California rap journeyman Jordan Newt requested an unusual present for his 14th birthday—but, then again, Jordan has kind of an unusual family.
"I was in the studio with my dad and uncle, hanging out, playing basketball, just having fun," Newt told us before a lunch hour rap performance at a California high school. "And then one day I asked my dad, 'Dad, I want to rap.' And he like laughed at me."
Burn, dad—especially considering The Musical Gene has a history of showing up early in the Newt family. Jordan's father, Bob Newt, started singing at age 7, and by the time he was a teenager formed the R&B trio The Newtrons with his twin brother, Ronnie, and 10-year-old kid bro, Johnny. After years of grinding, Bob and Johnny—now known better as J. Valentine—went on to form the Song Dynasty production company, where they've had a hand in crafting such hits as N'SYNC's "Dirty Pop" and "Celebrity" singles, as well as tracks for Jamie Foxx, Keyshia Cole, and Tyrese. So, why not add Jordan's name to the list?
"I asked him again, 'seriously dad, I want to try rapping for my birthday.' (The reason I chose rapping is because I cant sing—at all). So he wrote me a song.
"It wasn't amazing, I'll say it. Some of my dad's friends were like 'oh, I don't think he's ready yet, maybe another year with some practice.' But my dad was like 'no, I think he's ready.' So I started working with other people. And they helped write and record a single."
The single is called "Walk with Swag," and throughout Jordan's first year of rapping online, at festivals, and through lunch periods at nearby California high schools, it remains one of his proudest creations. But if you already know the name Jordan Newt, you're probably one of the million-and-some YouTubers to scope the vid for his biggest success, "iPhone," an Auto-Tuned testament to millennial swagger gone haywire that challenges even King Biebs' bravado.
We wanted to know more about the boy behind the swag, so we called up Jordan to bother him before a lunchtime performance (part of a months-long series leading up to the release of his upcoming debut album). Read on for young Newt's musings on being a 15-year-old brand-in-training, determined to balance school, sports, rap, and all dat swag...
SL: Thanks for talking to us, Jordan. Do you have the day off from school?
Jordan Newt: Just the day, then I go back to school later for football practice.
So, you're doing school, football, AND building a rap career?
I'm doing football, basketball, going to class…and rapping. And I do a little acting class on Saturdays.
Hmm... Are you insane?
[laughs] It helps a lot that I really like my school, and the teachers are really cool. They'll work with me and give me extra days to do homework if I don't have the time after a show, or whatever. Practice is usually at 3 o'clock so I'm usually able to make that. Then our games are on Friday, and basketball season's just starting.
Do you have any free time at all?
Oddly enough, I do. I still have time to play video games at home with my dad or my brother, or see friends on weekends. I usually have time to get schoolwork done during class.
So, did you want to be an athlete before you wanted to be a musician?
Oh yeah, I started playing basketball in a league when I was like five, and I played Pop Warner football when I was 7 years old. If life works out the way I want it to be, I'd somehow be a rapper and a professional athlete. I haven't chosen between football and basketball—I love them both the same.
Where are you from, Jordan?
I was born in San Francisco, and grew up around there until I was 5 or 6, then I moved to LA when I was 11 or 12—6th grade. I was living with my mom, then moved to be with my dad out here.
What does your mom do?
My mom is actually a makeup artist.
Does she ever put makeup on you?
No, no, no. I don't let that happen.
What's something important your dad and uncle have taught you?
One important thing they taught me about the business is that it's not easy. With basketball and football I was always pretty good, I didn't really have to do much when I was starting. But with music, you really have to practice, you really have to work hard all the time. And they weren't lying [laughs].
Do classmates ever ask you to listen to their music?
Uh, yeah, kinda all the time [laughs]. People are hitting me up on Facebook like, "Hey Jordan, I rap" or "I sing, could you listen to this song?" or "we should do a song together!" I listen to it, actually, I give it a chance. And I'm honest with 'em.
Who are your biggest hip-hop role models, and who would you most like to collaborate with?
I really like Drake and Kanye. I like Kanye's creativeness and Drake's lyrical rapping. But if I could work with any rapper, it would probably be…well, there's a couple. Drake, Big Sean, Tyga, or 2 Chainz. Big Sean is probably number one. I really like his flow, and even his word choice is pretty good.
Speaking of Tyga, one of your first big covers was a song called "Swag City"
Oh yeah, I did a little remix of Tyga's "Rack City." I was doing little covers of songs I like, and that was the first one that came to mind. I really like that song.
You had to tone down Tyga's language like, a lot. Are you looking forward to the day when you can spit uncensored rhymes?
[laughs]….I'm not sure, I'll see when that point comes.
The word "swag" is thrown around pretty loosely these days. What does swag mean to you personally?
It's just like, looking fresh. Not really caring what people think about you. Acting like you are. Swag is how you interpret it. People have their own swag—not anybody else's.
Swag. What's your geekiest habit, Jordan?
Alright…if it doesn't really involve school, my geekiest habit is definitely playing Call of Duty. I'm kind of addicted. I play it SO much.
Which is your CoD of choice?
All of them. I didn't really like Black Ops, but Modern Warfare 2 and MW3 are great. The zombies mode is really fun, and the one where you can like bet money, I really like that. On a good day, after I finish my homework and after practice, I can get maybe like an hour in.
An hour? Dude, that's not that bad of an addiction.
Well, one friend I've been playing with all the time is on my football team. Sometimes on the field he calls me by my gamer tag, which is J-Killer21.
Ah...Okay. Geekiness sustained.
Has Jordan newt played at your school?
Would you like him to?
Does his swag stack up to Bieber's swag?
How do you define YOUR swag?