By Jamel Smith
May 23, 2021
Jon Graham a.k.a Belmont Jon (formerly known as Matrix P) hails from a family of singers. In our July interview, the Belmont, NC native acknowledged the legacy of his musical family, citing his uncle and cousin as family success stories. “My family, we’re a big singing family,” he said. “My uncle is a gospel artist, and my cousin, he’s a gospel artist.”
Graham, however, decided to pivot into a different lane. Between balancing his time in church and the South Point High School chorus, he also started rapping. He’d spend his school mornings honing his rap skills over lunch table beats and freestyle battles. Since then, Belmont Jon has been chasing his dreams.
The budding emcee has since released three projects: Creek Water Hymns (2016), Southern Fryed (2018), and Oh Laawd!, out this month. His offerings bear a unique blend of hip-hop/crunk, Southern gospel, and R&B, all fused together in a style he calls “Kuntry Hippy Rap.” His special sound garnered him a number of humble accomplishments— most notably, winning a nationwide Swisher Sweets songwriting contest in December 2020. As the winner, Graham was awarded a $10,000 grant check and an audience with Charlotte rap superstar, DaBaby.
Five months later, Matrix P has reemerged under a new name, Belmont Jon, and with his third project, Oh Laawd! The 12-song offering boasts his distinctive “Kuntry Hippy Rap” sound, as he delivers each performance in his signature rap-singing style. This album is melodic, soulful, and charming. The first track (“Southern Hospitality”) stacks a sample of his mother’s voice against a sample of Project Pat’s “Chickenhead” (you know, those infamous “alrights”). His mother, Celina Graham, is even credited as a feature. The fusion between her gospel-tinged vocals and a rap classic quickly establishes Graham’s special connection to both the church and Southern hip-hop.
On Oh Laawd! Belmont Jon possesses the pride of a thousand Southern rap pioneers. He deliberately soaks his raps in regionalism with each song displaying a range of cultural and/or musical references that point back to his upbringing in the Dirty South. On “Ain’t No Thang,” Belmont Jon soulfully sings a refrain of the Southern colloquial saying, “Ain’t no thang but a chicken wang” over a sample of Trae Tha Truth’s “Open Up Tha Trunk.” On the Outkast-inspired “Al Voice,” he legitimizes “Southernplayalistic” as an adjective to describe his appeal. The cultural peak of the album is the anthemic “Dirty Souf” featuring the legendary North Carolina rap hero, Petey Pablo. Track by track, Oh Laawd! proves to be an ode to his beloved region.
The concept of family serves as a second cornerstone of Oh Laawd! In addition to featuring his mother on “Southern Hospitality” in a full circle moment, Belmont Jon makes his first reference to his fallen cousin, Cameron McGlenn: “I pour some liquor for brother Cam, I’m holding him down.” The entire album is dedicated to Cameron “Cam” McGlenn. In a touching conclusion, the album ends with “Cam’s Song,” featuring saxophonist Elliott Yourse. In the track, Belmont Jon serenades promises to those he lost, as well as, to those who have been in his corner since day one.
It is that sense of community that makes this third project a wholesome listen. Belmont Jon is the manifestation of musical, physical, and emotional landmarks, all of which have encouraged him to pursue his rap dreams. Oh Laawd! successfully brings all of those landmarks together for a good ol’ fashioned country family reunion. And while the budding emcee from Belmont still has room to grow, Oh Laawd! clearly shows a man who carries his community and Southern rap traditions on his back.