by Jordan Green
Raintree, Turnkey and Juanita Hills,
Back in the day we used to play ball at Springfield
Train of thought, meditate, never ever hesitate
Skinny, but in the ring I throw fists like a heavyweight
The video for “Welcome to High Point” by rapper Jadon Success went up on YouTube in January 2013, but it was a year before it really started to take off. A quick name-check of Central High School within a hometown travelogue of neighborhoods, public housing projects and other local landmarks seemed to do the trick.
More than two years later the video is approaching 21,000 views. As a measure of the song’s popularity, Jadon accepted an invitation to Central, and was greeted with a rousing cheer at a school football game followed by a thunderous rendition of the hook by the students: “Welcome to High Point/ I love my city.”
The 33-year-old rapper, who was born Johnny Rouse, doesn’t forget his roots.
“What up, Murder Street? What up Commerce?” are the opening lines of “Welcome to High Point.”
The house where Jadon Success grew up and where his mother, Martha Zeb, lives today is at the intersection of Meredith and Commerce.
“I love this,” he says, gesturing towards the hulking International Home Furnishings Center, which houses High Point Theatre. The grandeur and wealth of the largest home furnishings showroom in the city feels both distant and at the same time somehow intimately close and tangible.
“I feel like it’s the best view in the city,” Jadon continues. “It’s always been my dream to do a concert at High Point Theatre.”
He turns and gestures towards the more immediate surroundings of his neighborhood.
“This is where it all started,” he says. “This is the bus stop. Luckily, it was in front of my house, so all the kids came to me. I used to rap on the corner. We didn’t have anything, so you have to make your own motivation.”
His first exposure to hip hop came from watching Salt-N-Pepa and LL Cool J on TV with his older sister, and at the age of 10 he started recording on VHS tapes. He and his neighbor, Steve Gray, were into Kris Kross and Another Bad Creation. Tupac Shakur and Nas, whom Jadon reveres to this day, were later influences.
The bed takes up half the space of the tiny, wood-paneled room in the house where he grew up. Here’s where he started writing lyrics when he should have been doing his homework. There’s a picture of him as an adolescent with a fade haircut on the bedside table and a poster on the wall of his first album, Voice of the Ghetto, a 2005 release that was recorded and produced in southern California. His nephew stays in the room now.
“Welcome to High Point Part 2” was posted on YouTube last October and Jadon is working on a third installment. Lyrically and cinematically, the videos celebrate ghetto communities with concentrated poverty — predominantly African American but with a growing number of Latinos and Southeast Asians. The videos promote a sense of pride by representing the community alongside the city’s two prominent institutions: the iconic furniture showrooms and the opulent High Point University.
Projecting a positive voice from the ghetto can be a tricky proposition. Jadon is candid about the ills that plague the community — poverty, drugs and violence, among them — but he disdains rap music that capitulates to a self-destructive mindset.
“It’s kind of tough because the ghetto community would rather I broadcast the negative: Bang, bang, shoot ’em up,” Jadon says. “They’re into being real. When they’re talking about flashing guns, they’re not thinking about raising kids.”
His girlfriend, who modestly demurs my request to identify herself for print, is driving us around High Point in a 2013 Chevy Impala on a sunny and unseasonably cool recent Saturday. There are a lot of things about High Point that need to change, Jadon says, and the first example he offers is the boarded-up houses that blight virtually every block of the Meredith Street area. We’re looking at one right across the street from his mother’s house. The phrase “hard body” is inscribed in red spray paint across a panel of plywood covering the living room window.
“It’s hard out here for black brothers,” Jadon offers by way of interpretation.
We round the corner from Meredith to Green Street and pull into the parking lot of a small grocery.
“I used to come here to get my hair cut at the barber shop,” Jadon says. “This is where I used to do rap battles. It’s major when it came to my writings. It’s where I saw a lot of poverty and drug dealing going on.”
Jadon spent a lot of time at Carson Stout Homes, a nearby public housing community, playing basketball and hanging with friends. He recalls it as one of the most dangerous parts of the city, plagued with violence, drugs and not too infrequent drama. A lot of his old friends have scattered to other parts of the city, possibly for the better.
The railroad tracks just north of Kivett Drive was a dividing line, across which Jadon and his friends had to venture by necessity to attend Welborn Middle School and Andrews High School. North of the tracks they encountered kids from the Daniel Brooks and JC Morgan public housing communities, as well as the Five Points neighborhood.
“We had our own little crew called MSP — Meredith Street Posse,” Jadon recalls. “Coming up you had to affiliate because it was rough. On the school bus you would run into people who would try to start something with you out of ignorance. We came over to this side because we had to go to school.”
After cruising through Five Points, we double back past Washington Terrace Park and head over to Centennial Street, where Jadon’s father, also named Johnny Rouse, is washing cars in a parking lot next to the grocery store. He used to drive a truck for the city of High Point, which gave him the opportunity to check up on his son. Now he works part time for UPS and washes cars for extra money on Saturdays.
The elder Rouse holds a positive outlook about the city.
“The good thing about this section is High Point University is growing so rapidly,” he says. “They’re coming this way. High Point is behind the other cities around here. They’ve been working on all the different sections of High Point. When it comes together, it’s going to be a good thing.”
The son shares his father’s favorable opinion of the university as well as his general outlook.
“He was the main one that told me you need to make something positive that everyone can relate to,” Jadon says.
We drive over to Juanita Hills, a public housing community on the west side of town that is oriented towards Thomasville. It’s not a place where Jadon spent a significant amount of time growing up, although he tells me had at least one or two friends in every area. But like Carson Stout, Daniel Brooks and JC Morgan, Juanita Hills gets equal representation in “Welcome to High Point,” a rap video that promotes High Point pride and unity over neighborhood loyalties.
We see three boys on bicycles.
“Some people feel down being where they’re from,” Jadon says. “People feel stressed. Their mom doesn’t have money to buy them new shoes. I was just like these kids — nothing to do but ride bikes.”
July Fourth we light fireworks, watch ’em elevate
Over eight thousand people at Oak Hollow Lake
High Point, High Point, where everybody gettin’ paper
Home of the American Idol Fantasia
Guilford County, right next to the ’boro
We the biggest furniture capital in the world