DXnext: JYoung The General
Meet the Michigan State University alum who began as an Internet-keystyling emcee, and evolved into working with Nick Speed on two volumes of Black History Year. Read why.
When it comes to Jahshua Smith, aka JYoung The General, knowledge is truly power. Born and bred in Detroit, the 25-year-old emcee has lived his fair share of experiences that inspired him to write about the trials and tribulations of the black man in America. Catching the ear of Universal Records, JYoung instead opted out of a deal to pursue a college degree at Michigan State University, where his thirst for knowledge grew even deeper. Taking this educational enlightenment to the booth, he has crafted three projects (Black History Year Installment One and Two and Jahshua 1:6 EP) that challenge its listeners to think before taking what they’ve learned at face value. With his lesson plan mixed into the rhymes, the student has now become the teacher.
Speaking recently with HipHopDX, JYoung explained how he initially got into rapping, why writing for a cause is important in today’s scene, and what he has in store for the future.
The Beginning: “A little known fact about me known by a lot of my friends and fans is that I got my start being an Internet emcee on the videogame website Gamefaqs.com, the one where you get your cheat codes and walkthroughs for videogames. They had like a Hip Hop sub-board where people would just debate about Rap, who’s the best rapper, who’s your favorite indie act, etc. And they used to have this popular thing called ‘key-styling’ where you would send written battles between people. A friend of mine on that website dared me to get a microphone and actually try my hand at rapping. The first song I made was pretty ass, it was mixed down terribly, there was reverb from holy hell on it. [Laughs]”
“My boy in New York who goes by Treazy, he actually has his own radio show and he would have a weekly Hip Hop show for upcoming artists. I submitted my track one day and he liked it so much that he told me I wasn’t close to ready yet, but I had potential. And if it wasn’t for somebody like that saying that, I probably would have quit. Because to me it was just a gimmick and a hobby right then, but then it turned to me really taking it seriously and being at the point that I am right now.”
Founding Stick 2 Tha Script: “That’s just another thing about the Internet. The guy that gave me the push to take Rap seriously and taught me what I know about being a lyricist is named Steve Perez, a/k/a Tempest. He’s from New York and I’ve actually never met Steve in real life, but he taught me a lot about how to structure my bars, how to use multi-syllable flows, all these things that I never really knew. And we co-founded the group together and essentially just used to make music over the Internet. That was my right hand man from about 2005-2008. Every time I did something new, I’d send it to him and he’d send something to me, I’d be on his project and he’d be on mine. And that was the genesis of what I really wanted to establish with my current collective BLAT! Pack. Just to have a group of solo artists that would come together only really to be each other’s support system and not do the group thing because I’m alpha when it comes to my music. So the good thing about getting with a guy like Steve was that he had his lane, I had mine, but we were able to support each other and give that push we needed.”
Growing As An Artist: “With The Megaman Mixtape, it’s still the footnote of my personal history because I had a specific type of vibe I wanted from that tape, and that was basically to sound like a [Diplomats] artist with a ‘conscious’ style. I loved their sound, I loved how energetic it was, but I felt like even though I enjoyed what Juelz Santana, Cam’ron and Jim Jones were doing, a lot of people used to ride me for it because there wasn’t as much substance as like say some of my other favorite artists like Nas. So to take it to a level where I could say a lot of things that were potent or thought-provoking but still give it that bouncy vibe, I thought that was gonna be the type of balance to showcase me as an artist.”
“Where I think I’ve grown from that with Black History Year is that when I got to Michigan State University, I noticed that the story had changed for me. Like the same way in the movie Notorious you hear [Notorious B.I.G.'s] character saying, ‘Ready To Die was about being on the streets and hustlin’ and surviving. But I’m not on the streets anymore so the sound has to be different.’ With Black History Year, I was thinking okay my first mixtape was really about life in Detroit, overcoming some things in Detroit and wanting to go to the next level and being smart enough to do it. So Black History Year and the Jahshua 1:6 EP were an extension of me basically saying, I’m in college now, what can I offer people? My life is different. I’ve learned a lot of things, I’ve experienced a lot of different things and my perspective is much more mature than it was at age 20, which is how old I was when I made The Megaman Mixtape.”
Contextualizing Black History Year: “Nick Speed had a vision of wanting to celebrate Black History through sound. And I had a vision along with my co-conspirator P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. of the BLAT! Pack to do it in terms of taking a bunch of different concepts and rap about them, and just give people a different perspective on Black History. How we really imagined the project was like a month-long project where we did a different song about Black History a month, but P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. went to South Africa to do an internship for this center that gives aid and shelter and clothing to orphans. So that led me to do Black History Year alone as an emcee. What it ended up being is trying to take the strongest concepts and explore it for people who have never learned that type of Black History. I mean, everyone’s learned about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the march on Washington and Malcolm X and his assassination and the Black Panthers, but my aim was to teach people in a way that if you weren’t really familiar with how deep those concepts are, it was easy to pick up.”
“That would be the main underlying theme of everything, but the way that we also structured the first CD was kind of take the concepts that people were already familiar about and bring the different perspective to light, like ‘Malcolm vs. Martin.’ Those are two famous black leaders, but everybody assumes that their ideologies were radically different when at the end of their careers they were pretty much the same. So that’s taking something that people are aware of, but going more in-depth and giving you more of the truth based on what you don’t really read in a textbook.”
Finding Balance In Subject Matter: “I remember one of the main balances that I loved about the game when I was younger was that I could listen to the radio and hear something like ‘Ain’t No Nigga’ by Jay-Z but I could also hear ‘Sugar Hill’ by AZ. Same region, same type of sound but two different subjects. Or even a song like ‘T.R.O.Y.’ [by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth] could be on the Billboard Hot 100 versus the Rap that you hear on the Hot 100 now. So there’s a lot of things missing in Rap but really it’s not that it’s missing, it’s just not represented in the upper echelon of mainstream music anymore. If I were to listen to the radio, the closest thing I would get to thought-provoking music is actually a guy like Drake who takes everyday life and put’s it in a different perspective. But he’s not known as an activist or anything, and you don’t even have a Nas anymore to make songs that people are familiar with from that breed.”
Writing For A Cause: “I think I feel more pressure from when I’m not writing those types of songs. I’ve never felt pressure in making a song that I thought would disturb the general status quo of America. So if I’m gonna write a song like 'Gorgeous,' then I have no problems talking about race relations in the past, or self-hate and what that particular agenda in our country has done to some of the black men and women today. What kind of scares me is that out of the three projects I’ve dropped in the last couple years, there’s the two Black History Years but there’s also the Jahshua 1:6 EP which is a lot more toward what people would consider mainstream. I’ve written about so many different subjects that one song I could write about pursuing a woman in the club but in a different song like ‘Gorgeous,’ I can explain why that same woman probably has self-esteem issues due to her history. And that’s what’s hard, because people would expect me to make music that was solely about Black Power and Black empowerment. And I think the most realistic view I can give to people is that while I’m aware of these things, it’s not always about that for me.”
“Even when a guy like Martin Luther King, and not to compare myself obviously, but just as an example, that’s a guy who had his life. He had a personal and social life outside of the marching and the protests. And while some people are very dedicated to their cause, and are seen as important figures within the African-American culture, I’m pretty sure they went to the bar and got drunk and did what they did. In the case of Martin Luther King, he got down and had extra marital affairs. But see people want to judge a guy like that for having that life, and maybe it’s solely because of those moral and ethical values of cheating on your wife when you’re ‘fighting for the struggle.’ But that man’s human, and I’m sure if I were to ever make a project to emulate a guy like Martin Luther King, to just write about ‘The Dream’ wouldn’t be autobiographical of him. You would have to include the things he liked to do, his leisure, downtime things like that. And that’s what I try to show with my music.”
What’s In Store For The Future: “I know that my next project I’m working on will be a lot more personal to me. Things that I’ve wanted to write about. Like there’s still going to be heavy content on there, writing from a story perspective to get people to think about things in our community like sexual abuse and police brutality and things like that. But I also want the project to touch on things like love and decision-making within a relationship and just going out and having a good time.”
“There’s so much that I’ve lived through in Detroit. Getting robbed, having to move, dealing with being too smart amongst some of my peers, and I wanted to do something with my life other than fall into crime. Every day was a story that I would write about and that to me is more passionate when I rap about what I’ve been through than to continue to place myself in a position to rap from the perspective from somebody who inspires me. I like that, but it’s not something I would want to make a career out of it. I wouldn’t want to make a career out of making ten Black History Years, I would want to move on and evolve and do something different.”
A Down-To-Earth-Scholar: “More of less what I would like my legacy to be is the type of person who understands he has a social responsibility but he’s modest about it, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. To not want to be a Barack Obama, but to be that guy that can be chopped down by society when I fail or do wrong or when I don’t fit somebody’s notion of who I should be. And to be somebody that people can always look back and say, ‘He made some real music about the community he’s from and the community he’s in, but he was also a real ass nigga that liked to make music about being a real-ass nigga.’”