Oklahoma City-based Jabee wrote his first rap when he was 7. He liked to battle his uncle, MC Shannon, who was well known in Oklahoma City’s (small, at that time) hip hop circle.
At 15, he walked into a recording studio, and started playing shows at 16 with the group Culture Shock Camp. Pretty soon, he was on the road, touring different states and cities, but he was still young and just having fun.
In 2008, he said, he started to think he might be able to pull off music as a career. He put out an album, Blood is the New Black, which was produced by Brazil’s DJ Vadim and featured the likes of DJ Alibi, Breeze Evahflowin, LMNO, and Othello. That album introduced him to the rest of the country, and he went from being a rapper from OKC to someone well known to people outside of Oklahoma, he said. He quit his jobs at a church and a bookbindery and started to see music as a career.
“You know how some people, they’ll try college, and they may try it and take a few years off and realize, when I was a freshman, if I had done it right, I could have graduated already. That’s how I feel,” Jabee said. “If I knew what I know now back then, I could have graduated already.”
He is graduating, in a sense. He’s released several EPs and mixtapes, and his latest project has earned a lot of attention. It’s a single titled “Stephanie,” which he’ll release on vinyl March 23 at The Conservatory in Oklahoma City. The song is produced by New York-based El-P. “He’s someone I’ve wanted to work with since I was 16,” Jabee said. “I remember the first time I heard him, it just woke me up out of my sleep. I’ve bought everything he’s put out.”
They made a connection through a mutual friend, and El-P agreed to produce Jabee’s single and take him on tour. “It’s been gravy ever since,” he said.
“Stephanie” features vocals by Carlitta Durand and is about a girl who called him ugly when he was in elementary school. It prompted a teacher at Taft Middle School to invite the rapper to speak to her students about bullying.
Jabee said he writes what he feels and hopes they impact people on a deeper level. “When I die, I don’t want people to say ‘Jabee was a good rapper,’ I want them to say ‘Jabee changed my life.’ ”
He’s in Austin this week for South by Southwest, and then he plans to get to work on another full-length album.
“A lot of people’s dream is to make it big and be on MTV,” he said. “That’s never been my dream. One dream I had was to work with El-P, and I did that. Another dream is to create an album that will look, feel, and sound like everything I love about hip hop. To work with people I’ve always wanted to work with. I want to write and create best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
“It’ll be a win-win because (if it doesn’t sell well) I’ll feel like I did it—I lived my dream, and I can be done. Or it’ll be a win because it’ll move and people will want more.”
Even if he doesn’t make it big, Jabee says he’ll always rap—“It’s in me; it’s not something I can just take off”—but he’d also like to be a schoolteacher.
“I want to be a catalyst for people and affect people,” he said. “If I’m not doing rap as much as I am now, I think if I were an English teacher or something, Id’ be good. I’d be getting the same fulfillment I am now.”
Check out the video for “Stephanie” below, and look for a This Land-produced video with Jabee in April.