Rapper Eze Jackson talks to three performing artists from Baltimore: Alex Alexander, Max Beats, and Cellis. They discuss their own work, the impact of activism on Baltimore’s art scene, and the politics of marijuana use.
Eze Jackson: What’s up, yo? Welcome back for another episode of The Whole Bushel on the Real News Network. I’m your host Eze Jackson. Today I’m sitting down with another three amazing artists. We have human beatbox and producer Max Bent. We have spoken word artist, photographer and lifestyle blogger Alex Alexander joining us. And rapper, philanthropist, my man Cellis is in the house too. What’s up, y’all? Everything good? Cellis: Amazing. Eze Jackson: Cool. Max, welcome for your first time. Max Bent: Thank you. Eze Jackson: First time truly having crabs … Max Bent: Thank you for the knowledge. It’s like lifetimes of knowledge. Cellis: He is woke to the crab game now. Max Bent: Never going back. Eze Jackson: Welcome to the club. Welcome to the club. One of the things I wanted to talk to all of y’all about was the current climate right now in our country, in America. We have, of course, the 45th president in Donald Trump and it’s the first time that I’ve seen so many people protesting a president. I don’t think in the history of a presidency we’ve had that many people protesting. What do you think about the current climate in our country? Do you think the protests are effective? Do you think people should be getting out in the streets and doing stuff like that? Max Bent: They are. From the standpoint of flooding the offices of congressional representatives, that actually has had a direct effect on legislation, I think. And also a lot of the fear tactics are countered by actual human beings being observable and saying, “Look at all these people.” I think the people that blocked the bridge in New York, that’s a pretty strong statement, you know. Cellis: It’s absolutely been amazing just kind of seeing this country come together at a time that you wouldn’t necessarily expect it with, you know, all the casualties of black people that are going on in this country and the disgraces that are happening with foreign policy. It’s really eye-opening to see America come together as a whole and really kind of bring this nation together. And on top of what’s happening nationally, people see that and then they take that back home. They take that to Chicago. They take that to Baltimore. They take that to Detroit and cities that aren’t doing well at all and aren’t going to do well under the current office. It allows people to grow and see what’s happening and see how they can change their immediate surroundings. Alex Alexander: From an artist’s standpoint, I love the overall tone of awareness in certain artists, like their medium has changed, their voices have changed. Artists are influencing people more than ever now to get angry and be mindful of where you direct your anger and hopefully it’s for the better good of the cause that you’re angry about. Eze Jackson: Alex, are there any artists that you personally have seen that have surprised you that you’ve noticed that kind of changed their message or evolved or awakened over time? Alex Alexander: None that I can name specifically, but being a host and having there be a general topic of sex and love and being mistreated, it’s kind of shifted gears towards more politically articulated poetry. Eze Jackson: You host Bolton Hill Open Mic Series, which is really dope. Alex Alexander: Yes. You’ve been a guest. Eze Jackson: Yeah. Tell me a little bit about that evolution. Alex Alexander: Well, it started off as a [cipher 00:03:49] that I held in this basement level of my apartment building. It was more or less myself and my classmates from MICA would gather in there and paint and I’d invite rappers and poets to come in and we’d sit there in front of a space heater and go in. This March 17 we’ll be celebrating our fifth year doing this. Eze Jackson: Oh wow. Congratulations, that’s awesome. Alex Alexander: Thank you. I think that’s a hard thing to keep an open mic going for five years so I’m excited for that. And so many amazing people have come through those doors. Eze Jackson: Cool. So we talk about creatives and we’re talking about people voicing their opinion and protesting, kind of pushing back. Do you think it’s important or effective that creatives play a role? When I say “creatives,” just like people who want to approach activism in different ways, like recently in Chicago there was a Rumps Against Trump thing and people came out and basically mooned Trump Tower, but they had their own ways of doing it. Everybody didn’t just go out there and pull their pants down. It was like … Do you think stuff like that is effective in activism and do you think that artists are essential in protest and activism and politics in general? Cellis: I absolutely feel that stuff like that is absolutely essential. Like I said earlier, it just forces people to open their eyes. You know, it’s 2017. We’re in an era of modern ignorance. This is not the ignorance that occurred 20 or 50 or 100 years ago. This is an ignorance that is occurring where everybody can openly see what is going on. When people around us are choosing to ignore, openly choosing to ignore what is going on, we have to get in people’s faces and show them that you need to open your eyes. If it involves us putting our asses in front of Trump Towers, if it involves women walking around with pussy hats, the pussycat hats, then we’re going to do it. And on the second part of that question, do you think artists should be involved, absolutely, 100 percent. I think that now more than ever you see artists like the Kendrick Lamars, you see artists like the J. Coles, you see artists like the Chance the Rappers that are going and being socially conscious coming to the forefront and selling millions of records doing it and winning Grammys without every selling a record like Chance the Rapper just did. Yeah, 100 percent. Yes and yes. Eze Jackson: Definitely. Max? Max Bent: I think what artists do is create sort of the general agreement where everybody is. If enough artists put out material that is promoting a certain message, then the general public will have the sense that that’s the direction of society, because I don’t think it’s politicians that … That’s why it’s so sort of ridiculous when Trump speaks in front of these audiences, it’s not well produced, you know what I mean? It looks horrible. Eze Jackson: It’s a shit show. It literally is a shit show. Max Bent: It’s really bad production, objectively. What’s going to be the general direction of things? I think artists, in a sense, decide that. Cellis: I would say the artist’s job is to express the human experience. Whatever avenue, you’re expressing the human experience and talking about it, so I agree. Eze Jackson: Max, aside from being a beatboxer, a dope beatboxer, you also work with young people. Max Bent: I do, yeah. Eze Jackson: You work in the schools with young people. Max Bent: I started out teaching. I started out working at a high school in Prince George’s County and then I got into doing music in schools like five years ago and I developed a show that’s a solo performance that I’ve done in schools all around the state and outside of Maryland. I’ve come to think that one of the best ways that we can try to direct the direction of society is to try to open minds of young people. Eze Jackson: How so? Why do you think opening young people’s minds is important? Max Bent: Well, because I think we’re in a moment where we’re in a transition moment. The whole world is in sort of a transition moment and you can see it worldwide. There’s lots of other places that are experiencing similar societal symptoms to what you see here, lots of other places. Eze Jackson: A lot of worse. Much worse in other places as well. Max Bent: Much worse. Yeah, but it’s related, right? Eze Jackson: Absolutely. Max Bent: The young people that are going to school now have to be exposed to the idea that they’re going to have to create a new paradigm, which is an idea that I don’t think any of us … I can only speak for myself, but nobody told me that growing up in school. We were supposed to learn the paradigm. I think that’s the difference. Cellis: When I was growing up, “You are the future” became like a … It was almost like just a saying that was constantly said and never really explained. It’s like, you know what I mean? Alex Alexander: What does that entail exactly? Cellis: Yeah, like what do you mean? Max Bent: It’s like, yeah, I know I’m the future. I’ll be here tomorrow. I’m the future. Eze Jackson: The children are our future. I believe the children are our future. It was like what does that exactly mean? And it meant that we would be the ones in charge of things and doing things and moving things forward. Looking at them, that’s us talking to them now. It’s like you are the future, here’s something. Here’s something different. I think that you’ve got Baby Beats, which Black Root was on here before. Tell me a little bit about that. What’s that? [crosstalk 00:09:58] Max Bent: It’s been mostly Baltimore. It’s a program for infants to about six year olds and we sort of, I guess, dig from our hip hop experience to create interactive songs that kids dance to and move to and try to promote fundamental skills, steady beat awareness. Yeah, we do a monthly series and other shows different places. Eze Jackson: Cool. Cellis, tell me about working with young people. You’ve got a song “Inner Child.” Cellis: Yes. Eze Jackson: I’ve told you this, [Mike 00:10:36], that’s one of my favorite tracks of yours. Cellis: My favorite as well. Eze Jackson: Off the Snow Day EP, it’s dope. Tell me about that because you’ve got a couple of heavy things you laying in there on that track. Cellis: It’s a very heavy song and I made it with full intentions of it being a heavy song that makes people a little bit uncomfortable, but makes people think as well, because going back to what we were saying earlier, you have to make people uncomfortable at this day and age. You have to make people think about … Take a step back and say, “What am I doing wrong? What is this country doing wrong?” before anything gets fixed. The song is not just looking at one aspect of the American way right now. It dives into the black community, drug use, gun violence. Eze Jackson: Gun violence is on of my favorite topics you cover in there because you talk about … You bring in kind of all the aspects of gun laws. Cellis: Why do you need a semi-automatic? Eze Jackson: Yeah. Why do you need to carry that? Cellis: Right. Yeah, it was just one of those songs where I felt it needed to be made and, like I said, I just wanted to cover every single aspect of what I considered was just wrong in America right now. That’s what this song is about, ultimately. Eze Jackson: Dope. I got a sneak peek of the video. It’s going to be … Cellis: Shout out to Chris [Bivens 00:11:54] and also shout out to [Nino 00:11:55] Beats and everyone over at [crosstalk 00:11:58]. Without them that project wouldn’t have been a thing, so thank you so much. Eze Jackson: Yeah, we don’t shout out [inaudible 00:12:05] enough on here. [inaudible 00:12:04] has definitely got a nice little group of artists coming through there. Cellis: Absolutely. Eze Jackson: Alex, you’ve got a piece called “Perfect Vision,” and you say, “I have taken permanent pictures of temporary people, mere souvenirs of the lives I’ve visited.” It’s an awesome piece and we’ve talked before about your journey as an artist. You’re a photographer. You graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art here in Baltimore, but you’re legally blind. Alex Alexander: Yes. Eze Jackson: Tell me about the piece. Tell me about that journey. Alex Alexander: Well, I was born with nystagmus astigmatism and it has always been kind of an uphill battle just kind of interpreting a world that I wasn’t able to see as clearly as a lot of people and I was angry about that as a kid. I was always kind of teased for how that kind of set me back a little bit. It was harder to just get the gist of what everybody else was already getting just full force with their 20/20. Just growing up as an adult, I realized that that was going to be my strength, that I would use my disadvantage to my advantage and nobody will ever be able to see as I see and that’s just fine, if not better because I feel like people abuse having 20/20 vision and I feel sorry for them because they think they’ve seen it all and there’s so much more behind just seeing. There’s feeling and tasting and hearing and touching and just to get all those things involved, it makes me feel more in tune with the world around me because I couldn’t see it as clearly as others. So I carry that with me in everything I do, everything I do. Eze Jackson: I love it. Cellis: End the interview right there, damn. Eze Jackson: I know, right? Cellis: I’m about to set up an appointment and get my glasses. When I [inaudible 00:14:15] she’ll be like, “Boy, you heard what she said? You walk around without your damn glasses.” Alex Alexander: That’s the thing. I’ve never been able to just pop on a pair of glasses to improve the issue because it’s always acted as a sharpened filter for the world. It never brought it any clearer to me. It never brought it any closer to me. Glasses, contact lens, ugh. Enjoy the ride. Eze Jackson: I feel you. Let’s talk about weed. Alex Alexander: Let us. Eze Jackson: Because I know that’s one of your favorite topics, Alex. Alex Alexander: True indeed. Eze Jackson: Why do you think it’s not 100 percent legal in the United States? Do you think it should or shouldn’t be? Alex Alexander: Somebody said something in the Color Purple saying folks don’t like people being too proud or too free and I get proud and free when I smoke. There is nothing that is in my way when I reach that type of a freedom. I don’t know what is the holdup because, on top of that, it’s also aided me in my partial sightedness. It calms the nystagmus. It calms the pendulum motion of the eyes, which causes me not to be able to see. As a matter of fact, that’s the first time my mother knew I was high was because my eyes were so still and she was not mad, she was extremely grateful. She was like, “Well, we’re going to find a guy and we’re going to make sure that you’ve got your prescription, okay?” That kind of worked as my glasses. I was focused. I was still. I was able to finish a book in a week. Any other time it would take me like two months to finish 20 pages, just to retain the information. It was stressful. Outside of recreational purposes, that’s why I am a huge fan and advocate of marijuana and marijuana smoking, edibles, the whole bit. Eze Jackson: Okay. Cellis? Cellis: Coming in here I was going to say I didn’t really care about the issue, but after that we need to legalize it. I’m not a smoker. I’ve never really been a smoker. I can’t even remember the last time I smoked, but I have seen it do wonderful things as far as people with, what is it? MS and people who have cancer and it really has helped them, so why not help people if that’s what it boils down to at the end of the day? And it’s locking up millions of black men and has been. Max Bent: That’s why it’s not legal. Cellis: Exactly. Max Bent: Right, that’s part of the question. Cellis: At the end of the day, it’s all a system I suppose. I haven’t spent too much time on the topic just because I don’t really smoke, but legalize it. Shit, damn. Eze Jackson: It’s definitely disparities in … You look at right here in Baltimore, Freddie Gray, the zip code that Freddie Gray lives in, which is my zip code, 21217, that area had the highest number of marijuana arrests and the lowest median income. So you look at those statistics and then you look at Colorado where it’s legalized and their economy has boomed. There’s something, I think, to be said there, so I like to bring … This is my first time bringing it up, I think, on the show. Somebody brought it up casually. It was like you can’t not talk about weed and you’re sitting there talking about [inaudible 00:17:49]. Max Bent: Here’s the question. Once weed is significantly legalized, then what will the prison industrial complex use as its … Cellis: What will be the next thing? Max Bent: Then the next conversation is getting rid of privatized prisons, which are holding all these brown people essentially because the numbers are so disproportionate from whites locked up from weed and blacks locked up. Blacks, browns, Hispanics, any brown culture it gets to the point where we have to stop letting prisons make money off of ruining people’s lives, ultimately. Eze Jackson: True. Have y’all seen the documentary 13th, Ava DuVernay? Alex Alexander: Yes. Eze Jackson: Have you seen it? Max Bent: Only parts of it. Eze Jackson: There’s a part in there where they’re talking about how they’re even starting to put money into community lockup, more money into the bracelet monitoring programs, but still putting money into locking people up and not on changing laws that would help people, because it’s true, there’s so much money in prisons that it’s crazy, it’s nuts. Max Bent: I think that’s what the immigration thing is all about. I think people see the writing on the wall with cannabis. That’s pretty much a done deal, so what’s going to fuel that whole system? Probably … You see the number of private prisons that are housing immigrant families now. Eze Jackson: Wow, good point. Max Bent: It’s just going to explode and it’s the kind of thing that’s so quiet unless you’re directly involved, unless you know those people you might not even notice it, not initially anyway. Eze Jackson: Yeah, for sure. Max Bent: Not initially. Eze Jackson: At some point we will though. Max Bent: Oh yeah. Cellis: Everyone’s eyes are going to be opened at some point and it’s all going to hit us hard. Eze Jackson: But do you feel like a lot of people’s eyes are opening? And I say that going back to my first question about this amount of people protesting and this amount of people expressing disdain. Do you feel like generally people’s eyes are starting to open or do you feel like there’s still a large population that need to be awakened? And what is eyes open? Different people may have different awakenings or stuff like that, but generally in terms of human rights and basic human rights, do you think people are starting to wake up in general? Cellis: I think people are beginning to wake up. Trump is our president right now, so there’s a huge … Which is still just … It’s crazy saying that. Alex Alexander: It’s so hard to say. Cellis: I mean there is a huge group of people who have decided to close their eyes and keep them closed and not pay attention to the issues at hand and worry about themselves and worry about their businesses instead of worrying about America as the whole and then have the nerve to say things like, “Make America Great Again” or when Colin Kaepernick takes a kneel that he doesn’t love America or that black people don’t love America, but when in turn all they’re thinking about is themselves. They’re not thinking about the greater good of the society, which is sad to see because I personally am so mad at America right now because I fucking love this place and I want to be proud to be American, but I can’t right now. Eze Jackson: So would you consider yourself a patriot or not? Cellis: No. Eze Jackson: No? Cellis: I know that’s like a really controversial thing to say, but I would not right now because America is not allowing me to say that I am a patriot. When America puts me in a position to stand up next to every single American and America this nation, then I will say that I’m a patriot, but right now … Eze Jackson: Does stand up meaning feel equal? Cellis: Exactly. Right now I love America and that’s why I’m saying I’m not a patriot, because I’m mad at America. I’m mad at our system. I’m mad at the way America treats our people. To just be able to write off America and say, “Oh, it’s all right America, I still love you. I’m a patriot. I’ll support you,” I could tell you that much that I would never go to war for this country. Eze Jackson: Yeah, you say that in “Inner Child.” Cellis: In one of my lyrics. I’ll go to war for my brothers, but I will never go to war for this country. I would never let any of my … I would never let my daughter be in the war. I would never let any of my future kids go to war for this country just for that fact. Eze Jackson: Do you feel … No, no, I appreciate that. I appreciate your passion on the topic. I think you’re the first guest we’ve had that actually said no. Most people feel like, well, yes, I’m a patriot for this part of America and this part has been good for me and these people I care about, so I’m a patriot for them. I appreciate that perspective. It’s tough. This has been the general response to it. It is tough especially being black in America. You have been blatantly told that you are not welcome here, you are not wanted here, you are not full American, so, yeah, I appreciate that. In the song you say … When you say, “I’ll fight for my brothers, but I wouldn’t fight for my country,” do you feel that veterans are in some way wrong for doing so? Do you still support veterans? Cellis: I do support veterans because everybody goes to war for whatever that reason may be. I choose not to. I choose not to join the Army or any branch of the military just for my personal reasons, but I’m not going to knock anybody for choosing to do that. That is what America is about. Don’t ever say … No matter who you are, Republican, Democrat, Green Party, left, right, don’t ever knock me for my decision because I won’t knock your decision for supporting the troops. I ain’t standing up for Mission BBQ at 12:00 though. I can let you know that right now. Actually, it was really amazing. I was in Mission BBQ the other day with a friend of mine and my younger brother and I had this shirt on and the back of it says … Eze Jackson: Mission BBQ is a restaurant. Cellis: It’s in Canton right now, but at noon every day everyone has to stand up and say the national anthem. Eze Jackson : Oh, I didn’t know that. Cellis: Yeah, at noon every day. So I was in there the other day and I had this shirt on and on the back of the shirt it reads, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.” I had this shirt on. Whenever I wear … I always wear a lot of like politically charged pro-black, whether it’s a Black Lives Matter shirt or a t-shirt, I always wear it out and I love getting the faces and the reactions from other people, especially if I’m with a group of white people and then another white person sees me and is like, “What do I do?” But I was in Mission BBQ and I’m sitting at the table and this guy walks up to me and he’s like, “Hey, I just want to let you know, I’m a veteran and I really respect you for standing up for your cause in a place like this that’s so politically and militarily charged, but you’re in here making a statement with your clothing.” That was just a really great experience. I love experiences like those. That’s why I do what I do. Eze Jackson: I feel like you’re starting to see more of that in the country than what’s being promoted. I think in general when you walk around, people are starting to be willing to cross barriers and cross lines and figure out what is your cause, what do you think? Or coming together into a common evil, which is unfortunately Trump, because a lot of these issues that we all care about have been going on for years and years and years. What I’d like to talk about a little bit is what you think about the United States on the world stage because that’s also a scary thing because this is where we get into the wars, this is where through different relationships work is moved from this country to other countries. What do you think about … Or do you pay attention to the US in terms of foreign policy in any way? Max Bent: I mean, if you don’t think that presidents have effect on foreign policy all you have to do is look at the recent appointment to the ambassador of Israel by Trump. It’s like over three decades of US policy in that part of the world has been a two state solution and Trump was speaking with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, a week ago roughly and basically said, “I’m just whatever works best for them.” That was his … And so in one sentence he basically threw out over 30 years of US policy on paper and did it so nonchalantly that Netanyahu who is sitting next to him just laughed. Donald Trump: Good negotiator. Benjamin Netanyahu: That’s the art of the deal. Donald Trump: I also want to thank … Max Bent: Like really laughed out loud. My feeling, if you look at that as a microcosm of US policy at large, it’s a vast, dangerous, destructive machine, sort of like the same way that when we eat chicken, for example, we don’t think about the machinery that’s behind it, that’s producing it. There’s this vast destructive machinery that’s out there and it’s a real thing. It’s a very real thing. Cellis: On the world stage right now, I think just America looks like a joke. Alex Alexander: An absolute joke. Cellis: We’ve destroyed relations with Mexico. Justin Trudeau is in Canada flexing his political muscles on Trump. China pretty much said stop messing with them. You’ve got Korea testing out missiles. We’ve got the UK that was trying to vote on banning Trump from ever coming to the UK. It’s just like how is this happening right now? It just makes no sense and we’re just digressing with this president. I keep wanting to say president-elect and hoping it hasn’t happened yet, but with this president. It’s where we’re at, unfortunately. Hopefully something has got to give, as cliché as that sounds. We’ve got four years to make it right. Eze Jackson: All right. Let’s close out on a high note. Ideal thing to be doing right before you’re about to create? The most ideal thing to do. Cellis: I know what’s she’s going to say. Just kidding. Alex Alexander: Oh my gosh. I like to get right with my purpose, hope that I’m creating with the best of intentions. I hope that my voice reflects the intentions of my brothers, my sisters, my mom, my upbringing and hope to perform and produce without ego and try to get it right all on canvas. Eze Jackson: Max? Max Bent: Two things. Do something physically active like run or jump or something like that and then try to empty the mind entirely so that you’re creating from below the ego or above the ego, however you envision that. Eze Jackson: Cellis? Cellis: Personally, I just like to first just take in as much as I can, just my environment, people around me, talk to people whether it be the crazy person on the block or the Uber driver or my daughter or whoever it is, just take in as much as I can and then be by myself, be all alone and just put out as much as I can. That’s usually my creative process. Eze Jackson: Cool. All right. Thanks y’all. Max Bent: Thanks, Eze. Cellis: Thank you so much. Eze Jackson: Stick around, we’re going to finish up these crabs we got here. Thanks for joining us for another episode of The Whole Bushel, y’all. If you want to check out past episodes and future episodes you can follow us on social media. The Facebook page is The Whole Bushel. You can also find us on YouTube and at TheRealNews.com. You can find links to all of these artists’ music below the video and keep checking us out and see y’all next time. Thank you.