By Lindsey Ziliak
---- — A camera followed Jarrett Adams through a Kokomo salvage yard earlier this month as he rapped about mistakes, regrets and starting anew.
It took eight hours on a bitterly cold day to film the music video for his latest single, “The Rafters.”
A Fort Wayne video production company edited the footage and sent him the finished product last week. At 1 a.m. April 21, the 25-year-old watched it for himself. It was an emotional experience that he shared on social media.
“Just watched the music video for ‘The Rafters,’ and it literally brought tears to my eyes,” he posted to his Facebook page. “I’ve come such a long way and have even further to go.”
Adams’ latest album, “Exile,” drops May 6. He’ll celebrate Friday with an album release party at The Social complete with live performances.
That moment has been a long time coming for the Kokomo transplant.
Adams, known to his friends as J.A., grew up the son of a preacher. His dad taught him to sing in church. He also played drums, saxophone and piano.
All he really wanted to do, though, was become a successful hip hop artist.
“I was six when I first found out about hip hop,” Adams said. “My brother was a huge Notorious B.I.G. fan. He played ‘Juicy’ for me. I was like ‘what is that?’”
He spent his free time at Marion High School freestyling with his friends and making mixed tapes. By 21, he knew he wanted to make a career out of it. A few years later, he almost gave up on his dream, he said.
Adams said it’s amazingly difficult to break into the rap world. For a while, he felt like he couldn’t hack it. Then he drew inspiration from his 6-year-old cousin, Justice, who died recently from an asthma attack. She was his first and biggest fan, he said.
Even if she was the only one who liked his music, he’d keep making it for her.
Adams’ dad, on the other hand, wishes his youngest son would just stop and find a real job.
“He doesn’t support me the way I want him to,” Adams said. “He probably won’t come to my album release party.”
It’s those kinds of life experiences the up-and-coming rapper uses in his songs. He actually raps about his dad in a song he calls “DoorTHEE.”
The song played over the speakers at The Social during a private listening party on a recent Sunday night.
“Papa thinks that I'm tripping cause I don't want his position,” he rapped. “Dad I'm hearing you clear, but you don't make my decisions. I sleep with my own visions, carry my own dreams, kill any Goliath that's disrespecting my team. I'm focused by any means. I dare you to intervene. Only way that I quit is if I no longer breathe.”
It was a hit at the listening party, he said. It was everyone's favorite song on the album. It was also the first song he created with his manager Zack Miller.
Miller created the beats, and Adams wrote the lyrics.
It was a tough one to write, Adams said, especially since he calls his dad out. He struggled with whether he should leave that in the song. In the end, he did because he wanted to be honest in his music. It's real.
"I have to make music that comes from the heart," he said.
Adams said when he sits down to write a song, he doesn't get up until it's finished. The music just comes to him. Miller said he's never seen anything quite like it.
"He knows what he's going to write in his head, and then he hears a beat and it just clicks," Miller said. "It's pretty remarkable actually."
Miller said he loves music, but he’s never liked rap and its lyrics that talk about women, sex and drugs. When he first met Adams, he expected to hate his music. It turns out it was a match made in heaven..
“This is not rap like you typically hear,” he said. “It’s got a lot of soul.”
His songs break the typical rap mold, and Adams is okay with that.
“We go outside the box,” he said. “There are no rules.”
He refuses to denigrate women in his songs. He prefers to send out a positive message, he said. That makes him an outcast in the rap world — part of the reason he called his album “Exile,” he said.
One of his songs, “Sold2Satan,” calls out rappers seeking money and fame at the expense of their music. Adams said it’s not about money and fame for him, though he hopes he doesn’t have to rap for free the rest of his life.
For him, it’s about using his gifts to help other people. That reminds him of his favorite quote, he said.
“For I’m just an artist; I’m just a man,” he recalled from memory. “I may not change the world, but let me inspire someone who can.”
Those words of wisdom (actually song lyrics from rapper Wale) have become his motto.
Miller said he really thinks that Adams could change the world someday. And someday may come sooner than even Adams expected.
He said if “Exile” gets in the right hands, it could really take off. The off-beat, original sounds set Adams apart from other artists.
Adams' mentor, New York rapper Mickey Factz, said the same thing, Miller said.
Even the idea of a successful album gets Adams excited. His music career is literally all he thinks about, he said.
When he’s in class at IU Kokomo, he’s thinking about lyrics and about recording. When he’s not in class, he’s writing music, listening to himself perform, recording and promoting himself on social media. Often he’s still up at 4 a.m. working.
There’s no time to stop, though.
“The moment I take a break, someone else is going to take my spot,” he said. “I refuse to let that happen. There is no Plan B for me. My Plan B is to make my Plan A work.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LindseyZiliak.
WANT TO GO? WHAT: Album release party for Kokomo rapper Jarrett Adams WHEN: 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday WHERE: The Social, 3040 S. Lafountain St., Kokomo COST: $5 cover and $10 for VIP booth MORE INFO: Adams' album, "Exile," can be purchased for $10 at the release party or on iTunes, Rhapsody and Amazon.