Sure, Houston's known as one of the leaders in the southern rap movement, but Galena Park? Well, since GP is home to Baby Jay, yeah, Galena Park. Fifteen-year-old Baby Jay, a.k.a. Jonathan Gutierrez, released his debut album, Keepin It Real, last month, but the tenth grader has been performing since he was five years old, first just dancing for his older brothers and their friends, then adding rap to his living-room performances. Older cousin Rolando Cuellar encouraged Baby Jay, eventually becoming his manager when Jay got to middle school. A performance at a Nuestra Palabra Showcase started Jay's professional career two years ago, and since then, he's performed across Texas and New York. A special collaboration with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, and the International Education Foundation's Operation Respect, led to "Don't Laugh at Me," an anti-bullying song and video that's been used in over 5,000 schools. Baby Jay also regularly raises funds for the Cure Autism Now Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House.
Houston Press: Tell us about your new CD, Keepin It Real.
Baby Jay: It was released online in November, at my site, www.Baby-Jay.com, but won't be in stores until next spring sometime. The CD has songs about having fun without doing drugs, keeping your head up and anti-bullying. It has songs about never giving up. No matter what struggles you are going through, you can't ever give up. Everybody goes through struggles. Keep your head up, don't let your struggles keep you from doing what you have to do.
HP: That's a major theme for your work, isn't it? To stay positive. Why is that?
Baby Jay: I've been through a lot of struggles, even though I'm young. My parents were divorced when I was around six years old. That was really hard for me. Plus, I've seen my brothers go in and out of jail, in and out of boot camps. They all told me not to do like them, not to end up in jail, to keep my head up and do right. What I did was turn to music, to something that I really enjoyed doing.
HP: But the perception is that most rap music is about being a gangster or sex, and that if you want to make money in the industry, you have to be bigger and badder than the next guy. If 50 Cent got shot nine times, the next guy has to get shot ten times in order to get noticed, to get ahead.
Baby Jay: Yeah, there's a lot of money out there for the negative part of rap, but the way I look at it, it's just a change that I want to make in the world. I want to have a positive impact. People can choose to go the right route, or the wrong route. I want to show people that the right route can be fun and cool, too. They don't have to do negative things, there are other ways to handle things.
HP: You talk about that on the first cut on Keepin It Real, "Mindstate." About how you refuse to be part of the problem, part of the negative side of rap.
Baby Jay: Right. That song says, "If this contributes to the crime rate / I'll bury the mike / and throw in the towel." Rap music is positive for me, and I want it to be positive for whoever is listening to me. I'd rather stop than change that.
HP: You're going to Canada, Las Vegas and on a tour of Texas in 2007.
Baby Jay: Right.
HP: And you're going to be promoting your CD getting into stores, too.
Baby Jay: Right.
HP: So when are you going to have time to go to school? Or to be a normal kid and just kick it with your friends?
Baby Jay: I got time for everything. I keep my homework up. I practice my music, I go over to my manager's house every day to talk about whatever show we got coming up, I get on the computer and get back with all the e-mails that came in that day. Plus, I also try to stay fit; I either play a little bit of basketball or run. Sometimes I get in some football.
Whatever I'm doing, I try to do my best. School, performing, whatever. When I'm on stage, I give it all I got. Off stage, too. I sign autographs every day, on all the CDs that we're sending out. And I answer all the messages that come in on my MySpace page. It takes me a while, but I answer them (laughs).
HP: What's it like for you at school now with a CD out and lots of performances?
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Baby Jay: It's good. Everyone at school supports me. And I try not to get a big head or anything (laughs). Whenever I walk the halls and people tell me, 'Hey, what's up?' I stop to talk to them, shake their hand, give them a pat on the back or whatever. I always stop to talk (he glances meaningfully at manager Rolando Cuellar), but I'm not late to class! Really (laughs). I make sure I'm not late to class.
HP: You started off performing for your brothers and their friends, and now you're releasing a CD and touring. What do your brothers think about that?
Baby Jay: My brothers, they look up to me now like I used to look up to them. They tell me to keep doing what I'm doing and not to stop. And I'm not going to stop. I want to do something with my life; I'm not looking to go to prison like a lot of other people I've seen.
In Galena Park, the cops, they know my brothers, they know how they are and what they've done, because they've been in and out of jail. But the cops, they look at me and they're proud for me, they're happy. Every time I see them, they honk the horn and wave. Sometimes people are like, "Are you working for the cops?" all suspicious, but I tell them, "No, they're just my friends." For more info on Baby Jay, visit www.Baby-Jay.com.