By Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer
Jasiri X is a socially conscious rapper based in Pittsburgh, an area which has a little-known race problem when compared to other cities like New York City, Chicago and Ferguson. A 2015 benchmark article in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette found that “Black youths were arrested at twice the rate of white youths nationally, but six times as much in the Pittsburgh region.”
The racism in this city is something that Jasiri has encountered first hand, stating that “the first time we went to Monroeville Mall, we were called n*****s,” and this was one of his first experiences of the city upon moving here from the South Side of Chicago.
This led to Jasiri finding comfort in rap music, specifically socially-conscious rap. He turned to artists like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.
However, Jasiri was only a common fan until the Christmas his best friend got a turntable. He remembers that he tried to rap over the turntable, and he thought it was awful at the time. Nevertheless, he persisted to become the artist he is today.
A six-time Pittsburgh Hip Hop Award honoree, Jasiri uses his music to address the social issues he sees in today’s culture, stating on his website that, “[m]y art is activism; you cannot separate the two.”
His latest album, “Black Liberation Theology,” addresses issues such as women’s rights in “Black Girl Rock,” the corruption of the institutions of religion in “ChristIs” and the hardships of the fight for equal rights in a peaceful manner in “Peaceful Fight.”
With all his accolades and pointed social criticisms, the question remains: Why isn’t Jasiri signed to a record label? The artist believes that being independent is imperative to improving the genre.
Jasiri pointed out that old white men are the heads of many of the record labels and control what makes it into popular music.
Instead, Jasiri would rather go the route of recent Grammy winner Chance the Rapper, someone he respects for his artistic integrity. “Chance is being who he is, this is who I am,” said Jasiri. “I am going to be myself!”
Jasiri especially finds the idea of Chance giving away his music for free to be brilliant. Chance gives out music to promote his brand and concerts, and Jasiri echoes this sentiment.
All of Jasiri’s music is available on SoundCloud for free, and all artists signed to his production company, 1Hood Media, also release their music for free. Local Pittsburgh artists like Idasa Tariq, Jordan Montgomery and L U C are also signed to this label.
However, it is his latest work with Chicago rapper Rhymefest that Jasiri is fully focused on. Rhymefest is one of three rappers to win both a Grammy and an Academy Award for their music. The other two in this unique club are Eminem and Common.
Together, they form the group “Kill Switch” and are working on a new album titled “Power; People Oppressed Will Eventually Rise.” The album will debut later this year and it will be born, as Jasiri’s Artist Statement states, out of “A desire to see a better community, a brighter future for our children, and a socially and scholastically educated young populace motivates me to continue to create.”