“Politics as usual” usually means nothing goes as it should in politics. But where many people shrug it off, believing their opposition won’t matter or simply because they don’t care, Jasiri X takes nothing lying down. We spoke to the rapper a while back on a variety of topics, ranging from #OWS to the state of (corporate) rap and emcees who somehow assume they’re entitled to your support. Outspoken, well-informed and able to be so on a banging’ tune, Jasiri X is just the type of emcee you should be paying attention too when the times are a-changin’.
You’re a very topical emcee that’s often even described as an activist emcee. Have you always been this invested in social and political causes?
Absolutely. I kinda grew up in a household that was always about consciousness and being active in the community so when I got in to hip-hop it was just natural for me. I even stopped rapping at a point and was a full time activist, because I kinda believed the hype that you couldn’t be successful in hip-hop and talk about what was going on in the community, different topics and issues and such. What’s dope to me is that I’m able to utilize hip-hop to continue my activism and do both things that I love at the same time.
Do you feel obligated to speak on the ills of society or does it just come naturally?
Both. All of us should be concerned with what goes on in our community and society in general. Sometimes we have this philosophy where if it doesn’t affect your household specifically [it doesn’t matter] but often times what’s gonna happen is eventually it’s gonna come around to you and your society, your household. It feels better to speak on it and deal with it before you become a victim. All of us should be invested in using our skills and talents in some way that uplifts all people not just “I’ma put some money in my pocket and the heck with everybody else.”
So it’d be safe to say you believe in the idiom that as long as one of us is in chains none of us are free?
Exactly, Dr. King said “an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere” so I kinda have that philosophy and feel thankful to live in a time where people are becoming more active, out of necessity, and looking for music that speaks on what’s happening in the world.
Do you primarily want to inform or entertain?
I think KRS-One came up with the term “edutainment.” I’ve heard artists say you should support them because they’re conscious and i don’t agree. Ultimately, if the music isn’t good it doesn’t matter. I have to start with a good beat, is it gonna bob your head? And lyrically, it has to be creative how I approach the situation. It has to be both in order to be successful.
So could you still get down with a joint doesn’t have a lot to say, like a party joint?
Yeah, I did a song with Ras Kass, Planet Asia and Torae that was basically just lyrical. I’m on a label out of Vancouver, Canada called Wandering Worx and they’re putting out my album ‘Ascension’ which isn’t really a political album. It’s more about personal stuff, some stuff that can hit in a club. I wanted to show that as an artist I can do different forms of music but at the same time be able to continue to drop topical songs with a message. So it’ll be interesting to see how people feel about the album and whether they’ll embrace it or not, it remains to be seen.
How did a rapper from Pittsburgh wind up on a Canadian label?
That’s the beauty of the internet! Another emcee I worked with, NYOil, introduced me to a producer he worked with called Rel!g!on. We collaborated and he sent me a couple more beats and eventually he said “man, we should do a whole album.” He’s from Vancouver so that’s where Wandering Worx became involved and they wanted to put this album out.
My concern was mostly that I wanted to be able to write whatever I wanted to write about and wouldn’t be censored. That’s why I was weary about signing to a major label. When I put out ‘Free the Jena 6’ and it was played all over the countryI was actually approaced by a major labels but my concern was that I really wasn’t able to say what I wanted to say without censorship.
You do have some strong opinions, have you met a lot of resistance in expressing them?
Not a lot, but I had a situation at the university of Connecticut where they didn’t want me to perform ‘Occupy (We The 99)’ because they felt it was too political even though it was a political rally. I decided to perform the song anyway, it was bigger to me than a paycheck from the university, I felt they were infringing on my rights as an artist. Once I get the microphone in my hand… You can shut it off but I’ll say what I want to say! Sometimes people see you as a hip-hop artist and only consider that from the perspective of the mainstream. They think you’ll start popping bottles and disrespecting women and I don’t do that type of music, so some times you get [dissapointment] from both sides.
[...] I did a song a year ago called “Silent Night” about all these problems in the world and how I didn’t really see anyone in the hip-hop community addressing them. On one hand, it benefits me because I’m the one that does talk about it but on the other hand it’s dissapointing that there aren’t more rappers talking about what’s really happening in their community and going on around the world.
That seems like a relatively new problem in rap though. Back in the day you had acts like Public Enemy and Ice Cube who were very militant, but even acts like those in the Native Tongues movement were expressing distinct philosophies and cultural insights. How and why do you think did that stop being a part of the mainstream?
I can only assume that it’s deliberate. That’s the first thing people say; “Oh well, conscious hip-hop doesn’t sell,” which is just entirely false. The Fugees where a conscious group and they sold 11 million albums. Recenty, Lupe had the number one album in the country. Conscious hip-hop always sold but to me [it seems], especially here in the media in the United Sates, there’s a deliberate attempt to dumb people down. To have people focussed on materialism instead of the things that can actually improve their lives. Hip-hop is now corporate controlled and these corporations, they don’t even really sell records anymore, they want to sell you Gatorade, they want to sell you Nikes, they want to sell you McDonalds or iPhones or iPads. That’s why you don’t see more conscious artists being pushed on a mainstream level. They’re not interested an artist that sells idea, they sell clothes or shoes or alchohol, that sort of thing.
So there’s no reason to look for Illuminati-type conspiracies, it’s simply a case of corporate synergy.
(Laughs) Absolutely! I had a conversation about that yesterday, I don’t see it as an Illuminati conspiracy, it really comes down to cold, hard cash. The difference between the ‘90s and right now is that almost every big hip-hop label is on Universal, it comes through Universal Records. It used to be all these independent labels that had the same amount of access, now you have these big corporations that buy up all these independent labels and almost everything you see comes from Universal, Atlantic or Warner brothers. Three labels control everything. Everything sounds the same and so few artists are willing to take chances because there’s so few spots that they’re willing to give out.
With your song about Troy Davis, it felt like you weren’t just giving your opinion but had actually put a lot of research into it, you touched on very specific points of the case.
That’s really what I did, I wanted to tell a story but it’s a factual story. So befor I wrote the song I did research. I was in Oakland and wrote it on the plane-ride from the west coast to the east coast and pulled all the different sites up that had research on the case and made sure that I had the facts straight before I wrote it. When telling a story I want it to be as factual as possible but also put the emotion in it.
With such a torrent of information readily available, how do you decide which source of information is trustworthy and which isn’t?
You gotta cross-reference. I would start off by saying Fox News is not reliable (laughs). We know that for a fact! But what I try to do is go to different sources. Sometimes somebody sends you link to a blog or something and it might not be entirely true. When I went and researched ‘Troy Davis’ or ‘Occupy’ I went to different, various sources and read and studied them. And then I was I able to go there, and formed my own opinion based on my own personal research that I did by going. That was what was cool about going to Arizona and Alabama. I’d read about it but then I went there and actually talked to people who were really affected by these harsh immigration laws. So I know I have my own personal research that I can add to what I read online.
You were involved with the Occupy movement that was eventually ‘swiped clean’ and met with quite some excessive force, do you see the movement bouncing back after that?
Absolutely. I think this will make the Occupy movement become even bigger. Any time you have police come in and raid, it only makes the movement bigger. It adds fuel to the fire of the movement. Here are these people, these billionaires, revealing how they really see the 99%, as dirt that needs to be wiped away. The sad part is, people often have the attitude “they should go back to their homes” but they’re not aware that maybe, depending on which Occupy camp you were visiting, maybe between 30 and 40% of the people there were homeless people. That’s what was so inspiring, because these homeless people there were eating three meals a day and not being treated as a homeless person but as an equal member in the decision making process. That’s one of the parts of the Occupy movement people tend to forget. These cities are cutting back on services to the homeless and here was a movement that actually providing food and shelter to the homeless and they want to tear that down? All that’s gonna down is cause more people to get involved. All that’s left now is seeing how it evolves and I think it will evolve into something bigger.
There were a lot of reports about people defecating or peeing in public places but if you’re gonna penalize a basic human bodily function, shouldn’t that same government provide an alternative to do so in a legal way? How is a homeless person gonna take a dump without being a criminal?
That’s the whole thing! They wanted to get port-o-potties, they had the money. But the city banned them. It was a cold thing. People are losing their humanity! When you don’t have a place to live, when you don’t have the ability to make a living, when you can’t get a shower or clean yourself or even be treated like a respectable human being… that’s what they were doing, people were fighting for their humanity.
They’re basically outlawing their existence.
That’s exactly what it is. It’s interesting you say that because I was just in Alabama and they’re passing these harsh immigration laws where it’s a felony, if you’re undocumented, to get water turned on in your house, to get your lease renewed, to get electricity, to send your children to school. Living is a crime now. That’s what’s happening in the United States. It’s something we have to fight back against. When you see hip-hop and it’s all about popping bottles I’m like “do y’all see what’s happening over here?” The majority of hip-hop is representative of the 1%, they don’t speak for the 99% and definitely not for the black community as a whole. We’re suffering out here! We don’t got money!
Even many rappers that aren’t actually wealthy front like they’re loaded.
Exactly. I was in New York listening to Hot97 and it’s sad, ‘cause that used to be one of the best radio stations in the world, and all these songs were about “I got this money, I got this money” and I imagined Wall Street people listening to this and just laughing. What do you have? A few thousand dollars? Even when you have a million they’re laughing! That’s not money to them. It’s sad that we think we have money, and throw it around, not even being conscious of the fact it’s losing value everyday.
It’s incredible to be watching a video with somebody ‘making it reign’ and then flipping the channel to a news item about homes being foreclosed.
Sometimes it’s theirs! We’ve seen these big time rappers go bankrupt, losing their homes, their cars. That’s what happens when you give someone money but don’t give them to opportunity to gain the intelligence on how to use their money.
Occupy gets pigeonholed as a socialist or communist movement but that seems like a very narrow description. Isn’t it more a movement against excessive capitalism than against capitalism itself?
If these banks are really all about capitalism they wouldn’t exist! They failed! They wouldn’t exist anymore. So socialism was okay for you when you could take billions of dollars to once again make record profits but we can’t use any money to save people’s homes, people’s livelihoods, for the majority of the United States of America? It’s not capitalism we’re against, it’s the unequal division of resources that’s happening here, purposely, to keep the 1% wealthy while the 99% lose more every day.
Your upcoming album Ascension, what can we expect from that?
We’re going back in the day, there’s just one producer, Rel!g!on is the only producer. His production style is so different, it’s not like there’s one style you’ll hear on whole the album, his production is very diverse. The album very concept-heavy, it’s intelligent, lyrical, I definitely think it’s entertaining. I’m the type of artist that switches his style up, so you won’t be listening to the same track the whole time.
Check out Jasiri X’s latest full length project #TheWholeWorldIsWatching below or download it for free through Bandcamp.