GURNEE – It is a Monday night, and pizza is served in the family’s apartment living room, where an aspiring, local hip-hop artist and his mother reminisce of “the struggle,” thoroughly incorporated in the 25-year-old’s upcoming album.
Gurnee's Jonathon Quinones, also known by his stage name, Jon Writer, began writing music at the age of 8 after his then 18-year-old brother, Pedro, now 32, and then 13-year-old rapper Bow Wow, inspired him to put pen to paper.
Jon said he writes about everything from partying to his handicapped mother's health issues. He said some of his lyrics are influenced by rocky relationships, including his non-existent one with his father.
“In terms of my dad, the only thing I really know about him is that he’s never really been there,” he said. “It was by choice. He was just never really there, but he’s had plenty of opportunities to really be the father figure. That screwed me up a lot because my mother is a single mother. First off that’s a lot in itself, but the fact that she’s handicapped too. She limps."
Jon said his mother, Yolda, 59, moved to New York City from Belize in 1976. His mother was 3 and lived in Belize when her left leg began growing at a slower rate than her right, after a nerve was infected by a poorly distributed shot during an annual checkup, he said. Her left leg is now three inches shorter than her right.
“My mother said it was because of a [shot that became infected],” Yolda said. “But American doctors said I was born with a dislocated hip.”
'I remember her fainting'
Jon said to provide for him and his two brothers, Pedro and David, 26, his mother worked two jobs, seven days a week “in some pretty bad neighborhoods when we lived in Rhode Island” and elsewhere, mostly a babysitter for 19 years. She spoke Spanish when she arrived in the United States.
“She moved to New York and didn’t know a lick of English. She would watch shows like ‘M*A*S*H’ just to learn English,” he said. “She is a go-getter. She is the most determined person I’ve ever known and will ever meet.”
Yolda was then diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2012 and told Jon about it six months later, when he was entering his last semester at Illinois State University to earn his bachelor’s degree in English.
“The cancer was a really strong hit on me,” Jon said. “She was a mess. I remember her fainting in front of me. I had to catch her. It was the worst – as you could imagine – she was foaming at the mouth and I didn’t know what was going on.”
Yolda overcame breast cancer in April after seven weeks of chemotherapy and a year of treatment.
“After the second chemo, all my hair started falling out and I look at myself in the mirror and I wanted to cry,” she said. “But then I said, I cannot cry … this is something I have to face.”
'Mom, diaries are for girls'
Jon said his mother is the most influential person in his life and remembers when she gave him a diary as an 8-year-old, which guided him to first write music.
“I told her, ‘Mom, diaries are for girls. I don’t do that,’ and she’s like, ‘You can write in it whenever you want, about whatever you want and anytime your brother whips your ass, you can write about it,’ and I was just like, ‘All right mom, I’m never going to use it though,’ but surely I ended up using it as my first rhyme book,” he said. “It’s been a tough road, man, but she’s all I know.”
Jon said he created a song about his mother titled “Soulja." The single will not be released on his upcoming album, “Race Against Time," which is produced by ZZYXY and will be released on iTunes July 22, but he may use the single for a later project.
Jon will hold a signing in Chicago the day his 14-track, debut album is released, which will be distributed through For Your Entertainment stores by Dynasty Records.
He said the message of the album is “celebrating the fact that you're finally doing whatever it is you want to do in life.”
Jon said he had about 300 followers on Twitter when he released “Check My Vision," a mixtape he released in November 2013 under the stage name, Jay Nice. He now has more than 5,000 followers.
Jon released his first music video in June 2013, which was filmed at his house at ISU the week before spring finals. The video has more than 40,000 views on YouTube.
“The response has been great,” he said. “We’ve made a substantial amount of money, enough to cover our recording cost and have a little extra to help produce this album.”
'I just want to make it positive'
Aside from the revenue generated by his two songs on iTunes, “Like Me," featuring Mahdie Alie, and “Yeah," Jon works at the Nordstrom’s in Schaumburg to make money until he and his friends go on tour to promote his upcoming album. The tour will be from September to October, where Jon plans to perform at more than a dozen venues.
“Really the end goal is go out there, put the music out and put it in your Beats by Dre headphones. If that can happen, we’re doing great and the rest will take care of itself,” he said. “A lot of what I’ve been through, I just want to make it positive. I try to manifest every bad thing into a positive.”