He was lying on the bathroom floor not caring if meth took his life. But life did not let go of him as JGivens walked away from a near overdose to now become a burgeoning rap artist.
Unlike many rappers who glorify drugs, JGivens, who is set to perform Sunday (May 22) at The Roxy in Los Angeles, crafted his debut album on Humble Beast Records, Fly Exam, as a narrative about the realities of addiction.
“It’s a one-two punch,” Givens says in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “It’s about being dope and struggling with doing dope while being dope in Hip Hop.”
As a graduate of USC’s engineering program, the Las Vegas native was used to partying on the weekends, then cleaning up to go to class. It was during his time in college that he was introduced to crystal methamphetamine and spiraled into a nine-year battle with the drug.
Around the time of the bathroom incident, he found the work of spoken word artist and rapper Jackie Hill Perry and got connected to a church. He then started rapping for himself, received mentorship from Humble Beast artist Propaganda, joined the independent label in 2014 and released his debut album, Fly Exam, in September. On the LP, the 29-year-old sought to bring a different perspective to Hip Hop.
The “extended metaphor” for Fly Exam is that Givens applies the Greek myth of Icarus to his own life. In the tale, Icarus’ father made wax wings so he could fly. Out of his youthful pride and carelessness, Icarus soared too close to the sun, his wings melted and he fell into the sea where he drowned.
“It’s kind of a chronicle of my life in that time period of writing it,” Givens says of the concept, “where it was like I’m doing all these shows, I got signed to Humble Beast, I’m going all over the world and doing music and people are liking it. I’m also struggling with things from the past as far as like drug abuse and addiction and stuff and how that all played out.”
He cites a line from the cut “Fahrenheit 99” to further explain his mission.
“’Icarus aerodynamically dumb, thinking that his thinking can even come close to the sun,'” he says. “That’s the star, the sun and also the Son of God, thinking that we can be like God, then the tests that you take in order to fly.”
Givens combines crisp wordplay with honest storytelling to craft his sound. The Fly Exam project is separated into two parts, Side A is “So High” and Side B is “So Low.” The centerpiece of the album is “Hummingbird Stance,” an abstract track personifying inanimate buildings and weaving through the story of a friend’s battle with addiction and Given’s own struggles to help others because of his past.
“That album was written for that song,” he says. “Everything was kinda based around that song.”
The friend, Kerry Hancock, once gave him a $100 bill in exchange for the promise to create a tribute to the hummingbird that saved his life. Hancock was wrestling with meth addiction and suicidal thoughts and bargained with God for his life. He asked to see a hummingbird within 24 hours or else he was going to end his life. Time started winding down and no hummingbird was to be found.
“He’s like, ‘Alright, I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen the hummingbird. I’m gonna do it,’” Givens describes. “One of his friends calls from years ago. She said, ‘Hey, Kerry.’ He’s like, ‘Hey, so-and-so. What the heck? This is random.’ She’s like, ‘Yeah I just saw this hummingbird and I thought about you so I just wanted to call you.’”
That saved Hancock’s life and spawned the organization Death by Meth, which seeks to provide healing for meth addiction through reconciliation with Jesus Christ.
The stark storytelling on the “Hummingbird Stance” reflects the overall album concept.
“It starts out with an allegory because the album’s full of those and parables, but then it like goes into this other swing and then swings into this other swing,” Givens says. “That’s kinda how addiction is or how the comedown is and everything’s just all over the place.”
As he seeks to be honest about his personal drug addiction and share the stories of those he has known, Givens says he wishes other Hip Hop artists took the battle more seriously.
“It’s sad that the older, I guess the older generation or the older artists can’t forewarn these teenagers about the comedown part,” he says, “…They’re kinda haters not to be like, ‘Yo if you go down this road, you’re gonna feel like a superstar at this party, but it’s gonna lead to this and this and this and this.’ So I felt like my experience, one, to tell people about it, but then to go into detail, it was difficult, but I think it will resonate with the listeners and just hopefully with more generations of listeners as far as like, ‘Whoa that was real.’”
Givens salutes Royce Da 5’9 as someone who he sees has been transparent about the dangers of substance abuse. He notes how the Detroit rapper changed his tune about the reality of alcohol after he had already established himself in the rap game. Ultimately, Givens says that each artist much examine his or her own purpose for doing music.
JGivens Details Impact Of Lecrae & Kanye West
An artist who has paved the way for Givens’ honest artistry is Lecrae. The Reach Records co-founder and rapper featured Givens, fellow Humble Beast rapper Jackie Hill Perry and Dream Junkies’ John Givez on “Misconceptions 3” from Church Clothes 3, which was released in January. Both Hill Perry and Givez, who is Givens’ cousin, are set to perform with him at the upcoming Los Angeles show. Givens details how Lecrae brought them all together for the song and corresponding video.
“He made it known to us that the reason that he did it was because he believed in us and he knew that it would help us to continue on with what he was doing, his mission as far as music,” Givens says of Lecrae. “He’s like, ‘You guys are the next generation and this is for you guys. I set this up so that you guys would murder this so that everybody would be like “What the heck?” And then you guys need to go.'”
Last month, Lecrae detailed his role as mentor to Givens and other upcoming artists to HipHopDX.
“I’m so proud of them just as artists just for taking their craft seriously,” he said at the Higher Learning Tour at Biola University. “For me, I just hope that if I can’t hold their hand and walk them through situations, at the very least I can extend my platform for them to stand on. I have the opportunity to display y’all to my fanbase and whoever else will pay attention, so I want y’all to come on because you all are incredible at what you do. I love those guys.”
The Atlanta-based rapper has spent more than a decade in the industry. Along the way, he has won two Grammys in the Gospel music categories and received a nomination last year for Best Rap Performance with “All I Need Is You.”
“I’m very honored and very indebted to what he’s done for me as a whole,” the Humble Beast rapper says, “and then just also my peers and our community. Just in the faith for really pushing forward in Hip Hop and really pushing forward in the culture to kinda get a lot of bumps and bruises and allow us as a younger generation to learn vicariously and be able to walk in doors that he had to push through. Lecrae’s dope.”
Givens says that the trailblazing Lecrae has done to blur the line between Gospel and mainstream rap has yet to be fully realized.
“He’s done a whole lot for Hip Hop that I think that Hip Hop is going to, may not necessarily be able to see right now,” he continues, “but the ripple effects even after say our generation or our class gets old. Then the next class and then the next class, maybe that one after that, they’ll still see the effects of what he was able to do in his time. I think we’re in a crazy time and we should stop and look around because it’s going to affect a ton of people.”
Another artist who raises questions between the religious and secular is Kanye West, who Givens names as one of his favorite artists growing up. Among his many eyebrow-raising Twitter statements as of late, Yeezy claimed that his most recent LP, The Life of Pablo, is a Gospel album.
“I think when he says a Gospel album, he’s talking about the genre of music,” Givens says. “There are different Gospel music aesthetics that were in there and of course you’re going to go and grab Kirk Franklin and he’s gonna grab his people and they’re gonna create this Gospel track.”
That song, “Ultralight Beam,” Givens says is probably the best song on the album, although his personal favorite is “30 Hours.” Even though this album was pointed out by West as being religious, Givens says he has noticed a common theme throughout West’s work.
“You see Kanye playing with different Christian aesthetics throughout,” he says. “With Watch the Throne, there was a Catholic like aesthetic there. Yeezus he’s even playing with that like ‘I am a God but not the most high.’ The way he references God as an aesthetic is why he was saying it’s a Gospel album, even saying Pablo is Paul the apostle or St. Paul and using that as kind of his gumbo. As far as the Gospel and what that means to a believer in Jesus Christ, that’s the Good News that Jesus Christ came to die for everyone on the Earth and everyone that believes in him that He rose again and took their sin, rose again and now you can live forever if you believe in him. That’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So when he says Gospel album, I think he was moreso talking about the former than the latter.”
His personal faith is now a driving factor for Givens and all members of Humble Beast, who seek to balance confidence in their talents with acknowledgement that the talents are mere gifts from the Creator.
“I think that’s like false humility if you’re not aware and confident,” Givens says. “It’s a disillusion, though to just assume that you are like, you have been capable alone of those accomplishments.”
Moving forward from what he has achieved already, Givens continues to write music and is planning on dropping another project sometime this year. He also hosts the SpeakLife radio show on Guerilla Cross and works with Emergency Arts, a group of creatives based in Las Vegas. No matter how he expresses his talents, Givens hopes to “bring the light to the darkness” and encourages others to examine their own flight pattern.
“We were created by a creative creator,” he says, “so go and be creative.”
JGivens is scheduled to perform Sunday (May 22) at The Roxy in Los Angeles with Jackie Hill Perry and John Givez.
Purchase tickets here.
africanhitz.com | source http://hiphopdx.com/ | JGivens Asks For Honest Look At Drug Addiction On “Fly Exam” Album