Artists of DV: Jonan Harris-Beck


Miguel Dickinson

Dougherty junior Jonan Harris-Beck hopes to inspire others through his unconventional approach to hip-hop.

“If it wasn’t for music, I probably wouldn’t even be here today.”

To Jonan Harris-Beck, better known as JonanTheBarzbarian on the online audio-sharing platform SoundCloud, music is everything. In the eyes of many his music may sound like mainstream bubblegum rap. In reality, the high school junior’s songs reflect personal experiences and social themes much different from, and mature than, the standard.

Many of his ideas come from the personal conflicts he faced in his childhood. Growing up in Fremont, he didn’t have many friends in elementary school, and he wasn’t “really good at a lot of stuff, either.” As a result, at a young age, he turned to music i to express his frustration.

Before coming to San Ramon, Jonan was frequently harassed by his classmates.

In the second stanza of “My Vision,” he reveals: “Third grade was horrible / they had me terrified. / Fifth grade was even worse / they had me mortified.”

On his down time, he would write down his feelings and make them rhyme. Throughout middle school, as his lyrics gained structure and precision, he became increasingly more adept at dealing with his emotions through music.

Even in his recent songs, he still inserts lyrics about his experiences of being bullied in elementary school. Now, however, the purpose of these verses has changed. No longer needing music as an outlet for his own anger, he now talks about bullying in his songs so that other people can feel loved through listening to his words.

“To teach people how to really change, I think the best way to do that — the way I’ve been trying to do it — is to talk about my personal experience with bullying,” he explained. “For me, it’s all about spreading a positive message … I want to create music that can not only just help how I feel, but also how everyone else feels in the world.”

Moreover, as Dougherty’s rally emcee, he recognizes that today’s society, especially high school, can be a difficult environment for encouraging themes like his to spread.

“On an everyday basis, everyone’s fine with bullying one another, but once something bad happens, then everyone, all of a sudden, is ashamed and wants to blame somebody else or school administration,” he said.

For all his dedication to supporting others in their hard times, he still receives hate for not staying mainstream with popular hip-hop culture. Apart from the fact that none of his songs are explicit — “the dictionary’s big enough to create music without saying bad words over and over and over,” he also refuses to promote things like drugs, promiscuity and materialism.

Personal experience played a significant role in teaching him this lesson. In his sophomore year, he recalls that he started to get into the wrong group of friends, trying to fit in and rap about things that he wrongly considered “cool.” When his mother took away his recording equipment, he began to reflect upon his identity and think about the type of person he truly wanted to be.

“As time went on, I realized that’s not who I am,” he said. “I didn’t feel right releasing that type of music, and towards junior year, I started deleting music I didn’t think was delivering a positive message. I really changed my whole image of myself, and I realized that music was the reason why I was here.”

Among Jonan’s bigger inspirations are the themes of popular artist Logic, in particular those covered in his recent suicide anthem “1-800-273-8255.” He admires the way in which the message was so effectively delivered and how it so powerfully affected an entire population of listeners. Hip-hop artists Lecrae and Childish Gambino have also played an influential role in his life, especially “if you really listen” closely to their music.

While many of his songs carry profound messages in them, some of his songs are also just “hype” and purely for excitement. He believes that like in all things, in music, there must be moderation between being serious and having fun.

This attitude hearkens back to when he was younger and not as experienced with putting his emotions into his music, so his songs were more lighthearted and childish. In fact, his musical career started with his elementary school best friend Steven (now BigTreeSteve on SoundCloud). They formed a band and performed a song about dancing robots at a talent show, which earned them a standing ovation despite Jonan thinking “it was the most trash song of all time.” If it wasn’t for Steven, Jonan believes, he wouldn’t be where he is at today.

In the meantime, he kept a notebook with him. During class, he would write down feelings that would eventually turn into bits and pieces of songs. In freshman year, he was introduced to the application GarageBand, and began using  it with the microphone embedded in his Apple earphones to create projects. His first real piece of recording equipment was gifted to him that Christmas by his mother, who believed in his musical aspirations after seeing the role it had played throughout elementary and middle school.

“That’s really when I started getting better,” he reflected.

Without his friends and family, he believes he would not have improved so much. And the support from his growing fan base has continued to inspire him. He remembers a time he received a direct message on Instagram from a stranger, talking about how he had inspired him to start making music.

“I think what’s very important when you’re trying to do something that you love is [providing] support, because if you try to do things on your own, it’s going to be very, very hard,” he said.

Despite all the praise that he has received, Jonan still believes that there are still many places in which he can improve. A perfectionist, he often revisits his songs, noticing areas in which the delivery of a verse could have been clearer. If the track is unsatisfactory, he might cut out and redo significant portions of it or delete it entirely.

In the long term, Jonan recognizes that rapping is a difficult and very selective industry, especially for people like him, “doing it the way that I’m doing it: clean.” In college, he hopes to pursue a degree in performing arts, as rapping is not as viable an academic path. Nevertheless, he hopes that he will one day be given the opportunity to spread his message beyond Dougherty and across the world.

Jonan will be releasing his next album “Press Play” on his birthday, Apr. 2, and check out Jonan’s SoundCloud account, JonanTheBarzbarian, here.