Photo via Capitol Records
Feature by Taylor Lovaas
Jon Bellion’s debut visual for “The Human Condition” comes in the form of his song “Guillotine.” Dimly lit with brief shades of red among the black and white depiction of the Long Island native dancing to the melody, the video is just a sneak peak into what’s to come from the singer, songwriter, producer and rapper.
With his debut album under Capitol Records, “The Human Condition,” due out on June 10th, Bellion is heavily focused on how the project will be consumed visually. Bringing in visual development artist David Ardinaray Lojaya, Bellion is working on the release of individual illustrations to go along with each track. Often describing his sound as if J Dilla made a Pixar movie, Bellion is doubling his debut album as a sales pitch for his dream job. “It’s basically scenes from a movie that you’re never going to see,” he says of the illustrations over the phone.
“It’s like a giant business plan for Disney Pixar because it’s always been my dream to score a movie for them,” Bellion says with a chuckle. “So basically if my debut album blows up, John Lasseter [of Disney Pixar]and these guys will hopefully see these images and be like ‘Wait a second this is not one of our movies, what is this?’”
We trade laughs at the thought of this ingenious idea. It makes sense, Bellion’s music defies genres and the sound is lush with detail. The project also centers on the notion of being human, something that seems to be lost in many media outlets as of late. So if they won’t tell the real story, why can’t Bellion? “It’s [the album]about being human; not skinny, short, black, white, fat, that doesn’t matter,” he says. “Us as humans all have the same problems. We struggle with pride and tons of different issues that nobody really wants to talk about. So I figured if I’m the honest one showing how human I am it will make people feel better about themselves.”
He continues on, “Maybe I can be somebody to lend an ear to the public and also give the public a little fresh clarity that not everybody is perfect. Even people who are quote unquote on the radio or on television definitely struggle with the same stuff and they’re not alone.”
The whole idea for pitching Pixar with his album began through an idea of something that brings people through a whole range of human emotions daily, a relationship. “It’s really [about]nobody,” he says about who the relationship sequence is based on. “It was an inspiration that I had for a sequence of events. Meeting a girl at a festival [Woodstock] and going through the relationship and seeing the relationship end.”
Beginning this relationship on his previously released track “Woodstock,” Bellion builds the story line through two tracks featured on the new album, “All Time Low“ and “Woke The F*ck Up” before ending it the album featured but not yet released “iRobot.” “The sonics are hopeless,” he says of “iRobot.” “The lyrics are very hopeless, it’s meant for anybody who has been through a legit breakup where you know you’re never getting back together.”
Perfecting the artistic rollout of the album, Bellion sequenced the songs together and included original artwork designed by Lojaya. “All three records kind of just slid into this timeline and I was like ‘This is pretty dope I should do art work according,’” he says. “Then when I did the artwork that gave me the huge idea for the whole Pixar plan.” Setting the bar high visually for “The Human Condition,” Bellion exceeds the standard sonically as well.
Having written and produced for the likes of Eminem and Jason Derulo early in his career, Bellion finds confidence in knowing nobody has the winning formula to make a hit record every time. “Absolutely nobody can predict a hit record, he says about what he learned during his time as a signed writer and producer. “Absolutely nobody has a crystal ball in this industry so who cares? Why can’t I just do whatever I want musically and go down whatever avenue I want to go down?”
Proving his artistic dominance after mixing, master, writing and producing about 97-98% of his first three projects, Bellion is branching out on “The Human Condition” and the result is something special. “I brought in tons of people, like tons of people,” he says about the recording process. But instead of sticking to one sound throughout, Bellion has pieced together tracks in which industry leading producers from completely different genre’s fit together seamlessly. When asked about who was brought in he lights up with excitement, starting with the song “Weight Of The World.”
“That’s [on “Weight Of The World”]the number one country producer right now, Chris DeStefano, and Illmind,” he says. Illmind as in the Kanye West, Drake, J Cole and Andy Mineo featured producer, the top talent from multiple genre’s really had their hands on this project.
“I just had these ideas and I’ve written records for a lot of people and had so many sessions that I was able to outsource my favorite people to come up with these creative combinations of people.” He goes on to speak on the sound and experimentation that went on during the recording of this song. “I don’t know the last time a country producer made a record and then a sample producer came in and sampled the exact same record that you just heard. It [“Weight Of The World”] starts out almost as a worship, indie slash country record and then Illmind comes in and actually samples the record you just heard on the same song.”
But that’s just the warm up, on the outro of the album on a song called “Hand Of God,” Bellion brought together the same choir that worked with Michael Jackson on “Man In The Mirror.” We share another laugh as I lose track of my real question about the process of recording with the choir, the reality of it leaves me in awe. “We can just leave it at that,” he says with a burst of laughter. “Nah it was awesome, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. Capitol was gracious enough to set the whole thing up in their studio.”
While the album is not yet out, Bellion reveals what he can about working with the choir. “I can’t say too much but on the outro of the album this giant culmination of things start to happen,” he says. “All the choruses and things start to blend and the choir becomes this giant mish mashed moment of overwhelming beauty almost like the climax of a great Pixar movie or something like that,” again he stops to laugh. “Shameless plug.”
If you think Bellion employed someone else to write the arrangement you would be dead wrong, he did sing on his last project “my artistry is everything, that’s my baby,” you know. “I mapped out the entire thing with two other producers that worked really close with me on the album [Oji and Volta],” he said. “We did an entire arrangement, and then had to write and transcribe everything on paper to give them as sheet music when they came in.”
Ending things on a grandiose scale, Bellion’s “The Human Condition” is full of artistic elements both visually and sonically. You can pre-order via iTunes now and as mentioned above the video for “Guillotine” has dropped as well, you can watch below while looking at a few of Lojoya’s illustrations.