by Rory D. Webb
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.