Student Musician Spotlight: Bodega Beats Rapper Jahi

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This week, Blog is spotlighting five Brown and RISD student musicians, all of whom will be performing this Saturday night at the Bodega Beats live session at The Spot Undeground. Every day, we’ll publishing an interview, one musician talking to another. Yesterday, the event’s two DJs, Michael Moyal (aka Mulga) and Raye Sosseh (aka Chartreux) interviewed each other.

Today, Blog brings you an interview with rapper Jahi Abdur-Razzaq (Brown ’17). Jahi is interviewed by Dolapo Akinkugbe (Brown ’16), aka DAP The Contract. They discuss everything from the concept of “home,” to the best Nas album, to “S&M” by Rihanna. Definitley keep reading if you’re looking for some good rap recommendations. You can check out Jahi’s work on Soundcloud.

Tomorrow, DAP will be interviewed by rapper Sebastían ( )tero.

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“Tell Your Friends” by the Weeknd starts to play.

Dolapo: The first question I have for you is: what is your primary purpose for making music? What do you want to do with your music?

Is it for fun? Is it therapy for you? Is it therapy for other people?

Jahi: It’s therapy for me, but by accident almost. I was just obsessed with the idea of making music, it was something that I thought was so cool and that I had to participate in.

So I was like, yo — let me participate in it. When I started, I didn’t even put a lot of what was in me into the songs — which is what I wanted to say. So, I changed what I wanted to say into just saying everything that’s in my head. Telling my story: how I be feelin’. Even if it’s not my story — how I’m feeling through somebody else’s story.

D: I feel like a lot of artists start off just joining in because it’s cool, and then they realize how helpful it is for them, and that breeds more passion for it. Then you really start to get shit off your chest — and that makes it, I think, for everyone. So, this latest project you’ve put out, what’s it called again?

J: Home for the Summer.

D: What was that inspired by? What did you get off your chest in the making of that project?

J: What sparked it was just the idea of being between home and college. I was like, yo, like this is actually something that’s crazy, this phenomenon.

D: It really is. We really don’t talk about it enough. They’re really polarized lifestyles.

J: Yeah! The real thing is like, there’s vacation, right? And anybody can have vacation. It doesn’t have to be college. People have vacations. So, the whole thing is about stress. It’s about being as stressed as I am here — it’s nuts.

But from the beginning it’s stress and trying to figure out how to work with that stress, and then trying to get rid of it. Once you try to get rid of something like that with the wrong things, it kinda just messes it up for you. All that happened to me, and I was just like, “Screw it!”

D: Yeah. Going home for the summer for people is a very — especially, I come from Nigeria, so going home for winter, for me, for Christmas, is a culture shift like crazy. What’s home like for you? You’re from Brooklyn, right? Where in particular in Brooklyn?

J: I’m from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

D: Bed-Stuy. So, how much of home is in your music? How much of that story have you told thus far?

J: The thing about me is that my home is a bunch of different places. So when I got here, I was like, whoa. This is actually kinda a home. I’ve spent a lot of time here. A lot of people I mess with are here. My home was never one place. It was just with the people I was with. So now, it’s a place, too, and it’s crazy.

D: I’m the same cause mine is split between three continents so you can never attach it to a place, otherwise it’s split. It’s really the people that make the home, to be honest.

J: It’s funny cause like a lot of times there’s music about a place — my music is more about the people that I come together with.

D: Which is a good tool because it makes it more accessible and global — it’s not attached to one physical space.

J: At least that’s what I’m trying for, for real, [laughing]. This is all in theory.

D: But I feel like you’re hitting something. I listened to your tape and it was tight. It was tight, man. Everything from the pieces of rap, the cadence flow, the lyrics, the bars. But just the collection — that’s what caught me the most. The way you pieced it together. The three different vibes. Is it three tracks?

J: Yeah, three tracks.

D: The difference in the vibes you chose, that’s very important. How much do you pay attention to production versus lyrics versus delivery? What’s your biggest focus?

J: Recently my biggest focus has been delivery and song structure. Trying to figure out, this is gonna be a verse, this is gonna be a hook.

For a long time, I feel like I was thinking about music the wrong way. I didn’t make what I liked in song structure. It was just like, ‘What melody would I like to hear? What would make me nod my head here?

“S&M” by Rihanna starts to play.

J: Yo! What is this?

D: Hey! This is my shit!

J: How did this happen? This for real changes the vibe.

D: Let’s do some basic questions. When did you start rapping?

J: I stated rapping when I was like… twelve?

D: And you grew up on hip hop?

J: I grew up on hip hop like really, really. My dad was the biggest hip hop fan.

D: Which zone of hip hop? Like the ‘Biggie’s?

J: Like heavy, heavy lyricists, that type. It was ridiculous. Low key, when he was so into it, that was the only thing he played when he was around me, because my cousins only liked rap. The dude listens to so much other music, but I only got put onto the hard rap stuff. It took me a while– I can’t do this song.

D: Yeah. Let’s change the song.

“Nelly” by Isaiah Rashad plays.

D: Listening to your music, I could tell you’re definitely lyric-driven. You’re very particular with your word choice, which I respect a lot. You don’t waste a word, you know? But then your vibe is different though, cause you’re on your waves. It’s not heavy lyricism. It’s more intelligent — pulled-back lyricism.

The vibe allows the space for you to hear the words. Sometimes I can’t get into heavy lyricism because it’s too much at once. It’s like the beat’s gonna loop a million times and you’re just gonna spit forever. But that’s where song structure comes in, because piecing the song together the right way is the difference between a song and 88 bars.

Do you have a favorite rapper? Is that possible?

J: I have a favorite rapper. Nas is my favorite rapper.

D: Ooh! That makes sense! Illmatic or Stillmatic?

J: It depends. I might say Stillmatic.

D: A lot of people would say that.

J: I say Stillmatic only cause the type of stuff he was saying is so much crazier than the stuff he was saying on Illmatic. Illmatic was perfect. But Stillmatic? He was like, “I saw a dead bird flying through a broken sky/Wish I could flap wings and fly away/To where black kings in Ghana stay.” Like what!? Who says things like that? Isn’t that like the Langston Hughes of our time?

D: Damn, I need to go back and listen to Stillmatic cause I’m an Illmatic fan. Cause it just didn’t make sense: he was that age, making that music.

J: Illmatic was one of the best albums ever. Period. Undisputed. Nobody doesn’t like Illmatic.

D: My favorite rapper is Ab-Soul. To this day. See, I came so late. I wasn’t engrossed by hip hop till I was like 15. So, I was mad late. I was still listening to the Beatles, you know? “The long and winding…” I was singing some soul food — my mom was playing MoTown and everything.

I was late to the party but Ab-Soul, even though some of like his latest albums… To me, it’s a loyalty thing. Like when I first heard him and he snatched me up, I never dropped back. I just felt like he was speaking so directly to my conscious, I just understood everything he was saying to a T.

That’s very interesting,  two completely different worlds. I’m like 15 years later than you cause I missed like a whole decade of hip hop until 2005. I didn’t really know what was going on.

I think it shows the level of lyricism, cause I still don’t consider myself a lyricist. The level of lyricism in your music, especially Home for the Summer, you can hear that it’s a lyrical specificity, that the word choice is careful. Not that I’m careless, but, it’s just, you can tell.

J: I think you are, man. I can tell you listen to Ab-Soul. Like, Ab-Soul is one of the craziest rappers to ever touch the mic low key. Low key. But like his cleverness is crazy. He just says something and there’s like a brashness to it. You know? That’s sorta what you got. A few of your lyrics are like really brash. I don’t think people notice. It’s pretty brash.

D: That’s what I love: hiding brashness within niceness. That’s one of my favorite things. You want to listen to it, but then it’s like, “Well, damn, this might be too much. It’s a little too abrasive in here.” It forces people to be uncomfortable.

Being uncomfortable is a good thing. People aren’t uncomfortable enough. People like to be in their comfort zones. Everything’s cool there. I used to be like that. I would never experiment, but it’s important.

J: Yeah, push the boundaries. I feel that. I feel like the main reason people are mad about how aggressive Kanye is on Yeezus is because they don’t realize he was just as aggressive on Graduation, but he just did it piled on top of pop beats. And drunk and hot girls. And nobody really be talking about it.

Jahi changes the song to “Loosen My Tie by Ab-Soul

J: This might be my favorite Ab-Soul song.

D: What’s your strongest musical association? Is it a person, is it a smell, is it a location? I have like five and it changes all the time. What do you attach music to the most?

J: I think it’s time, man. What I was doing when I liked the song. It used to be when I first heard it. I would remember when I first heard it. Now it’s around the time when I played it for a long time, what was going on? I listened to this song a lot when I was on my way to school and I would just be like, Yo. Okay. Imma make it through.

D: Ab-Soul just saves lives, man. I remember exactly where I was. I have like many flashbacks to where I was when the song was playing. One of the hundred times I played it. One of the times, I see it and it plays exactly in my head and I’m there. It’s crazy. Music is so strong. Scary strong sometimes.

J: Yeah, that’s why I want to be there. I want to do that for people. It’s important. It’s really important. A lot of people don’t think about it the way I do — I know some people do but…

D: People don’t put enough emphasis on emotional education. One thing music really does for a lot of artists is teach them about themselves more than anything. You learn in public, you fail in public, and you triumph in public. Your music is out there and you make mistakes and change your mind.

You’re an open book  and anyone can come and see your thoughts, they can come into your studio, and your song, and they can see your thoughts, hear them. So you have to learn about yourself quickly. You have to be able to rack it up, you know?

When did you go to Rock the Bells? Is that a New York festival?

J: Yeah, it’s New York. I just randomly ended up there. There was a guy who knew my dad and gave him some tickets. Craziest thing about that is that I didn’t even see Nas.

A lot of those people I didn’t see, cause we got there late. We got there hella late. I don’t even know why. My pops was probably lagging cause he don’t mess with Childish Gambino. He was like, “We’ll get there at some point. We have to go on a ferry to get there.”

So we got there late, in the middle of Black Star, which was a great show. And we saw Erykah Badu. Erykah Badu is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. She was doing the drum-pad thing. The only other artists I’ve seen do the drum-pad while going in are Kanye West and Mac Miller. Erykah Badu though was the first person I saw do it. She was out here in whatever year that was 2000-something.

D: That’s crazy. She’s a magical spirit, man. I don’t understand how she exists. Some people like that, too many people love them and it’s creepy. Like Sade — I’ve heard too many people mention Sade’s name and I’m just like, is she everyone’s mom now? How does everyone love this person so much?

Erykah Badu, she’s in that D’Angelo and J Dilla family. That was a crazy, crazy, time. That was like the golden age of the golden age. Like Dilla’s  Dr. Dre empire, his version was D’Angelo. Who else was Dilla producing for?

J: He was producing for Common — I didn’t even know he was producing for Common. He made some of my favorite Common songs.

D: Yeah, he was everywhere, man. He’s a genius. Okay, what’s the last thing you want to tell everybody?

J: Saturday, we got a show! We’re doing it. I’m super excited. Bring vibes. If you don’t have vibes, you need to stop at the door. We won’t let you in.

D: No vibes? No entry.

J: Give them your I.D. and vibes at the same time. Stop playin’.

D: And check out Home for the Summer. You will not be disappointed.

Image via Bodega Beats.

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