Jasiri X is always at the forefront of the struggles of black people. Through lectures, protests, and music the Pittsburgh emcee consistently puts it all on the line for the liberation of black people throughout the world. X’s latest project “Black Liberation Theology” acts as a Bible for black liberation.
Black Liberation Theology features appearances from Idasa Tariq, Rhymefest, Jacquea Mae, Claire Mortifee, Tef Poe, Tyhir Frost, L.U.C., Haze Cloud, Abhaollow, Blak Rapp Madusa, Jordan Montgomery, King Legion, UP, and David Banner. The album is produced by Idasa Tariq, Black Czer, RLGN, Akil Esoon, Spaced Souls, Twilite Tone, and Just Blaze.
Jasiri X spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the Black Lives Matter movement, why contrary to popular belief conscious rap sells, and why his new album “Black Liberation Theology” is made for everyone.
TRHH: Explain what Black Liberation Theology is.
Jasiri X: It really started as an idea around a couple of things. One, I think it’s really cool that black is back in terms of people really affirming their blackness and pushing back on anti-blackness in a strong way. It seems like a few years ago we were kind of in a space where we didn’t know what to call each other. Are we African-American, are we black, what are we? I’m involved in this movement for liberation that’s happening right now whether it’s what we’ve seen happening in Ferguson or Chicago. I wanted to as an artist kind of provide an analysis of it but also a soundtrack to the movement that’s happening right now. I thought Black Liberation Theology was my commentary on where I think we need to go and the belief system on what black liberation is.
TRHH: How is this album different from Ascension?
Jasiri X: In a lot of ways I wanted to make Ascension not as political as the music that people know me for. I wanted to make this album that had a theme and was a more spiritual lyrical album. I kind of wanted to show people a different side of me as an artist. With this one I’m very much coming with a political analysis. Also too I went into this album with a clearer idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted it to be an album that was a tribute to the albums that brought me into consciousness in the mid-90s. Even production wise I wanted it to sound a certain way. I wanted to use the clips of the different speakers because that’s what the albums in the 90s used to do. I wanted it to speak to the times. Normally whenever something went down I’d have a song or a video. Instead of me doing that I put this project together to speak to what’s happening right now instead of doing individual videos.
TRHH: Speaking of videos, the single “The Babies” is real dope. Talk about the unfortunate incidents that inspired that song.
Jasiri X: Appreciate that. Wow, man it was many incidents. It was originally inspired by an article in the New York Times called “The 1.5 Million Missing Black Men”. It was basically talking about all the black men that were missing from society whether they were killed or mass incarcerated. The video was inspired by that. When I heard the hook on the song coming from Gil Scott-Heron it made me think about all of this violence perpetrated by the police on us, violence in our community, or the idea of violence solving problems in general, how does it affect our children? How does it affect a child to see Tamir Rice is killed playing with his toy gun and nothing happens? His memorial is still there in the park where children play. What psychological affect does that have on his sister who was handcuffed beside him as he died? Sam DuBose had nine children and was killed by the Cincinnati campus officer and he was on the way to watch a movie with his child. How does that affect that child? That’s what I wanted to convey in the song The Babies. Lots of times we tell our children that violence is the answer. All around us they see people doing violent acts, whether it’s bombing another country, or police beating, kicking, or shooting somebody and we’re told that it’s the right way. I just wanted to talk about that hypocrisy.
TRHH: Recently here in Chicago there have been protests over the police murdering 17-year old Laquan McDonald. What’s your opinion on that situation and the countless other young black people across America that have been murdered by the police?
Jasiri X: The idea that one cop is being charged in the death of Laquan McDonald is ridiculous. This case shows how systematic this thing really is. I have a line on the album that says, “If the shit is systematic, it’s the system or us/Kidnap the prosecutor, dismember the judge.” What I’m trying to say is it’s so much bigger than one person. After Laquan McDonald is killed these cops go to the Burger King and delete the video, other cops are covering up for this, and then the Mayor’s office is covering it up. The sad reality of the situation is he wouldn’t have been charged more than likely if this one reporter hadn’t constantly demanded the video and the judge saying it should be released. Once they were forced to release the video now they charge the guy a year later! How many times have police killed, beaten, maimed, and hurt people and have not suffered for it? The police department, the Mayor’s office, everybody in Chicago covered this up.
We’ve seen the history of Chicago police if you go all the way back to when people were being tortured. It shows that it’s bigger than one rogue officer. They try to make it like it’s one bad apple, no. When it’s a police officer or a white terrorist that shoots up a Planned Parenthood it’s a rogue person but when it’s a Muslim it’s “all Muslims” [laughs]. When it’s a black person it’s “all black people”. I just want to applaud the people of Chicago. Unfortunately this society cares about money and millions of dollars were affected on Black Friday. If this is what it takes for y’all to get the point for us to stand in front of the Apple store and shut it down, and knowing that people could have gotten arrested for that, I applaud them. This thing is not about one officer, it’s about a system. That’s why it’s happening all over the country, it’s not just happening in one place. It’s happening in Minneapolis, it’s happening in St. Louis, it’s happening in Cleveland, it’s happening in Pittsburgh, it’s happening in Chicago – it’s the system. What we have to do for real liberation is not reform but really overthrow this system.
TRHH: Overthrowing the system seems like an impossible feat…
Jasiri X: Yeah, I’m sure at one point in time when Dr. King, Malcolm, and them were doing what they were doing people thought it was impossible [laughs]. At one point in time it was impossible to think that white people and black people would be in the same school. I feel like right now for the first time people are talking about real change. People are talking about imagining a different reality and a different world. People are talking about the negative effects of capitalism. You have a presidential candidate that’s putting it back on capitalism and is doing really well. That’s really crazy in a sense. For poor black and brown folks what other choice do we have? Are we going to keep accepting a system that kills us, does not care about us, and does not value us? Think about it, this is a system that if I say “Black Lives Matter” that’s a threat. Just me as a black person wanting to affirm my humanity is threatening to this system – that’s insane bro. Not me going out and actually doing anything, but me actually saying “black lives matter” becomes threatening to you. How? That’s where we’re at, man.
TRHH: Here is why that’s a threat; because since the late 1500s black lives have not mattered…
Jasiri X: Exactly! This is not someone saying “revolution” or “let’s go to war” this is someone saying “recognize my humanity like you would any other person’s humanity,” and people are like, “No,” [laughs]. Literally that’s threatening to them and now they’re going to form white student unions just because black people want a safe space and be comfortable. To me that’s a system that’s deserving of being taken out. If that’s scary to you then it’s gotta go.
TRHH: We both know racism has never gone anywhere, but it seems more blatant lately. Why do you think it appears that racists are more vocal in recent years?
Jasiri X: True. Yes, it’s funny, man, when Obama became President we were in a post-racial America. America voted for a black President and it really had the opposite effect. It was like it emboldened racists to another level – that whole “they’re gonna take our country” thing. You have 60% of Republicans saying he’s a Muslim and this dude is eating ham, hot dogs, drinking beer, and going to church but they don’t care [laughs]. They’re like, “Oh, he’s a Muslim!” I feel the beginning of this struggle came on January 1, 2009 with the death of Oscar Grant and the organizing that the people in Oakland the Bay Area began to do around Oscar Grant’s death. It seems like since Oscar Grant was killed it’s been a wave of police murders – black, brown, men, and women – and us trying to push back and fight against this system. It seems like since Obama’s Presidency has had the opposite effect and made things more racial-ized. The vitriol against him and anybody that says anything black and conscious has gone to the limits now.
TRHH: You see it even more with their speech about Mexican’s and closing the borders. There is a fear. Like you said earlier, “They’re taking our country.”
Jasiri X: Now it’s refugees. We celebrate Thanksgiving where you came over here with no papers and Native American’s opened their arms and saved your life and now we’re talking about refugees [laughs]. You don’t want to help nobody else but you’re Christian? Insane bro.
TRHH: It’s because Latino people are growing. The racists are being outnumbered by minorities and they’re horrified that they’ll no longer run the show.
Jasiri X: But what are you afraid of? Obama didn’t start building a black army to get revenge. It’s not like brown folks are coming to the United States to start trouble. People are looking for some type of economic situation that could benefit them and their family. This is what’s crazy, people aren’t coming over here to disrupt your way of life. Just because a black or brown person moves on your street or in your neighborhood why would that be cause for concern? Unless you are the racist that you say you’re not. Why would that be a problem if three black families move into your neighborhood? If that’s a problem for you, you have to look at yourself and your supposed American-ness that guarantees free speech and freedom to do all of these things, you might as well throw all that shit away!
I was involved in the issue of undocumented folks thanks to organizations like Sound Strike and Culture Strike that took me as an artist and Rhymefest to these borders in Arizona and Alabama. In Alabama they passed a law making it that if you’re undocumented you can’t get access to gas, electricity, and the school’s had to tell on the children if they were undocumented. You know what the first thing that happened was? They didn’t have the workers to actually go into the fields and work in the agriculture section. They thought, “They’re taking jobs from white people,” but white people did not want those jobs. Black people did not want those jobs. Their solution was to make prisoners do it. When you talk about brown folks coming, studies have shown that there is an economic benefit to cities that brown folks come to. They’re coming to work and improve their economic situation for their families. They’re not a threat to anybody and the idea that that’s what they’re doing is ridiculous.
TRHH: And it’s okay for Trump to call them rapists.
Jasiri X: Yeah, yeah. A Latino commits a rape or like what happened in San Francisco where an undocumented Latino brother supposedly shot some white woman, now it’s like we have to reform laws on all Latino’s. A black person does something now we have to reform laws on all black people. What laws are going to be reformed for this white dude that shot up Planned Parenthood?
Jasiri X: Right. He’s a lone wolf. Nobody is saying, “We need to do something about these white Christian militias. We need to shut them down!” Nobody is saying that. That’s where the hypocrisy lies. The cop in Oklahoma City who raped 13 black women, are we saying all white cops are like him? Of course not.
TRHH: Let’s get back to the album. You got a joint on there with Rhymefest that speaks on Christ. Talk a little bit about that one.
Jasiri X: Rhymefest is really like a mentor to me. He’s the first established artist that reached out to me. He began to give me advice and guidance on this industry. He’s a real honest person. This is one of the reasons my album came out in November and not the summer time when it was supposed to come out. I played it for him and he had some critiques on certain songs. What I love about him is he’s brutally honest. If you’re somebody that wants to be better he’s a great person to be around. He didn’t just say, “I don’t like these songs,” he gave me some insight into how I can make these songs better. I went back and re-worked them and I feel like the album is better because of him overall. He wanted to do a song speaking on what if Jesus came back. He sent me the song “Christis” and his verses were already in the song. It’s really just me playing off of the verses that he already wrote. That actually led to us having a conversation about doing a whole project. He ended up coming to Pittsburgh for a week and we recorded seven songs. We have a project coming out later this year. If you like Christis hopefully you’ll like this project that we got coming up.
TRHH: On the album you have wisdom sprinkled throughout it from some of the greatest voices of the last century. Whose idea was it to lace the album with those words of wisdom?
Jasiri X: Rap music is why I have knowledge of self. I also have to give credit to my mom who gave me social consciousness and named me Jasiri. Nineties Hip-Hop is what made me want to read these books and find out about my culture on my own. I just wanted to give homage to the albums that had these clips on it. These albums would have speakers on them that I would go find out about or they would mention a book and I’d have to go and find that book. I just wanted to bring that back. Once I did it with a couple of songs I decided to do it throughout the whole album and make it a theme. Interestingly enough there was a branding company called Nation 19 that did the cover, they put on the front “Old & New Testaments”. I didn’t ask them to do that, they just did it. What we’re doing is giving you Marcus Garvey and then me rapping. In a sense we’re kind of saying the same thing. It’s the old and new way of saying it. Part of the reality that we’re facing today is rappers are the leaders. Killer Mike went around the country introducing Bernie Sanders. Rappers are the leaders now. I just thought that it would be cool to have these powerful voices and mix it in with what we’re saying today.
TRHH: I want to speak on that a little bit. I’ve interviewed Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, and Willie D from the Geto Boys and I told them all that when I was 12-13 years old they inspired me greatly. KRS-One caused me to pick up The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Hip-Hop in the late 80s and early 90s made me into the person that I am today. At some point those types of artists were pushed into the background. You just said rappers are leaders, but who are the kids hearing? Why do you think rappers with a message were pushed to the background and how can they get back into the forefront? You’re seeing it a little bit with Kendrick and J. Cole. They drop a little knowledge but it’s different than it was 25 years ago.
Jasiri X: I think it was deliberate on the part of the industry that’s not controlled by us. I was doing a workshop last year called “The Real Gangsters of Gangsta Rap” and would start off with a picture of Lucian Grainge, the CEO of Universal Music Group. I would ask students at colleges and high schools, “Who is this?” and nobody would know who he was but he’s the most powerful man in rap music. I would play the clip of Kanye on the famous “you ain’t got the answers” interview where he says Lucian Grainge cuts his music checks and is the person who decides the size of his budget and whether or not his album will be released. I show all the label heads and ask what they have in common. They’re all old, rich, white men. When it comes to old rich white men who probably aren’t around black people like that, and if they are it’s probably in a subservient position, how do they see us? It’s an idea that the only way they know how to market a black person is if they’re doing criminal stuff. If it’s a woman she’s stripped down, if it’s a man he’s shooting everything up – except not in a revolutionary way [laughs]. You gotta be shooting up your own people.
I stopped rapping at a point because people were telling me that nobody wanted to hear music with a message. It was only until MySpace and YouTube came on the scene that I started getting support online and I saw I was lied to. People do want music with a message. The biggest lie is that socially conscious music doesn’t sell, it’s always sold. Public Enemy sold, the Fugees sold, Lauryn Hill sold, Lupe sold, and Tribe sold. It’s always done well financially so it has to be something else. I think the reason you’re seeing the emergence of artists saying something more is because the movement on the street is so strong. How can you be from Chicago and see what happened to Laquan and not respond? Vic Mensa was out there in the mix! You see the work Rhymefest is doing and how he pushed back against Chiraq and all of these things. You can’t exist right now as an artist and not speak to what’s happening all over the country because the movement is so strong. Even if you didn’t wanna deal with Black Lives Matter if you were an artist coming out last year they asked you about it. I think it was Meek Mill who said he’s scared to be political. That’s worse than anything Drake could ever say to this dude. You the shoot ‘em up gangsta and you’re so hard, but you’re scared to be political? Damn, man.
I still think there is a sentiment that people think that if they get too black, too political, or too radical that the record industry won’t put their music out or give them the push so they have to dull their message. Thankfully I don’t have to deal with that because I’m not on a label, and I don’t want to be. I’m comfortable being an independent artist. I’m blessed. I’ve been independent since 2010 and I make a good living. In terms of finances I’m great. I can say what I wanna say and do what I want and not have to worry about somebody trying to censor me and telling me I’m too radical. I feel like because of that independence you’ll see more artists saying some strong things whether it’s Killer Mike of Run the Jewels or David Banner whose album The God Box is coming soon. I heard some of it and it’s incredible! You even see artists like Raury who has a strong socially conscious message in what he’s saying. I’m excited about the future of what I see artists doing.
TRHH: You mentioned the album cover earlier. I thought it was dope and different. What’s the meaning behind it?
Jasiri X: Nation 19 is the company that did it, shout out to them. I told them I wanted the words “Black Liberation Theology” written like an AK. The way they did it was really dope. Then we came up with the idea to do it like the cover of a Bible. We also have a movie coming out soon called Bars 4 Justice. We did a couple screenings of it. The movie is from when I went to St. Louis for the year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder and we did the concert with Common, Talib, M-1, Bun B, Immortal Technique, and Tef. It also covers the next day when I was arrested with Cornel West and a whole bunch of pastors and religious folks. That should be coming very soon.
TRHH: Who is Black Liberation Theology for?
Jasiri X: It’s for everybody. One it’s the soundtrack for our movement. People that go to the strip club got a soundtrack, people that go to the regular club got a soundtrack, people that hustle on the corner got a soundtrack. What’s the soundtrack of people that are involved in this ever-growing movement every day? Where are the songs that we can bump to get us in the spirit of revolution, fighting back, and pushing back on this system? Then I feel like if you want to know why we feel a certain way, why our community is moving like this, why we push back against all these systems, I feel like it can give you a good insight into that. If you want to know what’s happening and why black American’s are responding the way we are, this album will give you good insight into that. I feel like it’s for everybody, but really the genesis of it is I wanted to give our movement a soundtrack.
Purchase: Jasiri X – Black Liberation Theology