Eze Jackson sits down with DIY rap veteran Height Keech and singer/songwriter J. Pope to discuss art and activism in the fourth episode
Jackson. The Whole Bushel is an interview show where I sit down with performing artists to discuss a range of issues with artists about things that matter to them the most, all while sitting down and eating crabs like we do here in Baltimore, Maryland. Today I’m joined by two performing artists, who are my favorite artists. First it Height Keech who is an MC and host of a podcast called Height Zone World. I’m also joined by J. Pope, singer, emcee, spoken word artist, and lead singer of J Pope and the Funky Friday. Thanks for coming yall. J POPE: Thanks for having us. EJ: Ya’ll enjoying the crabs. JP: Yurp! EJ: You have an interesting technique over here Jasmine. I always tell people they can crack their crabs and put their meat on the side. But you got like a nice little pile over here. J POPE: You know, I am very aware of the sound concerns. I’m known to be cracking a bunch of crabs. A bunch of that, you know what I’m saying. I wanted to make sure I had everything cracked and to the side so we could talk and interview and all that good stuff. (1:40) EJ: Yeah, A lot of times viewers are like “Why aren’t ya’ll eating the crabs” It cracks loud in the camera so we usually eat beforehand. But welcome ya’ll. I’m glad to have ya’ll on the show. J Pope, you have a song called “We Are Here”. JP: I do. EJ: You ask, what is a safe zone if it doesn’t include the homes of the saviors and the liberators”. JP: PERFORMANCE (5:23) EJ: Are you referring to specific initiatives in Baltimore. What is a safe zone? JP: So I think that it Is amazing and very important that we have safe zones in inner city spaces where kids and families can feel safe from whatever. Whether that be police or any sort of activity that’s happening in their homes where they feel unsafe. But I do not see that as a long term fix. You know what I mean? To create an oasis within chaos doesn’t correct the chaos, it just gives them a limited space to escape that chaos. I think the true answer is to address the chaos and what’s happening in the community. I always say we have protest and then we have people that say, “I ain’t going to protest because what’s the point?” There is a point of protest. You know? We need to show in force. We need to show in numbers. We need to show and make a visual statement about how many people are against whatever. But then there’s the other side where people need like lobbying, legislative, policy work, being at home, educating their communities, educating their children. So you don’t have to be one hundred percent involved in both. (6:48) But what I mean when I say what is a safe zone if it don’t include the homes of the saviors and the liberators is that all of these children in Baltimore City and in any other places where you’re exposed to an environment that can ultimately lead to you having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In my opinion, when you’re in the inner city and you’re in an area where people are being killed around you and your family members are leaving whether it be for incarceration or murder, or whatever. This is creating this sort of thinking where you’re consistently in a mode of chaos and the expectation of the unexpected. EJ: Height Keech! HK: Yurp! EJ: What’s up man. You’ve been on the Hip Hop Scene in Baltimore. I would say overall DIY music scene, not just hip hop. We’ve talked a bit on this show with other guests about arts and you know funding for advocacy for arts. For you in particular, you’ve done a lot of shows in DIY Spaces (8:04), art spaces, house shows. What do you feel about support for access to these venues – Artists having access to performing spaces. In Baltimore, we just had the Bell Foundry shut down not too long ago. What are your concerns? Do you have concerns about the future of DIY art music. HK: You know, I really do. We were talking before the show about this a little, but I think there’s a movement to get spaces shut down across the country. Bell Foundry shut down. It was in response to the Ghost Ship stuff. But, I think it was put into motion by right wing trolls. Did you see anything about this. JP: Yeah. HK:There’s a list of places that are being specifically targeted in Baltimore and DC. Let’s focus on getting these spots shut down before the Inauguration, so I guess in their mind there’ll be less left wing activism or anarchist stuff, but I don’t see how that will stop anything. EJ: I personally have a theory about having artists in office. My theory with having artists in artist in office is that, when you have not just creative minded people shaping policy and legislation, but you have passionate people who actually have some moral compass. When you talk to politicians, they talk about making these immoral decisions for the sake of saving face with a corporate relationship as if you’re not devastating hundreds of lives when you do that in order to get your paycheck to get re-elected or to get whatever project you’re working on in your city. So my concept about having more creatives and more artists in positions in power is kind of a hope that we wouldn’t have to always scramble to open up new venues. To try to find new ways of expressing ourselves, that one day there’ll be set places of access where we could go and be free. What are your thoughts on that? HK: Well, I don’t know. One thing, when I toured with eighty-three Cutlass, he was talking about what if there was one venue per city in America that was – who care’s if it’s like a nonprofit or how it functions – but if its volunteer based. It seems like there’s always so many tours happening in one venue too little. So I don’t know. I guess I see how something like that, something more organized something, not like this bar has to make a certain amount of money. But, I’m not the most civic-minded guy, I don’t exactly know how that works. I would leave that up to you and Ryan Dorsey. (11:57) EJ: I think it’ll take a lot of us to have conversations like this. HK: Of course. (12:00) EJ: Another question I got for you. So you’re a rapper. HK: Yeah. EJ: A white rapper. HK: Yeah. EJ: In a sixty percent Black city. You get a lot of love here. Everybody loves Height. So tell me about that. What has been that evolution. You started at a time where there were very few white rappers. And even more so, almost no DIY rappers. You were more on the more punk circuit. Talk to me about that evolution to today and what’s that like? (12:44) HK: Well, at first, it was kinda like, we’re off, way way over here in this secret corner of Baltimore. I always had people that I worked with, people that would come to shows and stuff but it was really isolated to the people that I knew and that’s fine, because the goal is just to do it. It’s not like, anything. EJ: There’s no long term agenda. You just have to get out and express yourself. HK: Yeah. So, I feel like, for me, it started like that and there were so many shows when I started touring that I would be the one rapper. I would just get put on a punk show. Which is cool or some other kind of show. I feel like one thing that happened that was cool was seeing the world of indie/DIY hip hop just sprout up across the country. So now you come back to this place and now these people know three MCs that would want to do something like this. Another big change for me was the – I don’t know if you want to explain it or not – the Rap Round Robin shows. JP: Ya’ll should. I love that concept. HK: It’s like a show where it would be six or eight or some amount of acts around the perimeter of the room at different stages and the audience would be in the middle. The acts would go one song per round. That kind of started as our little fun thing. Me and my group of people that I was playing with at the time. That was something that branched out and helped me meet all these different people. I feel like that’s how we first met through Soul Cannon. EJ: Yeah, Soul Cannon did the Rap Round Robin in 2011. HK: Yeah. Ooo played that and Kane Mayfield. So like, that’s kinda what made me get introduced to the larger Baltimore hip hop scene. EJ: Yeah man. I think it’s a great contribution the wrap-round Robin concept because it definitely brought a lot of different types of artists together. I think it breaks down a lot of the silos. Even when we do shows on the road we take the Rap Round Robin on the road, you see artists that normally wouldn’t perform together, performing together. It’s an important point to bring up because when you talk about organizing, talk about activism, we talk about politics, talk about DIY music, Hip Hop it’s kinda similar because the progression happens because of little steps. Little things that happen over the course of time get you to the bigger picture, that end goal. HK: [PERFORMANCE] EJ: J, you work for Chase Brexton Healthcare. JP: I do. EJ: That recently won a union contract with the SEIU. Tell me about that. First let people know what Chase Brexton is. JP: Chase Brexton is a federally qualified healthcare center. We have several locations in Easton, on the Eastern shore. We have a Randallstown location. We have a Columbia location. We have a location in Glen Bernie. We also have a location at MICA for student issues. We provide wraparound healthcare services. Dental. Pharmacy. Behavioral health. Case management. Medical. Medical in terms of infectious disease so HIV, Hep-C any of those things. Speciality needs. OB care. And then we also have regular primary care so if you’re twenty and you get your physical every year as you’re supposed to. We have all that wrapped around and it’s important that we have that in the city. Transportation is an issue for some people. You have to go one place to see your doctor and then ride a whole ‘nother bus to see your dentist that’s an issue, (19:23) so we try to have everything in one place. That’s that Chase does. We are working off of an integrated healthcare model meaning every department is linked into that person’s care. Your therapist, your case manager, your doctor, the pharmacy, your dentist, everyone is on the same team in terms of your healthcare. Which helps because when you’re talking about inner cities there’s a whole lot of stuff people have to deal with. So if you can get your healthcare in one place, it takes a lot off your plate, especially when you’re dealing with complicated health issues. If you have several different diseases going on. if you have HIV and Hep-C or if you have Hep-C and something else. So, anyway, that’s what Chase does. JP: [PERFOMANCE] EJ: Height, you got a song, “The World Oldest Man”. (24:19) You talk about pulling the gold from out of the swamp. I feel like this could be seen as a metaphor for the larger art scene. Baltimore’s a place that’s faced with a lot of troubles – 300 homicides a year, of course led paint’s been a long time issue, the police brutality is an issue. Police accountability is an issue. Gentrification. All of these things happening in Baltimore. But there’s a beautiful arts scene here. HK: Yeah. EJ: It is an art hub, you know. We have one of the longest running and most reputable arts festival happening here every summer. Artscape, which is indicative of the quality and amount of art here. Is that kind of metaphor you’re talking about, pulling the gold out of the swamp. HK: Well, that wasn’t what I was thinking. I guess I kinda meant a swamp of your own life. Trying to do the best with where you find yourself in life. But I hope to write things almost where it’s always where you see it as what you said, it could work like that as well. EJ: Oh yeah? You feel like you write in that way a lot of times your music? HK: Almost always. I don’t want people to be like, “Yeah, I should brush my teeth.” It’s not one message but there are many messages. (27:47) HK: [PERFORMANCE] EJ: I feel like you, J Pope too, feel the best out of the swamp. I enjoy the tv show “The Wire” but that’s not all that’s here. There’s a whole lot more. There’s so much beauty in it. JP: That’s not even half of what’s here. EJ: Not even close. HK: I think a lot of times, people don’t realize that where they live is also like the Wire. Somebody in Detroit will be like “Is it really like that?”. JP: But I feel like that’s kinda the part of this otherness that has become more in the forefront with the Trump visits or whatever. You think you’re not like this other person, but really you are. But we start talking in these two different languages that we don’t understand each other. So when we talk about “the forgotten man” and when we talk about the inner city. It’s kinda like the same person when you talk to each other. People in the Appalachians and people in the inner city have some things in common. But we cling to these ideas of otherness. Of like, “you’re this” and “you’re that” and we can’t get along when we have the same goals. EJ: Tomi Lahren likes to seem like she’s advocating “The people of middle America they feel like they’re not being heard” but then she’ll turn around and shut down Black Lives Matter. But Here’s another group that feels like they’re not being heard. I always push people to step outside their comfort zone and just reach out. Just because somebody is a Trump supporter, a Republican, a Democrat, or a liberal, or Green, – whatever their political affiliation is we can still sit down. We may all like crabs! We can find some common ground among each other. Last question I got for ya’ll today. When it’s all said and done. When this life is over and we’re talking Dan Keech past tense, we’re talking about J Pope – JP: This is what I’m talking about when my life is over and I’m talking about Dan Keech? [LAUGHTER] EJ: When we’re talking about Jasmine Pope? At the end of the day, when its all over, when weWhat do you want people to say about your contribution to the world. JP: I want people – EJ: You have one minute each. JP: That’s fine. I need less. So I have a son, and I want people to say he embodied the things that she believed in, made it his own, and he ended up being an awesome person. EJ: That’s awesome. JP: No pressure Avery. HK: I guess as far as music, I want to say “mission accomplished” as far as my own mission. And then, other than that, “He was a nice guy”, hopefully. I guess? That’s it. EJ: Thanks for coming on the show ya’ll. I really appreciate ya’ll coming and talking with us. We need to do this again. A lot more stuff. And thank you for joining us for another episode of The Whole Bushel. To stay up on what these artists are doing you can check the link under the video. To check out this episode and past episodes check out The Real News dot com. You can also check our Facebook page, The Whole Bushel. We also have videos on YouTube.