There is another pandemic coming hot on the heels of the ongoing one we’ve all come to know and loathe.
A pandemic of doubt.
In addition to the tragic and continuing toll that COVID-19 has taken on our world, it’s also left a number of lingering and demoralizing questions in its wake, especially for artists and creators. What is the value or meaning of creating collaborative, communal art and entertainment if our communities are so fragile, if the entire industry can grind to a halt? When there is so much to fear from one another, can we still aim for connection and understanding without being doubted or becoming irrelevant?
Or as Jabee puts it, AM I GOOD ENOUGH?
That’s the central question that stands to resonate throughout Jabee’s recently announced four-part conceptual EP project, with the first installment, AM, set to drop on his birthday, Aug. 12. He headlines a release show that night alongside a genre-straddling lineup including Sarafina Byrd, Stringsmen and Brandon Birdwell at Tower Theatre.
With this project, Jabee says he’s confronting his own overwhelming COVID-corrupted confidence head-on by re-examining his life and his journey alongside four different producers, four different musical approaches and an ever-expanding roster of guests and collaborators.
Each EP is said to be inspired by different elements and periods of Jabee’s life, and AM, fittingly, sees him exploring his own mind and his own existence, not only in the present tense, but in the concepts, environments, and circumstances that informed the life he lives today.
Kicking off with the self-realization anthem “Find Yourself,” this installment’s stylistic approach announces itself clearly. Backed by producer Derek Minor, known primarily for his own more gospel-influenced hip-hop, Jabee imbues the entire record with the formative music of his youth, from the passionate gospel singalongs to the old-school piano loops and funky breakbeats of Golden Age rap.
There’s a nostalgic optimism and idealism at play here that recalls a bit of childlike naivety, but the messages aren’t sugar coated or softened, especially when getting real about the city he calls home.
When considering his own status as Oklahoma City’s reigning king of the game on standout track “Aquimibee,” he offers “Your whole connection is the stolen essence,” understanding that the culture and history that he upholds is exactly the element that the city has worked to erase and pave over for decades. On gospel-tinged protest track “How Many More,” he opens with, “Somebody asked how I became an activist. I don’t know. Someone asked a question, and I answered it.” The implications of the nature of truth and the rebelliousness of honesty speak for themselves.
Which brings us to this first installment’s finale, “Eastside with Love,” both a love letter to eastside OKC and a lamentation of its continuing dismissal by the city. Joined by a host of eastside talents, each telling their own homegrown stories in the form of name-dropped streets and hyper-local references, this track is as much a community-defining anthem as any chart-topper about NYC or LA. As with every track on AM, there are quick moments of fun and hints of defiant posturing, but mostly it’s a shockingly delicate and wistful look into the heart of the community and both the love and the shared turmoil that has kept it together.
AM is a remarkable and potentially even risky way to launch this “AM I GOOD ENOUGH” project. It’s musically dense and creatively melodic in ways that you don’t find in a lot of mainstream rap lately, but more than that, the six tracks on this EP all feel connected by something that you don’t often see or hear in hip-hop at all: sadness.
It might be safe to say that Jabee has crafted the genre’s first serious look at the nature of the game post-COVID and maybe even the first real antidote to the encroaching pandemic of doubt. Because if he can doubt himself and still produce something this honest and strong, then maybe we all still can.
Tickets are $15-$20.