Welcome to Conversations with Black Creators. This week, we're chatting with Jahn Dough, a Dallas-based rapper and all around stellar human being.
(Editor’s Note: This is the second feature in a new series we’re calling Conversations with Black Creators, which is intended to highlight Black creatives’ work in various fields. Click here to read the first, on writer and poet Will Dutcher, also authored by Emma Cloutier--a treasured Takito.
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Jahn is a California-bred, Dallas-based rapper, history lover, and educator. I was connected to him by another featured artist in this series, Will Dutcher, who posted a clip from Jahn’s most recent project, Obsidian, to Instagram.
It was this one, and it was accompanied by a heart-smashing message:
"Before being an artist or educator, I’m a black man. A black man in a country that never seems to truly value my life and the life of those who look like me [sic]. I’ve seen my own family, friends, loved ones, and those from my community systemically hunted and abused by those in “power”. It’s time to take the power back."
"Also, protect our black women. Listen to our black women. Remember our black women. They’re the closest things to a god we have walking this earth and they need to be heard and protected. Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, and sadly the list goes on. We gotta stand united for a real change & that starts with our women."
"Also, protect our black women. Listen to our black women. Remember our black women. They’re the closest things to a god we have walking this earth and they need to be heard and protected."
Cue wild inner applause (and, if I’m being perfectly honest, an ocean of tears) for a quote from a man saying that Black women are the closest thing we have to a god on this earth. Amen.
Naturally, I had to listen to the rest of Obsidian. (And then again, and again.) I was immediately hooked, and if you like rap even a little bit, I strongly suggest checking it out. Jahn’s flows hit smooth as oil and hot as fire at the same time. The beats are unfussy, pure, and irrefutably head-bob-able--a clear reflection of Jahn as a person.
By all appearances, he is utterly uninterested in impressing anyone. His self-confidence is palpable, buoyed further by candor and good humor. Despite the sometimes-challenging subject matter, he smiled ear-to-ear for most of our conversation. He has a lot of good shit to say, and it was a pleasure to listen.
Hey Jahn. Go ahead and introduce yourself.
Hey, I’m Jahn Dough. I’m an independent artist--music, specifically. I’ve been in music since I was 11 or 12, but have been serious about it for the past 5 years. I also have a day job during the school year; I coach teachers and make sure they're putting their lesson plans together correctly, checking boxes to pass tests, and all that. I tried some other jobs but [making music] is expensive, so if I’m going to work, I gotta make enough money to support music.
I’m originally from Cali but live in Dallas now. I have a degree in Business with an emphasis on History, but it was sort of an accident. I was in fashion all the way through college, until the last year, when pre-reqs got in the way. I was gonna have to do another year and a half of classes, but I couldn’t afford that time. I had a lot of Business credits, so I went that direction instead.
Did you always know you wanted to make music, or was there a particular person or event that nudged you that way?
Well, I’ve been writing since I was 7 or 8, but when I told my dad that I wanted to make music, he was like, nahh, you need to go to school. No male in my family had gone to college, so [my parents] wanted me to do that.
I kept writing, but I didn’t share it. I started recording in high school behind my parents’ back, and then they found out. [laughs] I got a three hour lecture about why I shouldn’t pursue music. Later my mom told me that if I went to college and graduated, she wouldn’t say anything else [about it]. So that’s what I did, and I kept music with me all the time. I went to this Isaiah Rashad concert and was like, oh shit, yeah, this is what I want to do. When J. Cole came to UNT, that was the icing on the cake. I had to do it.
"Even people who get to the “mountain top”...they’re looking for the next mountain top. They never really get where they’re going because the destination keeps changing. For me, it’s all about staying inspired, reminding myself why I do [music], and not putting myself on a set timeline."
So, let’s get into the good stuff. I’ll start easy. What’s a life lesson you've learned recently?
Well, I learned this awhile ago, but coming into my late twenties I’m kind of re-learning it. It’s about timelines--understanding that your journey is different than that of others. I’ve been learning that I’ll move in my own time, and I’ve gotta have patience.
Even people who get to the “mountain top”...they’re looking for the next mountain top. They never really get where they’re going because the destination keeps changing. For me, it’s all about staying inspired, reminding myself why I do [music], and not putting myself on a set timeline.
What does your creative process look like, if you have one?
Depends on the day, on the song, how I’m feeling. Sometimes I have a subject in mind and I just write stuff, go to my producers, and we put the beats over the rhymes. Sometimes it’s the opposite; I’ll be in the studio, they create a beat, and I rhyme over it.
Where do you feel most creative?
A lot of my creativity is sporadic and random--really anywhere my mind is free. [laughs] It sounds so random, but I’lI just be in the shower and start humming or singing and it goes from there. Usually when I’m just lounging, like watching TV or whatever. The studio might look cool for pictures, but it can actually be really distracting.
Do you think creativity is innate, or do you think it can be taught?
A little of both. I think everyone is creative in their own way. A football coach might not really be thought of as a creative person, but you have to have a lot of creativity to do that. You can be a person who cuts the grass, delivers the mail, whatever, and still be creative.
Expression is the only thing that’s different. I think you can teach someone how to do something, but the creativity comes from inside and is unique. There are some people that are just touched, like Kendrick [Lamar], but not every thing you create is going to be a Mona Lisa. Still, everyone’s creating something.
"When people hear me talk or express myself, sometimes it doesn’t fit the 'mold' of what they think I should sound like...It’s challenging trying to put out a different narrative of what a Black man looks like."
Have you experienced any unique challenges to being a Black creator in America?
When people hear me talk or express myself, sometimes it doesn’t fit the “mold” of what they think I should sound like. A lot of people hear “rapper” and they expect a particular way of living and talking, but those are just boxes.
I don’t really rap a lot about killing or heavy drugs, but that’s what’s hitting the streams right now. It’s difficult to remain true to who I am. I wasn’t a gangster. California is really heavy on gangster rap--and don’t get me wrong, I love it to death--but that’s not me.
It’s challenging trying to put out a different narrative of what a Black man looks like. I like Dallas because if you’re genuine, you’ll be accepted for whoever you are. If you’re a fake, they’ll see that shit too, [laughs] but if you’re real, you’re good.
I’ve also been trying not to call women “bitches” and “hoes.” That’s so common in [hip hop], but I don’t want to do it. If I talk about drugs or women or whatever, it’s for a reason; it’s not just to talk about it.
I really liked the therapy motif threaded through Obsidian. Is that inspired by real life or is it more conceptual?
Yeah, a little of both. [Before the events that inspired that motif], I had never been to therapy a day in my life--not because I didn’t believe in it, but I never felt like I needed it.
Then I experienced all these losses. My aunt died, my good friend passed away, and I felt like I was managing, but...I guess I’ve always been more, like, “self-medicated”? [laughs] But then my mom noticed something was off. I’d be fine at work, but then I’d get home and just go left. She said maybe I should [give therapy a try].
Eventually, I thought, “Well, maybe this is something that would be good for me.” So I went! I didn’t get it at first, but then I started seeing benefits and the process made sense. I think if I ever [struggle like that again], I’d definitely go back.
I also loved the Helen Hailu feature on the track Paradise. What’s your favorite collab you’ve ever done?
Ah, man, gonna make some people mad at me. [laughs] I got two. First is Punchout [from Obsidian] with M3cca. I love that one because I sent her the track and didn’t tell her what to do with it at all. She just did her thing. Without her, that song wouldn’t be what it is.
Also, Bidnezz with Coach Tev. That’s off an earlier EP*. So, shout out Helen, shout out Tev. They’ll both be on the [upcoming] summer EP.
*Calle Feliz, for those wondering.
Speaking of other artists, what’s on your “Most Played” list?
Ah, good question. Mostly oldies. I love old soul and blues. I really like Muddy Waters, Cream, Black Sabbath. My favorite group of all time is the Doors. My dad played a track for me called Riders on the Storm when I was a kid and ever since I’ve been hooked. I also listen to a lot of funk.
To be honest, between you and me...or, you can put it in the article, I don’t care. [laughs] I listen to hip hop the most, but it’s not my favorite genre. Like, I get more enjoyment out of R&B, soul, blues, and 60s and 70s rock.
"So, yeah, to answer your question…[white people] hear us, but they don’t listen unless you’re doing something to cause a ruckus. And that’s what entertainment is."
There’s a tricky narrative out there that says white people are more likely to pay attention to a Black person if he or she is doing something entertaining, like rapping or playing sports. Do you think that’s true?
To an extent, yeah. This is a super broad generalization, but a lot of people wouldn’t have paid attention to MLK Jr. or Malcolm X if they weren’t making a ruckus. You know? They paid attention to Colin Kaepernick because he did the same thing.
If you’re just a regular Black man at a local government meeting or whatever, you don’t have the platform. That’s why [Black people] put so much stock in our entertainers...and get so mad at them when they say something stupid. [laughs] So, yeah, to answer your question…[white people] hear us, but they don’t listen unless you’re doing something to cause a ruckus. And that’s what entertainment is.
A lot of people allow Imposter Syndrome to discourage them from pursuing things they love and sharing them with the world. Have you ever experienced Imposter Syndrome? If so, what advice do you have for other creators who are struggling with it?
I say eff it. Just do it. If you can make something you like, if you have enough courage to be happy with your own art, you jumped the biggest hurdle. Some people will gravitate, and the ones who don’t? It wasn’t made for them.
What advice would you give to young Black creators, specifically?
Find who you are, find your voice, and let that voice sing. Know what you want to represent and go for it. Parents might try to shut it down, especially if you’re a little eccentric, but you gotta do you and put in the time. It’s not going to happen overnight. Make sure you put in the effort to sharpen your craft, and if you’re not wholeheartedly into it, don’t do it. Sacrifices will need to be made. While you’re on that journey, don’t surround yourself with “yes” people. You’ve gotta have honest people in your corner.
Who are three creatives you admire?
And then there’s Prince, but he’s in a totally different world. Way above. I wish people really understood his contribution to music; it was massive. And he did it all in platform shoes. [laughs] How’d he do that?
So...what do you think about the whole Ye and MAGA thing?
[laughs] What do I think....
You know I had to ask. [laughs]
Yeah, yeah, for sure. Personally, it don’t matter how much money you give me, I would never put that hat on. I would never meet with that man. I don’t agree with it, I don’t think it’s cool, but I can’t speak for [Kanye].
It hurt a lot of us--a lot of America, not just Black people--because we understand the BS this dude in office is causing. So while I believe every man has a right to feel the way he wants to feel, I couldn’t ride with that.
Trying to separate a person from their art is a weird grey area. I think what Kanye has said is really misguided, and he didn’t think it through. Just because I like an artist doesn’t mean I f*ck with everything they do. They’re still human; they still make mistakes. So yeah, I don’t agree with him, but I’m not gonna waste my time or energy, like, Tweeting at him or whatever. [laughs]
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m finishing up my summer EP. That’ll probably release mid to late July. I don’t know about the listener experience, but Obsidian was really intense to make. With everything being so heavy lately, I wanted to make something lighter, so that’s what the summer one is gonna be.
I got another one that I might drop in the winter time. I want to release this stuff, but it’s weird right now. I don’t know what the climate is like to receive music, you know? But I’m still gonna put it all out there and see what happens.
UPDATE 2021: new album, Joyride, now available for download!
Last question. We're all about tacos, obvi. What's your favorite taco filling?
I don’t really eat red meat, so a good street chicken taco is my favorite. I love it with some onions and cheese. Throw on a bunch of salsa, lime, and cilantro, and I’m good. I prefer California Mexican food to Texas Mexican food.
Mad love to Jahn for taking time to chat--even if he did try to turn the interview around on me a few times. 😉 You can catch Obsidian, and more from Jahn, wherever you get your music. Hit him with a follow on Instagram to keep up.
Don't forget to check out our other Conversations here!