© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Your backstage pass to Northeast Ohio's independent music scene.

Canton hip-hop artist Jéan P the MC talks hometown pride and the rhymes that saved his life

Rapper Jéan Pierre Johnson performing as Jéan P the MC on stage
Josh Land
Canton native Jéan Pierre Johnson has been writing and releasing music as Jéan P the MC for more than a decade. He's back with his 23rd project, an album titled, "Jéan Not John," which dropped in October.

Jéan Pierre Johnson, who performs as Jéan P the MC, has had a prolific rap career. Releasing 23 projects, from mixtapes to full-length albums, he said his music serves as a timeline leading up to this moment.

“I was recording like three songs a day and releasing a mixtape like every three months,” Johnson said. “It’s going to pay off because people are going to know who I am. And fast forward 15 years later, people are revisiting my older music in the midst of me releasing a new album.”

His new album, “Jéan, Not John,” makes a statement about respecting his name and his place in hip-hop, which he said is bigger than music.

“My purpose is bigger than Billboard. I want the opportunities of being a big signed artist, you know, but I'm also a very realistic person,” he said. “But I want opportunity from this because I've been so consistent with it for so long.”

Turning to hip-hop as a young writer

Johnson grew up in a religious household in Canton, listening to classic hip-hop despite his devout parents’ objections.

 Jéan P the MC poses outside
Jalen McAfee
The rap persona Jéan P the MC was born from a passion for writing, as well as processing family tragedy. Jéan Pierre Johnson has turned his story into rhymes, with themes touching on spirituality, family and his hometown pride.

“I always knew music and hip-hop was going to be what was going to take me to the next level,” he said.

As a kid, Johnson tried sports but didn’t quite fit in. His mother stressed to him the importance of education and achieving your goals.

Johnson said he had dreams of becoming a writer before becoming an emcee. Writing was a way to express his thoughts and an outlet to work through deep emotions.

“So instead of holding a basketball or football, I said, 'I'll hold a pencil or a pen,'” he said. “As I got older and I started experiencing more, I found an outlet of sharing my story through writing.”

When Johnson turned 15, he lost his mother to cancer. His father passed away nine years earlier.

“Hip-hop and writing was really all I had as far as keeping me away from things outside of music,” he said. “In Canton, it was really easy to get caught up in things like trouble and crime and drugs and stuff like that.”

Johnson turned to his mentors for guidance when he was a teenager, especially his grandmother and uncle.

He said his uncle, who performed music in high school, was a big influence on Johnson's dreams of writing rhymes and turning them into songs. Hip-hop brought clarity and purpose, and Johnson said it saved his life.

“I just love that I can use hip-hop as a way that other conversations,” he said. “More than just rapping, you can teach people through hip-hop.”

Recording his first rhymes

As a teenager, Johnson felt inspired to start recording his own original songs. After graduating from McKinley Senior High School, he enrolled in the creative writing program at Ohio University.

He met a producer named Christopher Summers, known as DJ iShine, who had a recording studio in his dorm.

“That's definitely where Jéan P the MC got his start professionally,” Johnson said.

Johnson began working with Summers to record numerous mixtapes, and he started performing locally around Athens, Ohio.

He had the opportunity to share the stage with renowned rap artists like KRS-One and appeared on the MTV show “Get in the Game” with Sway, Juelz Santana and Trinidad James.

In 2011, Johnson signed to the record label Polar Entertainment and moved back to Canton.

“Snoop Dogg talks about Long Beach, Ludacris talks about Atlanta, Jay-Z talks about New York. Why can't I have pride in where I come from?”
Jéan Pierre Johnson

“People would be like, ‘Oh, there’s nothing in Canton.’ Nah, I love Canton, I know it front and back,” Johnson said.

Since moving back to his hometown, Johnson has continued to write, record and release new music, performing all over the city.

He knows Canton well beyond its stages and recording studios.

“I'm the mailman there,” Johnson said. “I'm in the city, so I know what's going on… I got a 12-year-old son. Making sure he's good first is why I go to work every day and deliver the mail.”

He said he has a lot of pride for Canton and is happy to see people making intentional stops in the city to see what’s going on, rather than driving past it on their way to Cleveland.

“We have a culture within our city, too,” he said. “So, I just love to share that with people who listen to me in other states and countries.”

Johnson said he draws inspiration from his favorite rappers when expressing his love for his hometown.

“Snoop Dogg talks about Long Beach, Ludacris talks about Atlanta, Jay-Z talks about New York,” he said. “Why can't I have pride in where I come from?”

‘Feeling like I’m at the top’

Johnson decided to break ties with his label and start his own venture called A Rhyme And A Dream. In 2022, he released his most acclaimed album called “The Way Eye See It.”

After releasing more than 20 recorded projects, Johnson said he feels like it’s time to gain recognition and respect beyond the local music scene.

He released “Jéan, Not John” on Oct. 6, which includes features from artists like Big Pow, GRiMM Van Gogh and Willis Gordon.

“My friend Willis Gordon, he ran for mayor in Canton, and that song right there is about how where I come from, that side of town, made me the man that I know,” Johnson said.

The album also features audio from a speech Johnson told at age five, as well as a recording of Pastor John Sinner from an old family home video.

“For me personally, the music is like a timeline of me reminding myself where I was because I just keep wanting to go higher,” he said.

The album’s title comes from an experience he had with his grandmother, who was using the voice-to-text feature on her smartphone. She was trying to say “Jéan P the MC,” but the phone interpreted it as “John P the MC.”

“I wanted people to put respect on my name,” Johnson said. “'Jéan, Not John,'” the newest album, is just like me feeling like I'm at the top.”

As Jéan P the MC, Johnson’s music touches on themes of fatherhood, spirituality, relationships and his outlook on hip-hop.

“I can talk about hip-hop and business, I talk about hip-hop and education. You can incorporate hip hop into so many different avenues and conversations of life,” he said.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.