Freeing Minds One Rhyme At A Time

JasiriX2- Loveless


Emcee and activist Jasiri X says there is almost no support for hip-hop in East Liberty, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most popular and important rappers in Pittsburgh.

The 32 year-old rapper, who has lived in East Liberty since 2007, produces music that examines social issues, which is especially important in a time when there is growing distrust between police and the black community.

COURTESY jasiri x“There’s not enough people making music about social justice issues, things that I feel affect people on a day to day basis,” Jasiri X says. “I feel like that’s where I come in, as an artist that speaks to these issues, around social justice issues like police brutality, mass incarceration, things that are affecting us on a day to day basis.”

Jasiri X released his first song in 2007 in response to a 2006 incident in Jena, Louisiana, where six black teenagers were convicted of assaulting a white teen. The song, called “Free the Jena Six,” addressed the Jena Six movement that resulted, which believed that the six teenagers were charged excessively for their crimes.

This was when Jasiri X realized that people wanted to hear socially conscious music. To follow up on the success of the song, he released a mixtape titled “I Got That X,” and then another single called

“Enough’s Enough,” which shed light on the 2006 shooting of a black man, Sean Bell, and his two friends by New York City police.

“Enough’s Enough” was featured on WORLDSTARHIPHOP and led to Jasiri X appearing on BET Rap City. Despite the newfound fame, Jasiri X worried that he wasn’t releasing music frequently enough.

One of his influences, Crooked I of the hip-hop group Slaughterhouse, was releasing a different freestyle rap every week.

“I said ‘Man, that’s a great idea. I want to do something like that but I want to do music with a message.’

So I said ‘You know what? I can rap the news, like every week I can rap the news,” Jasiri X remembers.

That’s when “This Week with Jasiri X” came to life on YouTube. Each week, the artist produced a two-minute video in which he chose a different topic to rap about, and it certainly wasn’t easy. His wife, Celeste, remembers “a lot of sleepless nights.”

“It was very, very hectic,” Jasiri X recalls. “A lot of times Sunday night I’d be up all night editing the video and then go into work Monday.”

In 2010, the rapper released the song, “What If The Tea party Was Black?,” which garnered national attention and more than 300,000 views on YouTube.

“That’s when I think people started to take me more seriously as an artist,” he remembers. “And when I did that song … one of the producers I was working with—his name was Rel!g!on—had this connection to the co-owner of Body Works Entertainment. He hit me up and said, ‘Hey, let’s do an album.’”

That album, Ascension, was released in March 2013 and shifted away from the rapper’s usual socially conscious music. Jasiri X wanted the album to have a theme and focused more on aspiration rather than politics.

“At the time, I just went through a darker time in my personal life, so I started writing my way out of that. Ascension to me represented me coming out of darkness into light,” he reveals. “I always say if hip-hop is dead, then where does it go? So we’re taking hip hop up spiritually and lyrically.”

The activism in his music has caught the eye of several people outside of the hip-hop industry. Norman Conti, a professor at Duquesne University, invited Jasiri X and other artists and activists to perform on campus in October 2014.

Conti says Jasiri X is engaging with the Pittsburgh community and that messages in his music are appealing to young adults.

“It was a chance for our students to see issues of race or justice from a different perspective and it’s equally as important to hear it in the music that they’re familiar with: modern rap music,” Conti says.
Other supporters of Jasiri X and his music include the employees of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, where Jasiri X performs with his hip-hop group, 1Hood. Jasiri X says the theater is one of the few places left in his neighborhood that supports social justice rap music.

“Outside of the theater, I don’t really see any real support happening for hip-hop artists in East Liberty,”

Jasiri X says. “In fact, quite the opposite.”

Jasiri X cited the 2013 closing of The Shadow Lounge, a former bar and music performance space in East Liberty, as the end of support for hip-hop in the area.

“Hip-hop had a home in East Liberty when the Shadow Lounge was here,” Jasiri X said. “It was a place where artists could meet, perform and build. Hip-hop was evicted in East Liberty with new developments that do not cater to our demographic.”

While it seems like the East Liberty resident has already accomplished much, he doesn’t appear to have plans of slowing down anytime soon. Jasiri X is currently working on two projects — a politically focused record titled P.O.W.E.R. (People Oppressed Will Eventually Rise) and another album that is still socially conscious, but also fun.

“If it wasn’t for social media, I wouldn’t have a career,” Jasiri X says. “The cool thing about the internet is, what do you want to learn? It’s there. Get involved. Educate yourself about the issues you want to get involved in. This is the time, this is the get off the couch time.”