Updated: Jun 19, 2021
By Will Yannacoulias
When life closes a door, it opens a window. In April 2020, when the rest of the world froze to a standstill, Prince Albert rapper Jonathon Karabekian realized a five year dream and launched his independent music career. The release of the Participation Awards EP introduced listeners to Karabekian’s distinct style; personal, contemplative lyrics paired with a fast, razor sharp delivery. Last month Karabekian released his follow up, the nervosa EP, and immediately followed it with the single “Four Walls”. We interviewed Karabekian from his home in the isolated forests north of Prince Albert just days after the release of nervosa.
Karabekian has deep roots in a diversely musical family. He remembers that “I grew up playing the guitar a lot, my older brother (local instrumental artist Wise Owl) and I had a couple of bands when we were in high school, punk rock/punk pop style of music. My father was a country singer, and my grandfather played bluegrass fiddle, he placed in a couple Old Time Fiddle contests in Prince Albert and area.”
Ultimately Karabekian moved away from playing rock music in bands for creative reasons. “I just found it wasn’t growing with me as a person,” he explained. “Musically I was at a standstill where I couldn’t say as much as I wanted to say with my songs.” His artistic career was set on the current course with a fateful trip to a music festival in the United States in 2015. “I took a trip down to Minnesota for a hip hop concert. The Rhymesayers Entertainment label was having a twenty year anniversary. I met a bunch of local musicians, rappers, producers. Everyone was really supportive and welcoming. It really made me want to find my voice. People like Will Robinson, Peace Of Mind Music, LVNDSCVPES.”
Karabekian made music by himself for years after that fateful trip, but it was another defining experience which pushed him to begin sharing his work with a larger audience. “I had it in my head for the longest time that I was just making music no one was ever gonna hear, so no one ever heard it” he reflected. “After I quit drinking a couple years ago it kind of changed my mindset. Music helped me find a reason to stop letting booze take over my life, and I stuck to it.”
Karabekian is a skillful lyricist, sharing his stories and reflecting on his experiences in a way not traditionally associated with the genre. He shared that “It comes from me always wanting to be a songwriter and using rhymes to express myself. All I’m trying to do is tell my truth, talk about my life. Talk about what you know and eventually someone will listen.” Karabekian emphasizes the depth and complexity possible in rap songwriting and challenges the entrenched stereotypes that exist around the genre, commenting that “There’s a lot of stigma around hip hop & rap, it rose to prominence because of the gangsta rap, and a lot of it was about violence, drugs and sex. A lot of people haven’t seen yet that it’s not all about that, rappers are just getting on the track to talk about their lives.”
Coming from a background as a punk guitarist and songwriter, it’s not surprising that the punk rock ethos has shaped Karabekian artistically. If that influence doesn’t completely express itself in his actual music, it’s certainly imprinted in the attitude and spirit of what he does. As Karabekian explains it, “With nervosa, once it was done and I listened to it I said ‘that’s my punk rock album right there, that’s the closest thing I’ve ever put out to a punk album. It’s fast and aggressive and personal. Musically I compare myself to artists like Atmosphere and Blueprint but in spirit I’m inspired by bands like Black Flag and The Descendants. That 80’s DIY punk mentality where you just make flyers and staple them up all over town. That’s why I was drawn to Rhymesayers because that’s the kind of style and attitude they seemed to have.”
With several more single releases planned for spring and summer as well as a forthcoming music video, Karabekian has plans for a lot of new projects. It’s exciting to see him hitting his stride as an artist, flourishing in isolation and enjoying his current success while focusing on the future.
photos courtesy Scott Roos