JIMETTA ROSE: LET’S GROW
photography by dana washington
Jimetta Rose: Well, yeah—white people took it. I look back at interviews of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Nina Simone … they weren’t calling jazz ‘jazz.’ They were calling it ‘Black classical music’. That is the power of controlling how you’re seen and controlling the words placed upon you because ultimately you can be robbed of your whole identity just by letting somebody be like, ‘Well, no—that’s jazz.’ And then you gone. ‘Oh, she’s the next Beyonce. She’s the next Jill Scott.’ It’s like … what if I had other things to say? Now no one can hear me outside of where you’ve placed me. That’s the danger of genre, and that’s the danger of necessarily the sexuality thing. It’s like an easy go. Everyone’s exploiting women, so yeah—go ahead and exploit yourself. It’s like … when do you say stop? Like that character in Dave Chappelle’s skit that was a blind racist that was black. That’s how women are. That’s the women that call themselves bitches—they don’t even see that we can never get out from under this foot if we continue to play the game that way. For women, I feel like we have to know that we are still deserving of respect regardless if the world wants us clothed or not. Without clothes it’s nothing left to the imagination and we’re all the same. With clothes, it’s a lot of mystery, it’s a lot of magic, and it’s a lot of room for expression. You don’t have to wear a cape and a caftan. You don’t have to cover everything up, but find a way to be sexy that demands more than just an eye rub. Like something that is alarming. I think Lady Gaga’s really good at that, you know? I think that she does a good thing of expression and sexuality and individuality, whereas with black women—especially in America right now—it’s the most revolutionary thing to be yourself because everyone looks alike. Everyone got that airbrushed makeup, everyone got that inflatable booty, and the super tiny waist with the big lips, the big eyes … you know, it’s a look. Then they go and get their surgeries altered and softened to make it look more natural. What the fuck, man? That’s how you know self-love and self-acceptance is revolutionary because anything that can be sold to you is the devil. Things that you need are built-in and readily available. When it’s something you have to go out of your way to get, you don’t need it. It’s the enticement. Now we see that we live in a world where if an image of me gets around with a cape and looking like a queen, for one, it’s like, ‘Who does she think she is?’ Somebody might ask me, and they might be lucky enough to get an answer: ‘I think I’m a queen. No, I know I’m a queen. And I’m gonna educate myself and impact this world however I can.’ When you look like what they already know, why do they have to take the time to say, ‘What do you want to say?’ It’s like, ‘Oh, we know what you about. We’re gonna cast you on this next show.’ It’s just remembering that we’re culture builders, not artists. We are culture builders. And right now, the culture we’re building is whack. It’s fuckin’ baseless in a lot of ways!
Why do you feel like there’s a distinction to be made between an artist and a culture builder? Is that necessary?
Jimetta Rose: It’s definitely necessary. What’s sad is that art has been just like the feminine frame and the male body. Like everything that is really sacred in our world has been exploited. Art and artists should be someone living his life expressing everything that’s in him or her and being paid for it because their works help everyone around beautify their surroundings. Historically that’s what the artist was, and that’s why—historically—there was no separation between an artist and a culture builder because it was one and the same. However, now the people that we consider artists are trendy commercial ads that tell us what to buy or what to think is cool, and they are funded by a record company or their investors, so whoever they got a campaign with … Nike or liquor … you’re an ad. You’re an ad, you’re not a person. When you’re an ad, an ad doesn’t have any opinions. An ad proliferates what’s already there instead of making something new. Whereas when you’re a person, you have to respond to the environment—
—you have to make choices.
Jimetta Rose: You have to make choices, and as an artist now, you have no choices. You see what happens when people try to make a stand for their culture and their values, their feelings and their true beliefs: they lose endorsements.
Like those WNBA players—the women basketball players who got fined $5,000 for wearing—
Jimetta Rose: The Black Lives Matter [shirts] … yeah! Like what is that? That is: you’re not supposed to have any opinions. It shows you the power of the artists throughout time. We’ve been culture builders, we’ve been the people that impact the minds of the masses, so now they thought that they got us under their thumb, too. ‘We got money, we got this whole industry that will enable us to control you while you can still think you’re doing something. You know—you’re still doing something. You’re giving people music, right?’ But the thing is, the culture that’s being created is … Think about hip-hop. In the beginning, when it was our thing and not like … funded, it was culture. You got to hear the poor man’s story, you got to hear the black girl’s story, you got to hear the Latino man’s story, you got to hear the bottom. Hip-hop was about the bottom, so you got to hear what was going on down here and the way we talked and our lingo. But when you start buying it and selling it to Middle America or rich white kids, it’s not yours no more and you get left out of the story—and now what’s the story? It’s all drug sales, it’s all gang violence, it’s all the shit that they was talkin’ about tryin’ to stop because our communities needed it to stop because it wasn’t natural to our communities. They had funneled drugs and crooked cops into our communities, and so we were writing songs about how we needed to get them motherfuckers out. Now we writing songs, and it’s not that the songs aren’t being written—it’s that the money’s not there, right? So where do they put the money?
Like PR and marketing—
Jimetta Rose: Yeah! To where we all hear it. It affects our culture. It affects our mindset. We don’t hear it. That’s why I stopped listening! In a lot of circumstances I’m a weirdo because I don’t know what people are talking about. I don’t watch TV. I’m trying to keep myself.
It’s also about community. And you—I wanna say more than anybody else in L.A.—should know about community because you’ve been a part of so many people’s projects, whether it was Blu, whether it was Shafiq, whether it was Georgia … just countless names. Even Breezy now.
Jimetta Rose: Yeah, Anderson .Paak! Like, oh my gosh!
And a lot of those connections were through Sketchbook at Little Temple.
Jimetta Rose: Definitely. Little Temple was a hotspot for the music. Sketchbook is definitely how I got initially into like the hip-hop scene, singing with hip-hop artists … I used to perform with my brother Leon. Brother Dvooa. I was his singer, I was his hype girl—we had dance steps and stuff because I was down! I was, ‘Let’s practice!’ Through that it was hip-hop, and then a few years later after Sketchbook had shut down and Kutmah had left, it became the scene for live soul music through Norman and Strictly Social. I’m just happy to have gotten tapped by these different communities. I kind of feel like a connector. I don’t think they’re connected because of me, I feel like one of the connectors. Just a person floating through like, ‘Oh, you workin’ on a song? Well, such-and-such play bass, such-and-such play the drums … oh, you need a band? Such-and-such, they can play for anybody, and they can play they own set and then BOOM! Oh, you wanna plan a night at Strictly Social? We could do Nappy Thursdays!’ That’s how it happened. I learned a lot about community. Just thank God for hip-hop, thank God for poetry and spoken-word communities. That’s where a lot of genuine spirits are still left in creativity, and that’s where I was. Church and there. I didn’t do a whole lot of performing on the Hollywood circuit per se, like pay to play, or I’m so cool…
Yeah, that’s a joke. That’s a joke.
Jimetta Rose: Yes, it’s so cool! [laughs] And it still thrives, you know? Everybody want it.
I went to a couple of shows at Little Temple, and now I think there’s not that level of an incubator bringing together sounds and minds from separate scenes.
Jimetta Rose: Mmhmm. There’s not as much of a mixing. Low End has started to be … not genre-specific, but Low End was drum ‘n bass at first and Bananas was hip-hop. Both of them have opened up a little bit, but Bananas I would say less than Low End. Like Low End: they had Niki [Randa] and her band [Blank Blue] but they did a set and they sound like Broadcast. It was so dope. They got a EP coming out. So it’s starting to open up—I think because there’s no other outlets. Church is probably our most comparable event right now—Mark de Clive-Lowe and Nia Andrews’ Church, and DJ SeanO is now co-producer of that event, and I’m so happy because they’ve been having more structured shows. It’s a lot of improvisation—electronic meets hip-hop meets jazz meets instrumentation and beat making, you know? I think that for the vocalists, it’s about being in all those places. When I was younger I used to be everywhere, and now … I still am a lot of places, but you’ve gotta be in the mix, you know? Because in L.A., , if you’re not in the mix, you definitely missing something ‘cause everyone’s working. At all times!
And Little Temple—that’s where you met Georgia—
Jimetta Rose: Who’s my producer on this record! That’s where I met Georgia, back in the Sketchbook.. I met Georgia like in 2003 or 2004 because I graduated in 2001—I was about 22? And she was the same age. At Sketchbook they used to have the outdoor beat cypher. Diabolic—Diabolic then, but now Dibiase, that’s my boy, Dibiase!—would bring his boombox and his weekly offering of beats. He would give away CDs, and it would have like twenty-five tracks! People would be out there trippin’ and rappin’—mostly rappin’, and I can’t freestyle to save my life. So I would freestyle sing, and make a hook for the cypher. This particular night, Georgia was there, and she came up to me after, like, ‘Homegirl, you killed that!’ And I’m like ‘I love your stuff!’ I had already heard of Georgia from Worthnothings, which is an amazing classic album of hers, and I had also already heard of her from her work with Triple P on Your Day Is Done. So I’m tellin’ her, ‘Yo, I like your this, I like your that…’ ‘Oh, sis, we should build! You sing, you from L.A., we should build! You should come over!’ And the rest is history. We stayed close because of our similar—or I should say complementary—ideas regarding Blackness, femininity and spirituality. I call her my hipbone sister that keeps me solid.
The production on the record really complements your voice. It automatically makes me hear the chemistry between you.