The Jon Hill Project Finds Hope After Addiction and Divorce on Debut 'Rebirth' Album: Premiere

Danny Batista
The Jon Hill Project

Multiple life-threatening overdoses. A crumbling divorce. Childhood bullying. The pressures of being thrown into the spotlight. These are all factors that made Jon Hill -- a 30-year-old percussionist and songwriter from Houston, Texas -- want to give up faith in recovery. But instead of succumbing to the demons that were his drug addictions, he sought solace in getting clean and creating music.

Hill initially adopted fame as the former husband of immensely popular YouTuber and beauty influencer Jaclyn Hill, whose makeup channel has more than 5 million subscribers and has raked in over 470 million views. Things seemed fine with the couple on the surface, but behind the scenes Jon was struggling with an addiction that was brewing for years.

"My addiction kicked off when I was 17 years old in high school," he tells Billboard. "I was at a bonfire when a friend asked him to try the prescription pills he was taking to manage the pain from his broken leg. I remember when it hit me, and I was like, 'Oh my god, this is the best feeling I’ve ever had.' It’s like all my insecurities of what people thought of me just went away. I felt untouchable."

The high school addiction carried on in Hill's marriage, as the drugs and a stint in rehab strained the relationship between him and Jaclyn. Last May, the latter announced the couple had decided to divorce after nearly nine years. After a brief relapse and another push to go to rehab by his father, Hill states that he is now fully clean and ready to share his story through his debut album Rebirth  -- which is premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Jan. 10).

Dubbed as "The Jon Hill Project," the musician, producer Spencer Bradham and Tides of Man guitarist Spencer Gill called upon various rock singers (including Copeland's Aaron Marsh, Finch's Nate Barcalow and Hail The Sun's Donovan Melero) to vocalize Hill's painfully honest road to recovery. Dive into Hill's difficult journey below.

Why is now the right time to tell your story through music?

There’s a lot of misconception of me and how things went down with my divorce. Originally, I was ashamed of my addiction and I didn’t want anyone to know I went to rehab. So this album is my realization that I can use music to help other people. That’s the best high you can ever feel. I’m blessed with a big following and if I can touch anyone with my story, that will keep me clean. 

Was the divorce a wake up call to go to rehab?

During our third year of marriage, it got to a point where I was having seizures because I was on so much stuff. I started breaking out in hives. So it became noticeable that something was wrong. I had a terrible moment where I started taking Suboxone, which is what they give to heroin addicts. I took that too early -- because there was so much other stuff in my system -- and I went through this insanely precipitated withdrawal period by myself in the house. I tried calling 911 but I couldn’t. My brain just didn’t work. So that’s when I first went to rehab [in 2017], and [Jaclyn] thought everything was fine when I got back home. I thought I was doing it for her but halfway through, I thought “No dude, you’re doing this for yourself.”

Once I got clean, I felt this confidence come over me where I thought I could do anything. It was an amazing high that was better than any drug I’ve ever taken, to just finally know and see the real me. But after that, [Jaclyn] decided she didn’t want to be with me anymore. And that was a huge shock to me. We were married for nine years. For some reason, I was thinking about how amazing it would be to enjoy Christmas with her while being clean. She often said, “You don’t love me because you never want to do things with me.” But it was because I kept having to hide [my addiction] from her all the time. So when I knew there was nothing to hide, I had everything to offer her. My selfishness was gone.

So coming home to see all my stuff gone and not knowing who she’s with… I was just devastated. Within two months, I was back on drugs. This time around, I was just super heartbroken. I was reaching out for help, but at that point I had severed all those relationships. My dad was the one who saved my life. He found out I overdosed and that the people I was around stole thousands of dollars from me. So my dad called me in the middle of the night when I was in withdrawal, but I was definitely coherent enough to tell him everything. The next day, I snapped out of that vulnerable phase and told my dad I was fine -- but he was already on the plane to pick me up. I was back in rehab on July 1.

Listening to the music, it sounds like you’ve substituted songwriting for substance abuse. It’s putting an optimistic spin on what you’ve been through.

If I could put any hope behind something as terrible as addiction. Because when you’re in it, you really feel locked in. I’ve been through this detox process so many times that now I know what to say and what I would’ve wanted to hear when I was dealing with it. Just having this creative outlet is strong enough to keep me away. I never had enough clean time before to even put out new music and write stuff that I was proud about. Now I’m realizing how much I could’ve done if I didn’t go down that path. At the end of the day, I welcome that pain, because after going through the painful process of getting those drugs out my system, everything else becomes so easy.

I think the riskiest song on the album is “Would You Save Me Now.” The video itself explicitly details your struggles both with the marriage to Jaclyn and your drug use. 

That song and “Take the Next Step” were the most difficult songs to write. “Take the Next Step” is basically asking, “Where do you go from here?” People always say staying clean is harder than getting clean. “Would You Save Me Now” is less of a cry for help, and more like after everything I put [Jaclyn] through in our marriage and hurting her... would she still save me? It’s a really honest song to put out there, knowing that her fans are gonna hear it. It’s basically me throwing myself under the bus. But I knew I needed to do that -- because we both made mistakes, but I definitely wanted to own up to mine, because they were significantly bad.

And the music video shows almost all of those low moments you experienced. Were you nervous about the possible backlash -- especially since you have a Jaclyn lookalike in the video?

Definitely. I didn’t want people to think I was using the divorce in a cheap way, like I’m trying to capitalize off a bad situation. But I just knew that I had to be honest with everybody. I’ve gotten hundreds of messages saying they either knew someone who was struggling like I was, or they also struggled with addiction, and it made me happy that I did this. There was a girl who told me she was sitting on the edge of a bridge wanting to jump, and my song came on through shuffle. She said it made her feel like she’s not alone. I want to thank everyone for that because I’ve never felt that kind of acceptance before, especially when it comes to my music.

And this was my first time acting too, but I didn’t want it to be cringe-y. I had to bring myself back to towards the end of our marriage. I show the happy times, but there were also bad moments that I let out on camera. That was real anger in the video. I needed to blow off steam, because I haven’t done that before. So putting out that video was very therapeutic and it closed that chapter in my life. Now it’s time to move on.

My favorite song on the album is “Drifting Towards the Sun.” There’s a lyric that talks about peace of mind -- but have you found that inner peace?

I definitely found more peace that I used to have, but I still have bad days too. That’s the thing about getting clean -- you embrace having emotions like a normal person. So I’m in a better place where I’m comfortable with who I am, and proud of what I’ve done.

Another line that stood out to me was on “Hang Em High”: “Don’t let them in/ These friends are not your friends.” How did you escape enablers?

That song is definitely aimed towards the people I hung out with at my lowest point. There was this guy who was originally my neighbor, and I could tell he did drugs. At this time I was buying over-the-counter medications. My friends would see me with him and say, “Man this guy doesn’t seem like good news.” I didn’t really think anything of it, but towards the end he burned me really bad by stealing very expensive jewelry from me, and blocking my number.

There was also a group of people I met while doing drug deals. I was going through severe heartbreak during this time, and instead of being there for me, they would watch me overdose and steal my stuff. There were other people who I thought had my back, but after the divorce it was clear that they chose sides. So the song is aimed at those kind of people who I expected more from.

For those currently struggling with addiction, do you have advice on how to survive it?

I know that a lot of people who are going through this just want to get out. When you’re in it, there feels like there’s absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel and no way of escaping. But I just want to let them know there is a way. Once you hit that bottom and realize you can’t do this anymore, that is fuel for you and more compassion for the next person. The darker you get, the more purpose you’ll have once it’s over -- as long as you get clean and want to get people.

For people going through withdrawal, your brain at that time is not working for you -- it’s working against you. Every little part of the body is telling you to go out and get high, because that’s the only thing you know is gonna help you. But if you just refuse to listen to that voice, minute by minute you’ll keep getting better. I remember there was one morning where I finally woke up hungry for the first time, because drugs really take your appetite away and you can’t stomach anything.

Waking up hungry was the most confident I ever felt in my entire life, like, "I beat this." After every little mistake I’ve made, I earned it. You just feel this new purpose that’s come over your life, and it’s beautiful. They call it the “pink cloud phase” [of recovery], but for me that feeling has actually lasted much longer. I feel like a kid again.