When I’m lookin’ off, the future’s what I’m thinking of.
— “Come Up”
Photos by Jennie McKeon
As 2018 begins, I look at the past and I see the future.
It’s been more than a year since Oklahoma City rapper Jabee released “Black Future,” and it’s as poignant as ever. It speaks clearer, stings sharper and weighs heavier.
In its artistic pursuit, cultural impact and historical context, this album holds its own next to Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Lamar’s record won the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2016, and people chanted its single “Alright” as an ode to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
To that, I answer with Jabee’s “Come Up,” a song directly referencing the movement and making a distinct Oklahoma City connection. In its entirety, “Black Future” is sarcastic, observant and cohesive.
Jabee’s music has evolved.
Jabee doesn’t hesitate to use rap as a tool, hammering away at the future of the black community. He challenges humanity’s progress and demands social justice. He does it all at his own pace and free of vulgarity, not letting emotions interfere with the message — what I see as a tell-tale sign of a great leader.
What I like most about this record is how specifically Jabee approaches the lyrics, because “vague” is the last word I want to think while cross-examining a record with future in its title. The title is based on a poem Oklahoma City poet Najah Amatullah Hylton wrote.
The album introduction is a reading of the poem, a hard-hitting, concise declaration of what a black future could look like. It’s a powerful opener, and I couldn’t shake its grip.
The poem continues in increments throughout the record.
In the black future
There’s a place so dangerously absurd
That words re-emerge as our tools and our friends
Rather than the means by which the man condemns us to ignorance
— “In the Black Future...1"
I’ve listened to Jabee’s third album many times, but only on vinyl recently. I picked it up at Guestroom Records in Oklahoma City while visiting family for the holidays.
The store clerk helped me find it, saying, “It’s a great record.” Of course, that I already knew. My only regret is I didn’t get to hear Jabee perform the music live at Tower Theatre after its release.
Although it’s geared toward the black community, this record is for everyone.
“Culture doesn’t belong to any one person,” says rapper Chuck D. in “Monument,” and that hits home. Everyone is responsible for the themes in this album — racial stereotypes, police brutality, life’s challenges and expectations — and I think the New Year marks the perfect time to listen and gain perspective.
This album is hefty with 20 tracks. Some of my favorites are “By Any Means,” “Penniless” and “Tried So Hard.” “Melanin Monroe,” however, is my top choice — a stand-out, repeat-worthy song featuring Oklahoma City rapper Miillie Mesh and Oklahoma City soul vocalist Cooki Turner.
But, if you’re listening for the first time, don’t skip any.
I interviewed Jabee for The Oklahoman two years ago about his second year hosting Gift Raps, a holiday charity in which he performs and collects donations for those in need. My recorder didn’t save the interview, and my notes were in shambles.
I called Jabee a second time, and he stopped everything to give me a do-over. It was a rookie mistake, but it meant a lot that he had no qualms about answering the same questions again.
Jabee speaks with confidence, humility and an unmistakable genuineness. I also get the feeling he doesn’t say no to a chance to help the community.
When listening to Jabee’s music, it rings as true as 2018, because I never have to question whether he practices what he preaches.
Featuring “Black Future” as a new year approaches felt right. It’s easy to listen to a record, put it away and let it gather dust. It’s harder to revisit one, listen to its message and ask yourself the tough questions, where you stood when you first heard it and where you stand now.
Progression is a state of mind.
— “By Any Means”
Rap music will carry with it a strong presence to the 2018 Grammy Awards Ceremony — Jay-Z receiving eight nominations and Lamar with seven — reaffirming just how important it is to recognize what this genre has to say.
I look forward to Jabee’s next album, because if I know anything, it’s that he’s thinking of tomorrow.
Earrings - Forever 21
Dress - Free People
Shoes - Fergie
Hey, I'm Savannah. I collect records, and they collect dust. Like my preferred media form, I strive to not become obsolete. I created Off the Record as a way to turn my mind inside out, into something visual and tangible. One is the loneliest number, so I asked my friends to join.