Jon Connor Brings 'Fresh Water for Flint' to 'The Nightly Show,' Talks Water Crisis & Reveals Debut Album Title
Days after performing at Ryan Coogler's #JusticeForFlint charity event in his native Flint to bring awareness to the Michigan city's current water epidemic, rapper Jon Connor is all smiles. He's delivering the first TV performance of his song "Fresh Water for Flint" alongside Keke Palmer on Comedy Central's The Nightly Show hosted by Larry Wilmore.
The rapper -- signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath imprint on Interscope Records -- has made it his personal mission to shed a bigger spotlight on Flint, where the contaminated water supply has resulted in at least 10 deaths. "I just left [Flint]. I had to take a bottle-water shower and all of that," he tells Billboard backstage. "My mom lives on the north side of Flint in the heart of where the water’s messed up at, so for me, it’s not just a topic on Twitter. This is not just a hashtag. This is my reality. When I go home to visit, to see my loved ones, this is their reality."
Host Wilmore -- whose show motto is "keep it 100" -- also echoes the significance of dedicating coverage to Flint. "We made a vow to keep talking about [the Flint water crisis] in general," he tells Billboard. "When the story first came up, I talked to the staff and said, 'Look, guys, let's set up a template like ''Larry People vs. Flint" as a funny way to talk about this,' meaning we're going to keep talking about this again and again."
Connor's performance marks the second in-studio performance for Nightly, an aspect that could be incorporated more in the show's format. "We really like to do it when it's special and meaningful, so when someone does show up, like tonight, it really means something to the audience," says Wilmore, who is set to get his nerd on as host of this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner. (While he kept a tight lip about the gig, he offered, "You're gonna expect me to keep it 100, doing my thing out there. It's the president's last year, so there's not much time to do an IRS audit of it. I'm very nervous -- but it's gonna be both nerve-racking and a lot of fun.")
Watch Connor's performance of "Fresh Water for Flint" with Keke Palmer and read the rest of his interview below, where he discusses performing at Ryan Coogler's #JusticeForFlint charity event and reveals his debut album title exclusively to Billboard.
Describe the moment the urge to create a song for Flint hit you.
That's what we become artists for -- to talk about things like this, to bring awareness to social issues on any platform that we can. Somebody who's a news anchor, it's their job to talk about the issues through their gift, and I just happen to make music, so this is the venue in which I get to speak about things that maybe a little kid in Flint doesn't have the voice to say or any family in Flint [that doesn't] have this platform. As a Flint resident, there wasn't no other way. It was one of those situations where the song wrote itself.
How did Keke Palmer get involved with the track?
Keke’s my sister. We had been working on a couple things anyway. She’s such a beautifully spirited person and she was actually on the way to rehearse for Grease Live! and I’m like, "Sis, I need you for this joint," and she’s like, "Can we get it done in 45 minutes?" She’s not from Flint, but she felt like this issue was strong and powerful enough to say, "You know what? I can be kinda late for my rehearsal because this is that important to talk about."
What was the initial conversation with director Ryan Coogler like when he recruited you for his #JusticeForFlint charity event?
Once again, it’s one of those situations where he’s from Oakland [and] sees the human suffering. How can that not pull at your heartstrings? He was like, "I’ve been looking for you. I know you’re from Flint. I’m doing this charity event for your city and it wouldn’t be right without you being there. You’re an artist on a major label and I need you there." It was a beautiful thing. Went there, did it, and you could tell his energy about the whole situation was all genuine. For him, the #JusticeForFlint thing wasn’t just a publicity stunt. It was "I care about what’s going on." One thing he kept telling me was, "Flint reminds me of Oakland. Flint reminds me of home, and this could’ve been my city. I would want somebody if they had that the platform to do what I’m gonna do, I would want them to."
Your Aftermath labelmate Anderson.Paak hinted in a radio interview that Dr. Dre is working on some new material. Can you confirm this?
Stay tuned. [Laughs] So much more to come.
What can we expect from your debut?
It was like this before the water [crisis] happened but another name for Flint is Vehicle City. I think I’m rolling with Vehicle City as the name of my debut album.