A few years ago, Jay Loud came to Washington with a one-way bus ticket and the desire to make a new life for himself. After a stint at a Tacoma young-adult shelter and a chance encounter in a McDonald’s parking lot, the Indianapolis transplant is preparing to leave with an eclectic body of music that turned a prominent hip-hop power player into a believer.

The rising hip-hop/R&B artist has signed a major-label record deal with Asylum Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records under the Warner Music Group umbrella. The deal coincides with the beginning of a new chapter for the label as renowned A&R executive Dallas Martin was named Asylum’s new co-president and Atlantic’s vice president of A&R (artists and repertoire) last week. Jay Loud is his first official signing for Asylum. Once that first label check clears, Loud plans to pack his bags again to begin the next phase of his career in Los Angeles to be closer to the industry.

“It feels unreal,” Loud said last week. “It’s one of those situations where you’re woke about it, but it feels like a dream.”

The versatile rapper/singer first caught the ear of an Asylum A&R rep with two of his latest singles, including the crisply hooky “Dior Socks” with Seattle’s Jay Park. Loud’s name eventually trickled up to Martin, who’s helped sign or develop some of hip-hop’s biggest stars (Nipsey Hussle, Roddy Ricch, Meek Mill). Twenty seconds into the first clip he saw on Loud’s Instagram, Martin knew he wanted to meet him. Learning an industry friend was part of Loud’s management team further piqued Martin’s interest.

“The first time in the studio with the kid, he played me so many bangers, I was just so impressed,” he said.

Martin continued: “The music sounded like he’s experienced a lot of things in life. Lyrically, he was saying things I felt would touch a lot of people from a younger age space to an older age space. And just his tone and how he sounds on the music — how his voice cuts through — it was really good.”


(Note: This song contains explicit lyrics.)

While staying at the Beacon Center, a Tacoma shelter for young adults experiencing homelessness, Loud’s music prospects picked up after a friend of Taj King, now Loud’s manager, heard Loud working on a song while waiting for a job interview at a nearby McDonald’s. “Shoot, I was lost,” Loud said in 2019 of his move to Washington from a rough part of Indianapolis. “I came out here because I really didn’t have no choice. It was either keep on living the lifestyle that I was living back home or I was going to have to take a chance.”

Loud spent much of his debut album, “Nap Town,” trying on different sonic hats, proving himself a dual threat rapper and singer capable of gritty street anthems, after-dark R&B cuts and everything in between. Over subsequent releases, Loud’s merged his rapping and singing into a more cohesive blend, a style and skill set increasingly valued in modern hip-hop’s post-Drake era.

The newly inked deal with Asylum, an imprint focused on emerging artists since a 2017 relaunch, puts Loud (born James Jackson) on a roster currently led by buzzy Detroit rapper Sada Baby and Seddy Hendrinx. In making Loud his first signing, Martin seems to think he’s found a nice piece to the label’s next chapter.

“I feel like he’s going to be a career artist … so I think this will be a good artist to start a company with,” Martin said. “He’s like a franchise player to a major league team, you know what I’m saying? He’s a good cornerstone to what I feel like should be valued in music, which is substance and longevity and hard work.”

As for Loud, who turns 21 on Wednesday, he’s ready to continue to honing his music with a few more resources at his disposal. His first release with Asylum, a six-song mixtape, will be jointly released with Taj King Ent and Artclub International next month.

“I just wanted to be different,” he said of “Nap Town’s” varied palette. “So now, it’s just all about finding my sound versus just me being different and versatile.”