A Tribe Called Quest had a Low End Theory. The late J. Dilla used Donuts. Jon Rogers, who is better known outside of Columbus as Maggz, provides the following formula to help understand his latest release of instrumental boom-bap:
Music = colors, colors = complexions, complexions = moods, and moods = infinity.
The (complex)ions series began with last year’s Mauvè, and it’s being followed up with Cyan soon, and where the color wheel lands from there is anyone’s guess. It all depends on Roger’s whimsical “moods.” Like his work ethic, nothing is “completely” finished and that road towards hip-hop enlightenment a never-ending education. As an artist within the medium, his canvas is an empty hard drive, his paints an assemblage of beats and samples culled from his meticulous vinyl library, often created alone in his lab with instruments he’s taught himself to play.
“I’m not really musically inclined, so for me, musical interpretation is more color than notes. That gives me a freedom, at least for this project, to do whatever I want to do,” explained Rogers. “For (complex)ions, I could just do four colors, or I could keep choosing different shades from the palette.”
Rogers’ started in hip-hop as an MC with a small group in his hometown of Rochester, New York. Raised on classic rap cassettes and by a father who toured the world as a jazz trumpeter, he was exposed to a musical way of life before he could walk. He eventually found his way to Columbus, but it was a city with few ties and fewer contacts. It was a blank slate moment, a chance to re-evaluate his perspective on hip-hop. He suddenly had to make his own beats and though he had a passing knowledge of how to produce them, there was going to be a learning curve.
That industrious self-reliance is what created Maggz. Maggz became Rogers’ alter ego, specializing in the futuristic soundscapes and off-kilter drums that were shifting his interests.
“I found this whole subculture of guys who were only focused on production. I was getting frustrated with hip-hop at the time because I thought it had very few outlets. I was also going through my own spiritual warfare, having a daughter, and most of the music I was making was negative stuff,” remembers Rogers of this transformation. “It wasn’t what I wanted to put out. I decided to take a step away from that and enter into this whole beat scene.”
Rogers gravitated towards this new frontier and instantly took to the Internet to network. One night he stumbled upon the expansive discography of Moka Only, an underground hip-hop legend from Canada, and decided to remix an a capella track of Only’s he’d found online. Only was impressed enough to pass it on to labelmate Chief, who doubles as the owner of the Switzerland-based Feelin’ Music. In turn, Chief offered to release Rogers’ output. It was the catalyst needed to boost his creative confidence, prompting him to enter into the tight-knit community of Columbus hip-hop. There he’s found a home producing beats for Zero Star and Intricate Sunz, as well as a regular stint at Star’s monthly Buggin’ Out shows.
To call Rogers prolific would be an understatement. Within the past two years he’s had his hands in myriad projects beyond (complex)ions. A perfect primer would beFragments of Mind, his debut release as Maggz. Within the grooves of “Here We Go” and “Pull the Chord,” Rogers weaves a sonic web of jazzy riffs, complex beats, psych effects, and synth samples that sound cut from the soundtrack of a PBS Nova documentary. There’s a nostalgia for the golden age of hip-hop, but also a portal to what hip-hop can become when it expands as it does here. Just last month he celebrated the collaborative album Moonlight with local R&B singer Renee Dion – definitely a step outside of his comfort zone – and for the remainder of 2014, he’s committed to get back to rhyming. A trio composed of Rogers, Only, and Chief, known as Torchlight Commission, is in the early stages and will no doubt take form when they tour Europe together this summer.
“There’s so much going on right now, because I always have to push the envelope,” concluded Rogers. “I never feel like I’m where I want to be, so I thrive to get better every day.”
To hear (complex)ions : Mauvè and the rest of Jon Rogers’ work, visitwww.jmaggz.bandcamp.com.