By: Todd Davis
Ten years is a huge milestone, especially in Hip-Hop. In the past decade, many artists have come and gone, but Cleveland, Ohio, by way of the San Francisco Bay Area, resident emcee, Jahi, is still standing. The socially conscious, highly intellectual artist is celebrating this victory with the release of his seventh studio set, the thought provoking, appropriately titled, Less Is More
When did music actually become your calling?
Um Well, Im not gonna take it way, way back, Ill just say that I started probably like most emcees rapping on street corners, block parties, street battles, you know. Im from East Cleveland, Ohio, and in East Cleveland we had a lot of rap crews. We used to have these things called Breakfast Battles, and thats kinda where Thats where if you thought you wanted to be an emcee, thats where you found out. If you wasnt an emcee, thats where you found out, too! But, Ill say that professionally, 1998 is a good point of where I started deciding I wanted to take my writing skills and really get into Hip-Hop, and just started finding my way to open shows for a lot of different larger name groups that were coming through. And then, (I) released a Kinda like an underground Cleveland hit called Its All Good, and things started from there. I released my first record, Higher Elevation, in 1999, and I was one of the first Cleveland acts to actually get a chance to perform at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and on that show was Slick Rick. Thats where I (also) met Public Enemy for the first time. It was PE, Slick Rick, Outkast, Goodie Mob, and I think Nas was on that bill. So, for being in Cleveland, you know, really Ill say The early years that Im talking about, the street battles, the Breakfast Battles, you know, nobody was trying to get deals or pursue music. It was just (that it was this thing) we just loved. The same thing that was happening in New York was happening in my neighborhood; breaking up cardboard boxes and break-dancing, and rapping over beats. But, fast forward into that whole, that show in particular, and getting a chance to get on that bill kinda set off the start of my career from Cleveland, to take off to all of the things that Im doing now, so
Who do you consider some of your biggest musical influences?
Uh You know, Um Ill have to say Run DMC, just because how big they took it. What Jay Z is doing right now, Run DMC did that in the eighties. So, definitely Run DMC, Rakim, KRS, you know. I have to say those, and then But, I also have to say The OJays, (The) Commodores, The Whispers, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, because I grew up in a household that soul music was more important than the television, you know, so
What prompted your decision to move out to The Bay Area?
Well, you know, The Bay Initially there was a brother by the name of Tony Coleman (who) was doing a movement called the Third Eye Movement. They were doing some protests and actions, community actions, against Prop 21, which was the building of more prisons out here in the Bay Area, and I had a song called Power Moves 2000 that Davey D, on KPFA, had just really (been) blowing up and playing, and Tony Coleman got a-hold of my CD, man, and just invited me out. I had never been out to the West Coast, and we did a community concert in (Crissy) Field Park in San Francisco, and I really fell in love with The Bay, man. I like the weather, the independent energy, the community activism, so it all kinda spoke to me. And, you know, man, it really was a leap of faith. You know, I knew I wanted to I was still in the East Coast, (and) I was still doing music and pursuing some things in the East Coast that I knew I wanted to change. I knew I wanted to position myself in a place where I could, if I was gonna remain an independent, socially conscious, Hip-Hop artist, I wanted a platform and a place to be able to do that, and The Bay was very conducive to what, you know, my musical goals (were). And then, just for me, personally, its a leap of faith. I came out here and I had an album called Window of Opportunity that I was selling while I was out here, and then things just kinda progressively took off. What I did was I just hit a lot of open mics. Java House is definitely, you know, Dwayne Wiggins spot, Java House, is definitely one spot that kinda confirmed for me that I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right type of music, cause it was just such a great response there, and that started off The Bay.
What type of category do you put your music in?
You know, right now Im calling it organic Hip-Hop, soulful vibes, and conscious music, and I say Organic Hip-Hop, because, you know, its like, You can buy bananas from Safeway and they cool, but if it has the organic tag on it (that) just makes you understand that maybe it was some extra care put into that particular product, or some fresher fertilizer went into making it, and I think that really describes the type of music that Im doing. Because its like profanity free, its really uplifting, its talking about images and landscapes in Hip-Hop that sometimes dont get enough visibility, it has some integrity to it, you can still dance to it (but) its not freaky. So, I definitely would have to (say) the organic Hip-Hop is whats been sticking mostly to the label of what I do as far as music.
Was it always a conscious decision to remain independent?
Well, you know, my
last release was actually released on a major through EMI, but I was out of
the United States. It was in Denmark. So, I did release one album on a major,
and, you know, quite honestly I set out to see what was happening in the market-place,
find where I could kinda either blend in or stand out, and just make good
music. I never said that Im just gonna be an indie artist and forget
the majors, or I didnt say I want to be on the majors and forget being
indie, I just set out a course to create bodies of work that I thought were
quality, had purpose and meaning, and Ive been open to all different
roads of (opportunity). I think every artist wants to get their music out
all over the world, so it wasnt that I was against majors or tried to
stick to be indie. The fact that I remain indie, I feel theres a lot
of advantages to being independent. You have a little more creative freedom
and control, but theres pros (to it)...Now that Ive released a
record on a major label, I could say theres pros and cons to each. If
youre an indie, there (are) good things and there (are) challenges.
If youre on a major, there (are) great things and then there (are) challenges
as well. What Ive tried to do in all of this business aspect, is to
make sure that at the end of the day Im making quality music, and try
and be as creative and as open as I can be to make sure I get the music out
to as many people as possible.
Congratulations on 10 years in the game! What has been your secret for sticking around so long?
I think, you know,
the key to my longevity is just no matter what, I just dont give up,
man. I think that self determination, you know
Ill say this, man,
Bob Marley was 36, and then when he passed he had 13 albums. That gives
think about that a lot because
And in those 13 albums, 5000 years from
now somebodys gonna be playing a Bob Marley song. So, just to be able
to know that theres been musicians before me, shoulders that I stand
on that have created music that can stand the test of time, I believe in that,
I feel that. So, I think that kinda goes in my work ethic of what style, and
what kind of music Im gonna create, and speak about topics and issues
that years from now people can still appreciate. And then, you know, just
quality music, man. You know, I guess, sometimes, you really cant speak
for your longevity. I just
Im celebrating ten years of Hip-Hop
this year, and when I look back if I had to say one word that describes, like,
why Im still here still doing music, its just faith
You are also working on your first book, correct?
I do have a book called A Journey in Hip Hop - Volume One, and there will be a couple volumes coming out. The first volume has the Public Enemy experience, the Blackalicious experience, and then Destination Copenhagen. And, its kind of a musical memoir of my travels and my experiences, because I dont think a lot, you know The one thing I will say is that I dont think a lot of people who are independent artists, without attachments to labels and those types of things, have been able to perform, for example, at Wembley Arena with Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige. I dont know a lot of people (that) can say that, and I think all too often we dont tell our stories. So, there will be some books coming out. Its called A Journey in Hip Hop - Volume One, (and) thatll be out later on this year, and then there will be subsequent volumes coming out 2009 and (so forth).
Tell me something about you that everyone doesnt already know?
Um You know, that I care -- I care about life, I care about world peace, I care about the environment, you know. I care about people coming together in peace. You know, I think you will hear that in my music, but even outside of my music (thats) the type of person that Im trying to live my life (to be). If I could motivate and inspire anybody just by living, living positive, living in a holistic kinda way People may catch that, they may not catch it, cause I like to have fun and party in my music as well, but I think at the end of the day that defines who I am, the kind of person (I am).
What do you like doing for fun?
Probably playing chess, you know, reading a good book, you know, kicking back. I mean, if the sun is out, you know, just taking time to appreciate the fact that Going back to The Bay, I mean, we in the Bay Area. People save up all year so they can come to places like this, so they can have a vacation. Take advantage of the beauty thats around me. So, youll definitely see me doing that.
Seriously, how do you feel about todays Hip-Hop music?
You know I have to say this, number one, the word Hip-Hop, when people say Hip-Hop music it has become so ambiguous that I have to say the same problem still exists, and its an issue of imbalance. If you, in terms of the diet, if you eat potato chips and pop all day everyday, I mean, that could be your diet, but its not a balanced diet. So, in turn, your body is gonna be affected by what you eat. So, Ill apply that to Hip-Hop, that I love Hip-Hop, I am Hip-Hop, I do Hip-Hop, but theres a huge imbalance in terms of the messages and the images, and the artists that we see. And, until there is balance, there will always be problems. And, even in those problems, I still love and Im a part of it. But, you know, again, what I do is organic Hip-Hop, what I do is socially conscious Hip-Hop, what I do is I do Hip-Hop that speaks to women without disrespecting them, and just looking at them as being sexual objects. The type of Hip-Hop I do is motivation music. Its rebel music. Its, you know, liberation type music. So, when I think about that style of Hip-Hop, Im excited because I know that theres a lot of people that are in that lane that are doing great music, that just because we dont see and hear em on the mainstream outlets does not mean that we dont exist, and that were (not) doing good work. So, in that particular aspect, Im excited about Hip-Hop. In terms of like the mainstream, I just think, again, its a matter of balance. I mean, Id like to see anybody try and walk around all day on one foot, you know, so
What has been your most memorable career moment?
know, Ill just have to say this
You know, I was fourteen years
old, man, and heard Run DMC, Rakim, and KRS and all these cats, and it effected
me, man. And, the first time I picked up a microphone and realized that I
had some oratorical skills. To be able to go from that moment to right now,
and, you know, been able to see the world and perform on a lot of stages,
and meet a lot of great people, I would have to say the culmination of all
of that is the great experience. I couldnt really pinpoint one thing.
Its the totality of my experiences that would be
I would have to
say that the fact that Ive been able to do those things, and without
all of the things that people say you gotta have, If you aint
got a million dollar budget and all those types of things, you cant
get into the game. Im a living testimony that with determination
and passion and, you know, challenging yourself and pushing yourself hard,
man, dreams can come true. Im living my dream right now.
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