.Yonex Jones’ TANKSHOP Empire

Whether he's hawking exotic chips, wearable gear or his own music, Yonex Jones keeps the inventory fresh

A neighborhood kid on a bike rolls by the TANKSHOP in San Jose’s East Side and yells the slogan: “Taaankshiiiit!!!”

He’s smiling and wearing a TANKSHIT shirt. Today, he’s looking for peculiar snacks, some laughs, maybe a soda or a $1 cup of noodles. Inside, he’s warmly welcomed by the familiar, neighborly personnel regularly seen at the store brimming with odd wares and graffiti.

The shop’s owner, Yonex Jones, shows up a few minutes later, throwing money into the air and blasting rap music.

“I found this at the light,” he yells, throwing $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills into the air. For a few fleeting moments, there is over $300 in cash on the ground. 

Jones is a businessman and father of two (his wife, Reliese Harrell, is currently expecting a third child), a visual artist, producer, rapper and sage guide to the wary wanderers who find themselves in his TANKSHIT TANKSHOP at 1530 Alum Rock Ave.

Born and raised in San Jose, the 29-year-old grew up along Alma Avenue on the city’s west side but later relocated to the more storied east side. He came of age during the Bay Area’s hyphy movement, and today is the face of all things “TANKSHIT,” taking the phrase from a hip hop single to a roving snack empire to a storefront business, all in his own particular way.

Around San Jose, Jones has gathered plenty of supporters, friends, family, curious onlookers and even a few enemies—including, Jones claims, some at the local police department.

“Basically if anything happens to anyone in the neighborhood, they use it as an excuse to blame the shop,” Jones says. “They spending a lot of money on me, they spending a lot of tax dollars on Yonex.”

TANK START

Though whoever first uttered the words “Tank Shit” together remains unknown, the TANKSHIT movement started in the early 2010s with 1990s babies.

“It just came about from my high school generation,” Jones says. “It wasn’t even like anybody was trying to own it. We were just trying to push that word in the city.”

The phrase, a reference to the San Jose Sharks, seems to have been born as “a collective movement of the youth,” Jones says. In his estimation, to these young adults, everything they valued, admired or thought was funny or serious about San Jose became TANKSHIT.

“There’s GoogleShit and TANKSHIT,” Jones says. “TANKSHIT is one word, all caps, and we made it like that so it’s not a bad word.”

Even though nobody was necessarily trying to own the word, Jones and fellow San Jose rapper Kelly “Splash Kellz” Kaigler elevated it to a brand. The music video for Splash Kellz’s 2011 single “What’s Gucci (ft. Ray & City Shawn)” opened on the words “#TANKSHIT” and featured both Kellz and Jones in screen-printed “TANKSHIT” shirts, San Jose Sharks hats, gold chains and cash money in hand while a sample of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “N*ggas in Paris” jumped on the beat.

Kellz is Jones’s older cousin. Growing up, they spent time at each other’s homes, began rapping together and exploring the San Jose streets together. It was only natural that the elder Kellz invited his younger, energetic cousin Jones to feature on a track one day.

“That’s where the dream was born,” Kellz says. “It’s definitely Yonex that’s taking it to a whole new level. He just keeps pushing the envelope with it.”

As a lifestyle, TANKSHIT found its roots in the hyphy movement, the Bay Area’s hip-hop underground characterized by bouncing drum beats and playful, confident rappers like Keak Da Sneak, E-40 and Too $hort (plus many more). Though one of the architects of the hyphy sound was from San Jose (Traxamillion), the story of hyphy became increasingly connected with other parts of the Bay, primarily San Francisco, Oakland and Vallejo.

While people in San Francisco can hop on trains and buses to go to Golden Gate Park, Sunset Beach, Dolores Park or mob through the Mission, San Jose’s rowdy public hangouts happen in strip mall and liquor store parking lots, or in suburban greenspaces with playgrounds and shade and little cousins running around celebrating someone’s birthday. Underground punk and rap shows take place after hours in backyards or somewhere near downtown’s sprawling South First Street, and other late-night antics are spread out amid a million people and more than 180 square miles.

“It’s a lot of cholo shit, fosho, lowriders and Mexican culture, fosho,” Jones says. “There’s a huge Mexican culture in general. A cool downtown, music, barbecues and the fun and enjoyment of community. That’s TANKSHIT: participation with your neighbors and the blending of cultures.”

Frustrated with being misrepresented in mainstream Bay Area music and media, Jones took it upon himself to make TANKSHIT his own subcurrent of Bay Area hyphy.

“I could tell whatever he did he was really passionate about it,” Kellz says. “I always knew he was going to be something big—and he’s going to do something bigger than what he is now. Now, it’s to the point where it’s time to show the world that it’s cool to be from San Jose.”

With the brand established, Jones began screaming it on intros for tracks and music videos, printing it on flyers, slapping stickers on any available surface and telling people what really happens in San Jose all the while promoting himself in classic hyphy fashion: selling mixtapes and CDs out of the trunk of his car. 

HIGH & LOW

The high points in the course of Yonex Jones’s TANKSHIT empire have included bringing his kids to Fanimecon, hosting open mic nights on Tuesdays at the TANKSHOP, selling a rare Pokémon card for $100 and acquiring his famed box truck three years ago.

“I can’t disclose how much I paid for it because I got it for stupid cheap,” Jones says.

The 1998 Ford Econoline E350 is basically a giant van. In a few short years, he’s clocked over 150,000 miles on the truck after buying it off a generous friend. In that time its exterior has gone through over a dozen different murals on all sides. For a while, the truck depicted a Simpsons-like cartoon police officer pulling a gun on a Black kid. It’s current iteration shows a caricatured Mr. T lassoing a hooded Klansman on the other side of a TANKSHIT tag.

The artists are all different friends and acquaintances of Jones from San Jose and the rest of the Bay. They all chose to do the art for free. Jones says even if they were to do the same mural on any other truck around the city, it would still be TANKSHIT. Plus, it helps that Jones buys the paint.

But living life so close to the streets comes with its risks.

For example, he was jailed overnight earlier this year following a late-night Cinco De Mayo pop-up event. Jones was on the scene to make a dollar or two, celebrating and selling his wares out the van at the Wienerschnitzel on the corner of Santa Clara and 19th streets.

Jones says the staff at the Wienerschnitzel tipped him off that the police were going to come, so they packed up and headed out southbound onto Monterey Road.

It wasn’t until later that night, sometime after 8:45pm, Jones recounts, that police pulled over his vehicle on Southside Drive, drew guns on him, raided his vehicle, confiscated his weed and threw him in jail for the night.

“All the police ambushed me,” he says. “They pulled me out the truck with guns and started raiding it.”

According to Jones, they booked him for three felonies and a couple misdemeanors for recreational amounts of marijuana, mushrooms and a pair of brass knuckles. He says he was discharged the next day, no bail, just sprung free. 

A spokesperson for the San Jose Police Department offered this account: “At approximately 9:08pm suspect Jones was stopped for various vehicle code violations in the area of Monterey Rd and Southside Dr. He was found in possession of an illegal weapon. … The truck was searched due to probable cause for narcotics related activity and also incident to Jones’s arrest for the weapon. Jones was booked for possession of narcotics for sales and weapons violations.”

Along the way, there have also been other tangles with the law. In an article in Content magazine, Jones said he started rapping when he was sent to juvenile hall following a physical altercation with his stepfather at the time. More recently Jones says he has had a peppering of tickets for parking violations, alleged reckless driving and using the sidewalk in front of the shop for racks of $5 and $10 merchandise.

These encounters shape Jones’s work as a musician, as do the people around him who are confronted with food insecurity, evictions, shootouts and arrests. TANKSHIT is his livelihood, his inspiration, congregation and a means of expressing himself. The young entrepreneur has already survived poverty, gang violence and gratuitous inflation throughout the city’s housing market, among other things.

“We’re neglected over here. A lot of people are neglected and held back,” Jones says. “Growing up all I ever needed was an opportunity. That’s what held me back for so long.”

An accomplished salesman, Jones’s best-known hustle so far has been exotic and imported chips and sodas, as well as hats, shoes, denim, shirts—all sorts of assorted oddities for the creatively inclined person. He still drives the TANKSHIT box truck around almost every day with a mobile supply of all his commodities rattling along to whichever parking lot, tailgating event or weekend park party looks like it might bring in some cash.

Jones says since high school he’s always had something to sell—whether out of his pocket, a backpack, a suitcase or a trunk. More importantly, he’s always been a collector of things like clothes, Nike sneakers, Starter jackets, Supreme shirts, sports apparel and imported denim. The introduction of the truck was a convenient means of storage and mobility for his traveling swag shop.

Jones stocks a number of stores locally with snacks. As the exotic scene started growing, more and more came to him looking for products. Not every store is successful at selling the exotic stuff though, he says. Success comes with a passion for the merch and clientele expecting the product.

“I figured out how to find my own interests and not try to do what I think is cool, what I think is popping, what I think I want to do,” Jones says. “If one person is selling balloons, then everybody starts selling balloons, that’s how you fuck up the market.”

After finding success with the BoxTruck, he opened the TANKSHIT TANKSHOP on Aug. 20, 2021.

In the front, a counter is decorated with action figures, paint cans, assorted toys and curiosities, all for sale. Racks and shelves are stacked with specialized clothing and apparel, some with faces of Macolm X and Tupac. Sometimes he has Supreme or A Bathing Ape stashed in there, but gear sells quickly and is replaced with more.

Sodas and snacks from Korea, Thailand, China, Japan and beyond in bright blue, green, pink packages can be purchased from the counter clerk or a vending machine. Graffiti is stretched far and wide across every corner of the store.

The TANKSHOP is also a place where Jones can record music—or anyone can pay for studio time to record theirs. It’s also a printing shop, where Jones and his crew make business cards, CDs, T-shirts and posters. And it has space for open mics and featured performances, with room for an audience of 50 people or more. He’s already planning the one-year anniversary celebration of the TANKSHOP for the end of the month, with more details dropping soon.

POKÉYON

On his 2015 debut, Speedcity, Yonex Jones raps about getting up early to hustle mixtapes and curios around the South Bay from his trunk, partying with friends, falling in and out of love—and trying to make a million dollars.

Though the album is the work of a young artist, with simple 808 beats and samples running throughout the project, it is an honest statement. As with any self-respecting rapper trying to make his name, other motifs include smoking premium weed, the frustrations of being broke, stressing but trying to stay positive, outpacing haters and the dream of hitting the top of the music charts.

Pokéyon, his 2020 album, digs deeper into his grinding mentality, opening with “9.99, a song that jokes about charging everybody $9.99 for his services, while also making the serious point “If I fall off then my kids have no house.” Throughout the rest of the project, he raps about his business, making thousands of dollars on imported, international flavors of sodas and snacks, police seizing weed and cash from him, and generally being better off financially in 2020 than in years before. The album’s instrumentals are more sophisticated, Jones’ production deeper and his vocals are more mature, with Jones expressing himself more comfortably and emphatically.

Earlier this year, Jones also released a bonus song from Pokéyon called “Noggin Ballin’.” The track also acts as a teaser for his upcoming album, expected to release later this summer. The track is about what’s inside Jones’s noggin: ballin’. He says the song is for his friends who have gotten caught up and jailed, for the people who thought he’d reach the same fate and for those who have believed in his ability to be successful.

Now that he’s reached a point of notoriety on social media, he says he doesn’t plan on slowing his own momentum. There were two turning points for Jones’s motivation and popularity. The first was in 2016, when he got fired from his job and started to spend more time doing music and promoting it with footage from a new iPhone. The second came after people started finding out that he got arrested and released following the Cinco de Mayo festivities.

“Right now, I feel like I’m blowing up,” Jones says. “Lately I’ve been getting crazy ass attention from everybody … like I’m the biggest dog in the whole world, bigger than Clifford right now.” 

BACK IN THE TANK

Jones is certainly a familiar character to local law enforcement. In 2020, when thousands of residents stepped onto the streets to protest police violence after the death of George Floyd, Jones was on the frontline of the protests with his box truck, on the freeway and in the streets.

And he’s still vigorously voicing his opinions about law enforcement in the present. “Let’s bring that George Floyd protest energy back. We’ve got to get more protests going so we’ll be united and never divided,” Jones says. “We need more people trying to stand up.”

Adam “Lil Unda” Araiza, a friend and business partner who helps run the TANKSHOP, also says he’s concerned about the presence of police at the shop.

“They see us as street kids. We stand out to people. But we stand out in a good way,” Unda says. “I just feel like they harass us. They harass us and judge us by the way we look.”

Unda sports his own gear, designed and manufactured at the TANKSHOP, called Undawear, a name he also has tatted on his arm. People who go to the shop often buy his clothes—and Jones’, too. The predominant demographic showing up at the shop are Black and Brown patrons, and a significant portion of the shop’s sales come from EBT vouchers.

Jones says homeless people often charge their phones at the shop, or walk in just to say hello and leave. After an incident last year on the block, when Jones claims police held a man at gunpoint, his concerns for the safety of the neighborhood have grown. He says he is worried police might one day fire shots into his store, only to say they were firing on a suspect they deemed dangerous.

Andrew “GusGus” Gonzales, a friend and photographer of Jones, often captures video footage of open mic nights and afternoon sidewalk passersby, newly dropped merchandise or behind-the-scenes moments. GusGus admires Jones’s openness for the camera.

“Yonex helped me a lot. He pushes a lot of people to do what they love,” GusGus says. “He’s a positive guy. He’s an influence to the city.”

However, he believes police falsely perceive Jones as a negative influence on the community.

“He’s out here for the people,” GusGus adds. “There’s killings, murders, shootings every day, and they just want to mess with someone that’s trying to feed his family.”

As if to punctuate the concerns that Jones frequently raises about police activity near his shop, earlier the same day that Metro’s photographer arrived to shoot images for this story, armor-vested plainclothes San Jose Police Department officers with assault rifles came through the shop’s front doors and cuffed two customers in the store’s tight quarters while barking orders at Jones and his crew to stop recording.

Jones recalled four officers inside the shop and four outside, though he wasn’t sure the exact number that showed up. One man is seen in a video recording Jones posted on his Instagram account repeatedly saying, “Put your camera down.” When the store owner says, “This is my shop” the officer responds, “You‘re harboring a fugitive. Do you want to go to jail too?”

Officers arrived in unmarked police vehicles, Jones says, and left without giving him any warrants or paperwork, save for a red SJPD “incident card” with the date and a phone number to call.

Asked to provide information on the incident, a San Jose Police Department spokesperson responded via email: “Officers were conducting follow up on a shooting investigation that occurred on a previous date. One of the suspects in that shooting had a warrant for his arrest and he was seen entering a business located at 1530 Alum Rock Ave. on the day in question.”

According to the spokesperson, a San Jose man was arrested for a warrant related to the shooting. ​The second was arrested for an outstanding warrant for assault with a deadly weapon, not related to the shooting investigation.

Though he’s accomplished a lot since launching his uniquely San Jose brand, things are different than they were at the beginning of the TANKSHIT movement. Now, he looks over his shoulder a little more often, and keeps people close to him to make sure he makes it home every day.

On some days, Jones will keep irregular hours to avoid police interaction—to  protect not only himself but also those who visit the shop. When he closes, he estimates that he could lose as little as $500 to upwards of thousands of dollars per day in sales.

“I’ve got to prepare for my death ahead of time, or I’ve got to prepare for a time when I disappear and make sure my kids are straight,” Jones says. “It’s a lot. I’m constantly worried, my mom’s constantly worried about me. Everybody loves me graciously. A lot of prayers go out.”

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