On the first track of his debut album, Dragonfly, Chicago’s Ajani Jones raps about performing in front of thousands, but he ends his verse with “Just dreaming as I’m working this long shift, can it save me, dog?”
The storytelling device immediately juxtaposes Jones’ youth, his present, and his imagined ideal future. It effectively sums up Ajani Jones’ persona: an everyman determined to blow up, no matter the sacrifice necessary.
As he told DJBooth, Jones left a full-ride scholarship to the University of Iowa behind in 2015 to move back to Chicago and focus on his music, supported by his mom all the way. Last year, Jones signed to Closed Sessions—a beloved local label that’s released records by Kweku Collins, Jamila Woods, and Femdot—for Jones’ Cocoons and ONE PUNCH projects.
True to the metaphor implicit in its title, Dragonfly shows Jones emerging with greater control of his talents.
The album’s sound is grounded in neo-soul, both by way of turn-of-the-millennium acts like Lauryn Hill and Musiq Soulchild, as well as Chicago contemporaries like Collins and Mick Jenkins. There are nimble guitar parts all over this project, a clear sign of studio time paying off. Other than some familiar drum sounds, Dragonfly avoids the in-the-red minimalism of Atlanta and Florida, which has taken over the hip-hop mainstream.