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J Flo brings an entrepreneurial mindset to hiphop — and to the barbershop

Members of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga's team pose at a community event.

“Uncool” is a label not many music artists would try to achieve, especially rap and hip-hop artists, who often try to cultivate a lot of bravado and a flashy persona. However, one local rap artist, Jeremey Lawrence, also known as J.Flo, says being the “uncool kid” is central to his brand and his success. Lawrence wastes no time glamorizing the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but instead focuses on smart marketing, connecting with mentors, and rethinking the current model of making money as a hip-hop artist. And now, he’s taking the business savvy he’s developed over the years to start a unique new venture — a mobile barbershop.

Lawrence is a North Chattanooga native and has been in the music scene since 2006. He started in a UTC dorm room by “accidentally” freestyling over a beat on a dare. His raw talent and lyrical skill shocked everyone in the room, and he was crowned as “J.Flo.” After that validating moment, Lawrence spent the next few years studying music in order to master his craft. In 2009, he released a mixtape, “One Verse, One Hearse,” and a follow-up EP “Accidental Dopeness.”

After his initial projects’ success, Lawrence went through a divorce and took a four-year hiatus from music. When he returned to the scene in 2017, it was with a more business-minded approach. After winning the popular rap contest The Bar Exam at The Camp House, Lawrence used the exposure to network, allowing him to headline other Bar Exam contests in Atlanta and do something highly unusual — host his own events in Chattanooga.

JFlo performing

Hosting a show involves a lot of risks. One major issue in Chattanooga is finding a venue. Then typically, the host pays a venue upfront, and if ticket sales are low, the host takes the hit. There’s also the cost of the merchandise and marketing the event. Most artists aren’t willing or able to take that kind of risk. When Lawrence first started hosting his own shows, he lost some money, but as he’s built his reputation, his shows are paying off. Being the host has also allowed Lawrence to give back to the community by identifying new artists, getting them on a stage, and getting them paid.

That desire to serve the community also led Lawrence to start The Ace of Fades, the first and only mobile barbershop in Chattanooga, which will visit areas where residents don’t have access to a barbershop and give free cuts at the Community Kitchen. Lawrence found an RV and renovated it over the summer, and is now applying the finishing touches. Lawrence plans to open the mobile barbershop later this year, in conjunction with new music and launching the Fade Foundation, a nonprofit that will be powered by the barbershop. The Fade Foundation will help young men without fathers get work experience in the shop, life skills, and a nice suit for formal occasions.

When asked about how he’s been able to do what he’s done in music and what he’s creating for his business, Lawrence stated that, for him, “it’s all about the love” and staying on brand. He stressed that finding your identity and target audience is important as an artist and a business owner.

“You want to see the dart board before you start throwing darts at it,” he said. “You have limited chances in music to impress and secure an audience, so make sure you make the most of each shot.”