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Black future

Jabee looks forward with new record

OKC-based rapper Jabee

Simon Hurst

Hailing from the east side of Oklahoma City, rapper Jabee experienced his fair share of adversity growing up, including a stint of homelessness. 

“My momma would always say, ‘this will give us character,’” he said. 

Jabee has an altruistic spirit. He feeds the homeless at the OKC non-profit City Care, hosts an annual Christmas canned food and clothing drive called “Gift Raps,” and has donated his time and musical talents to the family of Mah-hi-vist “Red Bird” Goodblanket (an unarmed Native American teen who was shot seven times by Clinton police during a mental health-related episode). Jabee seems to understand that music is more than notes and words, it’s about having a positive impact on the community.

In addition to service, Jabee has a passion for education. In 2014 he won an Emmy for his work on the video “What If,” promoting Science Museum Oklahoma, and this fall he’ll teach two hip hop courses. One will be held at Harper Academy Charter School and the other will be a college level course at The Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma. His reasons for teaching extend beyond personal ambition. 

“My plan is to help funnel those kids from the charter school into college, into the music program.”

Jabee’s upcoming ventures intersect with the theme of his new album Black Future, a title derived from a poem written by Oklahoma City teacher and good friend Najah-Amatullah Hylton. Najah premiered the poem at a show where Jabee was also set to perform during Black History Month in 2015. Unfortunately, Jabee didn’t make it. 

The day of the show, Jabee said, he went to the mall for a haircut, where he found himself surrounded by four security guards shouting, “we told you no hoodies in this mall!” He then was accused of filming around the mall with a camcorder. Not wanting to create a scene, he decided it was best to make his exit. He said he was inches from the doors when a voice snarled, “You don’t want to leave, you go to jail.” Jabee was swiftly arrested and spent his evening behind bars. 

“I’ve been alive 30 years and never been to jail,” he told me.  

He said this incident and countless others like it inspired him to ask the central question of his new album. “We always talk about Black History, but what about Black Future?”

Najah’s poem is the intro to the album and is read over live instrumentation, touching on issues beyond police brutality and emphasizing the importance of education. The poem explores a future in which black culture is celebrated, unhindered by systemic racism. 

In the twenty something year old
Latinegra’s English teacher’s version of the future 
Black people’s verbs and nouns can agree perfectly and no one will say they
“talk white”
Grammar proficiency can be the norm
There’s a place so dangerously absurd that the words reemerge as tools and our friends rather than the means by which the man condemns us to ignorance

“She talks about how it is important to educate ourselves even down to small things like your and you’re, they’re and there. That’s how I’ve always been and I’ve always thought that way,” Jabee said.  

The album has 13 tracks with a 19 track deluxe version available on iTunes, featuring guest appearances from Killer Mike, Brother Ali, and Chuck D from Public Enemy, who once said “Jabee’s music has the potential to change the world.” Jabee’s recently released single “Exhausted” is produced by Statik Selektah and pays tribute to the late Sean Price. 

While Jabee is with the label Murs 316 (founded by L.A. rapper Murs), he is releasing Black Future independently. 

“Being with Murs has really helped me. And my next album, I’ll probably do with him, but I wanted to see how well I could do on my own based on what I learned from my last album, [Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt].”

It is increasingly common that artists forgo joining a label and remain independent for creative freedom, financial purposes, and a re-balancing of power that often tilts in favor of the label. But Jabee’s partnership with Murs is an exception to the rule. Their relationship is much less symbiotic, consisting primarily of Murs reaching out to underground artists he respects in hopes of jumpstarting their career.

“I’ve met a lot of people and I gotta say Murs is probably the realest person I’ve ever met in the music industry,” Jabee said.

Jabee will celebrate the release of Black Future on Sat., August 13 at Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City. In the meantime, he'll play Tulsa on Sun., June 19 at Guthrie Green and on Sat., June 25 at The Yeti.

For more from Mary, read her interview with N.W.A.'s DJ Yella.