Emmy-winning hip hop artist and all-around cool Oklahoman Jabee Williams recently took a ride in The Okie Bug to share his thoughts on NE Oklahoma City, homelessness, and the deeper meaning of his lyrics.
After picking Jabee up at Tower Theatre, where he’s one of three operators, we take off down 23rd Street toward the NE side of Oklahoma City.
What’s a typical Saturday like for you?
It depends on the Saturday. Every first Saturday of the month, I do a brunch. So, I’m usually getting ready for that. (BTW, if you don’t follow @JabeeLikesFood on Instagram, do that NOW!).
So, tell me more about @JabeeLikesFood…
I started it for two reasons. It was originally going to be “Jabee Likes Cake,” cause I just really like cake. The idea was I would just go around and try a bunch of different cakes.
On my personal page (@MyNameIsJabee) I was always posting food, and I just wanted to keep it separate. It kinda picked up its own little following, which is cool. There are people who know me from that BEFORE they know me from anything else. So, it’s been cool. And I’ve always been someone who loves to eat and loves food, so it was kind of a natural progression.
Do you cook too?
A little bit. I’ve got a macaroni and cheese that I make on Christmas and Thanksgiving…and stuff like that.
Now, you travel quite a bit, right? How’s that?
Sometime it’s hard being away from my children (he has 2 girls and 1 boy). Sometimes I’ll be on the road during the holidays, you know? I remember my daughter’s first or second Christmas, going to her mom’s house Christmas morning then having to leave town that same day. That’s hard! I try not to miss birthdays, though.
I’ve got three kids as well, so I can imagine. Do you think it’s hard to work in this industry and live in Oklahoma?
Nah! I think it’s easier, because I can do everything here and get up and bounce when I need to. You know, my family…they help me. My kid’s mothers…they help me. (He stops mid-sentence) That’s gonna be my burger spot, right there…Ground House Burgers.
When is that coming?
Hopefully in October. But, it’s hard to say with build-outs and stuff.
So, why did you decide to get into the burger joint?
For me, the main thing was having a business on the East side where I grew up. So, then I was like “if I do have a business on the East side, what do I want it to be?” To be honest, I WAS going to open a record store or a hip hop shop. It’s the two things I love…music or food…and music don’t make money, so I went with food.
So, the East side is in the news right now with the (Smart Saver) grocery store closing. Do you think we’re going to see the East side come up like other districts in OKC?
Yeah! Did you see the stuff on Maps4? There’s a lot of things that are in place – a lot of projects that are really gonna help build up the area – a lot of resources we’ve needed for so long. So, it’s good to see that happening.
And, none of it is stuff that’s going to displace people. Cause, when people DO come, I want them to have businesses that support the community. I want the people to be able to afford to shop there, eat there, whatever. And when they go into those businesses, they need to see people that look like them.
But, the people in the community cannot be displaced. That’s important! And, if I have anything to do with it, that’s what’s going to happen.
Why do you think it’s taken so long for the East side to come up as opposed to The Plaza, or The Paseo, or whatever?
Because it’s a Black community, and some people don’t see value in Black people until they can make money from them. The East side’s been cool to us our whole lives though. It’s just cool now to everybody else. You know, now it’s cool to go to BoBo’s on the weekends, and stuff like that.
For them, it’s like an adventure. People go to BoBo’s just to say they went and post it on Instagram. “Guess what I did? I went to the jungle last night!” That shit is pointed to me. And, it’s taken so long for people to see value in it (the East side) because we were deprived of the resources that create value. So now that people see value in it, people are willing to come in and do stuff.
Do you think the progress made in Uptown 23rd has brought more attention to the East side?
Yeah, definitely! The same thing is happening all around the country in areas where there are predominantly Black communities. Like, if you go to Harlem, it looks completely different. Harlem to me is Malcolm X, you know? But now, it’s not even like that.
It’s like 4th Street (OKC’s Deep Deuce District). When my great-grandparents and great-uncles were growing up on the East side, it was a flourishing Black community. Like Florence’s (which is near 23rd & Prospect) has been a restaurant on the East side for years and years. But it was originally on 4th Street. When you go to 4th Street now, you can’t even tell we were ever there.
I know that homelessness is something you care about. How did you become so passionate about that issue?
For one, just seeing people out here hurting. And then, legit seeing people I know suffering. You know? I was at the Tower Theatre one day, and I saw this dude hop into the dumpster and heard him rummaging through there. And I was like, “damn!” And so I went over to Scotties to get him a burger. I come back and bang on the can, and he pops out…and it was a homie I went to school with! That messed me up!
Plus, my life experience, my family and the situations we dealt with growing up. We didn’t have anything, and stood in line for free food…and stuff like that. It messes me up that there are people out there that have more than they need. We’re supposed to care about people! It’s our responsibility as human beings to take care of each other.
And then in Oklahoma City, and all across the country, you have these developments that are popping up. And, that’s good! But people are losing their camp sites and their homes. Our common misconception is: “Go get a job!” But, it’s not that easy. Being homeless is a full time job! I know because I did it. So, as people in the community, it’s our responsibility to not go through life taking, and taking, and taking, but giving as well.
I love that so much!
So…you’ve got a new album. When did you say it was coming out?
Oh, I didn’t say. (lol) It’s taking just a little longer that I though, but it’s called “This World Is So Fragile and Cruel, I’m Glad I Got You.” It’s about everybody you’ve had in your life, whether they’ve had a good impact or a bad impact; whether they treated you good or treated you bad, they helped make you who you are.
One thing I really like about your music is that there aren’t many throw-away lyrics. You really put some messages into your songs.
Yeah! I really believe that if people are listening, then you should say something. You know, I always give this example: Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, right? Here it is, 2019 and the speech is still relevant and is still just as powerful. When he got up there, he could have said anything he wanted because the whole world was listening. And, so if people are listening, we should SAY something! And so many rappers just talk about NOTHING, and people are listening. If you have someone’s attention and they’re giving you their time, you should try to help them leave different than when they came.
That’s amazing! Man, I wish you nothing but luck with the new album and everything else in your life. Cheers!