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24-hour job

Jabee returns to Tulsa to raise money for homeless youth

Jabee, ouside the Gateway building, where Habit Mural Festival will take place May 26–27

Greg Bollinger

Oklahoma City rapper Jonathan Blake Williams Jr., better known by his stage name Jabee, boasts a laundry list of accomplishments. He won an Emmy and collaborated with producer El-P. He toured with Run the Jewels in 2013, was signed to Murs’ record label, MURS 3:16, and released Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt. In 2016, he put out Black Future, which features famed rapper Chuck D from Public Enemy and Killer Mike.

“Jabee’s music has the potential to change the world,” Chuck D said.

Tulsans will have a chance to see this talent live on Saturday, May 26, when Jabee returns to Tulsa to perform at the third annual Habit Mural Festival (May 26–27).

But Jabee doesn’t just make music—and it’s easy to wonder how this father of two daughters, ages six and three, fits everything he does into his schedule. Jabee teaches hip-hop studies at The Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma. He is also on the board of the Oklahoma City Arts Commission, hosts a radio show every Saturday night at 11 p.m. on 107.3 FM, is part-owner of a poke (fish salad) restaurant concept called East Side Poke Project, expected to open early 2019 in Oklahoma City. He expects to begin work on a new album later this year.

Despite his flourishing career and many responsibilities, Jabee’s heart is with the homeless. When I first interviewed Jabee in 2016, I was working at the Youth Services of Tulsa (YST) drop-in center, which provides an array of resources to homeless youth. As we talked about his burgeoning music career, I discovered that Jabee was also passionate about racial inequality and homelessness. He shared that his family experienced a period of homelessness when he was a child that had a lasting impact on his social awareness and empathy for others.

At the end of the interview, I asked if he’d be willing to perform for the homeless youth at the YST Youth Activity Center. He graciously agreed—then put his heart and soul into the concert. Tim Peterson, coordinator of the drop-in center, says the benefit concert is still clear in his mind.

“I was blown away by Jabee’s initiative and engagement,” Peterson said. “Jabee didn’t do just a couple of songs. Dude did a set. Towards the end he challenged all the kids to pull belongings out of their pockets, and he freestyled about the objects they held in their hands. The youth we serve are on the fringes and margins, pushed to the side and the back of the crowd. For that moment, they were front-row for an intimate show. It was awesome to watch.”

Jabee’s passion for homeless advocacy continues today in his work with the OKC non-profit City Care, for which he hosts Gift Raps, an annual Christmas canned food and clothing drive. He also conducted a social experiment in October last year, posing as a homeless man for 24 hours. Jabee told me he wanted to gain insight into the systems the homeless are forced to navigate.

“Being homeless is a 24-hour job,” said Jabee. “It’s hard to try and figure out the system. You got to have this document and that document, go to this place and that place. For me, I experienced [it] as a child growing up whenever our family didn’t have a place to stay; [now] I got a chance to experience it as an adult, being able to talk to people and help share their stories with people that can help.”

Part of Jabee’s experiment included not carrying a phone or any of the documents required to obtain identification to be admitted into a shelter for the night or to find a job. This is a barrier many homeless individuals face. As hip-hop artist Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) once said, “Why do I need ID to get ID?”

“People say, you know, ‘Oh, just go get a job,’ but it’s not that easy,” Jabee said. “You’re trying to do that and trying to find a place to sleep before all the beds are gone or before the cut-off time. I learned a lot and got to share that experience with people who don’t know.”

A portion of the proceeds from admission to Jabee’s Habit Mural Festival show and the cash bar will be donated to Youth Services of Tulsa.

Jabee at Habit Mural Festival
Saturday, May 26 | 7 p.m.
Gateway Building, 860 E. Admiral Blvd.
$5 at the door, or free to those who RSVP at lineupokc.com