As long as Marcus Jones has been playing football, he's also been making music.
The sport helped him acclimate to new schools and friends while his father's career in the Army brought their family around the country, and messing around with his dad's MPC and turntables in his alone time gradually grew into more than a hobby.
But still, a lot of professional athletes use their platform to try out music, and vice versa, rappers and R&B artists love referencing sports in their songs. For professionals in the industry like Keithen Foster and Kirjuan "Free" Freeman, they didn't know what to expect when introduced to the New England Patriots' newest all-phase phenomenon in February.
Soon, they saw this was more than just a side project for Jones, but rather an entirely different persona.
"When Marcus sent me some links to the songs he just wrote, I didn't know what to expect," said Foster, a Boston native, music producer and songwriter for Sony Music Publishing, and notably, the bassist for Oscar, Emmy, and five-time Grammy Award winner H.E.R.
"When I pressed play, I sat back with a grin on my face because it was refreshing to hear this type of talent come from someone like him."
Versatility is a valued virtue in New England. Fresh off his rookie year, Jones showed it, becoming the first player in 45 years to score a touchdown on offense, defense, and special teams in the same season.
The All-Pro punt returner released an eight-song album in the fall of 2021, but now with a much bigger stage, he's ready to introduce his NFL fans to Elliott.J.
"Marcus Jones is a football player," Jones said. "I have a personality there and I take my job seriously, but I also have the other side of me, Elliott.J, and I think I'm pretty good at (music) too. I just want people to understand that you don't have to be put in a box when you get to this professional level. Handle your business, but you can also have fun with something else."
Elliott.J dropped his latest single, "Make It Right," on Friday – the first of three songs he's planning to release before the start of the 2023 NFL season. Next offseason, he'll come out with three more tracks to make up a six-song EP.
The dates are deliberate, because during the football season, practice and preparation are his only priorities.
"I've been blessed to be good with time management, I take pride in that," Jones said. "In the season for me, it's strictly ball. I handle everything there. But I'm out of season, that's when I'm on my grind with the music and connecting with different people and getting my music out there into the public. I grind hard in the offseason so that when the next one comes around I already have stuff to put out."
Though he keeps both parts of his life mostly separate, he similarly finds himself in every facet of both football games and making a song.
"When we first got introduced, we clicked automatically based on the mere fact that we both share the same passion for sports and music," Foster said. "But when I saw him navigating Ableton, selecting different vocal compressions, and showing me why he chose a certain kick drum, I knew he was a student of the craft. It made sense in correlation to how versatile he is on the field, playing all sides of the ball."
Jones says he likes to start with the lyrics, jotting lines down in his phone, and will build the beat around it.
For "Make It Right," he's going for a retro feeling, clearly influenced by Drake and The Weeknd, and he nods to the multi-talented Donald Glover's strategy of rapping under the name Childish Gambino as inspiration.
He's a student of the craft, though – and all of its genres.
"I love Drake, of course," Jones said. "Love The Weeknd, The Sonics, I love Kaytranada's production and how he does things. I love Doja Cat and how she makes her songs. There's a lot of people that I definitely want to get connected with when it comes to music to pick their brains and also make beautiful songs with them as well. I'm always trying to learn."
From the way he manipulates his voice to the drum kits and samples he uses, Jones is thinking about every layer of a song to achieve the vibe he's going for. He's not just showing up to sing on a beat someone already made. Elliott. J is the artist, writer, producer and engineer.
"It has been life-changing for me," Freeman said of Jones' creative process.
"He can go into any room – from an emerging to major recording artist or producer – and can show them something they didn't know. He's truly the embodiment of a 100 percenter, him being somebody who writes, produces and engineers. The world will know he's more than just an athlete. Working with him and developing our music goals and working towards his dream collaborations."
Jones' music goals are clear. He's not really trying to be a touring artist, because again, football comes first.
But he is interested in streaming and playlisting, and dreams of seeing his songs in TV shows, commercials, and movies – especially this single.
"It has that bounce and feel to it where people, even older generations, can listen to it cleaning up the house, getting ready with friends, you can listen to it at a family function," Jones said. "I want people to listen to it and just have a good time."
Jones is open to working with other artists, producers, and writers, and says he talks about his music with teammates like Brenden Schooler, Jack Jones, and of course, Ja'Whaun Bentley, who has a reputation as one of the team's best DJs.
"Some of my teammates definitely know I make music," Jones said. "However, I'm holding back on the heat right now because I have to make sure the rollout and everything like that is good."
Probably as much as anyone else, he's in constant communication with Freeman and Foster, who've recently joined his team.
Together, the two Berklee College of Music Alums run the Covered By Music Foundation, an affiliate non-profit organization that's part of the S.T.A.N.D. Inc. Collective and provides local youth tools and resources to pursue careers in music.
While Foster's focus with Jones is on the music side, Freeman represents him as his music brand manager through the Agency For Creatives. The trio got to work not long after their introduction. First order of business: working on the EP so it's ready for next offseason.
"I wanted to call it Lost in Action because everyone has had a situation where they have a lot of things going on and it's hard to resonate with certain things," Jones says, talking from his experience balancing the NFL, music, and having a family.
"Whenever you listen to this, it will be a whole bunch of different genres, but all put together to make a beautiful story."
For now, the newest song "Make It Right" is streaming on all the major platforms. There's more on the way, on the field and off of it.
"As our relationship evolved it became beyond and deeper than the music," Freeman said of Jones.
"He made me a believer in him. From his character, talent, upbringing it's an honor to represent him on this musical journey. He takes his music very seriously and his work ethic is unmatched. Watching him from ideation to mastering a record, he doesn't cheat the process."