‘Imagine someone trying to force a religion on you that you know nothing about and no matter what they say you can’t argue with them. That’s the same thing with music. You can’t force knowledge on people. You have to make it comfortable and if they want to listen then they will get into your life’
(Dubb Ujean- 01/08/16 Rotterdam, Holland).
For a while now I have been thinking about how Hip Hop inherently connects us all in one way or another. It’s become more apparent recently in my encounters with non-British people on my travels; whether it be in London; where I am based; or in the many countries I find myself in for work as a professional Dancer or just on a holiday. I am currently on an on-going quest for knowledge about Hip Hop culture and how it transcends geographically through time and space.
I met a group of guys at the entrance of my apartment building in Rotterdam. I came with a group of friends to experience the Rotterdam Carnival for the first time. Rotterdam is a relatively small city, but what it lacks in size it makes up in its effortless state of chill, combined with that awesome city rush and a beautifully diverse community. I had learned that this group of men were here on holiday (not knowing it was in fact carnival) from New Jersey. They all worked at a Barbershop. Steve happened to be an amazing MC and Graffiti Artist by the name of Dubb Ujean.
The US; in my opinion; seems to be this strange huge bubble in which lots goes out but nothing really goes in. I really wanted to find out how true this was. I immediately grabbed my laptop and my dictaphone to hear about Dubb Ujean’s love for Hip Hop and why he decide to leave the bubble for his vacation.
How did you get your name?
Ujean is my last name and Dubb was old name I used to go by you know P.O. Dubb so I just kept that end of that and tried to keep most of my real name because it just made more sense. I was gonna just leave it Ujean but it’s just too common you know. No real glamorous story behind my name. It’s my old name and my last name put together. Some people just wake up and name themselves.
Talk to me about where you’re from?
New Jersey in the States, right now I’m Bloomfield. I grew up all throughout Essex County North, Jersey- that’s where we’re at.
Describe the Hip Hop scene there.
At the moment it’s really commercial. Lots of Trap music. That’s all it is. It’s like that in a lot of different places around the world but it’s more old school over here (Europe) I like the sound better over here. You appreciate music more over here, I can tell. It’s more organic I guess.
Talk about Haiti and being a Haitian man in America
In the 90’s, it was hard being Haitian in Jersey. Now shit just seems different. All these Haitians coming out of nowhere whether it’s the music industry or other stuff. It wasn’t like that before. Now everybody likes Haitian people. Do you know that Haiti was the first black republic 212 years ago? Haiti is the only slave uprising in history that led to the state being free from slavery and ruled by brown people, so I feel like we started all this shit! Hahaha. Freedom and equality, breaking down barriers and all that. For some reason now, Haiti is one of the poorest countries. How is that possible when you had all these riches and you’re the first to set people free? It’s like a pay back thing; it’s crazy. It’s next door to the Dominican Republic. So I wanna do events for those kinds of people.
Describe your first experience with Hip Hop.
I was eight years old, listening to Wu-Tang and other shit I wasn’t supposed to be listening to. Because I am Haitian, we do don’t that. We listen to Compa or traditional Haitian music. My parents moved to the US when they were in their thirties so everything was very traditional in my household I couldn’t listen to Hip Hop music. That shit was like stuff I listened to when we were in the car and maybe it would come on and my dad would go to the store and I would change the station whilst he was gone, then change it right when he came back, type of shit. My cousins used to have some shit I would want to hear when I went to their house.
Name your Three Hip Hop artists (if you can feel free to name more!).
I don’t care what nobody thinks. Eminem is one of the dopest to me. Not just the song content but his storytelling. He literally just talks.…it’s just really fast. Sometimes it sounds like he rapping but if you listen to it, it sounds like a real conversation the way he puts shit together. You can see it. It’s like you’re watching something. It’s real vivid.
Nas, of course. Andre 3000. Jadakiss. He’s just so underrated. I think he’s still relevant. Jadakiss and Fabulous stay relevant. They’re not too commercial and they don’t get wrapped up in too much of the hype but in the same point too they always seem to be right there. They know exactly what’s going on. Like day-to ‑day life in your hood, they seem to know exactly what’s going on, it’s so weird. I have never heard a bad verse from either one of those two. West Coast, Kendrick Lamar.
Kendrick made me feel good about doing music again when he came back out. Hearing Kendrick’s shit; I didn’t really think someone could rap the way he raps and catch that attention from people, I thought people would turn him away but he’s so creative. You can’t deny him. So left. He says raises the bar and pushes the limit, he makes it comfortable. Some people don’t even know what they’re dancing to, he’s passionate about his shit and I love that. Ludacris is dope. Rick Ross has better songs on his albums then his releases, his albums are way more conceptual.
Have you been to London or the UK?
What do you know about the UK Hip Hop or UK Grime scene?
I don’t know much really. There’s this one dude I heard back in the states I think he’s from London actually. He’s dope as hell. (referring to Krept and Konan — Don’t waste my time).
Why do you think the US has a lack of knowledge about the UK scene?
It’s not even knowing something is there to look for it. Americans are so stuck in their box it’s like this is what we do and that’s it. We’ve got to be more open to everything, but I think we literally just don’t know, because when I hear this shit, immediately I like it. Between the accent, the vibe is dope and what they choose to talk about. It just all depends on having that market, I mean a lot of people know but more people should know. You gotta be really into the music to know it though. It’s not on regular radio or anything, like you know how some American songs play over here? It’s not like that in America.
Describe to me your sound.
My sound is directly in the middle between underground and commercial. I think I have a whole other market of people that my music hasn’t even touched yet. It’s those people who don’t want to be against everything but they still wanna have fun. You can’t be in fear of everything and scared of going outside, you gotta go outside eventually. Like some people are so paranoid that they don’t live. What I talk about is not too, too deep but I touch on things every now and then and still try to keep it commercial and play around. When it comes to music, the only time you’re allowed to sing about being happy is when you’re in the shower!
When you’re mad, you will say that shit anyway. Negativity spreads faster at the same point too. Some artists feel like when they do music it’s a pain release. Every time you do that song, you feel it; you feel that pain every time you perform that record. So you wanna tour the world in pain? After a while you don’t even realise that you’re performing the same shit thirty times in the next 6 months on tour or whatever. I have my pain music but I wanna do everything. Just make music and create, I don’t want to be stuck in that rain.
Describe to me your creative process?
I’ve switched up my producers a lot more. I record in the morning because it’s better for my voice. I like to write when I travel just so I can get that vibe of everywhere else and feel. It’s not the same as being at home, so I like to get the influences. I work a lot when I am in the car driving, I just let the beats play and just drive and get concepts. I start free-styling in the car, you think about something when you’re not thinking about it, it’s easier. If I sit there and just listen to a beat; sometimes it will come; whereas if I am in the middle of doing something else and I’m just like listening in my headphones, everything pops out. It’s the strangest thing.
Talk to me about your experience with graffiti.
I got into Graffiti around the age of 21, when I came back from the Marines having been to Iraq It was a good release. One of my close friend’s; who was in the Military with me; was a good Graffiti Artist, so I pretty much just followed him around — I got good tips from him. I was always good at drawing, but Graffiti wasn’t a style I was used to. Once I got used to it, I really enjoyed the freedom of it and not having a real format. Style-wise, I am a little bit of everything; I grab my inspirations from everywhere.
The main thing I got into was doing murals. I do a little bit of bombing and tagging every now and then but I didn’t really get into the whole running around and hanging off buildings type of shit because I didn’t feel like doing fed time or running away from cops. Hip Hop is the rebel of music genres and Graffiti is the rebel of the art world. People don’t really respect graffiti and they can’t even do it! This shit is some of the most complex stuff. Someone will throw something on a canvas from like five feet away and it will be artwork for like a $1,000 or £1 million pounds. I just think Hip Hop music and Graffiti just fall under the umbrella of just being outcasts, but that’s what makes it so special — but then it’s so underrated and people just act like they don’t notice it. We’ve been conditioned to see it as crime and not to notice it for what it is. I would like to open an Art Museum one day. It will be a Graffiti and Contemporary Art Museum but I would like to blend different art forms, have feature artists come through too.
What’s the dream?
To just do music, travel, tour on a bigger scale than what I am doing now, as I am just getting started. Help people through concerts, do free concerts in the most fucked up places; those kids man, they need that shit. There’s artists over here charging people $200 for tickets. People already love you as a person and they don’t even know you and now you’ve got these people that are coming out to see you. Why are you charging them hundreds for a ticket? Everyone should be able to come. I’m not saying my music generates tours, because I may not cater to that demographic, but I just want everybody to fucking have a good time!! I want to do some humanitarian projects too with my graffiti also. I just want my shit to be different, if you don’t dream about something, what the fuck are you living for because essentially everything is pointless? Because you work to pay bills and then you die, there’s nothing to live for because you can’t take nothing with you, except your dreams. I have been doing music for over ten years and now my sound is where I want it to be, I have developed more lyrically; I’m mentally smarter. I needed that time to grow, so God forbid, I would have gotten all of that earlier, but I never lost sight of my dream. No matter what was going on in my life, people not believing in me and shit, I always kept my mind on that shit. You have to. It pushes you.
Talk about the beef in Hip Hop?
It’s all about persona. That’s all it is. Listen to the music. You mean to tell me that everybody who is at that concert ain’t like that? That’s the whole point of you making that music, so now those people who it caters to are gonna be there, all together, from different groups, different walks of life. So you’re rallying these motherfuckers together. Think about it. They come there and that’s a problem It doesn’t shock me because that’s what should have been expected, that’s what you’re asking for — like literally. How many people get shot at a Country and Western concert? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to mad shows where there ain’t been nothing at all. Also it’s the ratio of people too. You got one hundred thousand people there, somebody’s going to get into a fight, so it’s a bit of both. A lot of this shit people be rapping about, it’s real but it’s publicised so it’s like now say you really do some gang shit or whatever, that’s got to be you wherever you’re at now. You’re literally a gang member and you’re letting them know about you and the music makes it okay, but on a day-to-day basis, Being a celebrity makes you different? It’s always gonna be beefin’
What’s your opinion on the US Hip Hop music scene now and how can it move forward?
Motherfuckers just need to start rapping again. That’s it. Lyrically everybody is not fulfilling their potential. I can hear it slowly changing though over the last couple of years but it’s slow.baby steps. Between Kendrick and J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. Nipsey Hussle, ScHoolboy Q, Vince Staples. I think it’s coming back but it’s just creeping in there real slow. Still it won’t go back to the way it was but it’s getting back to being more lyrical and great again. It’s more conceptual because you know not everything is drugs, money, eating good and women on a yacht
People undervalue the historical content that Hip Hop culture holds. Through it I encountered my first Haitian friend who taught me information about black culture that I have not known in the 25 years I have been alive. Hip Hop is Knowledge, culture and life.
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