August is officially National Black Business Month and PAPER is showing love to some of our favorite Black-owned businesses throughout the entire month. Our dedicated series, Booked x Busy, is all about shining a light on the entrepreneurs and brands that embody Black excellence.
Meet Johnel Jamison, and you'll realize he's like the little glimpse of light that makes gold really shine. The former emcee turned jewelry designer's spirit illuminates through his one-of-a-kind wearable pieces of art with his line, Johnny Nelson Jewelry.
From Jay-Z and Nipsey Hussle to RuPaul and Venus Xtravaganza, Johnny Nelson Jewelry's famed custom sculpture portrait pieces honor hip-hop icons and LGBTQ+ legends. Created by hand, the brand is a testament to Jamison's unique manual dexterity, fashion sense and artistic skills but most importantly, his stunning ode to Black glory. With dedications to iconic figures, Black heritage and social justice, Johnny Nelson Jewelry is a royal reflection of greats like Nina Simone and Rihanna.
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With love from celebrities like Lil Nas X and Colin Kaepernick to Lena Waithe and Beyoncé, Jamison's status has skyrocketed even further thanks to collaborations with Pyer Moss Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond. Johnny Nelson Jewelry has also made multiple appearances at fashion shows and red carpets, including the 2019 Met Gala.
PAPER kicked it with Jamison to chat about how he went from spittin' bars to creating magic with bars of gold, what it takes to maintain your worth in the industry and how Johnny Nelson Jewelry is a love letter to Black culture.
You use your brand as a throne to the Black community, often dedicating pieces to iconic figures. How does Black culture influence the work that you do?
Black culture is iconic and I make pieces to honor that.
The process of jewelry and accessory-making is a very hands-on process. What's it like to use your hands to literally build a Black-owned business from scratch?
It's rewarding. As I'm using my talents to build my legacy, I'm also continuing and honoring the legacy of others while feeding fuel to the legends in the making.
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Speaking of legacy, your mother has been a huge reason that Johnny Nelson Jewelry exists because she taught you how to make jewelry. What other Black women inspire you to be great?
Yes! Shout out to MUMZY XOXO. The Black woman I see in my neighborhood daily. How Black women rock jewelry and their style inspire me. I grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, so I'm really inspired by dancehall.
Other Black women also inspire me, like my homegirls Poochie and BIM BIM. Also, Lavonda Manning, the archivist at Sean Kelly Gallery — she stays polished. My friend April Walker of the iconic Walker Wear is a streetwear legend. Her legacy alone inspires me to be great.
Women who are masters of their craft are also a constant inspiration to me, including acclaimed Costume Director Marci Rodgers (BLACKKKLANSMAN, She's Gotta Have It, Wu Tang Clan: An American Saga), Aziza Nicole of Aziza Handcrafted, Designer Lorraine West and identical twin designers, Soull and Dynasty, who're the founders of L'Enchanteur are inspirational — and fly — as fuck, too.
And, of course, my Ancestors. ASè.
What's your creative process like? What inspires your next vision or piece?
My process involves curiosity and experimentation. When I have an idea for a piece, I usually research it to see if it has been created before. I envision how the piece would look in metal, how it can be worn and how I can incorporate intricate detail and functionality into it.
That's a smart move. So, tell me, you were born in the UK but raised in Brooklyn. How have either influenced your craft?
I come from a Black diasporic family. My mum is Black, West Indian British, my pops is Black American with parents from the South who migrated to Brooklyn. I grew up surrounded by a diverse range of Black accents, music, dances and food. All of it influences the work I make because I want to honor it.
What does it mean to be a Black-owned business, especially when the Black Lives Matter movement is getting so much attention?
Simply put, the core of my brand is to honor Black lives.
Word. Kerby is definitely the bro and I've learned from both our collaborations and conversations. But I can't give you all the sauce though!
Collaboration has always been the key to my success. It enabled me to travel the world when I was a rapper. Collaboration in my accessory design has aided in my work being viewed on a grand scale and to a global audience. The passion, creativity and drive of my friends, and us creating together pushes us all to create our most impactful work to date. I always feel like the goal is to be better than you were yesterday.
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There aren't many Black jewelry designers out there. How is Johnny Nelson leading the way in creating a space for more creatives and designers like yourself?
By sharing my knowledge and resources as much as possible.
So many celebrities have adorned Johnny Nelson Jewelry. Who would you love to see rocking a piece or two of yours next?
You're pretty down-to-earth with a positive outlook on life. How do you maintain balance while still running a business as a solopreneur?
Exercise, meditation, yoga and I ride my bike every day to the Diamond District. That gives me time to sit with myself in thought and reflect.
As an avid hip-hop head, who are you currently listening to?
Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt — when I go on long runs, it's like my meditation music. Also, on my playlist is Lil Baby, NBA YoungBoy, Kevin Gates, YBN Cordae, Mally Coop, Black Thought, Nikolas AK Nikosa Don and Tierra Whack, of course.
What lessons have you taken from your time as a rapper and have applied towards creating a successful jewelry brand?
Working on my craft. Collaborating. Being confident in my creations and not being afraid to put stuff out.
Where do you see Johnny Nelson Jewelry in the next 5 years?
Still being innovative and creative.
What essential business advice would you give to someone looking to get into jewelry or fashion?
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Find a mentor or somebody that really knows the tricks of the trade to shadow. The jewelry business is very expensive. There are a lot of ways you can save money, if you know the game.
Photography: Dani B
Fill in the blank: My Black is...
My Black is KING.
Thanks to you, the world's a little more fly. What's next for Johnny Nelson Jewelry?
I've recently started 3D scanning a lot of my bigger hand sculpted pieces, so I can resize and rework. There will also be a lot of remixing taking place, a lot of new STYLEZ to reach a wider audience. Also, since I have the last word... arrest the cops that murdered Breonna Taylor!
Photo courtesy of Caleb Clark