Jabee release show with Murs, Josh Sallee, Chris McCain and more
8 p.m. Sunday
8911 N. Western Ave.
Flash back to one year ago, and Jabee — arguably Oklahoma City’s biggest hip-hop artist — was on the verge of calling it a wrap.
The perpetually positive emcee found himself forcing smiles. Discouraged by a dip in local support and a Kickstarter campaign that had fallen considerably short of its goal, that fandom was beginning to feel more like lip service than genuine love. For a while, it looked as if Jabee’s career — after all that blood, sweat and tears — was starting to stall.
“I really wasn’t sure if I’d do another album again,” Jabee said of his state of mind a year ago. “I thought I was done with that hustle and bustle of trying to be a rapper, that I might have done all I was going to be able to do.”
Then, all of a sudden, things started to click into place.
Call it cosmic justice for the many days Jabee has spent serving troubled youth, giving encouraging words and understanding while providing a path out of a bleak future … or for the mentorship he provided to virtually every young artist in Oklahoma looking to win over the state like he had.
From the lowest of lows, Jabee found the universe offering a helping hand through some of the biggest names in hip-hop.
Public Enemy’s Chuck D started to champion him on his radio show, saying, “Jabee’s music has the potential to change the world.”
A friend of a friend introduced him to Brooklyn emcee El-P, who quickly invited Jabee to collaborate. (That song became “Stephanie.”) El-P was so impressed with the results that he invited Jabee out on the road in support of Run the Jewels, El-P’s collaboration with rapper Killer Mike.
The assistant of another prodigious artist — rapper/entrepreneur Murs — caught Jabee at one of the shows, thinking highly enough of his set to pass some music on to his client. Soon after, Murs gave Jabee a call, asking him to release an album through his new label, Murs 316.
Months later, Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt was born.
“It helped spark everything I still had left inside. For so long, I just felt like no one really listened. They knew I rapped, but they couldn’t name a single song,” Jabee said. “With this, I feel like people are almost forced to want to learn more and hear what I have to say … like they want to know how and why I’ve reached this point.”
But as joyous as that surge was, the album drew from that lurching hurt — both professionally and personally — for the twelve months leading up to it.
A timely encounter with Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five — via a shoulder tattoo, of all things — put everything into perspective.
“I put [the book] down and was like, ‘Damn,’” Jabee said. “I looked back on my life, all the pain and all the hurt. But if I was laying there on my deathbed, I’d tell anyone who would listen that everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. I wanted people to have something to really understand who I was and what I was about.”
Armed with national distribution and press from the likes of XXL Magazine, the album — being celebrated with Sunday’s release show at The Conservatory — is easily the most notable release of Jabee’s career. But he’s still not sure what the future holds.
The quick ascension didn’t erase all the harsh truths learned in that long year, and there’s a lot of thinking left to do before plotting the next course of action. It seems just as likely, though, that he’d get pulled right back in by the powers that be.
“The last thing I say on this album is, ‘I’m out,’ and I kind of feel like that, if I’m being truthful. There’s always some new rapper, some new fad, some new style. It’s a struggle to keep up and beg people to make it out to shows and buy your album. I’m not sure if I want to be in that fight anymore,” Jabee said. “I’ve got a daughter now, and I’m thinking about so much more of life, so I don’t know. I’m not saying I won’t rap again … what I’m saying is I haven’t thought past this. I’ll just ride along and see what happens next.”