When he was just 15 years old, rapper Randell “Kydd” Jones hit a milestone that eludes most artists through their entire careers: His group Impact, which included his brother Tank Washington and a couple friends, signed a deal with Sony Records.
Though it felt monumental, it didn’t pan out as the grandiose break the native Austinite, who plays the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Sunday, was hoping for.
“Our album dropped, but the finances weren’t there to promote it,” he says. “We end up signing to a fraudulent management company. They end up taking all our money.”
It was a devastating blow that would sour many artists on the industry as a whole. His bandmates were “in their feelings, sad at the moment,” but Jones was unfazed.
“I was 15, so I was like energetic and wanted to keep going,” he says. “That wasn’t really too much of a let down to me.”
Instead of focusing on the loss, he marveled at the achievement itself. The group had come together quickly. Its members were all “super popular” kids who attended different high schools around the city. They had started a youth movement.
“We ended up getting a record deal within four months of being a group," Jones says. "Who does that?”
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Lyrically adept with a savvy ear for hot production, he pushed forward. By the time he was wrapping up high school, he was assembling a group of like-minded rappers, laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the ATX hip-hop powerhouse LNS (Leaders of the New Skool) Crew.
They were doing shows on the east side, at “a lot of the chitlin clubs,” but Jones knew the city had more to offer.
“I was trying to venture out and see what, like really, Austin was all about,” he says.
His friends liked to go to Spiros (now Barbarella), which was “the hood club” at the time, he says. On their way to the club, they always walked by the Mohawk. One day they decided to stop in.
“We went there and that night I met (DJ) Ulovei and I met (DJ) Kid Slyce and then next thing I know I was going to Mohawk like every weekend. It was crazy for awhile,” he says.
He dialed into the scene, and when LNS Crew, which includes Jones’ brother Tank Washington, rapper Cory Kendrix, producer Haris Qureshi and DJ Charlie, solidified, it became their home base.
The group helped integrate hip-hop into the Red River music scene. “I see myself pinpointing, connecting a lot of dots with different artists and even different venues and trying to like open doors,” he says.
At the same time, he understood that the key to success meant gaining recognition outside the city limits. He harassed local writers looking for features, but he was also spamming every music blog he could find. At one point, he was featured in an upcoming artists roundup alongside a then unknown rapper from Compton, Kendrick Lamar. It was during the MySpace era of early social media and he reached out to Lamar through the platform and the two became friendly.
Around the same time, a partnership with Red Bull Music connected him to hip-hop legend Chuck D.
“He called me and we ended up having this rapport, kept talking to each other,” he says. “He ended up bringing me out to L.A. to open for him on tour.”
They played a show at the Staples Center.
“Shaq and a bunch of Laker people were in the building," Jones says. "I was backstage with all these legends and I was so flabbergasted.”
The close proximity to industry heavies convinced him to relocate briefly to New York. His father was from the Bronx and he had passed on to his son a love of East Coast hip-hop.
“He was the dopest. I got a lot of my style from him,” Jones says.
But his father, who died from cancer about two years ago, didn’t want his son to go back to his old stomping ground.
“He grew up rough. He grew up really, really hard,” Jones says.
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Once in the Big Apple, Jones realized his dad was right. “It costs so much to live there. I don’t think I was ready to be like a super struggling artist,” he says. A few connections that he had set up fell through and after about a year, it made sense to return home.
But Austin audiences are fickle. To make it in our city, it helps to make it somewhere else first.
Not long after he landed back in town, Jones relocated again, this time to Atlanta.
“It just made sense,” he says. “The industry was there. I was going to Billboard Fest (in New York) and we were stopping in Atlanta and my wife’s uncle owns a club out there and owns a bunch of properties out there. He talks me into buying a property out there.”
Atlanta is “basically the Mecca of hip-hop right now,” Jones says. It was exactly the right place to develop his skills, but it forced him to step up his game.
“When I went to Atlanta I was around all these producers who were super seasoned, super good producers,” he says.
In New York and L.A., he always made an impression with industry bigwigs, but Atlanta was “saturated by hype.”
“I hadn’t been in a place where I felt like I had super big competition,” he says.
He was getting in rooms with producers who were knocking out 10 beats a day, which seemed insane. He made his own goal to knock out three beats, three good beats.
“My manager at the time, he brought me around all these artists that were leveling me up,” he says. “So that’s what I took from that, being able to level up and be a quicker writer, be a quicker producer, be a more efficient producer, more efficient songwriter.”
Jones never planned to remain in Atlanta forever, especially after his wife became pregnant and they had a baby. They wanted to raise their son in Austin, but after about two years in the ATL, Jones was starting to find his footing.
Then everything fell apart. His neighbors set their house on fire in a domestic dispute and the blaze consumed Jones’ townhouse, too. It was a dramatic scene. His soundproofed studio was in the front of the house so the family didn’t hear the firefighters pounding at their door. He grabbed his baby son and his wife and raced out of the house. They had to wait for the flames to die down before the fire department could get in to rescue his dog, who had been in the studio barking, trying to alert the family.
Jones wasn’t ready to leave Atlanta, but after the fire, the support of family back in Austin felt essential.
“When I came back home I wanted to be under different circumstances,” Jones says. ”I wasn’t coming back home without the trophy. And I was right there and it was in hand’s reach.”
The trophy is still within reach, but Jones, now 30 and back in Austin, has to once again adjust his game plan. In his 15 years in the industry, the game itself has changed radically.
“It keeps evolving and you’ve got to kind of evolve with it or you get left behind,” he says.
Even though he hasn’t “made it” in the industry, he’s built a solid roster of important contacts, and through his own performances and releases, production work and writing for other artists he hasn’t needed to hold down a day job for the past six years.
He has a new album, slated to drop later this year, and he plans to spend the next few months releasing a slew of music videos.
“My journey never stops because music is my only passion, my only goal,” he says. “I know what I’m going for and it’s music driven.”
“As long as I’m doing music, I’m living.”