January 16, 2007

Father Jah: Hip hop is dead, but we can still party

Father Jah: Image courtesy of unstoppable sound agency “There is a formula for how you market a rap record: You have to have a club cut, you have to have a cut for the ladies. You need gold teeth, gold chain. Matter of fact, you’re gonna make a new dance,” Jah sayNew York rap heavyweight Nas didn’t exactly burst any bubbles by calling his newest album Hip Hop is Dead Not to Father Jah, anyway. “Hip hop’s been dead,” said Jah, a.k.a. Father Jassiem Allah, 31, an elder statesman of Louisville rap. “Nas didn’t make no great revelation.” What killed the genre is a generation gap between artists like Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC, and the rappers of today, who are more preoccupied with image than imagination. As frank as he is, Jah explains hip hop’s slow, painful death like a man bent on resurrecting it. “When you listen to the message by Grandmaster Flash, when you listen to Kool Moe Dee, then you listen to Rakim, you can see the progression in the art, in the writing and in the cadence that the rappers use,” he says. “Compare Rakim to Young Jeezy: The growth ain’t there. A lot of cats didn’t build on the foundation that was already laid because of the way the media chose to show rap. Watch ‘Rap City’ lately? Every video’s like snap music funk shit. Hip hop ain’t been the same in a long time.” Even rappers like Tupac Shakur had commercial hits as well as singles carrying political and socioeconomic messages (hear: “Brenda’s Got a Baby”). To hear Jah talk about it, such artists now are absent — or ignored — from the commercial hip-hop marketing machine, a machine that exists because rap is now a product, not just an art form. “Rap wasn’t necessarily a product 10 years ago,” Jah says. Jah got into rap because of break dancing, because of films like “Krush Groove,” and most of all, because of Run DMC. “Run DMC is the greatest group ever. When I heard Run in there, that was it. The rhymes just took it to another level,” he says. Rap seduced Jah with its rebellious attitude. “I loved everything there was to it: the attitude, the raw grittiness of it. It didn’t sound like the music we heard our parents listen to.” As a teenager, Jah, who was born in South Bend, Ind., but went to school in Louisville, used to shop for every rap and hip-hop record he could find at places like King’s Records on Poplar Level Road. The hip-hop section at King’s consisted of 10 or 20 records tops. “You could really own everything,” he says. “The game wasn’t all flooded and crazy. Every record you bought was different.” In 1992, at age 16, Jah took all the money he saved from a summer job, went into a recording studio and made his first album, Countdown to a Beatdown. He handled all of the packaging, the pressing and the selling himself. “The best thing about the rap game is you can be wherever you put yourself,” he said. “I know some grown men who still can’t do some of the things I did at 16.” Part of the reason is that today, most rappers have their destiny laid out for them. “There is a formula for how you market a rap record: You have to have a club cut, you have to have a cut for the ladies. You need gold teeth, gold chain. Matter of fact, you’re gonna make a new dance.” He laughs after that last comment, not necessarily because it’s funny, but because it’s true. And disturbing. “We’re unbalanced right now,” Jah says. Jah plans to bring balance, and a little fun, to the hip hop faithful in the form of his new album, Philosophies of a Modern Day Mastermind, to be released under his own label and promotion company, Unstoppable Sound Agency. As cynical as he is about the national hip-hop scene, Jah remains hopeful about the bumper crop of Louisville rappers. “I like the fact that a lot of the younger cats are being aggressive, and they’re opening up some new doors,” said Jah, who listens to locals Hurricane, a female duo called Queendom Come, Wreck D. Mic, Diamondbacks, Kommittee and Sandolla. “The music that is coming out of Louisville is very versatile. I see cats in the street selling CDs, I buy two of ’em.” You can see the Father in action Friday night at the University of Louisville Red Barn. Code Red and Q Official also perform. Contact the writer at mherron@leoweekly.com