Jahan Nostra: ESP

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Kjelleren

Photo courtesy of Sarah Kjelleren

Jahan Nostra has an extensive career in Hip-Hop. Rocking the mic since his early teens, Nostra honed his skills in hot beds of Hip-Hop – New York and North Carolina. The Stamford, Connecticut emcee has a few projects under his belt that have led him to the release of his most avant-garde album yet, ESP.

Scheduled for a mid-March release, ESP is produced by Symphony, Jay All Day, Mr. Perclivitive, B. divine, Kaptain Kirk, D.M.T. Music, and Maulskulls. The album features appearances by Smif-N-Wessun, Ray Vega, Tone Trump, Ray Kyro, Samira Gibson, Omar Wilson, Ceschi, Cindy Rose, Puma Simone, MeLa Machinko, Groove U, and Groove U Kids.

Jahan Nostra spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about cultivating his craft throughout the east coast, a chance encounter with a Basketball Hall of Famer, and his new album, ESP.

TRHH: Why did you name your new album ESP?

Jahan Nostra: It’s actually a double meaning. ESP is also known as East Side Power. It’s kind of the part of town where I’m from in Stamford. I’m also from Mount Vernon, New York. I always lived on the east side so ESP kind of represents the part of town that I’m from. On a mass level the literal acronym stands for Extrasensory perception, which is kind of like having a sixth sense. That’s kind of how I did the album, too. It wasn’t so structured; it was more about a mood and a feeling, kind of like how Stevie Wonder plays the keys. If I gave an example of what ESP was about it’s like when LeBron James has the ball and he passes to Kevin Love or somebody. When he passes he doesn’t look, he just kind of knows Kevin Love is there on the fast break, that’s having ESP.

TRHH: So you feel like you were in a zone recording this album?

Jahan Nostra: Well yes, because it was more than just “I’m going to write this down” or strategically thing of this. My last album Sleepwalking was very strategic. It was cranium driven, music is more of a feeling. When I say cranium driven I don’t mean that in a bad way I just mean I sat down, took the beats home, structured them, and had a process and a really accurate flow. This album is very cohesive, don’t get it twisted, but a lot of it was based on raw emotion. Being that it represents where I’m from and ESP represents a certain part of my life it’s very introspective in many ways. The process was more doing things off of emotion as opposed to doing this off of mentality. It was like a sixth sense when I was doing it because it was very organic. I went into the studio and had ideas, production, and the stuff I wanted to use, but I laid a lot of the stuff right there. I laid a lot off of a reoccurring emotion that made it like the tactic of ESP. The same way Extrasensory perception works is the same technique in which I recorded the album, Sherron.

TRHH: What inspired the single Living Your Life?

Jahan Nostra: Wow, look around us, man. I know a lot of people need inspiration out there. You speak about what inspires me, well I’m usually inspired by what inspires people — what moves people. Living Your Life is basically a song about being yourself no matter what and kind of conveying your unique personality to the world. At the same time living free and speaking up on things that are not necessarily just what’s accustomed to you in the world. “Life used to be about dreams, now life is all about memes,” and a lot of that song is a shout out to all the individuals out there prospering in the struggle and trying to live everyday life. What I like about Living Your Life is it can relate to anybody, whether you’re rich, poor, down and out, white, black, whatever. The real aspect of it is to live your life no matter who you are. Progress and be you, most of all. Don’t try to be nobody else, just be who you are. I also give a shout out to a lot of people that are fallen from being in jail or have either lost their way on the path, I’m hoping they live their life too. I give a personal shout out to four or five people that are close to me that kind of got the rough path. It’s a concoction of both of those things.

TRHH: How is this album different from your last album, Sleepwalking?

Jahan Nostra: We day dream every day and dream every night so we’re all sleepwalkers. Sleepwalking’s subject matter dealt with the actual visualization of dreams, lucid dreams, how we live by them, and how we can bring our dreams to fruition. ESP is more introspective than Sleepwalking. Sleepwalking has maybe one or two introspective songs. One is called Who’s There and there is another one. I really just scratched the surface but it kind of leaves you intrigued for more. ESP is way more introspective. I talk a lot more about my life on songs like Time, songs like Whole Life, and even Living Your Life. The songs are more autobiographical, more introspective, and have a lot more instrumentation on the production side on ESP. Sleepwalking is a little more Hip-Hop sample based. Also, I think there is a lot more piano because I was inspired a lot by Stevie Wonder on ESP. I also play piano. Like I said, the process in which I wrote it was more on the spot and more feeling. Sleepwalking was more brain-driven, even though it’ll still make you move. ESP is more emotion-driven.

TRHH: You have a long history in Hip-Hop despite being a young guy; tell me about your time in North Carolina and your battle against Phonte.

Jahan Nostra: [Laughs] Yeah man shout out to Phonte, 9th Wonder, Little Brother, The Justus League, and Cesar Comanche. Those guys are my OG’s. They’re veterans to me in many ways. They’re all pretty much older than me by a couple of years. I started in Hip-Hop when I was 14. I had my first indie label, BMX Entertainment when I was 14-years old up here. I did mixtapes and was pretty popular in high school for music. By the time I was 18 going on 19 I moved to North Carolina. I went to UNC for a while and I also went to Durham Technical Community College. I lived in Durham with my aunt, which was a 5-to-10 minute walk from Duke University. On Friday night’s I worked on Duke University Radio with this guy named Michael Samps and Daddy Rich. I was on a show called Daddy Rich’s House of Hits. I was kind of a disc jockey. It was dope because it gave me an insight into songs and what would be played. From 19-to-23 every Friday night after my studies that was my only recreation for most of those years. 9th Wonder, Phonte, Big Pooh, Cesar Comanche, and the Justus League were forming their alliance. This was before any of them got on or anything. They had a show that came on before mine on Duke University Radio. My show came on at 11 and their show came on around 10. It was 9th Wonder and DJ Samps. We would chop up Hip-Hop. They would be down in the basement on Okayplayer trying to construct and get their selves out there to people like ?uestlove. Later on ?uestlove heard their music. I was there when they were trying to press hard. There was many events that I was involved in. I had an outlet with the radio and I would freestlye over instrumentals and do songs and mixtapes.

There was a competition at this place called Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill by UNC. They had an event that was a like 30 standoff MC battle. It was dope because it wasn’t an Eminem type battle where you just tear people down. You had three phases of a battle where you freestyle, spit an exclusive verse, and they switch the beat up on you and you could flow. They’d grade you on those three processes. Phonte was in that challenge and so was a guy named J Gunn. I passed the first two rounds and me and Phonte faced off against each other in the third. We both did our thing. Phonte was full of energy at that time. Phonte is a dope emcee. We went through the three phases and the judges ranked it. I think it was like 9/8, 10/7, and 10/9. He beat me slightly by the judges and we had a real tight relationship after that. We worked with each other at the radio station. He showed me a lot in that battle. He used a lot of energy. He’s always been lyrically efficient, but not as much as he is now. North Carolina is his home, I was an outsider, and he was very engaging and got the people involved with hype-ness. He used a good technique. He’s a pretty smart guy. Neither of us won the competition. The guy who won the competition was a young cat named J Gunn. He got a chance to have his stuff played on radio. Hip-Hop was in the building back in North Carolina at the time. I heard The Listening before anyone knew what it was. I was there when The Listening was being conceptualized. When The Listening was being made I was in the studio. I heard most of it before it ever hit the world and blew up. I respect those dudes. They’re real Hip-Hop aficionados. They helped me a lot.

TRHH: I know nothing about Connecticut so when I think of Stamford I think of rich people. What’s Stamford like and what’s the Hip-Hop scene there like?

Jahan Nostra: That’s a great question. You’re out of Chicago and a lot of people have that perception and it is financially sound. Bridgeport had the highest murder rate in the country in 2007 and beyond. It’s about twenty minutes from me and there was killing left and right. They was beating Chicago at one time. You have different areas of Connecticut that are richer like Greenwich which is like Beverly Hills. As far as certain areas there are patchworks of areas that are very crazy. Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven – they call it Pistol wavin’ New Haven, have a pretty high murder rate. Where I’m from, Stamford, it’s both. We’re all intellectual. There is a good school system and I’m happy about that. I’m also from Mount Vernon, New York so I know the lifestyle of living in different areas. We call Stamford “The City That Works.” It has both sides. You have people that are successful because there are a lot of businesses there now. it’s actually grown from when I was a kid. Stamford pretty much has at least five to six inner-city projects. They’ve been built up now but it definitely has an urban presence.

When it comes to Hip-Hop they’re very much into lyrics. They are educated in certain ways but we do have patches of streets. What I always say about Connecticut artists is what differentiates them from other cities and areas is their jargon. The sharpness of their tongue, even more than New York, they’re a little more native north eastern in tongue. The S’s are sharp and their words can come off as proper. Maybe even like an Eminem in some ways. They have these areas where a brand new sound comes out of because we have education, we have access to very good things to help us learn, but we still have an urban presence. So it’s kind of like a mix which makes for dope emceeing. I think a lot emcees feel you can only be hood or this and that, but you have the hood, you have the diversity, and you have a concoction of both. While I’m in the inner-city I can go downtown and see things that I wanted to achieve so it kept me inspired. There are other places in the country like that. I think Oakland and a lot of the Bay is like that. You have your areas of hood stuff and a certain amount of education and things that you can see. I would say the scene is a concoction of intellectuals but ones with an urban presence. Especially when you’re from those patches of Stamford.

The rich rappers are the rich rappers and there is not too many of them here. A lot of them aren’t put on to the culture. They’re probably working at a hedge fund or something like that. The ones that are interested in the culture that are right here make some great music because they’re very broad. That’s if you apply it. Some people from Stamford are heavily influenced by New York and want to sound like that. They haven’t really found themselves, but that’s usually not experienced rappers. The hierarchy of the Stamford Hip-Hop scene, and not to brag but I’m one of them, we’ve kind of created this sound that’s crossover intellectual. It’s really making for a new sound. I think it’s going to capture the world by storm. You’re hearing something new. It’s like when Nelly came out. People knock Nelly, and I’m not the biggest Nelly fan in the world but what made him really pop was the uniqueness coming from where he was from. He stuck to those roots and made impact and I think Hip-Hop needs that right now. Everybody sounds the same, everybody is trappin’, and everybody sounds like they’re from New Orleans. My parents live in Atlanta. A lot of people sound like they’re from Atlanta and they’re from somewhere else. I’m not knocking that if that’s what you feel but I think the originality is gone and Connecticut brings something new.

TRHH: The song Welcome Home has an upbeat sound and an uplifting message. Is it indicative of your personality?

Jahan Nostra: Oh wow, Sherron that’s a great question. Yeah, sometimes – most of the time. I have this style where I can be this up tempo funny rapper with a positive energy vibe. People are telling me this and I’m just doing me. I’m actually learning things because I learn things from my music. I would say yes. I used to box and I’m heavy on adrenaline. Everything about that video is real. Even though whole ESP thing. The reason why I’m the trainer and my brother is boxing in the video is because we actually used to do that as kids. When you look at it that fit the adrenaline of the song. As far as my personality, that song comes straight from my personality. Also, I wanted to be able to harness that energy because I wanted to touch people. I think it’s important to hit people with impact. I’m not always like that, I’m a pretty laid back guy. I have this real high strung adrenaline side of me and I would definitely say that it reflects my personality. You can hear upliftment in Living Your Life which is a slower pace but the feeling is upbeat and inspirational. It’s definitely part of my personality, it’s not the only part. I think people can feel that through the music. I think that’s one of my number one attributes. You can feel the authenticity and the genuineness and I think that comes from me being happy about being me, no matter what.

TRHH: On the song Vitamin D you said you chilled courtside with MJ. What was your interaction with Michael Jordan at the Garden like?

Jahan Nostra: It’s funny because yesterday on YouTube I looked up David Lee’s last section shot. That’s what game I was at. It was December 21, 2006. By day I was working with a hedge fund and I have a pretty good relationship with a lot of people in high places. On that day they gave me tickets to go to the Knicks game courtside. The Knicks were playing the Bobcats that game. I was basically in the celebrity row. I actually have footage of this. Michael Jordan was at the game. Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest was to the right of me, to the left of me was John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, and Ahmad Rashad. My seat enabled me to be closest to Michael Jordan. David Lee did something that still hasn’t been topped. The Knicks were in double overtime and he ended up winning on a tip in. During the first half Michael Jordan was up in a box, he’s real good friends with Patrick Ewing. He decided to come down at the end of the second quarter before halftime. He sat in the celebrity row. The only reason he had a seat in front of me is because this dude pulled out a chair and sat down on the floor. He wanted to be amongst New York. Jordan is extremely competitive and he’s even more when you meet him. He was grabbing Emeka Okafor’s jersey saying, “Go underneath the basket, they can’t guard you underneath there!”

People call Michael Jordan arrogant but he wasn’t in my experience. I can talk to anybody and I have upbeat energy, but when he sat next to me he looked at me because I was clapping for Stephon Marbury. I’m pretty passionate about my sports teams. I’m a Knicks fan regardless of all the pain. I went to the John Starks/Doc Rivers camp out here in Stamford. Stamford is about 30 minutes from New York. Stamford is a different part of Connecticut. If you go to Hartford they probably don’t go to New York on a regular basis, I digress. Michael Jordan sees me clapping for Marbury and goes, “I don’t know what you’re clapping for, you ain’t gonna win.” It’s funny because my boys were asking me how can I compete with Michael Jordan. They look at him as a God. You’re talking to a guy who is a stone cold Knicks fan — John Starks the dunk, Charles Oakley, I’m Knicks all day. When he said that to me I looked him right in the eye and said, “Whatever Mike, whatever. We’ll see what happens.” Mike is a psychological guy. He’s very smart. I see why cats say he talks junk, but even when he talks junk its strategic. We ended up having a dialogue all night. I just happened to be in those seats for fortunate situations and I think he was feeling it. He was really one of the guys.

Somebody passed me a camera down and asked me to take a picture. I said, “Yo, this lady wants a picture. I don’t want a picture.” He said, “I guess you can take the picture. I ain’t gonna smile or nothing.” He said, “What you need to be doing is focusing on this game.” I don’t know if you saw Chamillionaire when he met Michael, but it was nothing near that experience. He didn’t diss me, he wasn’t harsh or anything. We were just going back and forth. One thing he said to me I’ll never forget, he said “Stephon Marbury needs to take those cheap ass sneakers off,” I was dying. He said, “The Knicks are not going to win because you guys don’t have anybody to penetrate the hole. That’s why you can’t win. If you have no Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant you can’t win.” I said, “You know Mike, I’m not even going to argue with that one.” I laughed because I knew I couldn’t chop it up with him strategically. It was divine intervention. I was there, I was feeling good, and it was a hot time in the Big Apple.

The game goes into double overtime and there was .1 seconds on the clock. Basically they had to inbound the ball but if they caught it they couldn’t come down with it. If not we were going into a third overtime. The only way to win was to heave the ball from out of bounds and somebody had to catch it on an alley oop tip in. I think it was Jamal Crawford who inbounded the ball and somehow David Lee got behind the defense and tipped the ball in with his left hand to win with .1 seconds left. If you look at the video when David Lee tips the ball in everybody goes crazy and the camera goes to Michael Jordan. When the camera goes to Michael Jordan you see me, I had a Ecko hoodie on, I get up and I’m in Jordan’s face saying, “I told you, I told you! We’re winning baby. You’re outta here. You lost!” Mike was like, “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” He had a black leather on. They showed that clip on SportsCenter all night. I actually sold more mixtapes off of that. I got a lot of notoriety off of that. It was pretty exciting. I met Mike and not only did I meet Mike, I beat Mike, B.

TRHH: What will fans hear when they buy ESP?

Jahan Nostra: They will hear extremely great production as far as live instrumentation. What they will hear most of all for me is an organic, authentic artist — one of the realest, ever. 2pac is one of my favorite emcees. I’m lyrical and I have other attributes. I’m a writer. I went to school for journalism. I’m deeper than just a rapper. I’m a writer like you’re a writer, but I do it in song. Eventually I’m going to write books. The reality is what you’re going to hear is a great narrative. On the musical side you’re going to hear great music to match it. There are eight producers on ESP. It wasn’t like they just sent me tracks. In an old-school kind of a way these producers were involved with the songs from the starting process to the ending process. The engineer and mastering engineer that I have is Daddy Kev who is a Grammy nominated engineer for work on a Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus song. First you’re going to hear clarity. You can believe that. The mixing and mastering on this is no joke.

You’re going to hear authentic, organic consistent sounds that are really potent. And then you’re going to hear a buffet of production that matches each song. Most of all you’re going to hear songs. You hear me? Songs. You have a lot of rappers out there and I tip my hat to them. A lot of people can rap, but songwriting is a whole different thing. You’re going to hear great song structure on ESP – bridges, riffs, intros, outros, and the production to go along with it. The music is so sophisticated. As a songwriter I’ve just grown so much. To be young I’m a veteran in the music because I been at it so long that I do things to challenge myself. Songs like Whole Life have three different people on the hook. You’re going to hear some great songs. I wasn’t inspired just by rap on this album I was inspired by Stevie Wonder, Portishead, and stuff like that. I’m just inspired by good music. You’re going to hear great music and that’s why I’m happy because that’s what people are waiting for.

I don’t have the label pressures of having to make a hit. Don’t get it twisted there are some songs on there that have single status, but it’s just good music. I didn’t have to live in a prison, my brother. I was able to come independently with what I have and everything is real. I think people are looking for that. I think that’s missing in a lot of areas and I’m not saying that because it’s me, I’m going by what the people say. The people keep telling me what’s missing and I’m glad I’m able to promote it. They are going to hear authentic great music that’s complicated. It’s on a level of anybody that’s putting good music out there, including the so-called industry people. I am semi-industry but the reality of it is with the machine, the technology, and internet we’re basically on an even playing field. It’s all about the art. I’m really proud of what I put into this record.

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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