Jasiri X American Workers vs Multi-Billionaires
Jasiri X shoots video at Wisconsin protest
By Scott Mervis
Among those reporting from the protests in Wisconsin last week was a journalist of a different sort — Pittsburgh rapper Jasiri X. He worked his way into the mob of 70,000 to shoot the video for his latest protest song, “American Workers vs Multi-Billionaires.”
It was a coincidence that he happened to be in Wisconsin. Four months ago he was booked by the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to be the keynote speaker for a Black History Month celebration. He and local activist/rapper Paradise Gray decided to take the one-hour detour to Madison to visit the workers’ revolt against Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
They couldn’t believe the scale of the protest they saw. So Jasiri did the talk in Platteville and then headed back to Madison to mix with the crowd and shoot a video for a song he had already written.
“I had written the song a week before it all happened,” he says. “I went to D.C. to do this interview on the Russian Today network and met some people who were really into politics, and this guy told me, ‘You know, the next issue is really gonna be the budget.’ I thought about how these decisions are being made by millionaires and billionaires, but they affect people who are most in need. That was the concept of the song, and it was mind-boggling when all this happened.”
The song takes on conservative politicians and right-wing pundits, asking, “When did American workers become the enemy/why is wanting a living wage such a penalty?”
The video finds the rapper smack in the middle of the protest, like he did at the G-20 summit rallies in Pittsburgh in 2009.
“It was an awesome feeling because of the unity of it, especially going into the state house,” he says. “The people were so nice and it was a happy, jovial atmosphere. People weren’t down. They were genuinely happy — drumming, dancing, singing. It was literally so loud that I couldn’t hear the song unless I had earphones in.”
The 30-something Jasiri (full name Jasiri Oronde Smith) came to Pittsburgh from a Chicago gang neighborhood with his mom in the ’80s and graduated from Gateway High School. He made a name for himself nationally in 2007 with “Free the Jena 6,” a commentary on the racially charged case out in Louisiana. A Huffington Post story on his song “What if the Tea Party Was Black” raised his profile higher, generating more than 250,000 YouTube hits. He also hosts an Internet radio show, “This Week With Jasiri X.”
“I’ve found that I’m getting more support as an artist from political blogs and websites than hip-hop websites,” he says. “It’s kind of sad in a sense, being where hip-hop came from, but that’s unfortunately what we’ve been seeing.”
At the moment, Jasiri X is probably the third biggest rapper from Pittsburgh behind Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, but even though he works in a different style, he’s a fan of both of them.
“I’ve known [Wiz] since he was in high school. I wish I had the foresight of Rostrum, because I saw his talent at age 16 — not just his talent but how focused he was on becoming a professional artist. People see, he laughs and he’s high. They don’t realize how intelligent he is. I saw him put the work in to get where he is. I’m really happy for him. I think his image, especially when our hip-hop was dominated by the gangster rapper, he’s just laid-back, cool, down-to-earth, loves his mom. I think that’s healthy. He’s comfortable to be himself, and if he can inspire other young people to be that way, I think that’s a great accomplishment. I feel the same way about Mac Miller. Mac is one of the most genuine people I’ve met. … I think they’re like the perfect ambassadors for Pittsburgh hip-hop because they’re just good people.”
While Jasiri is known primarily as a political rapper, he says his new record, “Ascension,” due in May, will focus more on personal issues and triumphs. As for the political raps, he’ll keep them coming strong on his mixtapes, website and YouTube channel.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.