The following is an Independent Spotlight exclusive interview with the indie hip hop artist JAWZ.
Your look and personality has been aligned more with icons like Kiss and Mr. T, as opposed to icons like Lady Gaga. How did this come about?
I was never a major fashion enthusiast, but I could never be a follower, either. The idea started popping into my head years ago in San Francisco, during the recording of some of my earliest work. It kind of started taking form during some time I spent in New York, and finalized in Los Angeles. Los Angeles makes everybody a space case. I look up to guys like Mr. T and want to be like them somewhere inside. I want to be a hero. I want to be me, and me is very specific.
Several years ago, you met Dr. Dre and he turned down your work. In your frustration after the fact, you lost control and torched ten years of work. Is this true?
Yes, it’s true. It’s certainly one of my biggest regrets in life. I don’t blame Dr. Dre for my actions; I take full responsibility. In fact, Dre was incredibly kind to me. Most MCs will never meet Dr. Dre face to face. I spoke to him face to face several times. I thought it was a sign that it was finally my time. To find out it wasn’t was just devastating. Keep in mind, this was after years of looking for a shot in the industry. I immediately interpreted it as a sign that maybe I should hang in the towel. In a fit of anger at the universe, I set fire to my entire box of raps, poems, and ideas. I may never get over it completely.
A large part of your persona, both inside and outside of music, is that you’re an American who is half black and half white. You want to blur the line between those cultures – how do you go about doing that?
America was never strictly a European culture; it has always been more or less a combination of the two. I’m showing the world that I am a product of these cultures embracing each other. Instead of looking at our accomplishments as separate, I symbolize something both the cultures can equally take pride in. I believe it will go a long way towards a more inviting playing field for all other cultures looking to contribute as well.
Your youth was fraught with drugs, illegal activities, and street gangs. How did you elevate yourself out of that to pursue music full-time? What did you learn from those experiences, and have they affected your creative process?
I elevated by getting rid of those aspects of my experience. Those experiences don’t affect my creative process whatsoever. I don’t pride myself on those days, even though in many ways those were the best days of my life. If that makes any sense. I’m a Gemini.
Unlike most hip hop musicians, you actually have a background in musical performance outside of the genre. Talk a bit about your experience as a metal guitarist and how it impacts your work as a hip hop artist today – if at all.
I got my first guitar, a Squire Strat, when I was in sixth grade. I was self-taught. I drove my mother and all of our neighbors peanuts. Me and my first band did a lot of local performances. I won’t lie – I pushed for my band at the time to wear lipstick and tights, because I was completely obsessed with Twisted Sister. In a lot of ways things are still the same. I get a vibe from some that I’m not white enough and others that I’m not black enough. It drives me forward.
You’re no stranger to the stage. You’ve performed live more times than you can count. Does this change the way you create music in the studio? Do you strive to create content that can translate well to the stage?
To me the studio and the stage are the same thing. If what you’re creating is cool to begin with, the translation is seamless.
You clearly have a moral motivation to bridge cultures here in the US. Can art really do that? Where is art’s place in racial politics and strife?
Art has always had a place in politics. I believe art can do anything. Art touches people; it makes them think. If man can think, he can change.
Tell us about your new single that’ll be dropping soon.
My new single, “White | Black” couldn’t be a more perfect introduction for me. The song isn’t about my race as much as it’s about breaking the limitations of it. It opens the doors of freedom and possibility for me, as well as emphasizes my ability as an MC and a vocalist.
Furthermore, tell us about the music video accompanying it upon release.
The video shot by Spanish director, Guillermo Pollo. He’s going to be huge. We filmed in Hollywood. It was my first time ever filming in a real Hollywood studio. The concept came out of me wanting the video to represent the limitations I describe in the song. The surprise ending was all done in Spain. We decided not to introduce my get-up in the first video. We felt it would be difficult for an audience, not knowing who I am, to receive it all point blank. It also didn’t fit the theme… but we littered the video with clues. We’re really gonna let them have it on the second release off the JAWZ, self-titled EP. The “White | Black” single is actually out now. The release date of the EP, introducing me to the world, will be announced soon.
Finally, we always ask the same closing question of our interviewees to gain insight into you not only as a music creator, but a consumer, too. If we were to shuffle your iTunes or Spotify, what five songs may pop up?
Well, you’d be shuffling a CD player, so I guess right now all five songs would be Steely Dan. They’re pretty much all I’ve been listening to for months. I admire their creativity so much that I wouldn’t be caught dead listening for free or even close to free.