This profile was published as part of Gandhi’s Be Magazine’s #ProfilesofChangemakers series, uplifting the stories, lives, and work of Changemakers who are being the change they wish to see in the world.
It feels like prison on a tier at the check point / I’d rather be anywhere but here at this checkpoint / Nelson Mandela wasn’t blind to the check point / He stood for free Palestine not a check point / Support BDS don’t give a dime to the checkpoint / If Martin Luther King had a dream of the checkpoint / He wake with loud screams from the scenes at the checkpoint / It’s Malcolm X by any means at the check point / Imagine if you daily routine was the checkpoint
Rapper Jasiri X wrote these lyrics days after he returned from traveling to Palestine in January 2014. A friend had invited him to be part of a delegation of black artists and musicians through the Carter Center.
“I wasn’t prepared mentally for what I saw there,” Jasiri X shares. “I wanted to leave. I had enough. I can’t imagine living there.”
Jasiri X says at the time he had not thought about writing a song about the experience. But his friend who invited him on the trip joked, “You’ll probably have a song the week after we get back.”
“I got back from Palestine around MLK’s birthday. And I thought if he knew this is happening in 2014, he would cry. It stood out to me as apartheid and discrimination, and that’s how the song came about. Once I started writing it, it was gone,” Jasiri X says. And the result is “Checkpoint.”
Jasiri Oronde Smith began his journey as an activist from early on. Growing up in a single-parent African American household, Jasiri X’s mother taught him about being proud of who he is and standing up against injustices like the Civil Rights leaders he read about from an early age.
He started college to be a lawyer, but then dropped out. Realizing his leadership role in the Hip Hop generation, Jasiri X worked in Pittsburgh Public Schools counseling single fathers and participating in Gatherings for Justice with Harry Bellefonte, who was a supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr. and who used his celebrity to help fund the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and has continued the work by activating artists and musicians to impact civil rights issues.
Working in the public schools, Jasiri X found it difficult to incorporate his programs and message into the school day. “Hip Hop is controversial. This is one reason I didn’t start my media academy in the schools. They tried to shut down the Hip Hop Club,” he says. Jasiri X’s experiences as a community activist and a rapper inspired him to start the community organization One Hood to teach young African American men about media literacy and how to create their own media.
“It all started for me when a high school friend of mine gave me turntables for Christmas and asked me to write some raps,” Jasiri X says. “I wrote a rhyme for him because he was my best friend. As I got better, people started to tell me I’m good at it. But I was told over and over that what I was rapping wasn’t what the industry wanted.”
And then, his revolutionary rap Free the Jena 6 ended up being played all over the country.
“With Hip Hop music, we’re really not allowed to grow up. The stars are 35 and up, they’re not young anymore, but they’re still talking about issues they did 15 years ago. When do we grow up and talk about other issues? They have this certain image of young black men and that’s what they push and promote.”
This is what Jasiri X is wanting to counteract with his One Hood media academy. “We felt like we had a responsibility to young black men. Why are these images always the same? Who’s benefiting? Certainly not our community.”
Jasiri X’s first album “Ascension” released in 2013 and included “21 Forever” a powerful commentary on the Hip Hop generation that refuses to grow up and take responsibility.
I talk about how I’ve been talk about forever / How I don’t love bitch, I’ll call them news forever / I will never trick, I’ma treat it cold forever / Baby mama drama I’ma have more forever / ’cause I’ma have unprotected sex forever / Get a chance of 4 court, all our checks forever / I’ma show my own child disrespect forever / ’cause when I walk out that door, I left forever / Hook: I don’t wanna grow up, I mean never huh / ’cause in my mind I’ll be 21 forever uh.
Jasiri X has been making waves on the Hip Hop scene with his social commentary, taking his revolutionary message to college and university campuses across the nation. His music rises above the current mundane state of Hip Hop to offer thoughtful commentary on life in today’s world.
Recently named 2014 Rapper to Watch, and we’re looking forward to some of the new projects Jasiri X has on the way—POWER “People Oppressed Will Eventually Rise” and MASS “Modern American Slavery Ships” which addresses the current state of America’s mass incarceration.