Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance

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The Jacka: Purification of the Heart

Guest Commentary by Adisa Banjoko, The Bishop of Hip-Hop


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376


Freeway, Adisa Banjoko, Beanie Siegel, and The Jacka in 2007

Freeway, Adisa Banjoko, Beanie Siegel, and The Jacka in 2007

As the sun rose February 2nd on the Bay Area, I called my friend Vince Bayyan about strategies to strengthen the national impact of the organization I founded, the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. I was concerned; street violence was getting too extreme and young people were just getting too comfortable with it, as opposed to resisting it head on. I felt like HHCF wasn’t doing enough, that I could do more outreach. After speaking with Vince, I decided I was gonna reach out to The Jacka, a well-known Bay Area rap artist I considered a personal friend who had supported the HHCF’s mission on many previous occasions, and talk to him about Vince’s plan.

I went to work and began teaching at my job in East San Jose, at ACE Empowered. I came home and not long after dinner, my wife brought me the laptop and said, “I think this just happened. I’m sorry babe.”

I got on Twitter, and “#RIPJacka” was rapidly trending. My heart sank like a stone. My stomach might have gulped, but if it did, I didn’t hear it. Damn. Another one lost to the streets. And this time it was a real one. There was nothing to do but say a prayer for my brother.

My friend was murdered a few days before my 45th birthday. Most of you knew him by the name he rapped by: The Jacka. His name at birth, however, was Dominic Newton. His Islamic name was Shaheed Akbar. Like most of his friends, I called him “Jack.”

The Jacka at The Grill studios

The Jacka at The Grill studios, 2011

The first time I met The Jacka, it was at San Jose State University in 2001, while attending a Hip-Hop Congress event. Shamako Noble, the organizer of the event and an amazing rapper and activist, had been telling me how important he was in the streets for some time. Shamako told me, “The Jacka is real street, but he’s serious about upliftment in the hood.” I thought he seemed like a sincere cat. Not your average “gangsta rapper.” But, as I later found out, it was way deeper than that.

To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about meeting him that day. But once we met, over the course of nearly fifteen years, Jack and I always stayed in touch. What I remember more than what we talked about on our first meeting are the conversations we had afterwards. His knowledge was deeper than surface-level opinions, book science or street game. It was an absolute fusion of the three. So he could speak one sentence about God and another about gang life in the East Bay and it all was immersed in the same pure essence.

“I met Tupac in 1989 through our mutual friends Ray Luv and DJ Dizzie. Right up until his tragic murder in 1996, we developed a friendship that, while originally rooted in Hip-Hop, was much more about political and social activism. With The Jacka, it was the same kinda thing.”

Jacka will invariably be compared to other fallen Bay Area Hip Hop heroes: Tupac Shakur, Mac Dre, Seagram, Mike Dream, and the list goes on. I met Tupac in 1989 through our mutual friends Ray Luv and DJ Dizzie. Right up until his tragic murder in 1996, we developed a friendship that, while originally rooted in Hip-Hop, was much more about political and social activism. With The Jacka, it was the same kinda thing. Our friendship was focused on our faith. I don’t think he ever shared a lyric with me over the phone or played me a beat. Hip-Hop was almost off our radar. It never came up. Our focus was striving for oneness with God despite our flaws.

Adisa Banjoko (c.) and Tupac Shakur (r.), circa 1989

Adisa Banjoko (c.) and Tupac Shakur (r.), circa 1989

My initial introductions to both Pac and Jack were casual. But as I got to know each of them better, both relationships deepened. They became friends I cared about, people I knew not as rappers, but as human beings. Then, one day, out of nowhere, you look up and they are gone, dying as icons, legends, myths. Immortalized in death as they were celebrated in life. Pac and Jack were both lovers of the people, champions of those who have been ignored, and uncompromising in the expression of their art. This made them both equally feared and respected in life and death.

The last time Jack and I hung out, it was October 24th, 2012. Jack brought the Mob Figaz, the crew he started with back in the ‘90s, to John O’Connell High School in San Francisco’s Mission District, an environment which is often rife with racial and gang tensions. At O’Connell, Jack talked to some of the youth there about making wise choices in life and going after what is in their heart.  He spoke as part of a panel that had graff artist Carlos Rodriguez, rapper Big Rich, Latino entrepreneur Pablo Fuentes and educator Arash Daneshzadeh. After the talk, Jack signed autographs and took photos with some of my students. His presence meant a lot to them.

“The Jacka’s knowledge was deeper than surface-level opinions, book science or street game. It was an absolute fusion of the three. So he could speak one sentence about God and another about gang life in the East Bay and it all was immersed in the same pure essence.”

A few years before that, in 2007, I connected with Jack, Freeway, and Beanie Sigel at the Triton Hotel in San Francisco. I interviewed them for a piece I wrote for Illume Magazine called “Thugs in the Masjid.” (Editor’s note: the word “masjid,” Arabic for mosque, is analogous to the word “church” in English.) What I remember most from the interview  was that he wanted Beans and Freeway to shine. He actually spoke the least in the interview, but as always, he had amazing things to share. What stuck with me was his complete belief in the power of prayer.

Gary Archer (l.) and The Jacka (r.)

Gary Archer (l.) and The Jacka (r.)

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation, which illustrates the strength of his faith in Allah: “One day I got caught up in a high speed chase. I had to hop out the car, run, with my shirt off- everything. I kept saying “a-oudu billah min esh-sheytan nir rajim“. (Editor’s note: this translates to “I seek protection from God against the devil”) They let the dogs loose on me. “I was like, I got nothin’.” The dogs came out, but they never attacked… It worked.”

Before the interview, my friend Mikael Santini and I met the three rappers in the lobby and Mikael took at the time what I thought was a quick, insignificant photo. What I didn’t know was the picture was one of the first shots to document Islam uniting East coast and West coast rappers. This was actually a highly significant cultural moment in the Hip Hop world. Jack and Freeway went on to drop many more gems together, solidifying their bond and building on Islamic knowledge. On the Write My Wrongs Mixtape, released in 2013, the two even used a song featuring Malcolm X.

Jacka and I built on a lot of Islamic topics. No matter how much grime and street truth Jack shared with his fanbase, he always pointed people towards Islam. He hid his inspirational medicine for the diseases on the streets inside the candy of rap music.  His deen (Editor’s note: “deen” is Arabic for religion or spiritual path) was to uplift the ghetto, from a ghetto perspective. It goes without saying that he kept it 100. But as thugged-out as his image was, he was always seeking knowledge, always looking for more jewels for his crown.

Once The Jacka asked me to help him find some books. He wanted to refine his relationship with Allah. So one rainy day, K9, Jack and I visited Rumi Bookstore in Fremont, CA.  Jack bought “Purification of the Heart” by Hamza Yusuf, along with a few lecture DVD’s from Hamza and Imam Zaid. (“Purification of the Heart” is an ancient Islamic text from West Africa. It teaches people specific cures for ridding the self of vices like greed, anger, and other flaws that hold us back from being truly great.) Then we went to a halal restaurant. K9 and I played chess while Jack and I talked about religious matters. Jack was not a chess player. “I need you to show me, Deese!” he’d say. I promised him I’d teach him next time we hung out.

The Jacka, circa 2011

The Jacka, circa 2011

Not long after reading Hamza’s book, Jack made a rap about Purification of the Heart. In his 2009 single with Freeway, “They Don’t Know,” not only did he reference our conversation two years earlier when he said, “me, Beans and Adisa, we were building on Islam,” but he also worked the theme into his flow: “I tried to purify my heart, ‘cause I’m a slave to my thoughts/ I’m a monster out here, ‘cause I change when it’s dark.”

From that point forward, Jack and Freeway started dropping lyrical fire on the streets, squashing widely-held notions of coastal beefs with their inspired collaborations. Jack was wise to build alliances with other like-minded, independent artists who, like him, had heavy street reps. He connected with East Coast heavyweights Cormega (The Firm) and Raekwon (Wu-Tang Clan). He teamed with Freeway, Dungeon Family alum Killer Mike, and South Bay producer Traxamillion for the gem-laced “Sunnah Boys,” one of my favorite Jacka tracks of all time.

It’s difficult right now, while his passing is still so fresh in my mind and the minds of many in the Hip Hop community worldwide, to measure Jack’s total impact. I believe he taught more young people about the value of striving to live better through Islam, than a lot of the national Islamic dawah (outreach) programs combined. This is because he was courageous enough to take truth to cats deep in the street life. His music was an open hand, an attempt to pull his people up.

“Jacka and I built on a lot of Islamic topics. No matter how much grime and street truth Jack shared with his fanbase, he always pointed people towards Islam. He hid his inspirational medicine for the diseases on the streets inside the candy of rap music. “

Inside the American Muslim community, there have been longstanding arguments about Muslims doing music. This came up mainly because as many African Americans converted to Islam, they did not let go of their love for music. Many immigrant Muslims are more conservative by nature; many Arabs and other immigrants have been unforgiving in their condemnation of Muslims who make music. Nevertheless, the Black men and women of North America have always embraced music as a method to preserve their history, share wisdom and inspire.

Dr. Ivan Van Sertima’s book Golden Age of the Moor shows irrefutable evidence that African Muslims not only innovated music as they ruled Moorish Spain for five centuries, they invested in it (and other forms of culture) heavily. The Ottomans made similar investments. So, to me, it is no surprise that The Jacka held onto his music as he evolved in his faith.

The Jacka (r.) with United Roots' Galen Slyvestri (l.)

The Jacka (r.) with United Roots’ Galen Silvestri (l.)

It’s worth noting that the Chapel Hill murders of Muslims Deah Barakat, Abdi-Samad Sheik Hussein, Yusur Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha happened in close proximity to the murder of Shaheed Akbar, aka The Jacka. Oakland’s Lighthouse Mosque, led by internationally respected Imam Zaid Shakir, held a prayer vigil for all of them. The mosque released a statement listing them all as “young martyrs.” It read in part “May Allah grant patience and Healing to the grieving family who must now mourn their loss!”

When I read the statement, a tear of joy started to form in my right eye. I blinked long and hard to hold it in. The Prophet Muhammad taught that “The ink of the scholar was more holy than the blood of the martyr”. This shows that Islam loves scholars who share the truth above warriors who shed blood in God’s name. Prophet Muhammad also taught that the greatest jihad (struggle) is within one’s own self. The struggle to master one’s vices, passions, bad habits, etc.

The Jacka (far right) at Oakland's United Roots in 2011

The Jacka (far right) at Oakland’s United Roots in 2011

Jack was never quiet about his struggles. That is what made him so approachable and impossible to judge. It’s what made his smile so infectious, his word so sincere. So many gangsta rappers and so-called revolutionaries talk about their love for the hood. But unless they have an album to sell, you might never see them on the turf in a week, a month, or a year. The Jacka was the exact opposite; he was always in the hood, mixing it up with his people. In retrospect, maybe he was there too much.

When my birthday came a few days after he died, it was pretty low-key. It rained heavy that night. The Jacka was on my mind the entire day. I was torn between feeling thankful to be alive, and feeling guilty that I was still among the living. Jack was only 37. Last year, I lost 5 people. It was too early in the year for me to be dealing with death, I thought to myself.

Meanwhile, scholars from all over the world were convening at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to talk about Malcolm X’s impact on politics, art and spirituality in America and the world, for a conference called “Malcolm X 50 Years Later.” I had been invited by Dr. James Peterson, Director of Africana Studies at Lehigh, to give my insights on Islam’s impact on Hip-Hop through Malcolm X.

Adisa Banjoko (photo courtesy Hip Hop Chess Federation)

Adisa Banjoko (photo courtesy Hip Hop Chess Federation)

I worked for days to put together my presentation. But after learning of Jack’s murder, I tossed it all out and put together a new lecture: “Black Redemption:  Detroit Red and The Jacka.” The discussion talks about how the young life of Detroit Red (Malcolm’s street name before Islam) and The Jacka’s young life before Islam were very similar. I went on to talk about how faith and art are common refuges for Black men when enduring oppression and exclusion from the American mainstream. My talk was received well by professors and students alike. Dr. Peterson and I spoke the next week. He told me all the lectures from the conference will be made into a book. It made me glad in my heart to know that Jack’s contributions to Hip-Hop and Islam will be preserved for future generations. The Jacka was no saint, but he loved the poor, helped a lot of people who could not return the favor and did it all for the sake of God.

How will The Jacka’s legacy live on? I think in the coming years we will see radio stations that ignored his work put him in rotation. We will see TV networks that would have said he wasn’t “newsworthy” two months ago doing documentaries on his life. Maybe people will try to make movies. I don’t know. I don’t even care. I just wanted to let my brother Shaheed Akbar know that I really did love him. I never felt like I was able to thank him properly for all the times he gave love to the kids, shouted me out on a track, or just called to say what’s up. Jack, if you’re listening, I will never let them distort your work to enlighten the kids on the streets, incarcerated youth and brothers on lockdown. God willing, I will teach you chess in jannah. Salaam alaikum akhi.

Adisa Banjoko is the Founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. For more information on the HHCF visit www.hiphopchessfederation.com.  



Life is Living 2014: Keeping it Beautiful

Live review: Life is Living Festival, Oct. 11, DeFremery Park.

Trying to describe Oakland’s Life is Living Festival is like trying to describe life itself. On a sunny, warm day, with every part of West Oakland’s DeFremery park activated—with people everywhere, listening to live hip-hop music well past dusk, sitting on the grass in front of Brett Cook’s large paintings of inspirational Oakland folks, skating or BMXing at Town Park, participating in kids’ activities with the little ones, perusing the wares of local artisans and artists, standing in line for a plate of yummy jollof rice and ndole from A Taste of Africa, or just having a parkside picnic with family members or loved ones—it seems absolutely perfect.

Candice Antique Davis and Kev Choice get open at the Soul Sessions

Candice Antique Davis and Kev Choice get open at the Soul Sessions

To call Life is Living a much-anticipated event would be an understatement. Every year since its inception, the Youth Speaks-produced festival is something to look forward to, a day of being surrounded by community, friends old and new, of being outside on what usually amounts to the last days of Indian Summer, just before the weather shifts and Fall begins in earnest. It’s also no exaggeration to call Life is Living a cultural institution, one which honors and celebrates local artists, musicians, and the community itself, in a completely sincere, open, and non-elitist way. Along with Oakland’s other open-air, music-filled community gatherings (among them Art & Soul, Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival, Umoja Festival and Hiero Day), Life is Living has become part of the cultural fabric which holds the Town together, an event where the intersectionality of the city’s fabled diversity is on full display.

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There’s always spoken word poetry, music and plenty of art at Life is Living, and this year was more of the same. Each year the lineup is a little different—last year, headliners dead prez rocked the main stage with revolutionary rap; the year before that, Pete Escovedo, Los Rakas and DJ Questlove threw down—but it always showcases and spotlights the cream of local talent.

Life is Living 2014 483

Netta Brielle

New this year was a reggae sound system stage, with yard-style exposed speaker grills and a succession of dancehall-inclined emcees chanting down Babylon all afternoon. Progressive hip-hop collective Town Futurists also held down a main stage slot, offering up conscious, lyrical beats and rhymes and forward-looking soul grooves. The “Front Porch” stage hosted spoken word, an “MC Olympics” freestyle rhyme cipher, and various local emcees—including the Beats Rhymes and Life crew, Madlines and the Queen Emcees, former Lunar Heights mic-slanger Spear of the Nation, and longstanding socio-politically-aware rhymer Jahi, who recently joined the Public Enemy family as PE2.0.  Meanwhile, the kids’ stage featured performers Emily Butterfly, Theobekile “Thobs” Mbanda, and Young, Gifted & Black, along with gymnastics, tumbling and Zumba. While the absence of female performers from this year’s Hiero Day was a valid gripe among the artist community, no such complaint could be made about Life is Living: there was hardly any gender imbalance, if at all, at any of the stages.

Jennifer Johns

Jennifer Johns

The highlight of this years’ event, hands-down, was the “Soul Sessions” all-star revue assembled by pianist/composer/emcee Kev Choice.  Choice and his band remained on stage while a succession of uber-talented singers and rappers passed through to swap spit and channel soulful emotions. These included Candice Antique Davis of Antique Naked Soul, who murdered a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “For You,” which had the crowd singing along to the “na na na na na na na” chorus; Erk tha Jerk, who dueted with Choice on “Forever Again” (one of the favorites from Choice’s latest solo release, Oakland Riviera); Netta Brielle, a homegrown contemporary R&B songstress who’s been living in Atlanta after signing to Atlantic Records; soul powerhouse Jennifer Johns (who brought up Ryan Nicole of Nu Dekades for a spirited run-through of “Town’d Out,” a song from Johns’ long-rumored,yet-to-materialize, third album; surprise cameos from Phesto Dee of Souls of Mischief/Hieroglyphics, and 1-O.A.K.; and a set-closing posse jam with Johns, Nicole, Kev Omoaghe Akhidenor, and Jahi which left the stage smoking. Credit must be given to Choice’s band— drummer John Omayga Adams, guitarist Bnai Rebelfront, keyboardist Doug Jones, bassist Drew, and sax players Ranzell Merritt and Roger Cox, who made the wide-ranging stylistic shifts seem easy and effortless—something they couldn’t possibly have actually been. While it’s great to see such talent play locally—especially in a space which holds as much memory as DeFremery (the onetime stomping ground of the Black Panthers)—the onstage energy was so combustible, it would be a shame for Choice not to take this revue on the road, so folks living outside of Oakland can see how it really goes down here.

Shock G

Shock G

Another first this year was the extension of the live performances past the daylight hours. This portion of the event featured Digital Underground frontman and hip-hop legend Shock G—yes, the one who put the satin on your panties—who seemed to be trying his best to channel his fallen friend and onetime bandmate Tupac Shakur. Shock switched between microphone and piano during his set, assisted by just a bassist and a DJ, and alternated between telling ‘Pac anecdotes, segueing into ‘Pac songs like “So Many Tears” and “I Get Around,” and lyrically referencing the formerly Oakland-based rap icon on “Keep It Beautiful”: His special special gift was his love side/ So many try’na be Pac but only cop the thug side/ How come yall don’t wanna be Shock? I survived/ And I ride for everyone/ It’s what you make it, so I made mine fun/ Yeah it’s bad now, don’t make it worse/ You wanna be happy? set that energy in motion and offer a smile first/ They don’t get it? try it again, breathe baby, breathe/ You really wanna be like Pac? read shorty, read.

There’s a lot which could be said about how the commercial rap industry has gone straight downhill since Tupac’s death 18 years ago. And to be honest, there’s little that’s appealing about commercial rap nowadays to those who identify as hip-hop generationers. But if Life is Living is anything, it’s a testament to the fact that good hip-hop is still being made, and that some of the best hip-hop being made is being made by community-oriented artists on a grassroots level who welcome the chance to take their show to the people in the park.

Marc Bamuthi Joeseph and Chinaka Hodge

Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Chinaka Hodge

It’s no mistake that the organizers of Life is Living include Hodari Davis and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, both of whom are card-carrying members of the hip-hop generation who present this festival like an offering to the orishas, with ritualistic purpose and complete integrity. These past few years, they’ve not only put on an enthralling annual event, but created a cultural legacy which uplifts community. Life is Living not only gives hope to future generations that hip-hop—and other urban genres—can stay positive and inspirational, but just might keep old heads who witnessed hip-hop’s evolution back in the day from becoming jaded and bitter about where the artform is at these days.

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The Oak Q & A: Jahi as PE2.0 (Part II)


Jahi performing at the New Parish, August 2014

Jahi performing at the New Parish, August 2014

In Part One of this interview, Oakland-based educator and rapper Jahi talked about how he became the lead emcee in PE2.0, a musical and cultural initiative created by Chuck D, Professor Griff, and the Public Enemy organization, which aims to revisit the group’s legacy while pushing forward for a new generation of listeners searching for consciousness, sanity, and dignity in rap music. In this continuation of the discussion, Jahi breaks down some of the specific songs on the new album People Get Ready, and the connection between himself, Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur, the Black Panther Party, and the city of Oakland.

Oakulture: Let’s talk about some of the original PE2.0 songs, like “Mind For Malcolm.” What are you dealing with on that song?

Jahi: “Mind for Malcolm” is actually not on the album, “Mind for Malcolm” is kinda like how you shoot a flare, send a signal. The fact is, if you know Public Enemy’s history, I believe it was Chuck or maybe Keith or Hank, they were out promoting, and they put up a poster of Malcolm, and somebody said, ‘who is the dude with the glasses?’ Or something to that effect. I’m paraphrasing.  What Chuck realized is, wow, not only could we make music, but we also could lift up some messages and really say something that matters.

"Mind for Malcolm" single

“Mind for Malcolm” single

So when Malcolm [X]’s birthday was approaching, I reached out to Chuck and asked if it was okay, if I took that track, name the song “Mind For Malcolm,” and use it as a signal to let people know that PE2.0 was coming. So that’s where “Mind For Malcolm” came from. So that was really like, one of the first, you know, I had recorded maybe 7 or 8 records, and none of those records ended up on the final cut of the album, but “Mind For Malcolm” stuck so we sent it out as a signal on Malcolm’s birthday.

Oakulture: What inspired “People Get Ready”?

Jahi: Ah, man. “People Get Ready” is not a song. It’s not a song. What it is, is a call to action to save the people. Get ready, ‘cause you might have to physically fight for your freedom. We were trying to decide on some album titles, and Chuck hit me with “People Get Ready,” and I was like, I mean, number one, Curtis Mayfield, he’s probably in my top ten of all time. And just thinking about Mike Brown, thinking about Marlene Pennock, thinking about Eric Garner, thinking about all these things, and not just current events, but historical events. And, it just feels like, it needs to be said that sometimes, we slip.  Sometimes we so social with having good times, partying and kicking it, that we not ready, we be getting blindsided, and the idea of… my grandfather used to say,’ it’s time to get ready.’ That means you organize yourself, you prepare yourself, you get things in order.  So you’re able to handle the task, and right now, the task of freedom, justice, and equality, we need to be ready.  And, the more we are not ready, the more we put ourselves at risk of losing our lives at this point.

People Get Ready album cover

People Get Ready album cover

So, “People Get Ready,” once we diagrammed the album and just be thinking about… here’s where I’m at: if you think about it, I’m really not rhyming, it’s really a mantra, it’s really a chant, it’s really a meditation. Chuck comes with the rhyme. I’m not busting bars at all. But Chuck is. And then there was also a little play on that and Chuck said it.

Oakulture: “Panther Power” obviously references the legacy of the Black Panther Party. As an Oakland resident, how do you see that legacy shaping up in 2014?

Jahi: Well, “Panther Power” really first is a tribute and ode to Tupac Shakur, because on his first record, 2Pacalypse Now, he did a song called “Panther Power,” and in the chorus, he was actually cutting part of Chuck’s voice. So, the first part of it really was for him, for ‘Pac. Which connects to Oakland. I mean, the reality of it is, that in 2014, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, their beliefs, in terms of what they wanted for the community, in terms of the community services they wanted to provide, the cultural unity and pride, those are things that I feel like are as much alive now as they were then. I don’t look at the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense like they in a museum or something like that. I feel like it is very active in our lives and part of my job, as an emcee, is to attach to that. So, you know, I also got to say Rickey Vincent had a lot to do with it too, I gotta shout out to Rickey Vincent, because he wrote that book…

Oakulture: Party Music …

Party Music, by Ricky Vincent

Party Music, by Ricky Vincent

Jahi: Party Music, where he talked about the Lumpen band. So if you hear my second verse, We talking 1968, Jah called on Tommie Smith, the band in Oakland, giving the soul mix. I mean, that comes directly from Rickey Vincent. Once I got turned on to the Lumpen band, it was like, yeah, it really informed the rest of that record. And then, originally Griff was supposed to be on that record, but he wasn’t able to get on it. But we had this concept of taking songs, and putting speeches inside the song. I got plenty of quotes at the beginning and end. But in “Panther Power” in particular, Kwame Ture, when he first said Black Power, I took that whole clip and put it in there. To give a context of just that spirit. It wasn’t about freedom, he said, we’re not talking about freedom, we’re talking about power. And right now, as much as we need freedom, justice and equality, black people, we need power.  And when you say Black Power or Panther Power, there’s a certain energy that comes with that. So I wanted not so much to resurrect that, but to continue it in 2014, to inspire a 9 year-old or 8 year-old, as well as a 40 year-old.

Oakulture: There’s some cultural authenticity there too. It’s not like you live somewhere else. I mean, you’ve been an Oakland resident for 15 years, right?

Jahi: That’s right, that’s right. I live here. When I said, writing rhymes late night in the home of the Panthers, I was in Oakland, California when I said that right there. When I felt like I had a first draft, I actually was watching sunsets at Merritt College. Like, these are facts. We in a time when most people’s rhymes are so fantasy. Sometimes, we be getting in metaphorical and lyrical exercises, nah, this is like right in your face. I mean, I’m in Oakland, and I’m thankful that I’m in Oakland. I lived a lot of places, I moved around a lot of places. But I’m thankful to be in Oakland, I’m thankful of the history here. I know that I’m standing on shoulders of ancestors. I don’t take it for granted. You know, just being in Public Enemy stands on the shoulders of the Panthers. You know what, I couldn’t have been in a better place anywhere else in the world to be able to do this first project.

Oakulture: “What They Need” is another strong one. What are you addressing with that one?

Jahi on the set of "What They Need"

Jahi on the set of “What They Need”

Jahi: Mmmn. “What They Need” is a revisit, give the people what they need was [an] original lyric by Public Enemy. So I really like how they did the chorus, cameras, lights, action, look out, human rights, whiplash, po-po, Fed killers, killing kids. I mean, we are experiencing that right now. So, I think about kids, if you say here’s some ice cream, or here’s a home-cooked mean, you know, beans and rice and all of that. All of the kids will go pick what they want, they’ll pick the ice cream. But the reality is what we need is more wholesome and important for us. So “What They Need” was really kinda diving in to say that, you know, there’s a certain level of lyricism with emcees that are around the world, and represent a particular lane. And that lane is socially-conscious. It is aware. It is forward-thinking, and it is life-affirming, it is revolutionary. And I wanted to send a signal that, I’m not dissing nobody in nobody else’s lane, but I’m in my lane. And my lane is just as valid as anybody else. And when you look at it from a world perspective, you realize that. So, in mentioning “What They Need,” don’t just be social, be committed and vocal. It’s some ancient context. I said, we giants, we not just talking baseball, we talking ancient scrolls that was left on the wall, that best represent the renaissance people. We are still those renaissance people. It’s almost like a reminder back and a push forward at the same time.