“Hip-Hop artist and activist Jasiri X is a six-time Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Award honoree whose music with his finger on the pulse of today’s social justice issues and an international reach. Recently selected as a USA Cummings Fellow, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Artist as Activist Fellow and BMe Fellow, Jasiri X continues to gain support for his intelligent and thoughtful commentary through his chose medium of politically and socially conscious Hip-Hop. Jasiri X has been honored by the Urban League, Omega Psi Psi, Black Man Can, The New Pittsburgh Courier 40 under 40, the Black Political Empowerment Project and has received the key to the city of Louisville, KY for community work”.- San Diego City College
Last week, following his lecture at the 3rd annual Social Justice & Education on race, gender and the power of Hip-Hop at San Diego City College Jasiri X sat down with Step Off! Magazine to discuss the early origins of his music career, police brutality and other forms of state-sanctioned violence domestic and abroad, the importance of grassroots social activism in a post-Trump era as well as the transformative power of Hip-Hop to educate minds and drive societal change.
Step Off! Magazine: Thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk with us. For our readers out there who may not be familiar with your work please introduce yourself to our readers and let ’em know what you do.
Jasiri X: My name is Jasiri X, I’m a Hip-Hop artist and activist. I do socially conscious Hip-Hop music, I’m also the founder and creative director for 1Hood Media Academy a local media academy where we teach youth of color how to analyze media and create media for themselves in Pittsburgh Pa.
Step Off! Magazine: Tell us about your upbringing, how did you get into the Hip-Hop scene? You’ve been emceeing and working in the industry for a number of years now tell us about your musical influences growing up that inspired you to get into music and actually pursue it as a career.
Jasiri X: I got started very simply, at like 15, 16 years old my best friend at the time got some turntables for Christmas and of course by this time I was already into rap music and he was like ‘I want you to write a rap’, so I wrote a rap and it was terrible but, I kept writing and kept at it. I’ll never forget it, for me the song that really made me want to do rap music was ‘Shook Ones’ by Mobb Deep. I was a huge Mobb Deep fan and I just remember when I first heard ‘Shook Ones’ it gave me the chills! Prodigy’s verse was so good and I was like ‘damn, I want to give somebody that feeling’. So having my man get those turntables was essentially the entry point for me to actually start writing raps, and I got encouragement along the way as more people would say ‘keep doing it’ than hated on me. So eventually over time, I was able to find my voice. During that time Nas was a big influence on me, Wu-Tang, Lauryn Hill, this was like mid-90’s so these were the artists that were really influential for me to pursue and do what I want to do.
Step Off! Magazine: Your music career really starts to begin taking off beginning in the early 2000s, which some would argue was one of the worst possible times for socially conscious and politically aware Hip-Hop. Can you detail those experiences starting off at a time where Hip-Hop music in general and a significant part of the fan base was largely hostile to that brand of conscious music?
Jasiri X: Absolutely, it was very interesting and what helped me especially was how the landscape of how media gets out changed. I came on the scene in like 05’/06′, but if I would have came out just a couple years earlier you probably would have never heard of me. It was the internet, I come on early in the internet, early on when Youtube was just starting even though it wasn’t as popular as it is now and on Myspace. I made this song that was a Just Blaze beat that I downloaded, I write this song which was called ‘Free the Jena Six’, put it out, send it to AllHipHop.com and they put it on their website. Somebody, I don’t even know who gave it Michael Baisden host of the Michael Baisden Show and the next thing I know the song’s being played on radio stations across the country and I’m doing interviews with radio stations. I didn’t have to go through a record label, I didn’t have to go through an A&R, because of the Internet I connected directly with the people and they began to share it. Same thing happens when I do the joint about Sean Bell, I was able to connect directly right to the people with no middle man. That’s one of the things that was able to help me, because there wasn’t a lot of people dong socially conscious rap at the time. All you really had was Immortal Technique and a handful of other people like me. There were so few people that I was able to get a lot of attention because nobody else was really doing that type of music. I became kind of like the Hip-Hop ‘first responder’ so to speak, so something would go down and I would have a song like a few days later and a video. So people were like ‘yo man this dude is on top of everything that’s happening in the hood and coming with something right after that’. So that really helped me, but to follow up on that my man Rhymefest was talking to me and he was like “You can’t just do regular raps anymore because everybody’s doing conscious rap, you gotta step your game up now”. (Laughs) Even T.I.’s a full blown conscious artist now and all these people are doing socially conscious rap now so we gotta step up even more to get out there.
Step Off! Magazine: Going in that same direction you’ve performed and organized along with artist such as Immortal Technique and Talib Kweli, describe that experience of working with these artists that are activists as well as humanitarians just like yourself.
Jasiri X: Man I would also legends, for me I work with people that inspire me. Like Immortal Technique, I couldn’t have done what I did if he didn’t do what he did first. I feel like he created a lane for me when there wasn’t a lane he forged that socially conscious underground lane. Talib is a legend, whether you argue with him online or not (laughs) you can’t take away what the brother did. It’s funny the first time I interacted with Talib I was arguing with him online, it was about the Miami Heat it was a NBA argument it wasn’t like a on some real life shit. So for me, its like I’m kicking it with and I’m building with brothers that I really, really look up to and have a tremendous amount of respect for; so it’s kind of a surreal thing. It’s dope because they’re like my big brothers in this and when I’m with them or I’m with people like David Banner who’s also like my big brother I don’t talk listen. I’m listening, taking notes, watching how they move and how they do their thing, so I’m just studying their movements and I try to take what I can back to do what I do. But it’s a surreal experience because I listen to these dudes, and now these are dudes that I can hit up and get advice and support from so it’s a dope thing.
Step Off! Magazine: In 2015 on the one year anniversary after Mike Brown is gunned down in the street in Ferguson Missouri you went there to do a benefit show and your performed with Immortal Technique, Talib Kweli, Tef Poe, Pharaohe Monch, Common and all of these legendary artists and then another Black man is killed that night by the police. Describe the atmosphere it that city at the time, because the the city of St. Louis was already in bad shape as it was even before the uprising and then this just seemingly adds more fuel to the fire.
Jasiri X: It was a tense situation that I’ve been apart of, the tension you could feel it in the air. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an environment where it’s like at any second something could pop off. After I got arrested I went back to Florissant where everything was popping off at and a friend of mine one of the young brothers that I met in Ferguson actually called me and was like ‘I don’t even want you to be down there right now’, just because of how tense the environment was and the face-off between the police and a lot of young activists. Particularly The Lost Voices, they’re a phenomenal young activists in Ferguson and they had all the young people out there. It was like the youth just wanted to vent, they just wanted to express their frustration and if the cops just left them alone it would have been cool but, they were antagonizing and teargassing folks. So it was just an environment that was as tense as I’ve ever been in and that’s really what kind of led to stuff popping off. It’s like if the pot is boiling you take the top off and you let the steam go but, if you leave the top on it’s like jumping around, jumping around and that’s pretty much what they did. They’re trying to oppress something when they should have just let mothafuckas release steam. So it was mad tense man, I ended up leaving early just off of the word of my young OG because it’s his hood so he’s saying ‘I don’t want want you down there right now bro’, so I’m like ‘alright I’m going to follow your word’. So we went down there for a little bit but I ended up leaving because of how quickly things were escelating.
Step Off! Magazine: You said at the demonstration you attended there in St. Louis that you didn’t even plan on actually getting arrested or any kind of symbolic action like that and that the whole thing just kind of happened.
Jasiri X: Yea, I didn’t. I got there late so I guess whenever they were discussing what was going down I missed that so I just jumped in the mix. It was real ill too, it was a wild day! They had sent a person in to be disruptive. There was this dude that actually kind of came at me in a threatening way, and I’m looking at this dude like ‘bro there’s like a hundred cops right here, we can’t even get in a good fight!’ Why would I fight you in front of a hundred cops? Like, if you want to go two blocks away and knuckle it out we can do that but, to me when you see something like that you know they’re working for the cops, they’re being an agent provocateur. Because, why would you even try to start something in that environment? Like what sense does that make? So it was a weird day, and I got arrested anyway so maybe I should have swung on dude (laughs). But yea it was deep and I’m glad I did something. Like I said, I just wanted to do something, but I know that’s not enough and that’s really why we do the work that we do in Pittsburgh because I did something but it still ain’t not enough.
Step Off! Magazine: You’ve also traveled overseas to Palestine as well. Tell us about your experiences over there in the region, what you saw what you heard and some of the similarities to the struggle here in the States.
Jasiri X: Man! It was the craziest thing, I call it white supremacy on steroids. I’ve never seen…I thought I understood it. For people who don’t understand what the Palestinians are going through it’s hard to read about it, like I went there, I walked through these checkpoints and this shit is fucking crazy! I got a song where I’m like “Fuck a checkpoint” because like literally that’s how we felt. It was literally a feeling where you felt and realized you had no power. Because we with Palestinians so it’s like if they wanted to arrest us or they wanted to kill us they could do that. And what recourse do you have? They were taking people’s houses! The first day we got there they showed us a documentary about how they took this young brother’s house and then he comes to our thing and he’s like “I’ll take you to where my house was”. It was as angry as I’ve ever been, and I’m like “If I see one of these dudes that took his house I’m fighting them”. Thankfully I didn’t see nobody, but I had like temporarily lost my mind because of the amount of injustice that I had seen. I had never seen anything like that and that’s why I felt like I had to write about it. Like I said, I thought I understood about Palestine but I did not know how dehumanizing it is for Palestinians to live under those conditions and the amount of injustice they’re forced to endure. The similarities was this, A brother who was a professor told me “You know why the hood should care about what’s going on in Palestine right now?”. He said “because the security measures that you see here is coming to a hood near you”. Eight months later, I’m driving through a checkpoint to get into Ferguson. We actually found out that the Ferguson chief of police went to Israel to train on how to deal with crowds and stuff. So like literally what he said came to fruition and it was the same teargas they was using in Ferguson as the teargas that they use in Palestine, Made in Pennsylvania, crazy!
Step Off! Magazine: I remember when the initial unrest was happening back in 2014 people from Palestine were actually tweeting activists and protestors in Ferguson about how to deal with teargas, flash bang grenades and weaponry like that.
Jasiri X: Yea, well Gaza was being destroyed kind of at the same time Ferguson was under occupation. It was an ill trip, somebody sent me something for some kind of residency and I was like I don’t think I could be in Palestine. I was there for a week man, on day four I was like “Take my ass back to the United States”. I’m like I’ll deal with stop and frisk, this shit is on a whole other level what they’re dealing with and I just didn’t know. I thought I knew and I thought I understood but I did not know. And like I said that was one week, I can’t imagine being there for two or three months I can’t even imagine.
Step Off! Magazine: Going into little bit of your personal history, tell us about your experiences growing up in the Wild Hundreds on the Southside of Chicago and how that contrasted to those when you moved to Monroeville, Pittsburgh. Was there a significant culture shock moving from the city to this predominately white suburb?
Jasiri X: Oh absolutely, you know when I grew up in Chicago when I was there the Southside wasn’t too crazy it was more like the Westside that was the more violent area. My neighborhood and my experience wasn’t that bad but, I was also younger. I knew my Pop’s was in a gang and I was aware of the gangs there of course but, I hand’t got to the age where I was really active in that type of activity. So the hood was cool to me, all of my friends were here, we lived across from the park when we moved to the Hundreds. But, when we moved from the neighborhood that I was in to the Hundreds my Mom had made the decision like “I’m not raising my children in this environment”. Now I didn’t know that, I’m thinking it’s all good and she tells us we’re going to Pittsburgh and of course I don’t want to move because all of my friends are there, my family’s all there and I was angry. And then when we go into this really white environment I was even more angry! Like the first couple days I had to punch a dude in his face and I’m fighting off the top. But, now that I’m older I understood why she did it and she could have very well in many ways saved my life. If I stayed in Chicago I might have ended up in a gang and might have had a completely different life, I was able to have a education and not worry about violence to that level because I’m in the suburbs. I also got a racial experience that I use to this day, so I thank my Mother for making that sacrifice, because when we moved to Pittsburgh we had no family. Still to this day it’s just me and my sister out there, the rest of my family is in Chicago. But, she made that sacrifice for us so I appreciate her for that.
Step Off! Magazine: You used the analogy that moving out Pittsburgh from Chicago was like getting a cold glass of racism in the face. Was your initial experience moving to Pittsburgh really jarring?
Jasiri X: Yea, a cold glass of racism to the face. Because, it’s one thing to watch a movie like Mississippi Burning or some shit, but it’s another thing to have somebody call you a n**** to your face and then you have to process in your mind how you’re going to respond to this. The first time it happened to me it was a grown man, so I’m with my Mom and my Sister and I’m thinking like ‘do I go try to get this dude’? I never had to go through that type of processing before so it was deep man, it was really deep to see and then to face a racist school oh man it was deep! And Pittsburgh is still pretty much racist (Laughs) oh my god but we’re working on it though we’re working, we’re pushing.
Step Off! Magazine: You Mother was a Valedictorian at Roosevelt University, was eduction something was instilled in you at a young age and something that was valued in your household?
Jasiri X: Yea, my Mom was in college or going to school while I was in her womb so I feel like this is one of the reasons why I love to read. She was reading while I was being developed. I learned to read at a very, very young age because my Mom was about education and learning. For us our way out was to get educated, get a good job and I actually ended up dropping out of school but that’s a whole other story but, I was glad that she was able to see me have success before she passed. I received an honorary doctorate degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary and she was able to see me being recognized for making intelligent music. For us, it also wasn’t just reading but also being proud to be Black and being socially conscious, those are the big things that was happening in my house. Good grades were expected, with my Mom C’s wasn’t accepted in my house, if you got a C that was damn near an F (Laughs). So yea Mom’s wasn’t playing, but all of that it really helped me and it’s helped me to this day.
Step Off! Magazine: On your hometown of Chicago, the city is oftentimes used a political chess piece to further people’s own agenda. People cite the violence to say it shows gun laws don’t work. People talk about the poverty to say that social programs have failed, and people constantly use the city’s reputation as an excuse to cover for the Chicago PD’s well documented abuse and violence against Black and Brown communities. Whenever these conversations come up it seems like there’s all these talking heads but never anybody that’s actually from these communities. What is it that the media and people that obviously have never been to the city let alone care about the neighborhoods they so freely disparage get wrong?
Jasiri X: Well one, they have you think that Chicago’s a place where you get off the plane and you got to duck gunfire like the whole time you’re there and all of these other ridiculous ideas. The truth is the violence is contained to only a few areas, people live in Chicago and parts of Chicago where you’ll never experience no gun violence. They ain’t ducking no shots at Wrigley field, it’s a very simplistic view of what’s happening and they use it in a very simplistic way. For the size of the city, Chicago don’t even lead the nation in murders per capita, Baltimore actually does because of the amount of people in Baltimore based on the statistics. You hear a number and you forget how many people live in Chicago, so people go ‘wow that’s a high number’ and don’t check to the proportion on the actual population. I think also it’s important to understand the history of Chicago, gangs go back in Chicago to the 1920’s. They go back to Al Capone and the Irish, Jewish and Italian gangs so don’t make it seem like Black people started this shit. The politics in Chicago is also very much run like a gang, the police department is very much run like a gang. My brother Rhymefest said in Chicago it’s political violence, it’s educational violence the way that they’re closing up schools in these neighborhoods. One of the reasons that violence started jumping off was because they were closing schools and making people cross neighborhoods to be educated. So all of this I feel like it’s planned and they know it, they know that if you just put some money and resources in these communities it wouldn’t be as violent. But, if there’s no jobs, if there’s no schools and if there’s no resources then what are people going to do? If there ain’t no community programs what are people going to do? But you could a get a gun very easily, you could get drugs very easily, put two and two together it ain’t rocket science they know how to stop this thing. But, violence is a business. The jails are a business. The guns are a business. And the juvenile justice system is a business that creates hundreds of millions of dollars. Even policing is a business! Did you know that the largest private police force on Earth exist in the city of Chicago? It’s the University of Chicago Police Force, the University of Chicago is right next to the most violent community in Chicago. But walk on that campus, you’re safer than a mothafucka (Laughs). We know not go on that campus and do no shit, you safe. Those kids are safe, you ain’t never heard nobody say “oh I ain’t going to go the the University of Chicago because of the violence”.
Step Off! Magazine: It seems like the city there’s a lack of resources, lack of opportunities and a lack of investment in the infrastructure from on the behalf of the city’s leadership. At the last lecture you did here in town one person in the audience asked how a city like Chicago could on hand have an artist like Chief Keef and then on the other somebody like Chance the Rapper. But, I remember you pointed out that Chance’s father is actually the deputy chief of staff for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. So at the end of the day they come from very different circumstances.
Jasiri X: Yea very different circumstance, I think that it’s simple to hold Chance up next to Chief Keef and diss Chief Keef. It’s more complex to begin to say ‘well what neighborhood was Chance raised and how?’. He was raised in the church, by his own admission he had his parents there Mom and Dad so he had a very different circumstance than that from Chief Keef and where he was raised. Where it’s like you might have to walk to the store and walk through a neighborhood and you walk through there and they’re like ‘who you with? what set you on bro?’ And then you got to choose now, or be a victim. Chief Keef also has a learning disability, to me it just shows a lack of sophistication to kind of put one against the other and they literally tried to make Chief Keef the face of Chicago violence and he’s sixteen years old. He’s a product of Chicago violence, not the face of it! Shit Rahm Emmanuel should be the face of it. Like I said, that shows the lack of sophistication and a lacking of understanding the dynamics of the situation. It’s almost like a fan of a NFL team where somebody’s going to cheer for Chance and hate this other rapper. In my experience I had this situation where I was organizing with Minister Farrakhan for Justice or Else and they spoke to rappers in Atlanta and Young Thug came and I was shocked that Young Thug would come out to listen to Minister Farrakhan and that he was asking questions. I was like damn ‘I passed judgement on this dude as like this dumb dude’ and I don’t know him. I don’t know his circumstances, I just heard a couple of songs and heard like one interview where he talked negatively about Ferguson but I don’t know this dude. I can’t pass judgement on a brother that I don’t know and that that have no interaction with. So that was my whole take away when I saw that, I was like I ain’t going to judge these young dudes. I ain’t mad at Lil’ Yachty, why should I be? Lil’ Yachty put out a product and people like it. Get your money bro, get out the hood, get your family out the hood, get your people out the hood man I’m clapping for you. You’re doing something legal and getting your folks out the hood. So I had to learn that, cause I think that’s what they try to do. They’ll try to pit me, I just did an article for the Pittsburgh paper. So it’s hood rappers in Pittsburgh, one is well know his name’s Hardo and another that’s named Jimmy Wopo and they tried to pit me against them. And I was like naw, “I saw Wopo at the rally we did with a ‘Fuck the Police’ shirt”. That’s my homie, those brothers are using there skill to get out they hoods more power to them I want them to have nothing but success. But that’s what they tried to do and I’m not falling into that man, I want these brothers to do their thing, I want them to do their thing legally, I want them to invest in their community, get their family out the hood and spoil their children that’s what I want.
Step Off! Magazine: So continuing with investing in your community, you started up 1Hood in 2006. Tell our readers who may not be aware of the organization what it is and what the organization does to help the community.
Jasiri X: It came out because at the time in 2006 Pittsburgh led the nation in what they call “Black on Black” crime which is a terminology that I don’t like to use because it’s really a white supremacist terminology. But basically committing violence, so we wanted to do something about that so we came together all of us younger activists, we was all from the Hip-Hop generation so we all used Hip-Hop as a way to kind of bring our community together to stop the violence in our hood. So we started walking the streets at night, in our communities to deal with the violence and we got nothing but love so we did that and we also started to understand the youth in the Pittsburgh community didn’t really have a voice, didn’t really have help and support so also kind of became that. We started going at the cops over police brutality and different issues. In 2010 we started a media academy to teach Black youth how to analyze and create their own media. That was kind of because one how the media portrays us but it was also two because sometimes as activist we reactionary, so it’s like we wait until something happens so when something like a big police brutality cases comes up we all rally but how do you make a person politically aware before that happens? So with the media academy the idea is to raise the consciousness of our youth so now we have a young army, so when something happens we got a group of people that we can call on because we’ve made them socially conscious. We’ve helped them raise their consciousness so that’s what we’ve been doing for the past ten years and we get a lot support from the Pittsburgh community which we appreciate.
Step Off! Magazine: You’ve talk at great lengths in your music, in these lectures, interviews and rallies about police abuse and brutality. What do you think it’s going to take to actually start seeing meaningful, hard-hitting police reforms, especially in Black and Brown communities where these injustices are almost exclusively committed or is it even possible given the individuals that are routinely selected for the job and do you think much progress is likely especially under a Trump administration?
Jasiri X: I think what we have to do is we got to begin with the dismantling of the Fraternal Order of Police to be honest with you. I mean the police union is what really prevents real justice from taking place because they protect these officers. It’s funny how a lot of these conservatives attack the teacher’s union but the police function in the exact same way. These cops, when they do these illegal activities they hire lawyers, they protect them, they don’t let the city fire them, they bring them back and even if you get fired from one place they can just go to another and get hire somewhere else. So we either have to dismantle the police union or really make it to where politically if you support that type of attitude amongst the police then you ain’t going to get elected. It has to be like that, it has to be to that level and that’s the thing because they’re politically active; they support candidates too, they was all for supporting Trump. So unless we make it to where like if somebody gets killed and you support these officers you’re going to get out of office. That’s what they did in Chicago with Anita Alvarez the district attorney. They did it in Cleveland with Tim McGinty who was the district attorney who refused to prosecute the officer Timothy Loehmann who killed Tamir Rice, they both lost their jobs and that’s the level it’s going to take. It needs to be like that, Anita Alvarez helped with the conspiracy of holding the video evidence of Laquan McDonald’s murder by officer Jason Van Dyke for over a year. She lost her job, activists were able to organize and vote her ass out of office and it’s going to take that level of organizing and pushback in order to get a real change to happen.
Step Off! Magazine: At these lecture you’ve said multiple times that you believe were currently living in an era where activism and social conscious is making a huge comeback in Hip-Hop now. Do you think artists are doing enough right now or do you think there’s still work that needs to be done?
Jasiri X: I think we’re getting there, I feel like now the type of organizing that’s happening is stronger. For instance, you have when Philando Castile was murdered you had all of these really high profile artists like Beyonce and Alicia Keys come together and do videos around it. You had Beyoncé with all the mothers that lost children organizing with them, so I feel like we we’ve kind of reached the tipping point now where people see that they can stand up for these families and against these injustices and they’re not going to cost them any money. Janelle Monae did a powerful protest song called ‘Hell You Talmbout?’and she was still in a pepsi commercial at the Super Bowl. Jamie Foxx stood up for the family of Trayvon Martin he’s still doing movies and shit. So of course there always could be more done but I feel like I’m excited about what artists are doing and I’m happy for them.
Step Off! Magazine: Hip-Hop is one of the most powerful and significant musical genres as well as social movements of the past fifty years. Tell us your thoughts about Hip-Hop’s power educate and fuel change in society.
Jasiri X: I that when it comes to music, music really speaks to the times and speaks about real issues and Hip-Hop is the genre that speaks strongest in that regard. If you look at the history of Hip-Hop from the “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel to “Fight the Power by Public Enemy to “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar and even A Tribe Called Quest’ “We the People” all of these songs speak to the times when they came out and are still relevant today. If you watched the Grammy’s the strongest, most relevant political statement was was Tribe’s joint, so as a genre Hip-Hop particularly is unmatched in regards to speaking on real issues that’s affecting folks.
Step Off! Magazine: Yea, currently we see these artists like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Vic Mensa, Killer Mike, all of these artists have incorporated political messages into their music or even themselves have affiliated themselves with various political movements. Do you see this continuing? As well as artist being genuine about it as well, because socially conscious music should be like anything else you should be able to back it up with actions outside of music as well.
Jasiri X: Yea, I see it continuing because the artist that you named are having a lot of success. Even somebody like Chance the Rapper who is willing to put a deeper message in his music ended up winning three Grammy awards. I feel like because Hip-Hop artists that are speaking about some very real things are not only being recognized but they’re also doing well financially in the music industry I think this one of the reasons why we’re going to see it continue. To continue with Chance, here’s Chance who works in Chicago, he’s donated one million dollars to the local public school system and he’s encouraging other artist, entertainers and individuals to get involved. So to me he’s going beyond just rapping a lyric, he’s actually now showing that he’s willing to put his money and his resources behind something. Kendrick Lamar has done stuff in Compton as well, J. Cole of course has been on the frontline in Ferguson and other places so yea I hope that this trend continues not only with artists speaking about real issues but also using their fame and their notoriety as a platform to bring awareness to these issues. Jay-Z just did a documentary around Kalief Browder, the young brother who was sent to Rikers at the age of sixteen for three years and was never charged as well as being placed in solitary confinement for most of that time and when he got out he committed suicide. And now Jay-Z is producing a documentary around the murder of Trayvon Martin, so I like seeing artist especially artist with such a big platform using their fame and notoriety to deal with these real issues.
Step Off! Magazine: Yea definitely! Going along those same lines just on a smaller scale what advice do you have for young people that want to get involved in a movement or politically but don’t necessarily know what initial steps to take or what direction to go in?
Jasiri X: I always say to stick to whatever it is that you’re passionate about and what you’re good at. Seek out activist who are involved with the causes your passionate about. You see a lot of movement around the missing women in D.C. so your passion maybe women’s issues, or you might be passionate about the struggles and obstacles facing undocumented folks and then on top of that focus on what you like to do. If you like being online then use your social media as a means to raise awareness about these issues, if you’re good with technology and like creating apps then make an app around an issue that your personally committed to. If music or art is your thing then use your music and art to speak on these issues. When a rally comes and when folks are asking for people to put their bodies on the line if you’re able to do that then definitely show up and do that but, if you don’t do that it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the only kind of contribution to the movement. It doesn’t mean that ok you went to a rally you did your part, there’s other ways you can get involved as well.
Step Off! Magazine: To go in line with contributing through art and music what advice do you have for young artists, musicians and performers who want to get into the music industry and entertainment business and send a positive message?
Jasiri X: I think that the business is very different state now, whenever rappers come to me and ask for advice I tell them that they really have to operate from place where there is literally hundreds and millions of rappers and producers putting their music on Soundcloud or Youtube everyday so I always tell younger artists that they really have to approach it in a way of how are they going to separate themselves. If there’s a million choices, what are you going to do that’s going to cause people to check out your music? I think that’s the idea that folks should kind of gravitate towards, for me the best way to be original is to really be yourself. Because, people may have had similar experiences but no one has had the exact experience that you have had. So to me, I believe that authenticity resonates with folks. It really allows you to connect with people, to try and pretend to be something you’re not or rap about some life that you never lived people are not going to feel that. People want authenticity, people want realness and people wan’t originality so I would approach it with those three things in mind when creating music or art. Just be genuine and be yourself.
Jasiri X: Man, I was saying at the conference here at the conference that there’s a book called Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko that talks about the history and the militarization of the police. There’s a book by a good friend of mine Claude “Paradise” Gray called No Half Steppin’, it’s a Hip-Hop book which tells a pictorial history of the Latin Quarter one of the most influential clubs in New York City. There’s a lot of books whether its The Autobiography of Malcolm X to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, there’s a lot to read and go over. There’s another book called Democracy In Black by Dr. Eddie S. Glaude Jr. which is a book that kind of speaks to the political movement right now, so all of those are some choices that I would recommend for people to check out.
Step Off! Magazine: Who are your top artists in the game right? Who are the artists that push you to step up your game when you hear their music?
Jasiri X: My favorite artists like if I see they posted something I kind of stop everything would probably be like Nas, he’d be one If Nas got something new I want to hear it. Same with Jay Eelectronica, if I hear a new Jay Elec song I’ll be like ‘hold on let me listen to this’. Of course Kendrick, like the joint that he just dropped its like ‘What? New Kendrick? Aight let me listen to it, go over it a few times, let me kind of analyze it’. J.Cole too, but I also like to see people that I’ve really built with and coming up from the underground and having a tremendous amount of success. My brother Mysonne just dropped a freestyle on Funk Flex that was like an eight minute freestyle some of the realest bars that you will ever hear so if you have not seen Mysonne’s freestyle on Flex go to YouTube immediately. My brother Quadir Lateef just signed with Ruff Ryders he’s out of Buffalo, he’s doing a project with Statik Selektah. My sister Sa-Rock who’s out of Atlanta, she’s on Rhymesayers and currently on tour with Brother Ali another amazing artist. So definitely check those folks out that might not necessarily be mainstream right now but are really operating on a high level artistry and consciousness as well. One more I would also say is Tef Poe from St. Louis. He just dropped a project called Black Julian, he’s another artist to check out the brother’s speaking from a real soulful place so shout out to the homie.
Step Off! Magazine: Who would you say are your top five emcees of all time?
Jasiri X: Oh man! All time is kind of hard. For me it probably be Nas, Chuck D would probably be up there, Lauryn Hill, Black Thought and I would say Jay Electronica I would throw him in there too that would be my top five. (Laughs) It’s kind of eclectic but I would say that’s my personal top five.
Step Off! Magazine: Are you currently working on any new music? Tell us what you can about any upcoming projects you have lined up for the future.
Jasiri X: Yea! I’m working on a variety of stuff, I’m always working on like a million projects at a time. I’m working on two project rights now, one is a soundtrack for Paul Robinson’s first film Body and Soul that’s the most completed project I’m just putting the finishing touches on that. What we’re going to do is upload that movie with a live Hip-Hop soundtrack. I also have a project called Power that I’ve been working on with a producer in London called Agent of Change, that’s another project that I’ve been kind of conceiving and just have to lock in on. Me and Rhymefest also formed a group called Kill Switch, we’re finishing up a project called War On Us, that should coming out sometime this year. And for 1Hood we’re doing a collective compilation project called B.L.A.K.: Building Liberation And Knowledge, that’s coming out hopefully shortly in the next couple of months. So there’s a lot of stuff, I did a couple features with other artists so some of those will be out shortly as well so we’ll what happens.
Step Off Magazine: Where can people find you and follow you online to hear your music and get all the updates for shows, lectures, promotions and other events?
Jasiri X: JasiriX.com is probably the easiest, I’m also on Twitter, Instagram and we also have an official Facebook page but the easiest way is to go to JasiriX.com where you can connect to all the stuff that I do and see all of the updates and my schedule.
Step Off! Magazine: To close out how did you enjoy your visit here in San Diego while doing the lecture at Social Justice & Education Conference at San Diego City College?
Jasiri X: I had a great time in San Diego, it was really interesting. My idea of San Diego was kind of like this tourist place. So to come here and to go into the community and build with organizations such as Pillars of the Community and see all the real community work, the organizing that’s being done and to see the pushback against ICE and all of these folks carrying out these immigration raids; I was shown that San Diego has this real activist community that’s doing a lot of great work. I linked up with Odessa Kane, we’ve been communicating since I left so hopefully we’ll be working on some music real soon. I had real great time, I felt like I made a really great connection to the community which is dope and I’m looking forward to coming back again soon.
Step Off! Magazine: Jasiri X, thank you again so much for taking the time to sit down and talk with us man.
Jasiri X: No problem brother, I appreciate it too.