Willie Jones grew up listening to everything from gospel to pop music, but he can still remember hearing strains of some of country music’s beloved patriotic anthems on the radio.
“We have so many patriotic songs,” Jones reflects, offering up a bit of Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” as we chat. “I always wondered what that would sound like, honestly, coming from me.”
Jones, a Black 20-something originally from Shreveport, La., wasn’t used to hearing Black artists on country radio, let alone patriotic anthems sung by Black artists. This summer, a few days after the Fourth of July, he decided to write one of his own.
“I always wanted a patriotic anthem from a young Black man,” Jones shares. “All the crap that was just brought to light this past year, it just really made me want to get it out.”
Jones co-wrote “American Dream” with Jason Afable, Josh Logan and Alex Goodwin. He freestyled the first line, he remembers — “Young man, young man, got the heart of a lion and the drive of a wild horse” — noting that the song plays as a message to both himself and to a younger generation, of both patriotism and protest.
Just as soon as Jones offers that praise, he cautions, “Young man, young man, better watch how you step when you step off the front porch.” His lyrics honor those who came before him — his ancestors who built the country he loves, social leaders who fought for change and equal rights, those who have died more recently as that fight continues — and urge his peers and those coming up behind him to remember those sacrifices, and that their America is different from that of their white counterparts.
“Proud to be a Black man, livin’ in the land of the brave and free / Yeah, I’m all-American, and that American Dream ain’t cheap,” Jones sings in the chorus, over a drum line the artist says exudes the vibe of some of his favorite patriotic country songs. “We’ve come a long way, still got a long way to go / When you’re livin’ as a Black man, it’s a different kind of American Dream.”
Jones’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 18) release of “American Dream” comes accompanied by a music video, portraying the artist as a DJ sending a dispatch out to a young man (Brent Robinson), who finds himself face-to-face with an officer (Glenn Lawrence) as he tries to make a statement of his own. Director Jamal Wade used anime to help tell the story, too, and to honor George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and other victims of police brutality.
“I had a couple other people come through with some video concepts, and they were both like, ‘We start off with you in handcuffs,'” shares Jones, who didn’t want to portray that grim reality. Instead, he and Wade came up with a “superhero badass” with Black Panther vibes.
“I wanted to incorporate reality but take it out of reality as well,” he adds. “I don’t wanna be in handcuffs, I want to show a different light … but still make it impactful.”
“American Dream” is one of 12 tracks of Jones’ forthcoming debut album, Right Now. The project is steeped in Southern hip-hop beats and country instrumentation, with Jones telling stories in his own interpretation of the genre’s guiding “three chords and the truth” mentality.
“I’m just doing me, honestly,” says Jones, who first found his way into the spotlight via The X-Factor in 2012, when he impressed judges including Simon Cowell and Britney Spears with his range-stretching cover of Josh Turner’s “Your Man.”
Willie Jones’ Right Now Tracklist:
1. “Country Soul” (Willie Jones / Nick Autry / Essancy / Michael Todd)
2. “Back Porch” (Jones / Autry / Michael Lotten / Lamar Edwards)
3. “Bachelorettes on Broadway” (Jones / Essancy / Dave Audé / Edwards / Jason Robinson)
4. “Down for It” (Jones / Essancy / Nicole Croteau / David Mohr / Clifford Harris / James Scheffer / David Siegel / Edwards)
5. “American Dream” (Jones / Jason Afable / Josh Logan / Alex Goodwin)
6. “Right Now” (Jones / Christian Valenzuela / Michael Ferrucci / Edwards / Dillon Rupp)
7. “Trainwreck” (Jones / Mark Baston / Justin Ebach)
8. “Drank Too Much” (Jones / Eric Arjes / Brad Clawson / Edwards)
9. “Whole Lotta Love” (Jones / Essancy / Juliet Piper / Edwards)
10. “Actions” (Willie Jones)
11. “Down for It (JD Walker Version)” (feat. T.I.) (Jones / Essancy / Nicole Croteau / David Mohr / Clifford Harris / James Scheffer / David Siegel / Joshua Walker)
12. “Down for It (Lamar “MyGuyMars” Edwards Remix)” (feat. T.I.) (Jones / Essancy / Nicole Croteau / David Mohr / Clifford Harris / James Scheffer / David Siegel / Edwards)
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