Hip hop renaissance man Je'kob Washington catches up with NRT's Marcus Hathcock about the new Washington Projects release, Light Up the Dark, his solo projects and his views on life and music.
There's an old clichť about having a lifetime to write your debut record and only a few months to write your second. For some artists, assembling enough material in time to stay current seems a daunting task, but Jeíkob and Rachael Washington--collectively known as The Washington Projects--have the opposite problem.
In fact, the groupís second effort (after their Warner Bros. release as the now-defunct band, Souljahz) left so much on the cutting room floor that they had a good head start for their latest release, Light Up the Dark, which dropped June 15, 2010 on Swaggerrock Records.
The 11-track album-Ėfull of soulful, mindful hip hop jams-Ėwas the result of a paring-down process from 25 songs. The tunes that made the cut continue the authentic, current, socially aware vibe the Washington siblings began more than eight years ago with Souljahz.
The harder, pounding edges of The Washington Projects have taken a back seat on this album for more of the soulful, gentler jams that sneak the though-provoking and challenging lyrics to your ears like a Trojan horse.
Standout tracks include the worshipful ďMy Dream,Ē the Marvin Gaye-esque social justice song appropriate called ďJustus,Ē and the battle cry title track, ďLight Up the Dark.Ē
Jeíkob Washington-Ėthe Projectsí frontman and prolific writer, producer and solo artist--took some time away from the knobs and switches to talk about Light Up the Dark, his various other efforts and his unique mission and calling.
We did a whole bunch of stuff for that record. We did a cool little tour for that album. That was fun. We did a couple one-off little mini tours overseas, getting to go out with the U.S.O. and share with the troops. We got to go on the Blackhawks for the first time. That was pretty exciting. Since then, weíve been recording a lot.
Yeah, youíve been busy! Whatís the story on your solo efforts?
Yeah, Iíve got an album coming out hopefully late this year. Iíve been working on a little mixtape to promote it, and as far as the actual album, Iím trying to finish that up. Iím literally about 85-90 percent done with it. Itís a crazy concept that Iím doing for the record. Itís taken me a while because of the whole artist syndrome--trying to figure out what I really want to do as far as the titling and stuff. Iíve got 20-something songs, and I had to come to the conclusion that Iíve gotta do a double album release. Half of the record is going to be very much about loving, learning, life in general with relationships and stuff--insight, for what itís worth, from my experience. Thatíll be called Love and Learn. The other side of the album is going to be more introspective--my viewpoints on a lot of different things--success, money, life, the whole nine. That oneís going to be called Lost and Found. Been grindiní on that.
Itís kind of a label me and my brother-in-law started. Weíre independent and everything I do is independent, so itís easy for us to come up with whatever weíre vibing on. Itís a branding thing. Donít even ask what the name means. (Laughs) Thereís no deep meaning behind it. We just came up with something cool. Our whole concept is trying to open doors for other artists. The new Washington Projects release, as well as the solo stuff Iím doing, is going to be the flagship for that label. I want to be able to put out inspirational, very positive music. Thatís pretty much the deal.
So you mentioned touring overseas with the U.S.O. How did the troops respond to your music?
It was cool; one of the coolest things weíve ever got to do in our lives. We went three different times--two Christmases in a row, skipped one year and then went again. The last one we did, we went out with Nappy Roots over in Italy. That was really cool. The other times were in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was just a crazy experience. The troops took to it really well. We (performed) along with Darryl Worley, a country artist, and then **Trailer Howard from that Monk TV show, and Al Franken. It was an odd blend of characters, but it was awesome. We just had great conversations with the troops out there. We tried to love on them to show our appreciation for what they do. All politics aside, theyíre there because thatís their jobs. People get it all twisted with the politics, but at the end of the day, itís our family, itís our country theyíre supporting and why they are out there.
The title of the album is fitting because you talk about a lot of dark things in the world, and either bring light to them, or point TO the light. Did you intentionally set out to adopt this theme?
No, and thatís whatís pretty cool about it. We originally had 25 songs we were going through for the album--a bunch of different material. And the way we write songs is that I come up with a lot of the music, and then we put together concepts for it. We donít really set out to do a song about this or that; it just comes out. We love so much about what we do; itís not rehearsed or thought up. We just come up with the stuff and just roll with it. So we looked at what we had material-wise, and as we started putting together the songs, we saw standing out this theme of light and dark. So with the album design and the whole nine we tried to encompass that feel. Before we even came up with the title of the album, we looked at the 11 tracks and thought all of it represents ďLight Up the Dark,Ē so we were set on that.
How would you say you have changed stylistically since your last album, Commanders of the Resistance?
I donít know...the funny thing is we really havenít changed. We had a lot of the material for Light Up the Dark when we were recording Commanders of the Resistance. We just write a lot. We have so much material, and itís eclectic. If you check out my iPod, itís kinda like those NOW CDs. I've got classical, hip hop, jazz and funk rock. Iím really influenced by all of it. Both of us always have been.
What song on this album means the most to you?
I think ďJustusĒ is a big one for me. I love that track. The concept is that weíre trying to shed some light on human trafficking, an issue people arenít talking about. I know there are some churches and organizations that are trying to bring it to light, but overall itís something people donít talk about a lot, because itís gross, itís evil, itís terrible. We were trying to do something a little more like Kanyeís ďDiamonds from Sierra LeoneĒ song--very now, very current--something that can cross over really easily. This topic means so much to the point where honestly, if I could do anything else in my life other than what Iím doing, Iíd be doing what theyíre doing--kicking down doors, rescuing people and the whole nine. It really intrigues me, and itís awesome that people would dedicate their lives doing something like that. Just imagine what a person feels like when theyíre in captivity and someone busts down the door and frees them. International Justice Mission is doing a project called ďAre You OutragedĒ thatís going to include the song. Their goal is to sell about 100,000 units and raise $1 million for the cause. Theyíre pretty close to halfway there. I hope to do a video for it, too. We don't want to hold back at all, but make it very real, to touch people way beyond the church.
What do you want people to come away with after hearing this album?
Just what the whole encompasses, being a light in the world. Whether youíre young or wise, you get stuck in the everyday grind. We as Christians are the same way. Weíre making a living, and life in general can get very monotonous day-in and day-out. So just to remember that wherever youíre at, whoever you are, it doesnít matter where youíre at in life, you can be a light to somebody somewhere. Whether youíre touching one person or 5 million, the whole heavenly host rejoices when one person is saved and truly connects back with their creator. Hopefully thatís what they get from the album overall.
The song ďMy DreamĒ is so worshipful. Who is singing the chorus on that one?
Iíve got so much feedback on the mainstream side saying thatís a dope song. They love it and theyíre not at all Christians. As far as the song, I worked with this guy named James Piek and a couple other artists producing some stuff, and I heard this song by his group called The Movement. You know how hip-hop works, the first thing I think is that Iím going to sample that. Iím prayerfully seeing what God does with it. I'd love love to see it hit radio from both sides (Christian and mainstream). I donít agree with everything Kanye West says in his song, "Jesus WalksĒ, but thereís the whole concept that you actually can say that on the radio, you can blatantly say Jesus is with you.
On the album, you do a shout-out to your mom. What inspired that?
It definitely belongs on this album, because the light a mother has is super bright. Weíre definitely very, very positively influenced by our parents. And I know a lot of people donít always feel that way, but for us, we absolutely owe everything to them. They believed in us for everything we wanted to do in our lives, whole-heartedly. They always tried their best to give us everything we needed--monetarily, emotionally, spiritually, support-wise--to accomplish our dreams. And they never showed any indication that they doubted us. On my album, Iím going to be doing a song called ďPapaĒ for my Pops.
So thereís this verse in the title track that goes: ďAnd they said that I ainʼt a true Christian cause the word unique describes my mission / keep your mind open. This traditional thinking has got the church in shambles and itʼs the reason these kids would rather turn the channel, and itʼs the reason these kids would rather turn the station. Cause theyʼre just begging for variety in what youʼre playin DJ. Whatís the story here?
Itís the saddest thing. I hate to talk about it, but love to because itís something that really shouldnít be, man. We went to a lot of the awards shows--GMA, Doves, the whole nine--and what we saw was twisted. Thereís so much corruption that I think God is upstairs cringing. You essentially have the white awards and the black awards, to be honest with you. This is 2000-whatever, why is it this way? This is a billion dollar industry, one of the biggest in the world, and itís still segregated. Hip-hop, rock, everything is still segregated. We didnít grow up listening to Christian music; we didnít know there was a separate industry for Christian music. And when people were blown away that [Christian radio] was playing our stuff, they said, ďThatís huge!Ē
Thatís not huge, thatís stupid. How do we possibly think the world is going to get a good viewpoint of God and Christ if this is what weíre portraying in the music industry? The sad thing--to end that point--is that we havenít experienced that outside of the church.
What I was trying to say in that song was pretty self-explanatory. Traditional thinking of the church is what blocks out so many people. I mean, God is going to save them one way or another, but it blocks them from receiving that blessing. There are too many stories where they should have done something different, opened their arms differently, been more accepting and the whole nine.
At the end of the day, we are supposed to be supporting each other, whether itís rap, rock, folk, whatever--supporting that, not segregating.
Even in the hip hop industry there are people in groups who are very much like everythingís got to be straight theology on the mic. Thereís definitely a place for that. Itís great. Itís a part of the body, and another part of the body is the bait. My goal personally is to be the bait. I was featured on a Nappy Roots song. I wrote the chorus, and I knew theyíd have to write something dope for this to be in line. It kind of forces them to listen to it more in-depth than a normal pop song. I know they have a long history, but theyíre cool cats.
I get countless numbers of e-mails where people said they checked out my stuff because they heard it [elsewhere]. To me, itís about being bait. Thatís our calling, and not everybody has that calling. Mine is that. Iíve experienced so much hate for being bait, but thatís our thing, and Iím never going to back off that. I donít only associate with Christians. I donít want to sell music only to Christians. I want people in the club--who arenít saved--to know about God, and to hear it from the viewpoint of not condemning them. The only difference between us and someone whoís not saved is that we have salvation. There is no other difference!
In the song ďYesterday,Ē thereís the line: ďAnd I wonda what the aliens think, somewhere out there they lookin at we, wonderin how the heck we still canʼt see, ponderin on the fact we hate on we.Ē What do you think about aliens?
I donít know why; I argue with pops all the time about it. If you know any verses that contradict me, let me know, but I think there are aliens. I want to believe thereís another thing going on. I donít know why. (Laughs)
What does summer look like for you guys?
Weíre not doing too much touring right now. Things are really busy for us, so itís hard to commit to any touring or anything like that. Weíre going to do some local stuff and keep grinding. So thatís what weíre saying right now, but you know how it is, it could change anytime. Iím not sure.
So whatís the future for Washington Projects after this?
Weíre working on a remix album now-Ėa bunch of remixes from both of the records. Thatís like 30 percent done now. I want to put a bunch of young producers on blast with that to help get them a bit more into the industry. Iím also producing six records right now for other peopleís projects. Thatís where McPhly comes in--thatís kind of my production label or whatever you want to call it.
Where do you want Washington Projects to go, big-picture-wise?
Even though a lot of cats have been doing very well with sales in the Christian hip hop industry--LaCrae, Reach Records--nobodyís done the P.O.D./Switchfoot crossover thing on the hip hop side. Whether itís us or someone else, I could care less--I just pray that someone breaks that barrier, because it needs so badly to be broken. Once it is, there will be such a flood of new believers.
Well, I know youíre keepiní busy, so weíll let you get back in the studio. Thanks for your time, and God bless you guys!
Thanks, man. We appreciate it.
Marcus Hathcock lives with his wife and two children in Sandy, Oregon, serving as Communications Director for East Hill Church.
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