Featured Artist: Marques Jones

Marques Jones, a senior cinema art + science major better known by his stage name Nick Astro, began his rap career by branding himself as that “light skin with that afro.”

Growing up listening to and idolizing Stevie Wonder, Jones was inspired to pursue a music career. Jones has been writing rhymes and spitting raps since he was 11 years old and took the opportunity to attend Columbia in the hopes of refining his skills and making his dream a reality.

After performing at this year’s annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and Columbia’s Biggest Mouth competition in April, Jones was selected to perform as one of eight student headliners May 16 on the main stage at Manifest, the college’s annual urban arts festival.

Using his background in film, Jones said he has always produced his own music videos. Since releasing his first mixtape, Super16, in July 2013, Jones has made appearances on other projects as well. AEMMP Records, Columbia’s student-run record label, released a mixtape May 1 titled La Collection that features Jones on two tracks.

Despite his jam-packed schedule, Jones is also working on an independent EP titled Light Skin With That Afro that will drop this summer.

The Chronicle spoke with Jones about his new mixtape, South by Southwest performance and future plans.

THE CHRONICLE: What inspires the lyrics in your songs?

MARQUES JONES: Moments in life. If you had a moment in your life where you were like, “I love this feeling right now,” like graduating college or prom night, I want to make songs that embody that feeling. This new project I’m working on is all about that. It’s about good vibes, good feelings and moments in life that you cherish.

CC: Why do you call yourself “that light skin with that afro?”

MJ: I went to South by Southwest this past March and performed a song called “I’m Broke,” but I didn’t want to perform the chorus because on the chorus I say, “I’m broke, n—a, you broke, too.” I’m changing my vocabulary in my music and I’m being very cautious of the words that I use. I didn’t feel like saying that chorus, but in the first verse, I have a line that says, “Who the hell is Nick Astro? Light skin with that afro.” Instead of saying the chorus, I just used those two lines. When I said it, I was like, “This is cool. It sounds like a chant.” Then people just started saying it randomly, like, “Yo, light skin with that afro!” and I [decided] I should use it. At [Biggest Mouth], I used it as a call and response and it went well.

CC: Describe the sound of your new EP.

MJ: Very conversational. I like to consider myself an unconventional rapper. Now that you have rappers like Kanye, Common and Chance, you have rappers that are really putting effort to breaking the traditional rapping [style]. I like to consider myself unconventional because I don’t like to be confined. When you hear one of my songs, I want you to feel like you had a conversation with me. You truly know more about me because you feel like you just talked to me.

CC: What are your future career goals?

MJ: Obviously as a musician, I want to tour the world. Obviously if you’re an actor or filmmaker, you want to be at the Oscars or the Golden Globes. Those are the obvious things, but more so I want to be someone that is referenced and who is well-respected. I like the direction Childish Gambino has taken his music in. It’s educational as well as entertaining. That’s kind of where I see myself.

CC: How has attending Columbia helped you pursue your rap career?

MJ: Columbia has been like a third parent. The skills that I do have, Columbia has molded them and has matured me in a way. Originally I didn’t want to go to college. I just wanted to be this rap star. Columbia was the only school I was willing to come to and it was actually the only one I got accepted to, so I guess it was destiny.