Two years ago, almost to the day, I had the uplifting experience of seeing Jahaziel live at Leeds University thanks to the Christian Union there. After a succesful show that saw many students (dressed up for Chav Night) wandering in to witness God glorifying Hip Hop, I got the chance to catch up with the man for a chat.
BRC: For people who haven’t heard your music, can you describe your sound and your message?
Jahaziel: My sound I’d describe as hip hop really. I’ve got influence from all sorts of different music genres. On the album you got some reggae influenced Hip Hop, Rock influenced stuff, some soul, some R&B, so Hip Hop in all its different facets musically. My message is really a pro-live message, a message that encourages righteousness and positive living and Jesus Christ and his role in that.
BRC: Yeah that definitely comes across in the music, it’s not ashamed and I guess that’s a main aim for you.
J: Yuuup Yep. When I used to rap before I was a Christian I wasn’t ashamed of what I believed then even though it was wrong so how much more bolder should I be now I know the truth. You know you see guys out there, like, y’ know, to name a name, 50 Cent for instance. He says he’s a thug and he believes it and he says it like he believes it and im as bold as they would be doing what they do.
BRC: So you’ve talked about how different music has influenced you but you’ve got some kinda famous family, yeah?
J: Ah yeah yeah. My uncle Maxi Priest was a real big inspiration when I was younger. He was a popular reggae singer in the 80’s, early 90’s. You know, growing up and seeing him and being able to be in the studio with him when he recorded and other artists been down the studio, people like Shaggy and what have you. Seeing them gave me the belief that I could do something with this music thing. It started off as a hobby, I didn’t plan to be a musician but people said it was good so I carried on doing it.
BRC: So you’ve been involved in a few things, briefly, what have you done?
J: Yeah, my catalogue I guess is that… I’ve done a lot of remixes. In a space of about two years I was doing mad remixes. I was at a bit of a crossroads, I was a bit discouraged about how things were going financially so I figured, let me use my talents to try to get paid. My mind wasn’t really as settled as it is now that I will use my gift exclusively for God. I hooked up with some guys and I started doing remixes, my name got around and I was getting phone calls from Sony and BMG to do remixes for the likes of Lamar’s first few singles, couple of joints with Craig David, I did a song with a guy named Raghav and Daniel Beddingfields album too, couple of songs on there.
BRC: Yeah we were always like, who’s that rapper on the end of there? Who is that?!
J: So yeah, I was keeping busy man but I got fed up of featuring on other peoples things and not doing my own thing. I said, let me focus on my own stuff and that’s when the album started to come together.
BRC: You were in ZionNoiz, you were featured on the Channel U compilation CD. I’ve actually got that vinyl. Were you on that track?
J: Yeah, ‘And What?’, I think I did the chorus on that. Yeah ZionNoiz; all friends. I kinda had to part from that because, to get an album done if you haven’t got a label behind you, to get an album done it’s more easy. I had to cut off a lot off other things to prioritise and focus on my album.
BRC: Cut off the hair?!
J: Yeah cut off the hair, went through a few changes.
BRC: When people in church ask me what music I like, I tell them I like Hip Hop but I think people are going to judge me for that. How do you respond to those sorts of opinions? I’m sure you must get it: How can you be a Christian and like Hip Hop? How do the two go together?
J: It’s difficult to separate the art form of hip hop, the music side of it from the negative that is associated with the culture but nevertheless they can be separated. Just like I can look at a drawing and appreciate the persons artwork. I can listen to a sogn and be able to appreciate good craftsmanship, good guitar playing or good mic skills or whatever, I can appreciate all of that. But because hip hop is closely associated with so many negative things: violence, the love of money, derogatory terms for women and stuff like that. Especially the hip hop culture, I say that cos that’s where I’m from. I do find it difficult to separate the two. Nevertheless it’s a style of music that comes naturally to me. It’s what I enjoy, I like the rhythm, I like the style of expression. There’s ways you can express yourself on a rap song that you can’t do in another way. I don’t hear songs that make me wanna tear down satans kingdom, I hear songs that make me wanna worship God, great and Hip Hop can do that too but there’s a useful energy and passion that you can express through it. So, I don’t knock people who say I don’t agree with Hip Hop whether it’s Christian or none Christian, I wont argue with that if that’s your opinion. I’m trying to use my talent to glorify God. If I could preach, I’d preach. If I could sing, I’d sing. I rap, that’s all I do.
BRC: Yeah, it’s God’s gift.
J: It’s not for everyone. Maybe those people in a church they wouldn’t appreciate the album anyway cos it’s not their style of music. But then saying that, the amount of people who’ve come to me after a show and said ‘You know what? I don’t even like Hip Hop, I don’t listen to Hip Hop but I really appreciate what you’re doing and I really like it’. So maybe they’ve never come across Hip Hop that’s been inspiring, motivational and encouraging. Maybe when they do hear that, they’ll be like ‘Whoa. I have to rethink my opinion’.
BRC: This question is more related to Hip Hop. What are your thoughts on the state of Hip Hop with Nas saying Hip Hop is dead and the reaction to that? Talk about that from a secular point of view or a Christian point of view. How do you think about it? We can’t separate the two anyway.
J: Yeah, the state of Hip Hop is that there is a need. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m totally cool with a none-believer expressing their thoughts and opinions because I expect them to show the same respect to me. However, there seems to be a predominate culture within Hip Hop of a certain way of thinking that might not relate to the way a person genuinely think but just what sells records. Let’s say for instance, a guy like Snoop gets up and raps about hoes and bitches but then goes home to his wife. So the values that he communicates are not necessarily the ones he thinks and believes. I think that’s the problem with Hip Hop. It’s cool to promote drugs, even if you’re not a drug seller, still talk about drugs. Even if you’re married, still call women bitches. Even if you’ve never had a gun in your life, talk about violence, talk about guns. And I think that’s the problem with Hip Hop. If it was somewhere like a speakers corner, where everyone is entitled to share their genuine thoughts and feelings I think we’d get a lot further. And I think back in the day that’s more what Hip Hop was about but now it’s kinda come down to this. There is such a great need for people like us to show an alternative to the young people, to be a voice within Hip Hop, the culture, saying ‘Hey, you don’t have to be a gangster or a pimp. It’s not cool to be dumb. It’s not cool to be a thug’. Not a lot of people like that, some people think ‘ah, you’re whack’ but I’m providing an alternative and I think that’s important.
BRC: From the style of the music it’s obvious that you’re trying to provide an alternative. How do you use your knowledge and experience in a positive way?
J: You can learn thing either through teaching or experience. I learnt mine by experience. I’ve been down a lot of the roads a lot of young people wanna get down. I can testify that the bible is true, that the wagers of sin are death but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. I can say that not just cos it says that but because I’ve experienced that. The bible says oh taste and see that the lord is good and I’ve tasted and seen so I’m on a track trying to say ‘Yo, this is where life is at and those dead end roads they’re telling us to run down don’t lead where they tell you they lead to’. It’s a narrow path that leads to life and I just use the mic and use Hip Hop as an opportunity to share that with people. The kids, I don’t know what it’s like in Leeds but in London, it’s a big thing, lets say for instance; violence. To resolve conflict with violence is just standard. If a guy says or does something to you, you resolve that with violence and if you don’t you’re an idiot. But Jesus gives a different way of thinking, having been down that road trying to be tough and ending up in situations where, but for the grace of God, I could be in prison now. I talk about my experiences, I don’t people to think I was born a Christian and I’m perfect, I made mistakes, I still do. I try to share that.
BRC: Do you think it’s essential to have testimonies like yours?
J: You need every testimony. Wherever you’re coming from there’s someone who can relate to you. It’s real important that you be real about everything. As Christians, it’s important we share victories and difficulties and challenges. The bible says there is no trial or temptation that comes to you that’s not common. You might think I’m the only person going through this, every other Christians got it all together but chances are, they’re not just bold enough to talk about it.
BRC: I guess it all comes down to Jesus’ command to us to all be out there on the mission.
J: Absolutely bruv. And everyone has the ability to affect their surrounding. If there were a hundred levels and you’re only on level two, there’s someone on level one who can do with your help, there’s always someone you can help.
BRC: Well, we’d better wrap it up. Is there one verse you just want to share with us from the Bible?
J: I can share verse that I’ve been thinking on. ‘In a great house there are many vessels, some for honour and some for dishonour. If a man therefore then cleanses himself from that unclean thing he will be made a vessel unto honour, fit and ready for the masters use, prepared for every good work’ and I just encourage anyone who is a believer to strive to be a vessel unto honour. Not just to warm a bench but to be used in some capacity. Whether it’s like you on a computer or me on a stage, let God use you and affect this world, man.