Few 21-year-olds are as enterprising as Elijah Kilborn.
The Spokane rapper, better known by his stage name Jango, is sitting in a booth at Chicken-N-More on a sleepy Friday afternoon. He's wearing a baseball cap and T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of regional apparel company the Great PNW, which sponsors him as an artist. He talks often about his team of producers and publicists working to get his name out. Immediately after our interview, he hops onto Snapchat to record a message to his fan base, which he refers to as the Tribe.
And just outside the restaurant, Jango's face is plastered on a billboard that looms over Washington Street, advertising his upcoming performance at the Bartlett.
Not many local artists have their own billboard, but Jango's trying to stay humble about it.
"I'm not easily impressed," he says. "I've seen it, it's great, but someone's done it before. Not to knock down anything I've done, but I'm always thinking about the next step. That's great, but what's next?"
A self-described "military brat," Jango is originally from Connecticut, though he's lived in Spokane since he was in sixth grade and considers this his hometown. As a kid, he remembers always having to share a bedroom with his younger brother, who wanted to be a rapper, and they'd freestyle together for fun. He cites genre-bending artists like the Fugees, the Roots and J. Cole as influences.
Jango says he started taking hip-hop seriously just a few years ago, and now he's working full-time as an independent musician. He's already got a certain amount of promotional firepower behind him, but branding isn't the most important thing: His goal, he says, is to radiate positivity, and to communicate thoughtful messages to his young fans, particularly in regards to mental health advocacy.
"We're pushing messages to the youth, we're pushing messages to our city, our region, and that's what my goals are," he says. "Everything I do, I always look at it as being not just for me."
Jango's most recent record, a seven-track mixtape called Alone by Choice, was engineered at local studio Amplified Wax and released in March. It's obviously a deeply personal record for Jango; even its title has a surprising amount of significance.
"We're in a social world now, and people get caught up in wanting to be that person that everyone's looking at. ... In being alone, you can find happiness," Jango says. "I want people to see me and realize that yeah, I can be happy alone. I can do this on my own. I don't need other people to support my emotions."
The songs on Alone by Choice were inspired by a friend's suicide last year, which Jango says hit him particularly hard because he'd never had anyone close to him die. On the album's inner sleeve, he addresses his late friend Cam: "I promise to live my life and accomplish my goals not just for me, but for you."
"His choice of suicide came from the fact that he felt alone," Jango says. "He couldn't handle that, he couldn't talk about it. He wasn't able to communicate his feelings, but I also realize that he kept reaching out. I believe in him watching over me and seeing what I'm doing, so Alone by Choice was directed at him, and to all my fans, to let them know that you can be alone and make these decisions."
Despite the tragic circumstances that led to the album, it's an energetic sprint of an EP; even its darkest tracks are shot through with the exuberance of a young artist finding his confidence behind the mic.
"Thank God I'm alive," Jango raps on Alone by Choice's opening track, "So alone / I survive." He later observes on "Choices" that "everybody gotta die" but "not too many live." And on the closing track "Words (Outro)," he shouts out to his inspiration for the record: "Just know your memories are safe with me."
Jango says he already has another mixtape in the works, and it'll likely be more upbeat and sample-driven than its predecessor. And he's going to continue playing regionally — he performed at the Tinnabulation Music Festival last weekend, and he's got a Sept. 30 gig booked in Seattle — with a focus on performing alongside other Pacific Northwest rappers as a means of pushing Spokane's still-developing hip-hop scene toward something special.
"Now that I've introduced myself, with this next project I'm going to be showing people the music I like, my style, putting all my history and everything into it," Jango says. "I feel all the weights being lifted off my shoulders." ♦
Romaro Franceswa with Jango, Mic Capes, ExZac Change & Matisse • Fri, Sept. 15 at 8 pm • $12/$15 day of • All-ages • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • thebartlettspokane.com • 747-2174