Jasiri X couldn’t have come up with a better title to describe his new album, Ascension. While at the core the album remains consistent with the path that he’s taken to this point, calling out and taking action against corruption in politics and society, Jasiri mixes in some of the raw elements of hip-hop that have influenced his rap career. On “42 Bar Thesis,” you’ll find him lyrically attacking fraudulent rappers, while on “Warrior,” he reflects on his rise in the ranks of hip-hop. The album features fellow conscious rappers Brother Ali and Rhymefest. We spoke with him about the new record.
This being your most anticipated release to date, and you having been on tour pretty much since its release, what has the response been?
I’ve been getting a great response, nothing but love. We did a show with Ab-Soul and Dead Prez and got a tremendous amount of love. I’ve been in the Bay Area, actually, since the 29th [of March]. I’ve spoken at middle schools, high schools, colleges, panels, performances. So, yeah it’s been love.
One of my favorite joints on the new album is “Intro (He Shot Satan).” The concept of the song and the way you end it on the lyric saying “I hope they write my history like ‘remember he shot Satan’” is super dope. Can you take me through the thought process and writing process when you came up with that song?
It was the last song that I wrote for the project. It was really, like, me coming up saying this project is finally here. And that’s why [in the song] I say “what does it mean when you see a thing in a dream and bring it into existence, see it through to fruition.” It was more so, like, me just talking about and taking you through my feelings in terms of the type of artist I am. You know, in the hood it’s like, you tell stories about people like ‘Yo, you remember when so-and-so, like, knocked out homeboy,’ you know what I mean. So, that was me saying that I hope they write my history like ‘Yo, remember he shot Satan?’ More so, like, remember I was somebody that’s coming with something contrary to a normal industry thing. I hope to be remembered as somebody that was kind of on the side of good and right, and not for, like, what’s currently being packaged and sold as the culture of hip-hop.
Your song “42 Bar Thesis” opens with comments about you being in the studio with a lot of legends and flying over seas. Who have you been working with and what’s the feeling been as you’ve began touring various parts of the world?
Brother J, Wise Intelligent, I did a song with Arrested Development that hasn’t come out yet. Chuck D is somebody that’s embraced me and mentored me. It’s like, "wow." I’m building and doing songs with these guys, like M-1 of Dead Prez, Brother Ali. It’s like seeing yourself at one moment on the local level struggling to get known and then next thing you know I’m hanging with Talib, and Lupe, and hanging with M-1 and Dead Prez. And then it’s like, "Oh yeah, that’s Jasiri, that’s one of the new dudes on the scene that we’ve passed the baton to."
In the first verse of that song I say ‘My life’s a whirlwind/picture in the paper, I read it on the plane to Berlin.’ When I was flying to Berlin, Germany - I did a week out there, I was part of a conference and also did some shows — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had done a story on, like, me, Wiz, Mac, Formula 412, and I think maybe Boaz. They had all of our pictures kind of together with articles about us. And literally I bought that paper the day that I was flying to Berlin. So that’s when I’m like, "Yo, watchu gon’ tell me now?! You know what I mean." (laughs)
I’m in the paper and I’m getting on the plane to go to Berlin, Germany. Right when I came back is when I left my job and began to do it full-time. So now I’m like, yo, feeling like a rap star with my name on the shirt, that’s how I felt at that moment.
You’ve been involved with hip-hop since the mid-90s. What was it like to make it to the point where you were able to quit your job to do this as a career? To take that leap there’s risk involved, but it’s obviously what you love. What was the feeling at that time?
It was a risk. I remember even when I left, it was just … the sad part was that it had nothing to do with how I was doing my job, it was the politics of the board of education and I was kind of targeted to be let go. You know, they gotta go through their vaccinations because it’s a union. I really should’ve let them fire me, but I didn’t, I just came in one day, handed them the keys and was like, "I’m out."
But, I remember getting that last check and realizing, like, ain’t no more direct deposit. I gotta go all-in and go hard. So, there was a moment of fear. But I remember a year after I quit doing the taxes and realizing that I made twice as much on my own than I did at that job, and being like ‘yo, damn!’ Cause in the midst of it I didn’t really realize it. So yeah man, there’s no greater feeling than being able to, you know… I was able to say ‘I’m gonna be out in the Bay for a week and a half,’ then I go to Seattle, then I go to Dayton, Ohio. So, I’m able to take two weeks and go to promote my album and I’m able to do that and have the resources and the funds to do that. There’s nothing better than being able to wake up where you wanna wake up and do what you wanna do, especially if it’s something that you love.
On “The Unmasking,” in a story of you searching for yourself, how closely related is the storyline of that song to what your reality has been?
Oh, that is my reality. That’s probably the most personal song that I’ve done. When I started writing the album, I put a little blog out there because I was going through some serious changes. Really, “The Unmasking” is a clearer picture of what was happening in my life at the time. They said I was buzzing, so I’m starting to feel myself a little bit, you know what I’m saying, cause I had this online buzz. It was weird, because I never had that experience. So I started to feel myself, and I started to really act in a way and make decisions in a way that wasn’t me, you know what I’m saying. Because I was having this “success,” I ended up going off-line for three months, man, and kind of just getting back to myself and my real life, trying to put everything in perspective. But, that was very real for me. And that song is a 100 percent real story of kind of that trial I went through at that time, like I said feeling myself and then making decisions that weren’t coinciding with what I was rhyming about or supposed to be living.
Jasiri X is scheduled to return from his tour later this month. His new album, Ascension, is available for purchase on iTunes and physical copies will be available in the coming weeks. You can stay updated on the latest with Jasiri X on Facebook and Twitter.
Last week was a big one for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and JazzLive International. They announced their annual summer festival lineup, which includes headliners Chaka Khan, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Marcus Miller and Pat Martino. Also last week, as part of April being National Jazz Appreciation Month, JazzLive sparked off their weekly concert series of accomplished jazz performers in Pittsburgh.
On April 2, it was saxophonist Lou Donaldson and his Quartet that included Akiko Tsuruga on organ, Fukushi Tainaka on drums, and native Pittsburgher Eric Johnson on guitar. It was a rare appearance by Donaldson, who shouted out Crawford Grill in the Hill District and other places of memory from past visits to the city. The 86-year-old’s music catalog dates back to the late ‘50s with many notable releases on the Blue Note Records label.
The Lou Donaldson Quartet began with the 1958 song “Blues Walk.” In addition to playing his own music, Donaldson covered classics by pioneering Jazz and Blues artists like Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. Before transitioning into Armstrong’s popular song “What A Wonderful World,” Donaldson called the musician also known as Satchmo the "greatest music artist of all times."
Aside from a great showing by front-man Donaldson, whose raspy vocals were best displayed during the performance of “Whiskey Drinking Woman,” the Quartet had several chances to shine throughout the night. On “Fast and Freaky,” Tainaka performed a long drum solo as his band-mates stood to the side watching him swing his drumsticks all around his drumset. During “Alligator Boogaloo,” Johnson stepped off stage and walked around the audience, giving everyone a closer look at his strumming of the tune that originally featured fellow Pittsburgh native George Benson on the guitar. Maybe most impressive was Tsuruga, whose fingers flew across the organ all show long.
This Tuesday, April 9, Jazz Live welcomes the Kenny Garrett Quintet to the Cabaret Theater. Garrett’s Grammy Award-winning career includes work with Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, and Pittsburgh-born drummer Art Blakey. More info on tickets for this and other events can be found on the JazzLive website.
Hey everybody, looks like we're staring down the barrel of a week of nice weather, and I for one am absolutely thrilled. Nothing like lounging outside on a sunny day. Also, the Pirates might be good at some point, so maybe a trip to a game is on the horizon.
Anywho, this week's MP3 Monday is Stosh Jonjak, who combines heavy riffs with great story-telling in his track "See You in the Yucatan." Stream it below!
This week in CP:
—Musician and former member of The Monkees Mike Nesmith talks about his ongoing projects and work with MTV, and Sean Bonnette of Andrew Jackson Jihad elaborates on his position as the Michael Jordan of Netflix in our Music Features.
Andrew Jackson Jihad
—Our weekly Critics' Picks featuring Purity Ring, John Scofield, and Zola Jesus.
A few months back, our Kate Magoc explored the classical-meets-electronic world of PSO composer-in-residence Mason Bates. Bates straddles the classical and club worlds, working alternately under his given name and his DJ name, DJ Masonic.
Tonight, DJ Masonic goes to work at Static — the electronic-music club in the Strip — as part of the Mercury Soul event there. He'll be joined by members of the PSO to play pieces by other composers — including Stravinsky — and to premier a commissioned piece Bates wrote. It's the fourth such event in the country.
For more info, see the PSO's website. Admission is $20.
Today, Ayinde Bomani is the running backs coach of the football team at Chaminade College Preparatory School, which finished first atop the Daily News Los Angeles rankings this past season. He is also head coach of the Chatsworth Chiefs youth football team. Coaching football is a passion of his that he cherishes with much pride. While his legacy continues to be built in/on that field, his journey began years ago when he was born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.
Growing up in Larimer, Bomani, known in the hip-hop world as Suga-Free, experimented with various forms of creative expression. While he finds satisfaction in the creativity that is required of him in his current roles coaching football, hip-hop was an alternative artistic outlet during his teenage and early manhood years. His involvement in the hip-hop culture began with break-dancing.
“I was the only chubby break-dancer who could windmill,” he says, with the slightest chuckle. “That's how I kind of got popular around the city. I used to be on Larimer Avenue every day practicing how to do the windmill. Once I finally got that shit, man... I broke that windmill off and that was probably the happiest day of my life. I would windmill and grab a piece of paper. So, people would be like, 'Ain't you that fat break-dancer that could windmill while reading the newspaper?' I was proud!” (The windmill is a popular move performed by experienced break-dancers, it's when the dancer uses their hands and upper-body strength to elevate their legs, as their neck and shoulders roll on the ground while their legs swing around in the air like a windmill.)
As the break-dancing phase began to fade out, deejaying and rapping became popular. And Bomani engulfed himself in the music, developing relationships with others who were active in Pittsburgh at the time — Mel-Man and Sam Sneed, to name a few.
“Major Harris, he's a quarterback from Pittsburgh and is one of the original black quarterbacks. He went pro in Canada and bought Mel an [E-mu] SP-12,” explained Bomani. “Sneed was in the other gang, he was in the streets and bought his own SP-12. They were two of the first people with an SP-12. I was probably the first one to get an [Akai] MP.”
By this time, Bomani had graduated from Wilkinsburg High School and was attending college at West Virginia University. Prior to getting his own MP drum machine and engaging in the production of the music, Bomani was a solo rapper.
“I used to come home and get beats from Mel,” he said. “I'd come over his grandmother's crib and he'd have 15 rappers over there. I could never get beats. So, one day it was like 11 in the morning. Rap City used to come on on Saturday mornings. And I was, like, kinda depressed. My mom and my grandmother, they was a little sauced... 11 in the morning, sippin'. And I was like, 'man, I just wish I had my own drum machine so I could make my own beats.' And my mom was like, 'I wish I could afford it, I'd get it for you.' My grandmother was like, 'what it cost, how much is it, what is it... I'll get it.' Five minutes later we was in the car going to Swissvale. From Larimer Avenue, going to Swissvale... I was like 'I need a SP-12'... He said 'I got something a little bit better called an MP-60,' so I got it. Once I got it, I just started making beats. When I made the beats, I just started recording. I had a couple decent songs and sent them to this guy in Florida, his son was MC A.D.E.”
MC A.D.E. was a popular bass music artist around this time. It took a while, but Bomani eventually heard back from the record label that he had sent his music to. The label wanted to signed him, and Bomani agreed to a deal.
“I was supposed to be their top artist,” he explained. “Then, all of the sudden, I came home and the label was holding up on my project because their focus became a group of four boys from Tennessee. They were trying to get their album done cause the label believed in them. And, so, I was like 'damn, what's going on? You're pushing me to the side for four little boys?' So, their project eventually got held up cause one of the boys wanted to go solo. That solo kid was Usher, which is wild. His mom became his manager and pulled him from the group and took him to LaFace [Records]. Meanwhile, my album never got done.”
Again at home in Pittsburgh, Bomani continued rapping and producing. In 1992, he joined forces with two female MC's, Ms. Chievious and Ms. Cellaneous, as rap group Misfits In the Attic. Bomani takes pride in the group's approach of being an alternative to the gangster rap that was popular during this era.
“When we came up as the Misfits we wore overall's,” Bomani said. “The girls had slingshots, I was in shape so I used to always do some shit. We had a song called 'Duckin' Bullets,' and every time we'd perform I would say, 'man, I'm tired of duckin' bullets' and I would drop my overall's and say 'they even shot up my boxer shorts'. And, you know, girls would scream ... you know how ladies cut-up. It was showmanship. People dissed us, but the girls liked it. I wasn't trying to be like everybody else. It was myself and two women, how gangsta could I be?”
A pioneer of Pittsburgh hip-hop and friend of Bomani, “Melle Mel” Plowden referred him to a man named Tom Cossie. Cossie was a music producer, notably credited for soul/funk group Chic's “Le Freak,” who had started his own label, Saturn Records. Cossie invested a few thousand dollars into the group's music videos, and his involvement presented a variety of placement opportunities.
“We shot a lot of videos at Kennywood Park, and then some at the Strip's Edge. The first video we shot, we were on the Jack Rabbit,” Bomani explained. “We ended up doing this thing for channel 13 called 'Where In the World Is Carmen San Diego?' I didn't know what it was, but it was a big show, a kids show.”
Watch Misfits In the Attic rapping at Kennywood Park at the 0:45 mark:
The group's first music video, “Kick It Anyway,” debuted on Video LP, which was a live viewer call-in program that aired on BET. The video was shown during a holiday special, alongside TLC's “Sleigh Ride” and a Christmas song by Boyz II Men. Although it wasn't a full-fledged Christmas song, the Misfits In the Attic song featured a chorus that said, “it ain't a holiday, it ain't ya birthday, but we can kick it anyway”. It was the lead single from the group's debut album, Enter At Your Own Risk.
“We had a really dope album,” claimed Bomani. “But we couldn't get a lot of the samples cleared. So, we tried to re-do the album without all of the samples, and it just didn't come out the way I would've liked. It just was wack the way musicians were trying to play the samples. And I was inexperienced. It was a mere skeleton of what it would've been if we'd have been able to use the samples.”
As it was, the group's singles received a significant amount of radio play. Bomani noted the importance of Freddy Live, who had a studio in New Kensington where they would do their radio edits. Assisting with the group's radio presence was Al B. Sylk, who was deejaying on WAMO at the time.
“I learned a lot from Al B Sylk. We did a really popular ad for Port Authority Transit. It was like, 'Push up on PATricia, Port Authority Transit/Allegheny County quick as a... something advancement',” Bomani said in reflection with a laugh.
Sylk eventually moved to Virginia Beach, and for a few months Bomani lived there as well. In December of 1996, Bomani moved to Atlanta. While in Atlanta, he got a record deal with Tony Mercedes and LaFace Records.
“Once again, I had a hot ass single," he said. "It was called 'I Can't Stand My Baby Momma' and sampled just a piece of a Donna Summer song. Next thing I know, Donna Summer tells me she denied my sample. She told TLC, who was also on the label, that they could use her sample for a song of theirs called 'Bitch Like Me'. And Donna Summer had told them they could use the sample, but they can't curse. And I'm like, 'Well, how can you not curse on a song called "Bitch Like Me"?' Anyways, they used it and she was like, 'Hell no.' She probably heard the name of my song and wasn't with it. We tried to replay the sample but it never worked out.”
Once again hitting a road block, Bomani's deal with LaFace Records fell through. As frustration with the music industry began setting in, Bomani received a phone call from his old Pittsburgh friend — Mel-Man, who was now living in California and working with Dr. Dre. Bomani went on to talk about his experience working alongside Mel-Man and Dr. Dre:
Mel called me one day and was like 'fuck rap,' come out here and do beats and get the money. And I was like, man, I'm not trying to come out there and let Dre steal all my music and get no credit. I was like, 'I'm a rapper first, forget producing.' I just produce cause I need a beat, I don't care about producing, I'm a front guy. So, I came out to Cali on February 17th. Came in the studio, Eminem was laying a record, 'I am whatever you say I am,' or whatever... taking forever to lay this record. I ain't ever seen an artist take so long to lay down one vocal. Me and Eminem's [partner] Proof got on the drum machine... and what they do is, they turn on the drum machine and whatever sounds is on there, and everybody gets a couple minutes to make the best record. So, I get on there and made a hot beat. Proof was like 'I like that.' Dre came in and listened to it real quick, then just took the headphones off and slammed that shit down like 'this is some wack shit.' So, that's how it started.
What Mel did, and Dre did, is he would let them hear a sample and then replay it, but it would be Mel's drums. And then I'd pick Scott Storch up from the airport and he'd play his parts. And that's how Dre's sound started. All of them producers used to come around Dre. Timbaland gave Scott Storch a Rolls Royce for ten beats.
It's a funny life, where you probably don't got the [amount of] money you wanted, but you were there... in the studio watching Dre make music, watching Snoop and them smoke weed and Xzibit come with all kind of weed. I don't even smoke weed, you know what I mean. In Pittsburgh studios, like in New York, there's just a studio that gets good sound but you don't care if it looks crazy... it could be in somebody's basement or wherever. Cali... sheiit... the studios look like spas. I mean, you come in and they got a work-out area. The studios are hidden away in some places cause they be robbing rappers out here. So, you got security guards and you got gates that roll back like it's Fort Knox. And you wouldn't even know it's a studio. Then you got a restaurant in the studio, you got a food kitchen. We used to not even buy food at Mel's crib, I would just wait til we go to the studio. Dre had a work-out gym. We used to go to his gym in the morning, me and Infinite. It's crazy, man, I've seen it all.
Bomani continues to perform spoken word, albeit sporadically. You can find some of his spoken word videos on his YouTube page, where he also updates with videos from his Run 2 Daylight Running Back Academy. It's through his coaching football that he finds himself interacting with many of the hip-hop music makers that he was once pitching his demo to.
“I never thought that I would be cooler with Snoop on football than music," Bomani concluded. "Most people from Pittsburgh don't leave Pittsburgh, but the ones who leave... they make it happen.”
The annual JazzLive International festival, which takes place Downtown each June, has announced its 2013 lnieup.
The biggest name this year is someone who might make you think "funk" more than jazz: Chaka Khan. Other notables: Indian-American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa; bassist and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller; guitarist Pat Martino; and artist-inresidence, local trumpeter Sean Jones.
The festival runs from June 7-9 this year, and the week prior, there will be a series of jazz concerts at local Macy's stores to raise the festival's profile. Also featured this year: an exhibit at 709 Penn by painter Al Bright, who makes art while listening to jazz.
The Manchester Craftsmen's Guild 2013-14 MCG Jazz concert season has been announced, and it includes some big names — some local, some global.
Ahmad Jamal and the Pittsburgh Jazz Legends — which includes Roger Humphries, Joe Negri, Harold Betters and plenty of other well-known local jazz musicians — kick off the season Sat., Sep. 28.
Other highlights include Bob James, David Sanborn and Steve Gadd Fri., Oct 25; Chucho Valdes Feb. 7, 2014; and Ramsey Lewis Fri., March 14, 2014.
For info on the whole season, go to the MCG Jazz website.
Looks like the sun showed its face in the steel city this weekend. How about a little bit of celebration music from this week's MP3 Monday band, Badboxes? We've got the title track off their most recent album JSMN, and it has the sort of easygoing tone perfect for lounging on a warm spring day. Stream it below!
Pittsburgh’s JazzLive has put together an outstanding schedule of jazz events that will lead into their annual JazzLive International Festival in June. The fun began in January, as they continue to host performances every Tuesday evening and night at the Backstage Bar and Cabaret at Theater Square in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. Presented by BNY Mellon and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, they’ve enlisted a cast of locally and internationally praised jazz artists to set the stage ablaze.
In the first quarter of 2013, JazzLive has featured performances by many of Pittsburgh’s most prominent jazz artists — including drummer Roger Humphries, saxophonist Tony Campbell, and a remarkable Valentine’s Eve special that united the Sean Jones Quintet with singers Carolyn Perteete and Gregory Porter. As we welcome the month of April, we'll take heed to the jazz legends that are on the JazzLive schedule for Pittsburgh in the weeks ahead.
Beginning the month with a bang, the Lou Donaldson Quartet is set to perform two shows at the Cabaret on Tuesday, April 2, at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Donaldson was one of Blue Note Records’ most active artists during the 1950’s and ‘60s as his funky-soul edge helped to define him as one of the sub-genres pioneering artists. Now 86 years old, some of his most memorable releases are 1958’s Blues Walk and 1970’s Everything I Play Is Funky.
Another noteworthy release was 1968’s Alligator Boogaloo. In addition to featuring fellow Blue Note Records artist Lonnie Smith on organ, the album featured Homestead, PA native George Benson on guitar. Still a relatively new player at the time, it was one of several major releases that helped catapult a then-24-year old Benson to the forefront of jazz music in the following years.
Lou Donaldson with George Benson — “Alligator Boogaloo”
Fans of hip-hop could be familiar with Donaldson’s music, as it’s been sampled in plenty of popular productions. In fact, another Pittsburgh connection can be made with Donaldson’s song “Pot Belly,” which was sampled in the production of Homewood hip-hop group F3’s early ‘90s single “We Only Wanted 8.” A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Notorious B.I.G, and even Madonna have used samples of Donaldson’s music in their own.
The performance by the Lou Donaldson Quartet is a rare treat, as his eccentric candor should make the concert an entertaining event for all ages. Information on tickets for this event and others forthcoming is available on the JazzLive website.