Spoken Words With Bakari J.B.

Bakari J.B. is a hip-hop artist and spoken word poet that grew up in the lower Roxbury/Dorchester area of Boston, Massachusetts. Son of a Jazz musician, music has always been second nature to him. Bakari J.B. started to develop his craft early on in high school at Boston Latin School, where he had his first ever on-stage rap performance. Born in 1986, late 90’s hip-hop and R&B would be instrumental in his musical growth. Heavily influenced by artists such as Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z and the L.O.X., these rappers helped Bakari J.B. to construct his gritty East Coast style. He is also versatile, having lyricists such as Eminem, Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def and The Roots help him develop a soulful and more lyrical style to compliment the raw East Coast style. He’s hoping to continue the progression of hip-hop.

So Gutsy sat down with indie MC to hear his thoughts about his brand, musical influences, the art of storytelling, and what’s next for his musical movement.

In your own words, who is Bakari J.B.?

Bakari J.B is a Boston-based hip-hop artist, spoken word artist, an indie supporter, and human being.

Describe Boston’s music scene to me. I’ve been told it’s very interesting and there is some magic coming out of that city, but I want to hear first-hand from someone involved in the movement.

The Boston music scene is a scene filled with undiscovered talent that’s still searching for a main identity, if you will, or a way to release that identity to the masses. The underground Boston scene is literally bubbling. I believe we lack certain outlets that would showcase the talent that we have in a better way.

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Is that just for the hip-hop movement or is it for multiple genres out there?

Oh, multiple genres. Like, R&B, soul, neo-soul. Even, like, bands. I know you guys recently did a piece on Tavonna Miller and she’s been doing her thing in the Boston scene for some time. I’m still personally surprised when I come across people in the music scene who haven’t heard of her because I just know the level of her talent is just so much bigger than Boston. We have a community. We have a culture. But, we definitely need more outlets.

As far as you being an indie artist, do you find it harder? Are there some perks? Or, have you found a happy medium between the two?

Hmm … in general, I think it depends on what the goal is in music. If you want to be famous or known or whatever, then, being an indie artist can be tough because you’re not going to get the exposure that you want. From a personal level, I love the backing of some kind of label and support to get my music out there to people who are not in front of me. However, I do enjoy the process of organically building any kind of support system that I get. So, I enjoy that and I feel like the more I do that and the longer I can do that for, the better chance I’ll have when I do get some type of deal or a distribution deal or marketing, I’d be coming in with an identity. I don’t want to be forced to change too much. I look at being independent as a positive because I know I’m building my own brand. Therefore, I like to be in control of building my brand as much as possible.

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Exactly. That’s important.

Yeah.

Do you classify yourself as a storyteller?

The more I’ve listened to my album or music I’ve created, I actually start to realize that I have been storytelling.

You have a knack for it, though. It’s very organic. Like, when I listen to your music, it just seems so natural for you to tell stories, you know?

You know what’s funny? My father was an actual storyteller. When I look back and think about it, I haven’t come across storytelling like that often. I mean, he [his father] was and is many things — jazz musician, he wrote a novel, he’s a chef. He does all this stuff. When I was younger, he was a storyteller. So, he would go into schools and tell African tales. He plays the djembe. He would play that while he told stories to the kids, cultural stories. Some things just kind of get passed down and you just don’t know it or think about. It’s a characteristic of the music. I prefer it that way. Like, in movies … I prefer a movie with a great plot over a movie with awesome graphics because the movie that has the great plot is the one I want to tell my friends about. It’s interesting. I try to keep those elements in the music, as well.

Well, since we’re on the topic of your music, I’ve noticed that most of your tracks are very smooth with laid-back undertones. What or who influences your sound the most?

Hip-hop, R&B and soul, even acts like Maroon 5 or Jason Mraz. I think I just like a relaxed element. It motivates my pen a little bit. With my father being a jazz musician, when I hear music with instruments in it, that really does something for me. Samples are another thing. I’m very old-school hip-hop with it. J Dilla and guys like that. Those smoother elements draw me. I think that’s kind of what makes me want to tell a story. They go hand-in-hand. Something smooth will inspire me to think about something in life. I like to turn up, too {laughs}.

What’s the feedback been to your most recent work, Fear and Desire?

A lot of people really like it. I haven’t gotten too much growth critique as an overall. Some people are like “you could’ve made it shorter.” They may not like a couple songs on here. But, it’s subjective. This is the first project I stepped outside of my comfort zone. I think people were able to get value out of it. People who didn’t know I did music who met me through the scene, we’ve had conversations about how I was inspirational to them. Those types of conversations are very inspirational to me.

You told me you shot a video over Memorial Day weekend. What song was it … or is it a surprise?

I’ll let y’all know. I want y’all to know {laughs}. The video is for the song “Soul Cats.” It’s featuring C Roc Smooth. When I perform this song, the people seem to like it a lot. It basically discusses guy/girl interactions in the night spots when liquor is presented. You know, guys trying to talk to girls and girls trying to chill with their girls. The visuals for it came out pretty nice and really classy.

I’m looking forward to it! When’s it dropping?

Probably by July. I’ll let you guys know first.

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When Bakari’s not spitting, what’s taking up your freetime?

Music pretty much consumes me a lot. Other than that, I play basketball in a men’s league. It’s so weird now because, like, literally everyday, I’m doing something musically. I’ll go out to shows and performances. I went to an art show the other day. I can’t draw to save my life, but it was really cool to see all the different types of art. It was cool to be immersed in creativity.

A couple weeks ago, we received the shocking news that Dr. Maya Angelou had passed away. Everyone’s been talking about her profound influence on them. But, I wanted to ask you, as a writer and a poet, how are you coping?

It’s a sad day when anybody loses anybody. There’s obviously a special connection for Maya Angelou to a number of people, especially for black people and especially for black women. She’s such a role model. She possessed many talents. She perfected us. We read her writings. We heard her poetry. It changes you. It has an effect on you for your entire life. The things that she’s done, you remembered. She is a figure that we’ll always remember. I’m at a loss for words, but the honesty is that she will be remembered the way she should be remembered. She has this quote, “I’ve learned that people may forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That matters so much to human beings.

So, what’s next for the Bakari J.B. movement? You’ve dropped this awesome album with great feedback. You’re shooting music videos. What do you aspire to do in the next year.

I’m gonna retire.

Really?

Nah {laughs}. Umm … so, my goal is to branch out. I have a lot of love for the Boston scene and I do my best to support. Now, I want to go to the surrounding areas and test it out. Philly, NY, DC — there are other places that are cultivating and bubbling with their music scenes. I want to network with some of those people to see how far I can go and see what I can do. I’ve actually gotten a couple of e-mails from A&Rs. Gonna look into them, maybe have a sit-down and see what they want to talk about. I’m not in a rush to get signed so much as I am to continue to build a network with people. Definitely going to work on a follow-up album but I’ll be working on some mixtapes between that.

-Bee Pollard

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