Everyone has a unique story, right? No one story is the same as the next. That is what makes each individual inspiring. We may think that we know and understand someone, but in reality we don’t know anyone unless we have heard his/her story. Stories connect us on a much deeper level. For me, I thought I knew the story of one of my favorite producers, Andrew “Kennedy” Jones. The part of his story that I did know was life changing and inspired me in so many ways. However, after a two-hour phone conversation with him several weeks ago, I learned that even I did not know the full extent of his story. My life has now been forever changed. His untold story has left an imprint on my life that will guide me through pain and sorrow, and remind me to always persevere and never give up.
When I answered his call to start this interview, I could hear the exhaustion in his voice. He was sitting in the studio working on new music, and as we were talking he kept pausing to say, “I like that” or “I’m going to use this. I don’t know how yet, but I am going to use this.” Everyone is used to the massive drops that Kennedy has so masterfully been creating since he stepped into this electronic game, but this was melodic, drippy, and emotional. He was working on something really beautiful and I was witnessing it. There was a pause…both Kennedy and I were exchanging some pretty heavy feels. As Mozart once said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” He paused to stop producing this new WIP (work in progress) and said, “Alright let’s do this.” This was no longer the tired voice that greeted me when I answered the phone.
Kennedy grew up in a few tough (mostly Hispanic) neighborhoods in Southern California. Both his skin (white) and hair color (ginger) made him a minority, but he quickly learned to adapt to his surroundings. Maybe too quickly.
Death isn’t an easy topic for anyone, but it isn’t one that is unfamiliar to Kennedy. He lost his father at the young age of 11. This was just the beginning of an onslaught of tragedy to hit Kennedy’s life. By the age of 13 he had dealt with custody battles and people just walking in and out of his life like it was nothing. He went to live with his mom, separated from his sisters, and lived in poor conditions (just barely surviving). With great concern and conviction, Kennedy spoke highly about the hard work of his mother – how much she always did to support him and the rest of the family. He spoke about the struggle he watched his mother go through while he was growing up through the turmoil and how proud he is to have her as a role model today. He also talked about how he did not want to make any of this story, his tough upbringing, or the results of certain situations to be read in context of being “her fault.” Kennedy’s mother is a survivor and is said to be the one person in his life that has never turned her back on him or stopped encouraging him to chase this dream of musicianship. Nonetheless, this string of toxic and unfortunate events while growing up, and a tumultuous upbringing, left a skewed vision of love and family, which in turn sparked the beginning of early drug and alcohol experimentation for the young Kennedy Jones.
He was involved in some messy dealings such as gang activity which allowed his alcoholism to escalate. He sold and abused drugs before he could even understand the implications of his actions, and even spent some time homeless. He did everything he could to mess up his life. In his sophomore year of high school, his stepfather just got up and left. However, all was not lost when his mother met the love of her life. This man happened to be the father of one of Kennedy’s friends. They fell in love and became inseparable. According to Kennedy, this man was the best thing to ever happen to his family. He hadn’t known family until this man had come into the picture. His stepfather provided the life his mother deserved; took them out of the ghetto, provided them with a nice home, a new truck for mom, and a loving family environment. He treated Kennedy like a son. Throughout Kennedy’s childhood a common trend occurred – all good things must come to an end. Less than two years into their blissful lives, Kennedy’s stepfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
His stepfather also found at that time that he himself had slipped slowly into the depths of alcoholism, but the diagnosis influenced him to get clean. A drunk Kennedy would drop his stepfather off at detox several times. It took several attempts, but he finally got clean. Kennedy on the other hand continued to drink and use heavily. He didn’t see his partying and lifestyle as a problem. Early July (especially July 4th – the day his paternal father died in 1999) seemed to pose as a very challenging time throughout his childhood. One Independence Day (2007), Kennedy got loaded as per usual. The next day he returned home to find that his only possession, the 85’ Ford Bronco he had purchased was destroyed. That truck was the only thing he had to call his own, and it was something he bought with his own money. Nonetheless, that truck is what Kennedy would live in when he had nowhere to go. Our darkest moments most often become our moments of clarity. Kennedy sat there with nothing and realized how his mom was going to feel when she would lose her husband to cancer. It killed him inside knowing that he would be out on the streets running a muck and would be unable to support his mother and sisters. He began to empathize and had an epiphany. From that moment on, he decided that he was done with his addiction.
On July 6, 2007, Kennedy had to practically give himself alcohol poisoning before they would admit him into treatment. The same man who he had driven to detox so many times before was now the one in the driver’s seat. He detoxed, sobered up, and did not feel the need to use or drink again. To me, this is the moment that Kennedy Jones was born. The word Herculean comes to mind because I know that addiction is a fierce demon, but like Eminem, Kennedy Jones took control and exorcised those demons.
Once he was clean, he moved back in with his mom and stepdad. A testament to how smart and hard-working this dude is, he took a complete 180 with his life. He acquired a full-time job with a huge healthcare company and worked his ass off, killing the corporate America game Monday through Friday. He worked quickly through the ranks all the way to Senior Case Manager, where he stayed with the company for almost five years. He scored that job without even obtaining a college degree. He was just very good at what he did. The stability and set hours were certainly a plus, but his workday didn’t end when he got home. Instead of resting, he would spend his nights working on music. The industry, and seemingly beyond, know Andrew Kennedy Jones to be one of the hardest working individuals out there. The discipline he must have had in those times is outright inspiring. Those of us in the music industry certainly know about needing to pay bills, but wanting to dedicate every waking hour to music is another story. For me it is writing. We can’t not be the artists we are destined to be. So, when injury struck, disability allowed for him to do what he was born to do – make music.
Kennedy Jones has remained sober. In my belief, his desire to be clean…this renewal…is what birthed the superstar that would become Kennedy Jones THO. Kennedy leaves us with one piece of advice…you just have to be DONE. Whatever it is that plagues your life, you have to be done. Until you hit YOUR BOTTOM, which doesn’t have to be homeless, jail, DUI, hospitals; YOU just have to make the decision that you never want to drink, use, whatever it is, you never want to feel that way again. If you love yourself or want to love yourself then this is all that you can do. It might be hard to accept this truth, but it is so crucial to say goodbye to your demons. Addiction is a sickness, but it can be fixed. Just like a broken bone, a broken heart and a broken brain can be mended. I draw strength in knowing this.
On September 13, 2008, Kennedy’s stepfather, Charles Stubbert, succumbed to his battle with cancer that had metastasized to his brain. Kennedy was a year and two months sober, and that way he stayed, able to steer his family through that tough time. Kennedy talked about how happy it made him to be able to stay sober through such a tough time so early in sobriety. It was one of those “what if” situations that he asked himself while newly sober and he made it through, one foot in front of the other. It was what Charlie would have wanted and he was proud to be able to do that. Another inspiring fact that Kennedy shared was that despite receiving a terminal diagnosis, his stepfather remained sober until the day he passed. He showed Kennedy what commitment, dedication, and love looked like even in the face of death.
The world-renowned single “Suavamente” by Elvis Crespo is one that made a big impact on Kennedy. Not only did he grow up listening to the song, but it also described a certain mentality throughout his early life: trapped and craving an escape.
He found his escape through music. He became a solo hip-hop MC and went by the name “Klepto.” Not klepto as in a kleptomaniac, but it was an acronym that stood for Keeping Lyrics Essentially Positive Through Opportunity. He then formed his first hip-hop project in 2010 with his best friend Kevin Kristopher, aka “Maddox” – KleptoMaddox. The two had ben rapping together for years all the way back to the year 2002. They performed at dive bars, underground hip-hop battles, and EDM stages as well. They brought a live dubstep, drumstep, drum n bass, and hip-hop set. Their goal was to connect all genres together and to clarify that they simply represented music and nothing else. Their big break happened in August 2011 when their remix of Basshunter’s “All I Ever Wanted” was released on Ultra Records. It amassed over 10,000 downloads and was played in over 80 countries. Even though Kleptomaddox experienced success, Kennedy needed to do a solo project.
So he did. His remix of “Suavamente” went viral, as did the come-up of Kennedy Jones THO. Kennedy said, “I gave it to 12th Planet. John and Sonny were the first two to play it. Ever. In one night, 12th Planet played it in Monterey, Mexico, I played it in Portland, Oregon, and Borgore played it in NYC.” It wasn’t scheduled to come out until a few weeks later on the Buygore compilation that was released right before EDCNY, but a cell phone video of the show in Mexico had leaked and gained 5,000 views overnight. He saw that reaction and thought that something could be going for him. Kennedy Jones was in shock that this cell phone video had gone so viral, and maybe too shocked to realize he himself had followed suit.
The following week the Buygore compilation came out and the rest is history. As Kennedy’s doctor was ready to give him the return-to-work order, Steve Gordon from Circle Talent Agency, called and asked if he wanted to join Circle. Since Circle is one of the biggest talent agencies in the electronic music scene, this was a pivotal point in his music career.
This all still feels surreal. There are things he still cannot fathom. For instance, he went to go buy a broom in his hometown, and a fan stopped him to take a picture and grab an autograph. It feels great for him, like he can actually help people through his music, which is an incredible piece of what he has always wanted to do – to help people through music. That was his biggest goal. He’s always wanted to get through to people that he wouldn’t normally be able to reach.
This recognition happens more and more frequently. As Kennedy explained, “It happens quite a bit, pretty often. Pretty often and pretty quickly.” He admits that it can be a tad overwhelming, in a good way. He explains that he accepts the amount of responsibility it takes to make sure he is taking time for each supporter. It is a strange and surreal feeling that no matter what happens from here on out, he can never really have a normal life. Even though Kennedy Jones THO is his brand, and he puts himself wholly into his work, he doesn’t necessarily want to encounter work when he is trying to be a regular human being. He is of course honored and grateful to each and every one of his fans, and will gladly take pictures holding a broom in his local Target. If nothing else, the experience must be quite jarring.
He is no stranger to the struggle. He has been on his touring hustle for years now, bringing the happiest of vibes to his shows. While touring can be very fun, it is also exhausting and brings a lot of responsibilities. It gives you some added pressure to know that your brand represents something beyond yourself…something that influences people and could absolutely save their life. He said, “I have gone through a lot in my life to get to where I am at right now. Waking up every day and trying to understand that I make music and DJ for a living, it’s still weird to me.” He knows the importance of his music, what an inspiration he is, and so he uses these powers for good.
The first time Kennedy came to my hometown (Philadelphia), he spent hours after his set in the crowd. He hugged and talked to every fan out there. Those are the defining moments for him. His brand is authentic, it is people oriented, and it is just about Kennedy being a real person…a human. People like to connect with what they know; it makes the music that much more real. Connecting on a personal level and hearing someone’s story of how they got there that night is a big honor because then he understands that people go out of their way just to see him perform. Even when he is not touring, he spends time on various social media accounts to stay personally connected with his fans. Being a fan is expensive and tiring. Hardcore fans are no joke. Since I am a big fan of the music, I can attest to that as well. Kennedy Jones works tirelessly to show each and every supporter that he understands and appreciates that fact.
A lot of people will say that electronic music saved them. This goes for fans, producers, managers, publicists, etc. We say that we didn’t live until EDM. This music found us. We find salvation in the bass and the beats, in the uplifting melodies, infectious vocals, and dare I say it, the drops. That moment before the drop. The silence in between those heavy notes. When you’re questioning everything and nothing makes sense in life, the drop finds you hard and it gives you a moment of serenity. A moment of peace. The music provides this shared experience that is so indescribable, yet we all just get it.
Choking back my own tears, I listen to him tell me that his story is just a series of miracles. In response I say, “It is the universe though. It’s like you had this revelation and then you made the right decisions. The universe gave back to you because you did the right thing.” He was so set on providing for his family once his stepfather passed away. He aspired to become the role model that was so lacking throughout his troubled past.
Three pictures currently hang on the walls in his studio. The first is of several people who shared his addiction. Some of these individuals are now deceased (by murder or suicide), some are incarcerated, and others are alive and well. The second is of all of his male role models that are now gone. He speaks of his mom and how she often apologizes that all of his male role models are no longer there. He reminds her that this is not her fault. He said, “I don’t know what it is. There are times when I get very close with someone and they just die. They just go away.” This image reminds him that even though they are gone, he received some sort of inspiration from every one of those individuals. The third picture is one of his stepfather. Kennedy’s stepfather is in the backyard of the house he bought for their family and just smiling back at the camera while going through the early stages of his battle with cancer. This picture reminds him of one of the happiest times in his life. The picture shows Kennedy that there is human strength existing in this life that allows people to smile even in what could be perceived as the darkest times in one’s life, such as smiling through dealing with terminal cancer. These three images serve as a daily reminder of the adversity Kennedy has both faced and overcome. Every day he looks at these images when he is producing, including the ones of his mother and sisters. They keep him authentic.
Is your heart bleeding yet?
This is sort of a breakout story for Kennedy Jones because he wants to remain 100% true to himself without any gimmicks or deception. Kennedy believes there is beauty to be shared in the story of his life and would rather be authentic by sharing this story and experience to help others rather than create a gimmick. The music industry has given him that freedom. He has to remember who he is – a chameleon. He adapts, but he will never go back to his day job and will never subject himself to things he does not deserve. There are times when he cannot believe that he even made it through high school. While in high school, he played a large part in developing a program for students pushed to reach their potential and to help them graduate. This program is still used in his community today.
He has learned to be grateful for the bad times. He strives to not pass judgment on any individual. He wants his story to be heard and he hopes that he can reach anyone in need of this message. He is here for you. Andrew Kennedy Jones will always tell you to never give up on your dreams. He is a beacon of hope; living proof that life does eventually get better. He is a true success story and has turned his tragedy into triumph.
As I sit here and paint the picture of his story, I think of Kennedy and how he has inspired me to new heights. I had been waiting for the chance to interview him ever since I was writing for my own personal blog. I always wrote up his tracks and I even covered his first show in Philadelphia (at Soundgarden Hall). I learned that he and I have more in common than I could have ever imagined, even though I thought I knew him pretty well before going into the interview. Unfortunately, people connect mostly over pain. We get stuck in our pain. I myself have fought my demons hard, and still have to keep them at bay every day. We have been through adversity…all of us. Do not feel shame or sadness because of your insecurities. Reach out, get help, and share your story because it has the power to inspire those who are so fortunate to listen.
The parting gift, to commemorate this story, is a song that was released the day after our interview, but that was made during this conversation – “The Art of Love.” His soul comes through in this new track. This song is also a statement from Kennedy, allowing us to see his evolution as an artist. He is telling us that he is comfortable in his own skin. It is a reflection of the melody and beauty in his life. “The Art of Love” is the real story. It comes directly from his heart and then transitions into our own hearts as well. It is an expression of the tough times he has endured and shows us in a sonic way what it sounds like, feels like, to come out on the other side.
The days before TomorrowWorld, Kennedy, already going through some personal adjustments in his life, had a friend take his own life practically right before Kennedy’s eyes. The following day Kennedy got on a plane and flew to Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia to play his debut TomorrowWorld set. He made it very clear that he could not bail on his supporters, no matter what was going on in his personal life. He knew that someone, somewhere in the audience was possibly going through a similar hard time and was going to see HIM to help them get through it. If you watch the recap video (below), you can see that his performance did its job and was as moving and therapeutic for him as much as it was for the crowd. This is what Kennedy Jones is all about. Everything comes completely full circle. This is the connection we all desire…heart to heart…a beat, and a sweet melody.