Columbus rapper Shad Jones refuses to hold back

Andy Downing
Shad Jones

Growing up, Shad Jones immersed herself in emotive, angst-ridden rock bands such as Linkin Park and Papa Roach as a means of coping with combustible anger issues, which the rapper traced to a traumatic childhood experience.

“When I was 8, I got molested and didn’t tell anyone until I was 19,” Jones said in an early December interview Downtown. “I held that in for 11 years, and it led to me doing bad things to get attention instead of voicing what my issues were.”

For that reason, in part, Jones holds nothing back on the just-released Sandals and Socks EP, delving into everything from that childhood molestation to her ongoing struggles with food addiction.

“Being fat, most of your life thought you was not beautiful/Attracting user-ass friends who only take from you,” she raps with typical candor on “Fading,” rhyming atop a chill summer beat at odds with the tension in her words.

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“I’ve been going to therapy for three years, and [my therapist] has helped inspire some of these songs, like, ‘Write it down. Make a song about it,’” said the Columbus-born Jones, who will perform as part of the Energy open mic at Tha Plug on Wednesday, Dec. 11. “I’m like, ‘Don’t nobody want to hear about any of that stuff. My life sounds tragic at the beginning, like the Joker, and I don’t really know if I want to put that type of energy into the world.’ … I don’t really know how people are going to take it, but if it evokes emotion, cool, that’s what I want. I want to have people talk about their feelings and experiences, and at least feel heard even if nothing else changes.”

At their core, even Jones’ darkest tracks are shot through with hope, the rapper taking inspiration from the words tattooed on her forearm (“I’m enough”) as she continues to strive toward the light. Along the way, she also turns out lovely numbers celebrating the female form (“Sundress”) and ferocious, socially charged tunes decrying police violence against the black populace (“Chill Out,” which does anything but).

Jones discovered hip-hop later in life, initially gravitating to the classic rock that her mother, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, played in the house as a means of learning the English language. But discovering artists like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Missy Elliott opened up new worlds for Jones, who previously had been unable to see shades of herself in the music that formed a running soundtrack — a feeling she hopes to pay forward in the art she creates.

“I’m hoping I connect with people who have had to deal with sexual abuse, or who struggle with food addiction or being fat in America,” Jones said. “I want to give a voice to the voiceless people, the people who think that they don’t matter enough to make a difference. Have you heard of Marissa Peer? She’s a therapist from the U.K. … who has this message that people often don’t feel like enough, and they don’t feel like they matter, and it inspires me. ‘My God, that’s my story.’”

It’s been a continual journey for Jones, who recorded and released her debut, Walking Contradiction, in 2012, and then gave up on rap when the album was met with silence. Gradually, though, Jones started attending the weekly Wednesday open mic at Rehab Tavern, where Eric Rollin of Mistar Anderson served as a mentor and a cheerleader, inspiring Jones to continue to sharpen her craft. (Rollin serves up a booming guest verse on Sandals and Socks track “Chill Out.”)

“When I put the first [album] out it was like, ‘When this drops I’m just going to blow up everywhere and everybody’s going to know who I am,’ and that’s not what happened,” Jones said. “When I was in my 20s, like all 20-year-olds, I was arrogant, invincible, thinking that I owned the world and I was this visionary, like, ‘Everybody should see this!’

"Then you come down off that high horse and humble yourself. Thanks to those bumps in the road, and all the failures in between, I’ve learned to appreciate the process. … Now I just want to be known as an MC who said something.”

These words don’t always arrive quickly, though. While working on a track, Jones will run the same beat on a loop, sometimes repeating the same bar or phrase for hours until the next words begin to take shape. (The rapper described herself as “a recovering perfectionist,” which explains the four-month delay that led to Sandals and Socks surfacing in parka weather, about which Jones cracked, “It’s 60 degrees somewhere.”)

And yet, all of this effort tends to be in service to tracks that sound effortless, Jones adopting a conversational flow that sits back in the beat, inviting listeners to gather round rather than leaping in front of them with arm-waving, larynx-flaunting verbal fireworks.

“I don’t know if anybody likes that; I don’t like that. I’m like, ‘I don’t know you. I see you,’" Jones said, making a "step back and give me space" gesture with her arms. "I’m more low-key, and a little shy and introverted — until I get to know somebody, then I won’t shut up. But [in the music] I’ve always been less about the flash than the message, like, ‘Let me say something and try to spark an emotion, and then we’ll see what comes next.’”

Energy open mic at Tha Plug

7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11

1570 S. High St., South Side

Shad Jones