With the US being dominated by Caucasians in numbers, it’s no wonder black Americans feel safe and at home when they’re on the African continent.
“In America, especially now with Trump, there are certain spaces that are very uncomfortable to be in as a black man. One, you never know how certain people feel and then two, because you know now how certain people feel. Before you’d assume it was racism…”says US rapper Javier Starks.
Starks spoke to Tha Bravado while in the country for the O.R Tambo music project titled Voices On OR. It is a collaborative double-disc album between South African and USA artists and some politicians, paying homage to the life of the late former ANC president.
Starks was in the country for a week, together with talented musician Miles Mosley who is also part of the project. They have been in studio throughout the week, but a bit sad for first time visitor Starks, because he hasn’t had the opportunity to experience South Africa and all its multifaceted beauty.
“There’s a pain in my heart, it’s like ahhhhh….it would’ve been nice to see Soweto, would’ve been nice to see other things. But I am very grateful just to be here-not a single moment in the studio has felt like ‘oh man, we still here’ every minute has been real. From the moment that I landed here, I felt very welcomed you know,” he says.
Unlike stable mate Mosley, who is on three tracks on the album, Starks is featured once on Voices On OR. “The lyrics I wrote for the song I wrote back home. While I was writing I did a lot of research on Tambo and God, this dude is a champion.” The track is titled Promise Land.
The double album is musically directed by renowned singer Gloria Bosman while seasoned saxophonist McCoy Mrubata is tasked with the role of producing. Among others, the project will include Jonathan Butler, Tsepo Tshola, Mandisa Dlanga, Jabu Magubane, Herbie Tsoaeli and Steve Dyer. Performances in the recording will be characterized by interpretations of musical themes based on events around Tambo’s life. It’s due for release in October this year.
A fairly new artist in the industry, but has been fortunate to be surrounded by great musician such as Mosely and Robert Glasper. “More than anything else, being around people like Miles and all these kats who are really talented, I really get to learn a lot. It really broadens my perspective in how I approach music, in how I see music because these guys aren’t just masters of their genre, which emcees and rappers tend to be you know,” says Starks.
Starks met Glasper in 2012, just a year after the latter released his critically acclaimed Black Radio album. The two met at an event, DC Loves Dilla, which celebrates the work of late virtuoso producer J.Dilla. Unzipping his hoodie, Starks shows me his t-shit with a Dilla illustration on it, he tells me that performed three songs from Dilla’s countless produced joints at the event, which Glasper was also billed to perform at.
“I did Busta Rhymes’s Woo-hah because Dill did a remix of it, I did Common’s Payback is a Grandmother and Common’s The Light. After I was done with my set, I hear this guy playing the piano and I was like ‘damn, this guy’s really good’ and I went up to him after his set and told him he was really dope…we sat there and watched the Slum Village set from backstage together, and went out to dinner with those guys [Glasper and his band].”
The two have built a solid relationship since and whenever Glasper is in town the two link up. In 2015 during Grammy weekend, Glasper invited Stark to a meet and greet that he was attending. “I flew myself to Cali, I didn’t have a place to stay and told myself I’m gonna sleep in the car-I’m gonna make it work and I’ll be there regardless. I got there, and found out it was a concert. I’m standing outside the line, I’m like this ain’t no meet and greet. I got inside and I was in the front row and 20-30 into his set, he’s [Glasper] like ‘eyo Javier, come kick some rhymes’. I had his number and we would chat and he knew I was there, but we never talked about me rhyming. It was so spur of the moment. When he said come kick some rhymes, that’s when I learnt I’m about to rap,” says Stark.
True to their bond, Glasper offered Starks his hotel room, since he’s was leaving town for another gig.
He is s socially conscious emcee who is very economical with the words because he doesn’t curse on any of his records. “I can perform at your local club, I can perform at a school library, I can perform at a church and I can perform anywhere you know. That’s the beauty of being curse free and keeping your music uplifting and real –people can relate to that. You think about the stuff that most people rap about, it has its time and place- but most people can’t relate to shooting people or doing drugs, driving fancy cars and spending dollars. My goal is to show people that it works, not just because I say so, but look at my Instagram I’m everywhere because it works.”