BLACK ROCKERS UNITED MEDIA

JUICE ALEEM

"Re-Imagining Black Futures"

INTRO | ROOTS AND EARLY WORK | AFROFLUX AND ADAPTING | DECOLONIAL IDENTITY

        

NK: Juice Aleem is the Black futurist founder of an inspiring, immersive art-educational experience: AfroFlux!

INTRODUCTION

Juice: It's funny you introduce me as -futurist. I'm partly old-school, partly ahead of the curve. So I don't do everything on my phone. And some things I prefer on laptop. Some things I don't do at all. So it takes me time to link and sync it all.

NK: Afrofuturism is all eras right now, so you're taking different parts of different times, you know? Different technologies.

Juice: Yeah, true. I mean you're talking to someone who I'm reminiscent of, a little beyond ten years ago, I intentionally didn't have a credit card, phone, this that.

NK: Wow.

Juice: Watching the satellites tracking me. But in the end, you can't survive like that life right now or at least, it's very hard to.

NK: So you went off the grid for a while.

Juice: Went off the grid in a country that has the most CCTV cameras per square mile in the world, yeah.

NK: Did it feel like a disconnect, like you learned a lot when you came back? Was it like 'Oh, SNAP'?

Juice: I go in waves. Like I said, I'm a guy who's part-time at the end of all periods of time. Part-time Luddite, part-time in the bush. You know what I'm saying? It's like you just said, you kind of pick and choose. When you understand the concept of a multi-verse or multiplicity, I'm a 16th-century corsair warrior here. I'm a 24th-century herbsman.

NK: Totally.

Juice: So I pretend it, but I also live it at the same time as well.

NK: Totally. I like and I don't like it in the sense that you're basically saying, you can't quite escape from it. But then at the same time, that futurism is also your escape because you can apply those concepts of now and apply them to any era you want. That's so liberating. That's so cool.

Juice: In all these conversations now, people are accusing people of all types of fake Blackness, and fake this, and fake woke-ness and fake this and fake—I'm like, one of the most important groups to me culturally, there was loads of groups: loads of reggae groups, loads of hip-hop groups, but specifically in a physical aesthetic was X-Clan. And I don't know if you know X-Clan or you remember X-Clan.

They were very important for me because that's how I always felt. Like, just X, being the unknown.

NK: Nice.

Juice: You know, people from Africa who know their direct cultures always go "Oh, you look like the people back home, you look like the people from the mountains or from the village of ___". I'm like [shrugs] "Yeah, cool!" [Laughs] I wanna be that. We all wanna be Egypt. We all wanna be Nubians, we all wanna be—we wanna be the "cool" people.

NK: Yeah, ooh. Yeah...I hear that, Juice.

Juice: We wanna be the "cool" people. And we don't wanna accept parts in, you know, the bad sides. You know, who had so many slaves, who had many concubines, this many wives, this many—we don't wanna get into that.

ROOTS AND EARLY WORK

Juice: My people are from the Caribbean, different parts of the Caribbean. I still don't even know that.

NK: [Raises Black power fist]

Juice: [Returns Black power salute, laughs] Where are you from, where are your people from?

NK: I just found out that my people are like, I'm half-Nigerian, basically. And then the rest is like, scattered throughout the Diaspora. Like Mali and Tennessee, the Southeastern United States. But right on to the Caribbean because it's amazing down there!

Juice: Yeah, I mean, I'm finding out, my mother...my father passed out quite a while ago.

NK: I'm sorry.

Juice: My mother passed away. Thank you. My mum's from umm, Jamaica. My dad was from St. Kitts. But both of them had other backgrounds within that, you know, so even the idea when people say "Oh, I'm dual heritage" or bi-racial, like, what does that mean?

Everyone's dual-heritage. Everyone's parents come—even if you're from the same city, someone comes from the North, someone comes from the South. That's two different heritages.

NK: That's true.

Juice: So when my mum passed, certain things came to light that we'd always heard but I thought was maybe just some B.S. But umm, I'm part-Cuban. People move, people inter-marry.

NK: They do.

Juice: People change and people drift. And it leads back to that X. I don't know how Ashanti I am or how Yoruba I am, or how Twi or Fulani. Maybe I'm one of those people that was a, you know, maybe I've got 8% Zulu, you know, or...

NK: Yeah.

Juice: You know, so I've never done the DNA test. I don't think I'm going to do one.

NK: Okay. I respect that. I respect that.

Juice: And I mean that on cultural levels. I mean that on historical levels and you know, I mean that on every level. I wasn't born in Zaire, I wasn't born in the Congo. I was born in Birmingham, in the UK. And I know that I'm not from here, but I am obviously from here. And that in itself is, you know, is an Afrofuturist future and history right here.

NK: There you go! Umm, what you just said, Juice, my homie is that dual identity is literally that double consciousness that W.E.B. DuBois was talking about in which like, you remember your roots but you're also firmly rooted in where you are. So you have, it's kinda like you have to let go but you're also reminiscent at the same time, yeah.

So now you're in Birmingham! And that's awesome, you know, and now you have that Birmingham sound. And you have been there for the rise of UK hip-hop in the '90's! Tell us about that.

Juice: Most definitely. What can I say? It was amazing, it was eye-opening, brilliant. And for moments in time, we realized that—there were moments in time where we thought umm, we were gonna be recognized 'cause you know, everybody wants to get recognized by the mecca of hip-hop: New York.

NK: Yeah. Yeah.

Juice: "So-and-so used that sample after one of our legends did it!" Fast tongue-twisting style like Pato Banton and Daddy Freddy had been doing for years. "We're gonna get our credit!" No, no. No, no, no.

So it's always weird. Again, it's one of those things that makes you realize, you have to just continue with what you're doing. And that was the best British stuff. It just did its own thing. It wasn't trying to be New York.

NK: Yes.

Juice: It wasn't trying to be Kingston and it wasn't trying to be Mississippi, Atlanta, L.A. It wasn't even trying to be London, Bristol or Manchester. It was just being.

NK: Just IT.

Juice: Folks like Tricky. He was just it. Tricky, Massive Attack, umm, MC Mell'o. Though you can tell where they're from, it could blend into so many different places. I mean, Dizzee Rascal's a good example of that as well. Like a lot of West African kids growing up in Britain, they've had to mold themselves into the dominant African/Caribbean culture of language and stylistically, musically.

People can't tell, they can't—but Dizzee, at least to my ears, he never sounded like he was pretending to  be Jamaican. He didn't sound like he was pretending to be American. He just sounded like Dizzee Rascal, that's a beautiful thing.

NK: That's beautiful.

Juice: Very beautiful thing.

NK: What other artists stand out to you in that genre? And before we get into that, let me just say: we're always vibin' to the UK sound, we were just obsessed with New York at the time. Trust that I was listening to Roots Manuva.

I was listenin' to Gorillaz, like Damon Albarn. All of that, you know? But it was interwoven with the dominant scene at the time, which was New York hip-hop, you know? Like 'Tribe Called Quest and Raekwon.

Definitely props to the UK hip-hop scene because it WAS different and it was not trying to be anything than just straight art. And it achieved that, it really did!

I still listen to like, the Ninja Tune of the late '90's.

Juice: How involved were you in that movement, in that scene, in that listening to...was it just a few CD's or was it like a big thing in your life?

NK: It was big. It was different artists, I think that brought me to it. And I did hear you back in the day, I did when uh, Jerusalaam Come came out, I was about it, okay? [Laughs] And then I think it was Andreya Triana?

Juice: Yeah, yeah. I don't know if she still is, but her first lot of stuff came out on Ninja. And I think that's how she had that connection with, yeah, FlyLo. So a lot of their stuff is now put through Ninja [Brainfeeder] anyway. A lot of their output, basically. So there's been a connection. There's been a deep connection for a while.

NK: I like that. I like that through each other, there was a mutual appreciation for the art form and what Ninja Tune was doing: electronic hip-hop, soul, you know, like different multi-genre sounds. Right? And then on the West Coast of America, there's Flying Lotus doing very much the same thing. A more American L.A. sound. That's so cool.

Juice: Yeah, yeah. Ras G as well doing the sort of roots-dub kind of version of electronic hip-hop as well. You know, rest in peace to him.

NK: For sure. Rest in peace.

Juice: But what's interesting is it's one of those, I didn't see it at the time but the Ninja sound, it's very white though as well. So that's why Big Dada was sort of the more hip-hop arm of things. At least here, I don't know how it was listening to it, from the U.S. But here it's very white, student, middle-class. And there was a moment where there was a takeover.

You know, Britain's always about takeovers. Every year is another sound. You can be left out, you can be in the rave, go into the rave and it's two-step rave. And by the time you leave, someone's calling it garage. And you're like what, have I missed a whole cultural movement?

It's like in the same evening, jump-up, darkwave, dubstep. It's so, it comes at you thick and fast. And some waves work with each other. And other waves try and take over.

So there was a moment where trip-hop became, it was really cool, but it started to overtake and it became rap without the lyrics. Like hip-hop without the Black folks, you know? So it was interesting, coming into that dynamic. They're cool guys, but I don't think they even realize.

You know, part of white/any privilege is ignorance. You don't know that you're doing this thing, doing stuff to other people. You're not always aware. It's not always intentional.

NK: Yeah.

Juice: And most of them haven't come down to "We're taking vital elements out of, we're taking that soundsystem culture", the MC side out of it.

NK: That is EXTREMELY interesting in that a lot of your colleagues, people you made music with, people on the same label as you didn't even realize they were gentrifying a genre. They had no idea because to them, they were just making music.

But that's gentrifying a sound, you know? So you have to be conscious of that every single time that you're in a space. Am I using this art form in the way it's intended? Is my presence needed? Yeah.

Juice: Whoa, yeah. Am I needed? [Laughs]

NK: Are you taking that spotlight, and that's what you're saying, away from an artist that deserves that more? That's a good point too. And a lot of it comes from that Jamaican do-it-yourself space of a soundsystem. Of like, you didn't have access to the same stuff, you know? So you have to appreciate  the roots of where it came from.

Juice: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. And I think that was something that will often get taken out: the Jamaican [element]. Even when hip-hop came here, it was part of dance music at first. It used to be in dance music magazines.

NK: Okay.

Juice: Even when people talk about electronica, they mean people that are using knobs, you know, buttons, you know the kind of crazy machines and wires, delay/relay waves. Well, what was Mad Professor doing and Lee Scratch Perry?

NK: Lee Scratch!

Juice: That's electronica, but they never put him in there! Okay, we talk about umm, Stockhausen and things like that, that lineage. We talk about Kraftwerk and people like that. But not everybody puts Lee Scratch Perry in the same lineage. I mean, he definitely is.


Damn, Lee Scratch. The Prodigy, dubstep, drum 'n bass all came from his exploration.

I'm not saying the sound is the same. But he's an electronic artist as much as he's a dub artist, and a reggae artist. And a producer, and MC and a cultural icon. You know? Super-important.

NK: Without Lee Scratch and without that bridge between Caribbean music and electronica, you wouldn't have garage or grime. Like, PERIOD. It would not be here. 

That's the foundation of garage, grime and current hip-hop scene in the UK is this Caribbean-electronic sound. Skepta and Dizzee, some of the later stuff the Gorillaz did, and you.

Juice: Yeah, well, thank you for putting me in that gang. Yeah, it's interesting that though as well because the African side's coming back in in an electronic way as well. So me growing up, London was a lot more African, even though Jamaicans and the Caribbeans were the cultural dominance in the 60's-80's.

Juice: It was Jamaican, Trinidadian. If they were Black, they were Bajan, mostly Jamaican but they were from those English Caribbean Islands.

You know and you'd get the odd person from a French-speaking island or somewhere. But seeing the dominance now of what they call Afrobeats which has elements of the old zouk music...

And elements of Fela, and Afro-, uh, Tony Allen and all those guys. And then you've got the Gonk music as well from southern Africa.

NK: That's right, yeah!

Juice: It's changing things up as well so yeah, it's always been very Caribbean, 90% of my Black music listening. Even my hip-hop was an element of Caribbean-ness whether it was KRS-One. Whether it was The Jungle Brothers and their attire, and their yardman kinda vibes. Even Cappadonna doin' his little dances, you know?

NK: Yes!

Juice: I'm not gonna say it's necessarily, it's not the root for everybody but it was the root for me listening, the similarities between Yellowman and Shinehead. You know Shinehead?

And then even how Slick Rick came out? So naturally you had this kinda yard swagger with a London, but he's in New York. Yeah, he was doing the wallabies in candle hats. You know, but then Big Daddy Kane was wearin' them as well. You know.

NK: Yeah! A conversation with each other, they saw each other's flow and each other's getting back to their roots. And they were like "Oh, I like that, let's do that together!" And it was the golden age of hip-hop from there.

Juice: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I was just thinking of that lyric that Biz Markie said, talking about 'Kane. He said he wore a rasta-type candle, tilted to the side! [Laughs]

NK: I love that! Is that your personal journey till this point? Is that how you got into music now?

Juice: Pretty much and this is something I've said before. I was always rapping and singing at school prior to even really knowing what rap was or...it wasn't like I was trying to copy the Cold Crust Brothers or something. Whatever pop songs were out, I would make up my own version! [Reminiscing]

"Wow, this song's really come out! Yes!" You know, change the words and make it into something North-y, you know, little schoolboy thing or something about me.

And also the music as well, going into the golden era, even for us as well, I don't know how it was for you guys, but some of the first rap records I ever heard were pop records that had rappin', that had people who were already making that Trans-Atlantic bridge happenin' like Adam & The Ant.

From this side that had already gone out to New York and gone to the cool clubs, cool downtown clubs and uptown clubs. Then you had Blondie coming that way with Malcolm McLaren and you know. It was already outside of Black and brown kids in the hood.

It was already, by the time I heard it, even though it had existed 10, 15 years before, by the time we're hearing it, it's the Tom-Tom Club.

[Busta Rhymes adamantly reminded the world in 2018 about hip-hop's Bronx origins: Black, Latino, proud, while visiting Puerto Rico. Juice is right to mention this historical, representative shift!]

It's new-wave, it's post-punk, it's new romantic. So some of the first rap I really heard was other than Sugarhill Gang and stuff like that, that was on the radio? It was Wham! You know, George Michael and Andrew Ridgely.

NK: Yeah, totally.

Juice: "Wham blam, I am the man!"

NK: [Sings along, laughs]

Juice: You know. So, but I was fortunate that family in the States, brothers and cousins would pass the tapes back with the news for the Caribbean community in New York? To tell them that oh, "there was a tornado in wherever, Montserrat" or there was this [thing] in Jamaica, so-and-so passed away.

'Cause my aunt and everybody, a lot of my family was in like, Queens and we'd get these tapes with all the information on them.

This is obviously pre-Internet, pre-even phoning people that regular. So people used to have these really interesting ways of connecting with each other, really utilizing the technology. And tapes would get sent back, if anyone went back, you wouldn't take clothes that much. You would take everything!

Back before [TSA], you could get coconuts over here easy and uh, mangoes and guinep. And sometimes you'd bring tapes. And you'd hope that you'd have a sound tape, and these tapes that would have information from New York for people in the Caribbean, with a Caribbean background.

And on the end, after that show, sometimes I'd have on a 90-minute tape, I'd have 10 minutes to half an hour of hip-hop! 'Cause the show that came on after would be like a community show, community radio. And they would be playing, I want to say, some of the early to mid-1980's hip-hop stuff.

So at the end of the Caribbean stuff, they're playing soca and calypso, I'd get hip-hop from New York as well. Stetsasonic, stuff like that, you know? A lot of them have a Caribbean background. Yeah, there was this really mad thing happenin'!

But that is my background and trying my own versions of it, and then eventually becoming more serious with it as well.

AFROFLUX AND ADAPTING AS AN ARTIST/PERSON

NK: Yeah, I had the sense that you were evolving into this proud Afro-Caribbean heritage through music though, and through art. I like, read the 'About' Section for Afroflux because you said 'To steer the craft, our hands will need to get dirty.'

That is something that a revolutionary from the Caribbean would say [Laughs]. That's some Stokely Carmichael, Marcus Garvey rhetoric as in, revolution in art. Blackness is praxis that you have to wade into. And you have to do work to find out who you are.

Juice: Mos def, mos def. It's interesting that people want to make it just a look. You know, and it IS a look as well. But they want to make it just the words. It's interesting now, decades later, people are using the words of Audre Lorde and bell hooks and stuff but just these little snippets.

Just like these, like you just discovered [them]! You think they just popped out of thin air yesterday? What's, okay? Okay, cool, cool that you're quoting it.

But do you know? Even I see 'Black Lives Matter' there, but like, people have took out Garvey from there. We've pulled the Garvey rug out from under ourselves. You know? We're still tumbling, trying to find roots. People have already done the work. We just need to carry that on.

It's good that we've got new phrases and new titles. New ideas and new perspectives. That's great. But nation-building, collectivism, creativity, economics— regardless to what you think of those people as individuals, they may...of course they're flawed. They were people of their time.

So we can say "Oh, Elijah Muhammad had kids here" or he did this. But you've never seen people build restaurants, launderettes, bakeries, protection, drug programs.

This is the other thing as well: no one's got the key. Caribbeans have a certain way of doing things. Africans have a certain way of doing things. People from the U.S. have a certain way of doing things. And everyone thinks "Oh, maybe umm, U.S. could lead the way". They do in certain ways, but only because USA leads the way.

NK: Yeah.

Juice: So that's a trickle-down of a form of colonialism.

NK: Yes.

Juice: You know, no offense to you or anybody else.

NK: No, I don't take offense at all.

Juice: To assume that this is the only type of Blackness or "the" way or you know. Or "We're Black and they're Brazilian". Well, as we know, just as many people went to Brazil off those ships and boats, not out of captivity. What are they doing? Who's their Kool-Herc?

NK: [Sighs] The conversation between us diasporically is amazing. And I do find that the U.S., because of the history of colonialism and the relationship between the rest of the world—how it's imperialist to the point that then it's us and people are influenced by us.

And then they mirror the culture that we have, you know? A matter of when you talk to people about like, Black American and in general American culture, you should be aware that that's the framework, yeah.

Juice: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Even as people say, a Black person from the U.S. might say, "I'm American. He's Mexican" or "She's—" No, Mexico is also America! Mexico is NORTH America and people forget that. People think of South of the Border, yeah, it's in North America just like Canada.

You know, Argentina is America. Venezuela is America. And that is somewhere, some white dude said "This is this" and "We're gonna call that Latin America. We're gonna call that this". That's the line. There was once upon a time a Mason-Dixon Line. There was once upon a time this line, and that line. It's all arbitrary.

NK: Exactly, all these borders and all these concepts of division and keeping each other away from unity and solidarity. But solidarity is realizing that your neighbor is only different because of life circumstances.

Juice: No, I mean Haiti and the Dominican Republic should show the whole Black and brown world what's up.

NK: Yeah!

Juice: On the same island, you know, it's like...and people will kill each other for [their skin]. And some people will swear down, look exactly like me, they're not Black and they're not that and they're not that. You know, it's incredible.

NK: It IS incredible. It's not even like, a logical self-preservation but you feel like if you distance your Blackness, that you'll be safe? Does that make sense? But you're not. You have to stand in your Blackness, you have to stand in it.

You have to be proud of it, you know, 'cause it's not gonna save you to like, say that you're not. "No negro". [Laughs] You ARE Negro, be proud of it.

Juice: [Laughs] Negro. "Yo soy Negro". Yeah! I mean, we also have to be always continually mindful: that even the type of Blackness is social and political Blackness, it's a reaction to white supremacy.

We have to be mindful of that. It's not when we were in this idyllic once-upon-a-time place, wherever we came from on the shores of Africa, on the African coast of different countries and different places.

We weren't defining ourselves necessarily as Black! We were more than likely definining ourselves by our area, our ethnicity, culture, background, you know. People, in the ancient world as we know until the advent of whiteness, you'd be more quantified by your skill set. Where you were from.

DECOLONIAL IDENTITY & COSMIC BLACKNESS

Me, I might be the Abyssinian herdsmen or someone could be a Scythian blacksmith, or a Nubian. You know what I'm saying? That's what would define you. And it wasn't about whether you were Black, brown, white or red.

Someone would describe you later and say 'Yeah, he was tall or he was dark-skinned, or she was light-skinned and she was like this". But that wasn't our first and foremost.

So the other thing as well, a lot of my Blackness as I've grown or at least as I've matured, let me say, is a cosmic Blackness. It's my kinship not just with people on Earth who look somewhat similar to me as a phenotype, it's my kinship with the universe. It's my kinship with the womb of the universe.

Intelligent Hoodlum had a lyric and he said "Black, the shade of the solar system". You know?

NK: WOW.

Juice: That's the Blackness I'm living in, that's what I'm permeating. You know, uhh, there are galaxies and there are clouds, giant galactic clouds—millions and millions of miles away.

And they're Black, and they're jet black, and they're filled with carbon and melanin. I'm with them, them are my homeboys! Those are my people! You get me? [Laughs]

NK: Ah! Yes, like, that's not mumbo-jumbo at all. That is not mumbo-jumbo at all.

Juice: Yeah, for some folks, it is though? You know? Yeah, those, I'm playing drums with them though as well. Those clouds up there, you get me? That's beyond the reactionary Blackness of "I'm Black and I'm proud because you've made me something else.

You've made me UN-proud of myself, of my features, of my culture". I'm so proud, I'm so in tune. That's why I asked you about Kali!

NK: Yes! Yeah.

Juice: That's like, beyond a physical personification as a woman. She's the yin to [Shiva's] yang. But they're both like...

NK: But they're interconnected.

Juice: But they're interconnected, yeah, yeah. And that's another thing as well. Another Eurocentric concept is to think that male and female aren't connected. They're not diametric opposites, they're sympathetic parallels.

They work with each other. I'm 23 chromosomes of male, and 23 chromosomes of female. It's just that I'm slightly to the left or slightly to the right.

NK: It's a spectrum, I feel, of identity. And there's so much transcience which is why we have transgender identity in that. And then it's finding that you don't look at it binarily. You just look at the person. And you're just like "Wow, this is you, this is your essence".

Perceived is what I'm saying, as a woman. But how I identify, and that's the thing. How you see yourself vs. how others perceive you is also part of the Black experience in general.

Juice: I was, yeah, I know. And most definitely. I am talking about like I said, cosmic realities and physical realities. And Kali is represented as a woman in the sense that-

NK: Exactly.

Juice: The femme, the feminine aspect of a particular, universal and cosmic dynamic.

NK: No, absolutely.

Juice: There is a feminine aspect of that, and then there was a male aspect as I was saying, it's Shiva. It's that cosmic Blackness as well.

NK: It is.

Juice: There's a physical, like I say, there's a earthly realm version of this person, this female character. And then there's this bigger picture, you know, behind the scenes. Yeah.

NK: You got it, you absolutely got it. That is me.

Juice: [Laughs]

NK: I'm kind of embodying cosmic Blackness but I want people to think more about who Kali is and what they would look like. I started observing, not necessarily the traditions but just learning about Carnatic music and Hinduism alongside that around 2010, around the time I started listening heavy to Ninja Tune [again, late 90's, then late 2000's].

And I just fell in love! Kali was the first that I gravitated to. So umm, when I started working for the metal magazine and they already had the persona: Nicole Kali, I was like "This is something I need to do!" Yeah.

Juice: Kali-Maa!

NK: Kali-Maa! Yeah, she is the master. She's awesome! [Laughs]

Juice: It's funny, you know, with other cultures that were here in my growing up, there was a lot of South Asian people. They called me a "kala sheedi", you know. Like, but it's actually so much grander and grandiose than they understand.

NK: It's so true!

Juice: The phrases that they're using, it's quite interesting. There's a lot of disrespectful words that are used for Black folks around the world. And they're actually super-bigoted but no one knows. No one knows the language they're using. "These nagas, these kala". You're calling me Black God! Cool.

The remaining #BRUTalk is on YouTube! You'll love it.

TRAVEL IN AFROFLUX |

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B-SIDE HIP-HOP FESTIVAL 2019


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