Native Son, An Interview With Jabee Williams
Oklahoma native, rapper Jabee is just weeks away from releasing what may possible be his most important and best work to date, Black Future. We caught up with Jabee and got his take on the current state of music, as well as what’s going on behind the music.
NC: Where did the ‘Black Future’ concept come from?
Jabee: Well, last February (2015) I was doing a show with David Threatt at Kamp’s and I had this whole thing setup with my band to do like James Brown, and to show a black history video, I called my friend Najah to write a poem for it and all of that. I had like the dopest idea for this. So, I was in New York and had just come back the day of the show. I was in the Penn Square mall because my friend had to go get a dress. So I figured I’d grab something to eat there while she looked for a dress. Afterwards I’d go get a haircut because I had been on the road for like 2 months or something like that. My hair was crazy so I had a hoodie on because I didn’t want anyone to stop me and be like “yo, what’s up”. I wanted to get in and get out. So I walked into the food court and these two security guards like rushed me and they said, “hey we told you no more hoodies in here”. So then I said “I just walked in here, you guys haven’t told me anything”. So then he says yes they did and that they saw me in there recording with my camera. I was confused like camera? and he said “yeah camera! We saw you in here videotaping”. I responded “Man it’s 2015 who would be in here videotaping” and he said “No, recording with your phone”. My response was “why would I be recording with my phone at the mall?”. Then he told that I was going to have to leave. So at this point it’s like me and four security guards arguing. People are starting to take notice and asking me “Jabee are you straight, you good?” I tell them that everything is ok. So as I’m starting to leave they follow me and I walk back down to where pepperoni grill is. Right before I walk out a policeman goes “you’re going to jail”. I look at him and say “you’re kidding right?”. He says “no, you don’t want to leave”, I said “the door is right there what do you mean?” At this point I think the is a joke or something. He says “Naw you don’t want to leave, you’re going to jail”. So now I realize by the look on his face that he’s serious. So I tell him “just please let me walk out the door, why go through all of this for nothing?”. He then tells me no. So as he’s getting ready to put cuffs on me I ask him if we can walk around the outside so that I’m not walking through the mall in front of everybody with cuffs on, I mean he saw there already was a big crowd because of the incident. He tells me “this is what you wanted, it’s what you wanted right?” So now I’m walking through the mall with cuffs on looking like I committed a crime. I ask the officer if I can call my friend who is still shopping, to let her know that I’m going to jail. He responded “She’ll figure it out.” So then I tell him that I need to call my mom so that she knows I’m going to jail. He then responds “she can just pick you up from CIC.” I said “Oh, now I see what’s going on. CIC? Man I’m 31 years old, I’m not gonna be in CIC.” He says, “oh well.” At that point I just stopped talking to him. I could tell that he was trying to get me to argue back and forth with him. So yeah, I didn’t get to do my show and had to pay to get out of jail. So then a few months later I’m in Tulsa and my homegirl Najah comes up to me and asks if I want to hear the poem that she wrote for me. I said yeah, what’s it called? She said Black Future and I was like “yeah that’s it.”
NC: What’s different this time around for you on this project if anything?
Jabee: I think it’s that sometime I get caught up trying to do something that other people may like, this time I really want to get a message across. So if people say “he wasn’t spittin’ tho,” at least they can’t say that I didn’t have a message. I feel like all of that is there though, I feel that it all balances out.
NC: What can people expect from this project? What do you want them to take from this project?
Jabee: I think i just want people to know that if there is something that you’re passionate about, it’s important that you talk about it and share. You’ve got to speak up on it and be bold. My whole mission since I started was just to be honest and to be someone who shares something real with people. I want to share something that they can use, something that when they leave they leave better than they came. That’s the core of anything that I do.
NC: A lot of people may already know this but some don’t. You’re a father, an educator, etc., how does that influence your music?
Jabee: My last album was all about my daughter. It was basically me telling her my life. Like, if something were to happen to me my children can listen to that and say “that’s who my dad was.” Before I had my first daughter I really wanted to give up. I didn’t want to rap anymore, I would maybe do an album and if I did it would have been my last. I didn’t want to live, I was so depressed and frustrated with life and everything that was going on around me. Then a few things happened. The first was I had a daughter, and the second was things started happening with music. Chuck D mentioning me, EL-P showed me love and Murs picked me up. So then I began to think that maybe this is for me. I think sometimes when we’re artists and we create things it’s like, you don’t have to do. I mean, you get fulfillment from it, but I don’t think we realize what other people get from it too. you know sometimes we may get burnt out or whatever but you have to push on for the fulfillment that others get out of it. So that’s how I started thinking with my music. I started thinking, “maybe this isn’t all about me.” It’s about inspiring others. All those things that I mentioned helped me to refocus and to get back on track. Not just with my music but with my life as well. Especially with my kids, they just made me get serious about everything and work even harder.
NC: How is it balancing everything with your career, family, etc?
Jabee: If it weren’t for the mother’s of my children, my mom and their moms with all of their support and understanding….I’m just blessed to have people in my life that are as vested in the things that I do as I am. I just pray that my kids understand everything with my lifestyle and career path. I would never want them to be a musician or any kind of artist period, it’s a lot. Think about artists and how the pressures and the work and everything that comes with it. I hope my kids passions are like numbers or something like that (laughs).
NC: How did you get into the mentor/educator side of things?
Jabee: It started with church. I was a youth leader and I would help out at church which transitioned into me helping out at the schools. You know at schools you get asked to do so many different things and you just get into a mode of where can I help now. The passion for youth has always been there for me especially here because this is where I’m from and where I grew up. It’s who I am and I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to do all of those things.
NC: As far as being a musician in Oklahoma City how does that feel for you? You’ve been doing this a long time and to now be where you are in your career, how does it feel to be that representative for Oklahoma?
Jabee: Sometimes I do feel like an easy target for people because people know who you are…..like I remember reading this article and I don’t recall what publication it was, but the headline was “Oklahoma’s Reigning King” or something like that. As soon as I read it I thought, “don’t say that.” you know. All that means is that someone is gonna read that and feel that they are the king or that they want to be the king, so now they want to come at the king you know? Like I’ve talked to people who have said “I don’t care what they say about you, you go hard”, So now I’m thinking “what are they saying about me?” it happens all of the time. I don’t even look at it like that though. I feel that we are all on equal ground. Yeah, I’ve been able to do more on certain levels but I’ve been doing this for 15 years as well, that’s a long time and a lot of work. I’ve always made myself part of the community, not just the hip hop community but the music community period. We are all the same, anybody can do what I do if they put the time in. Some people don’t understand that there are dues that you have to pay, they want to pay to try to speed up the process or whatever. I’ve never done any of that. I put my time in and networked with people and built great relationships.
NC: I can tell by the clothes you wear and the things that you do in the city that you have a lot of love for your home town. Do you feel that back?
Jabee: For the most part I feel that people got my back and show me love. Especially those that I rock with. I feel that in music in general a lot of times people aren’t honest or fair. For instance there could be a contest saying that Jay-Z was coming to Oklahoma and they were looking for local artist to open up of him. Let’ say there was honestly 3 people that could be mentioned as contenders or voted in for that. You still would have people voting for their cousin or friend or whatever saying “but my cousin be spittin’ though”. It’s like yeah but that’s not what it’s about. If you’re honest it’s like they aren’t even doing anything. It’s like “my cousin has a mixtape, it’s not finished yet but when it comes out though…” It’s like no one knows who that person is, they haven’t done anything. Then you have the others who have put the time in and built up the audience to be considered. You know what I mean? It’s like that’s the mentality. That’s the only thing that I don’t like, i don’t like the opportunists.
NC: What’s next after Black Future?
Jabee: Black Future, then the tour, then a Lokcal Cuts album with Denver Duncan which is like a plethora of artists, musicians, singers, rappers and producers. It won’t be a compilation because it would be like “our” album collaborating with those people. We were supposed to do an album a while back but due to time it never happened. So that’s gonna be the next thing. We want to make the most hip hop, jazz, experimental, eclectic album that we can make with so many different elements and so many different people.
For more on Jabee visit www.JabeeMusic.com
Photos, Styling & Interview: Undrell Maholmes
Wardrobe Courtesy of Trade Men’s Wares