Interview with rap artist J Watt (born Jason Watkins) of Dbassii Records.
Jason Watkins, of stage name J Watt, is a rap recording artist born in Cleveland, Ohio, raised in Nashville Tennessee, but residing in Charlotte, North Carolina. A musician since he was just a boy, J Watt has dedicated his life to music, coming out with hit songs such as Fetish for This, Time to Shine and Deep. Aside music, he is also an activist, and has done many social projects to help deprived young people in many different communities. His next community purpose project, Concerned Sovereign, is focused on raising awareness to many social problems in the hope of finding a solution to them. J Watt uses his music as a channel to share his inspiration and the greatness inside of him with the world. Today on Your Voices, J Watt talks to us about his music, his message, his just released EP, Still Inspired and his community purpose projects aimed at inspiring the youth and driving societal change.
J Watt, thanks so much for joining us today. Before we start, can you tell us about what inspired you to become a musician?
It was kind of natural for me. From what I remember, my parents got me a keyboard early on around 5th grade, and in 6th grade I played the alto saxophone. My parents wanted me to play an instrument, so I guess at that time I was messing around with the piano. I would always listen to music with my ghetto blaster and I would always record the top 10 hits on 92 Q. It could be rock songs, RnB, rap, classical music, I would just listen to them and record and sing along with the music. In 8th grade, I joined a jazz band, and I don’t know but it kind of just stayed with me. When I got into high school, I remember taking piano lessons. I was already reading music, but that helped me even more with reading music and being able to score music. It just carried on from there. In high school, a guy named DJ Maestro, who at the time lived in my neighborhood, would come over with the 808 and we actually would just program beats. So we ended up making a five-song EP at that time. I was making the music then and it just carried on. As I went on I became more and more inspired to keep on with the music.
What is your main goal as an artist? Do you want to change the world with your art or you are only in it for personal gain?
I think money for me is secondary, but I do want to have an effect on this world. I want to see the youth getting money legally instead of resorting to other things. So when I get my CDs, instead of going to the distribution companies, I get some kids, some youth and people that are on the streets or are at an early age and want to make some money, and say, “Hey, here are some CDs, help me sell them. I’m going to do the marketing and the promotion for the most part, I’m going to set up so that people can hear the music.” I do that just to let them get a portion of the money that’s made. That way they feel productive. The problem is that nobody really feels productive, even though they may be making money.
Let’s talk about your activism. You live in Charlotte and recently there was a wave of protests there. Do you think that the protests were able to change anything?
On a positive note, I hate that I wasn’t there at the time. I was actually traveling and moving, so I wasn’t able to be in the city, but I was in constant contact with some of the artists that I worked with and people that I know there. And what I did see through social media, was people getting out and getting active with the policy making, going to city meetings. I saw a post of a guy who does rap, who was actually born and raised in Charlotte. He put a photo on Facebook of him in a meeting and asking the people what to talk about. I think that’s a positive thing as far as a change. When I went to Charlotte, I noticed a tone in everybody, and to me it seems like a lot of people are beginning to adjust to it. It has a potential to alter dispositions and demeanors of people. So I think it’s changed something, but the thing with protests is that it makes people know. I think it’s a good starting point, because if people don’t hear from you, they’re definitely going to think it’s OK to do it. I think those protests are really good, but now we’ve got to have a plan other than just going out protesting.
What do you think can be done to create any change in the Black community?
First, we need to sit down with people who are in prominent positions, such as people who own schools or own their own businesses around. We need to sit down and say, “OK, what are we doing now and what can we do differently so that everything we do or most of what we’re doing is creating whatever that productive environment is for our people, for progressing?” The main thing that I look at is finances. This person has this business, so how can we get with them to make sure that the business is productively helping our people. So it is with living circumstances, it is work with money in general. If it is a bank, are we pouring money into that bank? That’s something that I’m gearing myself up for. Are we putting our money in the Black banks that do exist and are we putting an expectation in working with those Black banks and saying, “Hey, is it possible to ensure loans, especially to aspiring African American business owners that haven’t been able to get their desired loans?” In addition, we have lots of people being forced out of their homes due to increased property taxes. Could our community come up with an idea of a way to help those residents to not have to abandon their homes in this situation? Finally, ownership of properties, land, business buildings and the like as well as gaining ownership of more of resources would definitely serve well, also. These are only a few suggestions that could spark more of an ownership and self preservation mindset. There are many things that can be done.
Does the struggle for Black rights influence your lyrics in any way?
Yes. I think when I write, it doesn’t necessarily come out directly that this is about Black rights, except for the song Deep. But I’ve always looked at a humanity problem. And that’s everyone inclusive. We can go anywhere and find issues, but we know here in America, the major fight that is always going on is the Caucasians versus African Americans. I write songs about humanity problems and because of the way that I write, with the exception of some songs, it’s more of a subjective stand point that I end up recording and writing from, though some songs are objective. But it’s really easy with my music to fill in blanks.
And do you think that a Black independent state will be able to overcome these racial tensions and that Black people will finally have peace?
Will it help us overcome racial tensions between Black and white? I think it would ease them. I understand the concept of live and let live a 100%, but looking at America’s track record, I just don’t think it will completely alleviate that tension. Creating a state would also have to be so strategic and on point at the highest possible level. However, anything is possible.
Most of our readers don’t know about the role you played in the movie the Green Mile. Can you tell us about your most powerful impression?
Yeah. After they did the tapings of the movie, nothing really stood out to me and was impressionable. The thing that was most impressionable was like this is what it’s like being on set. That was my first experience of being on the set of a movie, so if anything, that was, the fact that I’m on the movie. I did prison scenes, and we were part of the guys that were already incarcerated. New prisoners were coming in and they’re driving them through the gates and we’re out in the yard and we’re like, “New inmates.” And we are all gathering around the fence to see who it was and watch them actually get off the truck. So watching Wild Bill get out, it was amazing to see he was just acting, but he was really that wild. When Duncan got out of the back of that truck, it was like the truck just bounced off the ground. And watching them walk him into the prison, that was impressionable, just seeing it. And then to see it on film, you’re like, “I was there, I saw that.”
Tell us about your community purpose project, Concerned Sovereign.
It’s just a project dedicated to a lot of problems that are going on to bring awareness in hopes of a solution. I have three initiatives behind it. One is to the youth. The other is that I had wanted to work through churches, so they could serve their community better and monetarily, to help people to buy food, to give them shelter, water, and help people put money in their bank accounts, in their pockets to better themselves. Another initiative that I did have on it is that I wanted to see Black and white being able to work it out, but it’s difficult with that one because looking at the track record of people in America as a whole, this concept seems farfetched.
You’ve just released your EP, Still Inspired. What is the message, and do you mean that you have your inspiration and it’s now spreading around to inspire others?
Still inspired is one of those projects that represent just me. So first of all, the reason for it is because of all of this stuff that I’ve been through, the different circumstances. I think within the last five or six years, especially, I’ve seen and dealt with a lot of shady behavior with quite a few people in various vocations, but I’m still inspired. I’m still inspired to make the music, I’m still inspired to put some encouragement in the music and I’m inspired to still get out and be moving around with the music and working on starting my businesses and initiatives.