Music opened the door to inner expression. Writing lyrics let John search himself. “That weekend catalyzed my need to learn and understand,” he says. Heading back to school in the fall of junior year, John flipped the switch to rapping. He sacrificed going out and embraced the outsider’s role. “It’s difficult because people ask why are you not going out? Rapping became an obsession. I saw my friends having fun but I couldn’t stop working,” he says. The same dedication from behind the gloves took over from behind the mic. “I sacrificed a lot of friendships unfortunately, but it’s something I love to do. The people close to me understand.”

Later that fall, John’s first studio session was a debacle. “I didn’t know how to do anything. The song came out terrible,” he admits. “I knew from boxing that if you go back to the drawing board, things will start to work out.” Up until graduation, John hammered his craft. Even after school, his parents supported the music. “My Dad asks every day to hear my entire album start to finish. He grew up listening to classic rock and doesn’t even like hip hop,” laughs John. A trip to the Hamptons last July 4th sparked the idea for his first album, Far Away Places. After that weekend, he wrote the song “Haunting” with longtime friend Svnties Vegas. “He’s one of the main reasons I’m involved in rapping,” says John. He then wrote over ten songs for the album and condensed it to five. To match the lyrics to the beat, he doesn’t take long. He listens to the instrumental and knows within ten seconds. The process straddles the conscious and unconscious. “Unconscious is the emotion, and conscious is putting it into words. Good music comes when the dance is right down the middle between both parts,” he says.

John Vincent and Svnties Vegas (left to right)

John Vincent and Svnties Vegas (left to right)

Honing his own process, John looks to Bon Iver. Even as an indie folk songwriter, Bon Iver influences artists like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. “He makes sure every note on the guitar evokes a specific feeling,” shares John. “It took my approach into a complete 180.” Bon Iver’s first project, For Emma, Forever Ago, opened up a new world to him. Emma isn’t a woman, but a feeling. John wanted to capture that power in his own work.

John’s debut album, “Far Away Places,” entangles memory and nostalgia. He personifies nostalgia with moments that left an impact on him. The songs follow the stages of a relationship through the seasons, from summer to spring. He meets this woman, falls in love, and longs for her when they grow apart. “Nostalgia can be more potent than memory when we’re never fully living in the moment,” explains John. Inspired by storytelling artists, his album flows with the narrative. Jordan Mitchell, the engineer at Lounge Studios, not only helped cultivate John’s vision, but sang on the album as well. “I heard his voice while he was A&R (artists and repertoire) and knew he had to be on the project, “ tells John. Amanda Patierno, 16, sings three tracks on the album. Working as a hostess, she first showed John clips on Garage Band and he immediately saw talent.

With over 20 people involved, John acted as a creative director. Taking all these voices and integrating them into one sound, he trusted his instincts. After the album completion, John and his producer, Mikaelin “Blue” Bluespruce grabbed drinks at a bar by the studio. Blue, a Grammy award winner who has worked with Solange, Jim Jones, and others, made an unlikely comparison to John. “He reminds me of Steph Curry. There might be other people more naturally talented, but it's his work ethic that will take him far.” John Vincent’s first album drops May 15th. He’s already started his second.

Check out John Vincent's music video for "Haunting Me" featuring Svnties Vegas below: 

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