Iconic hip-hop collective and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alum Public Enemy is responsible for providing countless classic hit singles, along with a string of gold or platinum albums over the course of nearly three decades. Frontman Chuck D has since personally recruited Cleveland emcee Jahi to help continue the legacy of the house that P.E. built.
Let’s hop right into this brand new album, InsPirEd — although pretty self-explanatory, conceptually, what does this title represents both to and for you?
What this title means conceptually is that despite the current American reality we are living in that can sometimes stifle inspiration, I’m still inspired to write hip-hop music in the lane I represent. What it means for me is another project under Public Enemy as PE 2.0 proving the legacy and cultural power being with a group who has a 28-year legacy of speaking truth to power.
How does InsPirEd either differ and/or compare to other Jahi efforts?
The comparison is its the lane of Hip Hop I’ve always done. I call it social commentary over boom bap. The difference is after listening to Man Plans God Laughs by Public Enemy, their latest release, I started the process of saying less but saying more at the same time. I still have a lot to say, but this time more than lyrical acrobatics, it’s in plain view; clear, loud and direct.
The set’s latest offering is titled “Crowd Rockers” — how did it come to fruition?
My label mate and legend, Easy Mo Bee, put out an instrumental album And You Don’t Stop! earlier in the year. There was a track on their called “Throwback.” As soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to rock over it as it has that Hip Hop essence feel. Salute to the big homey, Easy Mo Bee! If you don’t know his level of history, I would strongly encourage you to Google him. It was a honor to be able to say in my lifetime I was able to create songs with his legendary production.
On it, of course, you teamed up with ‘The Blastmaster’ himself, who also appears on another track, “BLK Thesis” — How did this connection even come about?
KRS-One is my big brother and it’s been that way since 1998. But, we never did songs together. We just rock live and rip stages. I sent him “Black Thesis” and “Crowd Rockers” and said either one. KRS-One did both. Ha! The way these songs came about is having a solid relationship with KRS-One and his wife, Simone, over the years. I would like to think I am, like KRS a preservationist of Hip Hop as an international world culture. Again, it was and is a honor to work with my heroes.
InsPirEd comes courtesy of RCS Music, an indie venture — What particular string of events led to this union?
RCS is Chuck D and Gary G-Wiz’s independent label. Being in the camp means putting out our own music through our own avenues. It provides the platform for our own commerce of our own products to be able to control our revenue stream and our connectivity to our musical family that supports the movement.
You also recorded the LP using the moniker PE 2.0 — Can you explains as to why?
Move as a team never move alone is an important line from Chuck D on “Welcome to the Terrordome.” PE 2.0 which is Project Experience Millennium is the new branch on the iconic tree that is Public Enemy. More so that being a solo artist, which I’ve been most of my career, I am now recording under PE 2.0 to show that its bigger than just me putting out records but speaks to continuing my musical career connect to a bigger legacy.
When did you first become interested in music?
For me, it was when I was 12 years old and living through the golden age of hip-hop. Before Run-DMC, I wanted to be a fireman. After Run-DMC, I wanted to be a MC. No one was thinking record deals, or what you could get from Hip Hop by doing and being it. In my neighborhood, it was about originality and respect when I first started. It was about choosing to be a MC or one of the founding four elements of hip-hop culture and being nice with it. That attracted me to hip-hop more than anything.
Now where exactly do you hail from? And growing up there, who all did/do you consider to be your strongest musical influences?
I’m originally from East Cleveland, Ohio. My biggest influence would have to by my mother and family because they were the ones playing the Soul and Funk and Jazz around me. From The O’Jays, to The Crusaders, to Roger (Troutman) and Zapp. Vinyl was more important in my life and growing up than television. Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Queen Latifah, Jungle Brothers, PE, etcetera, had strong influences on me coming up. Today, I still say my top five is Rakim, KRS, Chuck D, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Andre 3000.
How then would you describe and/or define the style of music that you create and perform?
I know there’s been a lot of conversation recently about this term, but I still consider myself a conscious MC. Conscious meaning awareness. My awareness is from a lens that is pro-black in scope, mostly profanity free, life affirming Hip Hop…And not the narrow conscious MC definition that is floating around. This album, like my others, again is social commentary over boom bap.
What do you feel you offer the music industry that we don’t already have in other performers?
What I offer is the answer to the question of where’s the balance in music. My style, my lane, my scope is really more cerebral than celebrity. It’s black in nature, my music is intelligent, it’s forward thinking. There is a lot of rap music that is counter to that. I’m not hating, it’s just a fact. What’s also a fact is there is no way I’m going to change that expression and the way it gets out and into the minds of our people, especially young people. But, I can offer a special plate of musical food that is original, fresh and intentional, so when someone finds my music and hears it, they leave with a distinct impression of who I am and the values I represent as they are in the music.
Have you encountered any problems in getting to this point in your career?
Life is full of challenges. It’s how you respond to them that determines your trajectory in a music career…The biggest challenge is changing with the times in terms of how music is valued, delivered, listened to and maneuvering to make sure you can still have commerce and control of your art.
What do you want people to get from your music?
Lyrics. Lyricism. Strong Beats. Intellectual stimulation. A view of Hip Hop that is expansive and informed.
If you could collaborate with any one artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Very hard question as my musical tastes are deep. Off top, I would say James Brown if an ancestor, and alive I would love to do (a) collaboration with Timbaland. I know that might surprise folks, but I think he’s a genius.
If you could play any venue in the world, which one would you choose and why?
The Isle of Wight (Festival). Check Miles Davis performance when he was there. I want to try to come close to that. The venue is doPE.
One track of yours that you think defines you and why?
If I had to choose from the new album insPirEd I would have to say “Beats and Rhymes.” Why, because at the end of the day, like KRS-One said, “relying on talent not marketing and promotion” is something I try to live by. “Beats and Rhymes” is a good example of who I am.
What are your future plans and/or goals for sustaining longevity in music?
Continue to have fun and know that there is a difference between making music and the music industry will secure my longevity. My future plans include writing a few books, continuing to drop albums, and continue to build on the cultural legacy of Public Enemy.
Do you have any other outside/additional aspirations, maybe even completely away from music?
Yes, I am the program manager of The Manhood Development Program with The Office of African American Male Achievement in the Oakland Unified School District. My goal is to continue to help my community through education and advocacy. I also am a drum maker and plan to give away 10,000 drums in my lifetime. The drum is important to our culture as African people. Lastly, I want to write children’s books.
To date, what has been your biggest career moment, at least thus far anyway?
Having a 16 year career in hip-hop.
Looking ahead, say five or maybe even 10 years from now, where do you see yourself?
Five years from now, I am on the continent of Africa answering your questions from either Ghana or Ethiopia.
As for the immediate, what’s next for Jahi?
Right now, I’m headed to my office to help some youth in my community through my program, recording a song for a soundtrack for a documentary called ‘KingMakers’ I’m involved in, and pushing out the new album insPirEd that I hope folks will pick up and check out.
Is there anything I left out or just plain forgot to mention?
Any parting message for our readers?
I want to thank you Todd for what you do and having the opportunity to chop it up. To your readers, enjoy the music and spread the word. Peace.