MANCHESTER — After serving a three-month prison sentence on a plea deal for drug-related charges, JonCarlo Cortese learned from his past and made it a two-pronged business — a business cannabis in Maine and a hip-hop career based in Connecticut.
Better known by his stage moniker, The Real Goonie Jay, Cortese is building a following of his hip-hop work, with tens of thousands of streams of his tracks on Spotify and Apple Music, with three albums available and 10 singles.
Born in Monterey, California, Cortese’s family moved to Connecticut when he was a toddler and he has lived most of his life in Manchester.
It was Manchester, he said, that gave him the life experience and exposure to cultural diversity to inspire him to become a rap artist.
Exposure to different cultures allowed Cortese to develop a fondness for rap music, an art form he embraced early on.
“I realized I couldn’t hold a note well enough to sing, that’s about when I transitioned to rapping,” he said. “When I was nine it was the first time I wrote anything and by the time I was 10 I was imitating just about everything I saw, whether it was on TV or stuff. which I was not allowed to watch on YouTube. .
In 2013 and 2014, while in high school, he had his first public performances at fundraisers.
After high school, he said, he sold cars and on the side had an illegal cannabis business to fund his music career, which led to his arrest.
“I made a few mistakes, I started doing things that I didn’t have a license for. I was cultivating, learning to grow, pretty much everything I thought I could one day put myself in a position where weed was legalized so that I could put myself in a different point of view from everyone else.
Cortese accepted a plea deal that reduced his felony charges to two misdemeanor charges; he served 90 days in prison.
“At the time, it was the worst thing that changed my life, the worst thing I could have done,” he said. “I lived in a single-family house, four bedrooms. I went to work every day at (a car dealership). We had discovered that my girlfriend at the time was two weeks pregnant. Basically, I went from completely stable to (being) kicked out, to sleeping in the car while she was pregnant, things of that nature.
Ironically, what Cortese was accused of is now part of his legitimate business in Maine.
“Currently, I’m a medical caregiver in the state of Maine, so I commute regularly and that’s where pretty much all of my business is,” he said.
“What I really appreciate about the state of Maine is the fact that even with that prior history and prior error, Maine was much more open-minded with me. It was a $2000 license fee They go out and check and make sure and inspect from time to time that everything is fine We have 24 hour monitoring to make sure everything is in order and healthy We do not we can give nothing to the customer or the consumer unless we go through testing.
“In Connecticut, someone like me to get a similar license runs you close to five, six figures with the laws and position going.”
Although he said he had no regrets for what happened in his life, he said: “I don’t think in any way that it was not a mistake in regards to my actions. . It was illegal at the time. You must face the consequences if you break the law. That’s how I see things. Both as an artist and as a person, I would say that in my personal situation, this is probably the best bad thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life.
Upon his release from prison, Cortese said, it was difficult to get back on his feet. Her daughter was born 4.5 months later.
As he grew his cannabis business and hip-hop career, he and his girlfriend decided to end their relationship. He said he could spend about five days a week with his daughter.
“My daughter is my first priority above all else,” he said.
He said he went into a deep depression upon his release from prison.
“I wasn’t sure if I had hit rock bottom or not, both because of past mistakes and the fact that I was unsure day to day whether or not I was going to be able to have my child.” , did he declare. “Fortunately, I managed to get out of it. Poverty is a hard thing to live with, when you don’t know if you’re going to eat or feed your children tonight.
These life experiences influenced Cortese and his music.
His style is “I would say gritty” and depends on the moment.
He said his biggest influences are Lil Wayne and Juelz Santana.
“I actually met (Santana) a few months ago,” he said. “I opened it to him in Waterbury. It completely changed my perspective, thinking that this stuff can happen.
He said his influences also extend to other genres, including country. “I try to be a bit versatile when it comes to my catalog, just so as not to put myself in a box.”
In the more than two years since he was released from prison, Cortese has been busy in the studio recording songs and over 600 tracks.
“It’s all about emotion,” said Chase Briley, one of Cortese’s producers. “We’re like, ‘Give us an emotion and give us a word, give us a color.’ Then he leaves. Whatever he’s feeling right now, we’re just trying to translate it into the music. It’s gritty. It’s raw. It’s lyrical. It’s authentic.
Although his other activity is cannabis, his music is not necessarily about his marijuana affiliation.
“A lot of my music isn’t about cannabis and drugs and things of that nature,” he said. “One of my biggest songs is literally called ‘Pretty’ and it’s about finding someone who just makes you happy and is pretty in their own way. It’s one of my favorites to do .
Cortese said it has been difficult to establish herself in the music world, but hopes that as long as it continues, she will bring something positive to her audience and also be able to spend quality time with her daughter.
“I want to continue to inspire and spread my message and my ideas as far as I can get them out there,” he said. “It’s been more helpful to me to have people reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, I never thought you’d be able to do this, or I never thought I could do this. You inspired me to do this. Each one of these stories is really what drives me, whether it’s Connecticut or New York, wherever it is to hear these things. It makes me feel good about what I do.
“My daughter will be three in November,” he said. “I try to spend as much time as possible and watch her develop as much as possible before she does her own thing. That’s my main inspiration for music, to make sure that she is good.
Alex Klimkoski, his roommate and videographer, said: “In two years, seeing how he has progressed from when I first met him or started working with him until today is truly amazing. To see the thing he overcame with his daughter, he sees her almost every day. The perseverance he endured and the efforts he made to achieve his dreams are very admirable to behold and inspiring.