By C. Patterson
Behind every great work of art is an artist’s experience. Behind every great song is a singer’s soul. And behind Gentleman Jack’s Arts, Beats + Lyrics is a great man. Jabari Graham has endured struggle to display creativity. Humble and determined he brought his vision for a blend of hip-hop and urban art from one city to the whole country. Now the world will get to see the quiet guy from Atlanta make some noise.
What was the feeling like when you first got a chance to see the event put together after working on it for so long?
JG: When I first did the show it was December 4, 2004. Basically I had gotten laid off from working with Universoul Circus so I had to find something to do. Do a job or make a job. I decided to create a job and since I was an art and music enthusiast, I always thought that if it didn’t work out I could just go back and live with my mom and just figure it out. I found this small venue in Little Five Points of Atlanta, which is kind of like Deep Ellum it’s just a real artsy town. So now that I had my space I had to look for the artists. But I was new on the art scene and when I would inquire about artist I would get the “no’s” and I would take pictures of artists graffiti and ask if you recognized this artist and would get a lot of closed doors. I finally met one artist who introduced me to another and that’s how I got on – a sort of trickle down effect. The music part was kind of easy. I knew a couple DJs and some bands. With the circus I was with the marketing department so I knew how to promote. That night seeing everything on the wall and the people…some people said I was panicking because I was like what if no one comes? But we ended up packing that spot and the community really accepted it.
How did Gentleman Jack become involved?
JG: Jack Daniels wanted to activate a program that didn’t necessarily want to book huge acts like a Kanye West, but rather something more organic that wasn’t overshadowed by a spectacular performer. My name was thrown in the pot with Arts Beats + Lyrics and they liked it. We had four test markets: Charlotte, Jackson MS, Atlanta, and Birmingham. And we kicked ass in all of them. In every city you see the same people, the ones that didn’t want the mainstream, they didn’t want to go to the clubs, they wanted to try something different. I see the same artists, who get closed by galleries because galleries have their tight circles and I wanted to give them a platform so it worked out. We expanded to more markets and ended up switching from Jack Daniels to Gentleman Jack and here we are today.
What was the one singular moment in your building process with the concept that let you know that this idea would succeed?
JG: Really it was Sneaker Pimps [Global Sneaker Culture]. When they first did their tour they hit Atlanta and that’s when I was just planning it out. I was still in the writing it down and getting my thoughts together phase and still kind of doubting myself. Then I went to some art shows and thought, “I can make this funky.” When I went to Sneaker Pimps I saw all those things and I talked to Peter [Fahey] and told him here’s what I’m trying to do and he gave me good advice and I took it and ran. But actually seeing [the Sneaker Pimps tour] made me know that [Arts, Beats + Lyrics] could work. He had his platform with the shoes and I had mine with art – canvas wise. I still thought mine was different and I could put my own spin to it.
What are the biggest parallels to you between art and life?
JG: Man, I can’t say art because I just put it together. But as far as putting it together and life, I would say don’t be afraid to take risks because you never know what can happen. Also to do your best. I love what I am doing right now; I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It helped make my life a little bit easier.
What is the future of AB + L ?
JG: This year we are able to go to three good cities where we have always been requested. So right now that future is happening with New York, LA, and Miami. I would like to take it across the pond. A lot of people tell me if we did it somewhere like Tokyo it would be off the chain. Definitely Paris, so we hope that is the future. Also collaborating with more artists because I know a lot of good underground artists and there are notable artists that I don’t want to approach now, but I want to get AB +L’s name up there to see if we can collab with a David Choe ot a Cartoon or some other dope artists out there.