With the release of her latest project Polly, along with a string of performances that lend a live energy to her already undeniable music, Tiny Jag is an artist to know in Detroit’s rap scene. After a series of music videos in 2018, she has dropped her first eight-song mixtape produced with local music producers including ABSTRACT, benny banter, Pri$m, YellxBxy and more. Check out her recent conversation with Broccoli as she explains her musical inspirations, the meaning behind Polly, and who she is- beyond her unique sound and music.
Brocolli: First off, tell us about yourself.
(Jillian Graham AKA) Tiny Jag: I’m Tiny Jag and I am a musician, mostly a rapper- but I do some singing as well. I also do songwriting for myself but also for others. Outside of making music, I run a business called The Jars’ Journey, we create raw juices for the purpose of cleansing and nutrition.
Being a business owner is actually what birthed Tiny Jag, in a way. Through the process of getting aligned and focused nutritionally I unlocked parts of my consciousness that I didn’t know were blocked. I took a break from music for awhile but through that experience I was able to get back to creating again.
B: That’s so interesting, can you talk about that more?
TJ: Absolutely. It started in a much darker place actually, I was very unhappy and I didn’t have anything to be unhappy about. There was this conflict between having so many things to be grateful for, but feeling unfulfilled, and then being frustrated about that unfulfillment, which just seemed to continue in an ongoing cycle.
I realized that something had to change. I had to go inward to figure it out, so I started doing research. At first it was more generally into elevating self, figuring out where we hover above this tangible world and getting into that I realized that where I was messing up was with my nutrition. It’s hard to vibrate any higher than where you are if you’re not careful about what you put into your body, so I got really serious with that. Through nutrition and spirituality I was lead back to music as a way for me to feel fulfilled again. Music is something I had always done so when it made sense I just jumped back into it. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a hobby or if it would be something that I was looking to grow and develop more, but it ended up being something that I fell back in love with.
B: After seeing the performance at Kindred Music Festival, I have to admit that this is all a little surprising to me. There is kind of this juxtaposition between your lifestyle and your music, would you agree?
TJ: Yes, definitely.
B: So now I’m seeing the music as a sort of cathartic practice for you in a way.
TJ: It is 100% an outlet. People will always ask me about that, because I’m relatively gentle, usually pretty peaceful- maybe a little vulgar… but the energy and the warmth is usually there. A lot of people are confused by that. They wonder how the music can be so wild at times, but that’s exactly why. It’s an outlet.
“Allowing myself to express those emotions on stage or in the booth is what allows me to be who I am on a regular basis.”
B: It can be really difficult to admit that those pieces of us are there; we tend to deny them rather than finding a way to let them exist in a constructive way, which can make them bleed into other parts of ourselves in ways that we don’t want them to.
TJ: Exactly. ‘Bleeding’ is a great word for it, because there were times where I would need to peaceful or focused, and instead I would be chaotic or overwhelmed. I’m really into chakras so I often use the term “blocked.” There were times when I needed to reach my full potential and I just couldn’t get there, and now being able to release it in this way is how all of this came about.
B: So the nutrition was a way for you to change perspective, to gain the ability to contextual your situation and see a path forward.
TJ: Yes, and to be honest it wasn’t always that simple.
Before I was Tiny Jag the rapper, I was Tiny Jag the health guru, so even that transition was a challenge. It’s scary to do these things; last week I’m telling people to do things to improve their lives, and then this week I’m talkin’ that shit… so it can be difficult to balance the two. I had to find out how those could make sense together and how people can experience it in bite sized pieces so it wouldn’t be too much at once. Nutrition is what enabled me to do all of this and progress so quickly in this pursuit, which is how it all fits together.
B: What was the first album you ever purchased?
TJ: With my own money, or as a household since I was born?…
B: Whatever you prefer.
TJ: For the household, (laughs) it actually was a Shaggy record, Mr. Boombastic. That was different for me because my mother listened to a lot of Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, and even some Shania Twain, kind of all over- but not too much hip-hop. When she brought home that Shaggy- that was the most knock I’d ever heard- it wasn’t a whole lot of knock but it was more than Boyz II Men, so I was like, ‘wait a minute… there’s music that sounds like this?’
That’s when my gears starting turning. I still love all of my mother’s music, the artists that I mentioned and even beyond that, but they all made me this certain type of way. When those drums came in I knew it was different and it touched me in a different way. I was interested.
The next album that really touched me as a child, my brother brought into our lives, it was a Trick Daddy album- the single was “I’m A Thug,” but I can’t remember what the name of that album was. That one was huge for me though, because one of the last few tracks on the album was just a Trina song. I had never heard women rap before, and not only was she rapping but she was talking crazier than any of the other tracks on there.
The fight that my mother had with the song was probably what influenced me the most. My mother loved the song, but I was too young for her to love it, so she would apologize before and after playing it, putting it in this little “sorry” sandwich, but it was our thing though! We weren’t supposed to be doing it, but we would do it, and then the next day we would do it all over again.
And to top it all off, the first rap I ever wrote was my own rendition of Trina’s verse on the “Right Thurr” remix with Chingy, in 6th or 7th grade. We had this thing called advisory, which wasn’t really a class, so I would just write this stuff in my assignment book during that time. This kid sat next to me, one day he grabbed my book off my desk and started reading it out loud to the class. At first I was embarrassed because that’s just the natural reaction when our personal things get shared without our permission, but I ended up getting this sense of pride… so I realized that it might be something. I was almost rapping it with him by the end of it.
B: That was pretty young. You said your most recent music was your return to creating, what was the music like before that break?
TJ: It was much more hip-hop originally, some elements of conscious rap. Not that some of my recent tracks don’t have a lyrical tone to them, I’m just not as focused on that type of style as I was back then, mostly because of who I was around at the time. I didn’t actually start getting into the studio until maybe ‘09; the group I was running with wasn’t necessarily hip hop, but it definitely wasn’t this mosh sh*t that I’m making now.
But honestly, I didn’t like it. I would make it, but I couldn’t listen to it. I would put it out, get my little plays and downloads, feel myself for a minute- and that would be that. My mom would listen to it on repeat and I hated her for it, I just wasn’t into it. So I stopped mostly because I went away to school and it wasn’t until I graduated that I went back to the basics to figure out what I really wanted to do.
That’s when Tiny Jag was born as the more rebellious side of things, which stemmed from my frustration with how things were going. I wanted it to be like, ‘I’m back, and this is what I sound like. I don’t care if you care about what I sound like, this is how I sound.‘ It was very left field, way out there- and it’s come back a little bit now because at this point I’m not trying to prove anything, it feels right to me.
B: If there was someone that had never heard of your music before, what’s the first thing you would show them?
TJ: “Soccer Mom” is usually a song I play for people because it offers the rage and the hook that shows that we are on that type of sh*t, but the actual verses have the lyricism in them. I would especially show the video (below), because it shows the darkness, but it also has the “Suzy Homemaker” type feel to it, so the full extent of it is all in there.
“I’m certainly in a type of lane, but it’s hard to pin my music in one place; I think “Soccer Mom” shows that well.”
The production is also amazing. benny banter is the producer on that track. Some people love it and some people hate it, but you can’t just be in the middle with “Soccer Mom,” because it has too much power behind it. You’ve got the hood of the hood chanting the chorus and then I have friends that I made at Wayne State [University] that also love it. Someone coined it as “creepy cold,” I think that says a lot about what it is.
B: Tell us more about Polly.
TJ: My grandmother’s name was Eveline Pauline; people called her Paully or they called her Polly. She was a big influence for me because although she never had to say it verbatim due to the connection that we had, her message to me was always, “You got it.” She never wanted me to look in the mirror and be afraid of what was there, whether it was my worst day or my best day.
My grandfather used to tell me, “You could tell your grandmother that the sky was any color you wanted and she would believe it.” She really thought that I was something special. She knew that if I believed it too, then the whole world would feel that way. She even told me that I would be a musician when I was like 7 or 8, which is crazy because I had nothing but my little Trina rap going on at the time. But that was where that idea of being unapologetic about the Expression came from.
That’s actually what the cover is, me looking in the mirror as a child and seeing that monster but not being afraid of it. Because that’s what Polly told me. I could make that monster into whatever I wanted it to be, so I communicated that through the music. It was a surrender in some sense: this is what I am, this is what I’ve got, these are the different aspects of myself.
I’m not interested in bending or molding them to make anyone else comfortable with themselves. But I do care about humanity and about a lot of the other underlying themes that are present in the tape. At the same time I can’t be preoccupied with those things to the point that I start to lose myself again.
Even the subject of “Soccer Mom,” it’s about a brawl that happened at my graduation party, which is of course the last thing that you want to happen when you’re celebrating that accomplishment- but at the same time I’m not ashamed of it. It brought my friends closer together and it reaffirmed that things will happen in life whenever they want to… don’t you ever think that they won’t.
I’ve had things in my life happen where I’m like, “I’m going to take this to the grave,” but I realized that gives those things too much power. There are sides of myself that I’ve never shown, things that I’ve never told, things that I thought I had to keep in, but I now know that they are definitive and I need to share them.
B: If you were to imagine what it would be like for someone to listen to your music or see one of your shows, what do you hope that experience would be like?
TJ: Movement is a huge word for me, anything that has to do with not being too still. There is beauty in stillness, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not what I’m looking for when I’m presenting myself.
Like I said, I don’t care if people hate it. Of course I love the people that love it, but I just want you to feel something. I don’t want people to finish one of my songs or to walk away from my performances and feel nothing. And I want it to be intense, I don’t want it to be about people second-guessing how they possibly feel about it, I’m looking for that raw reaction. I have a friend, Sienna Liggins, and one thing she said to me when she first saw my music video, before she’d ever met me she was like, “I don’t know what the hell I was looking at, but I couldn’t stop watching it. I can’t say that I understood it all, but I didn’t care.” And I’m like, ‘I’m okay with that.’ I like when people that don’t usually listen to this type of music enjoy the experience, that’s one of my favorite compliments. The motion can be in any direction, I just don’t want people to be still.
B: Is there anything you’d like the people to know or anything we should look out for?
TJ: We have a lot of fun things happening around the project, so I’m excited to share even more elements of that. As far as things that I want people to know: I struggled so much with, I prided myself in not disappointing anyone more than making anyone proud, and at some point you have to say f*ck both of those. That’s just not the move, I want people to know that they can do both.
“You can be a health guru and a rapper, you can do whatever the f*ck you want to do.”
And you could express it, or you could keep it to yourself, you can do whatever you want… I think we say that and it’s cute to say, we tell children that ‘they can be whatever they want to be, just so long as it fits into the box of what we think it should be.’ We need to start screaming that there are so many ways to live, so many ways to make a living, so just do it. Start today; I’m not saying quit your job today, but start going towards where you want to be, start the process.
If you were to be struck down today, would you be happy with what’s going on? And if not, Tiny Jag wants you to know we’re changing that today.