Japhia Life and Westside Pharmacy Interview

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Interview by Paul Martinez
Japhia Life on the web: Facebook | Twitter
Purchase: Japhia Life “Westside Pharmacy”

Japhia Life speaks on infiltrating the secular market, being in a dark place, ‘West Side Pharmacy’ and more.

Japhia Life is a respected emcee that resides in his hometown Philadelphia. He has dropped a significant amount of quality records and is considered a relevant force in his genre. The Philly lyricist has collaborated with noteworthy artists like Rob Hodge, KJ-52, Dre Murray and much more. Some of the top urban media outlets have expressed their appreciation for his abilities and transparency. Countless people in the industry see his work as excellent and cosign his artistry. Even Chris Broussard from ESPN gave a positive analysis of his ‘Nazareth’ album. Life’s latest album ‘West Side Pharmacy’ came out on November 30th 2012 and is still generating quite the buzz. Not many albums were as anticipated as ‘WSP’ which is a testament to his previous contributions to Hip-Hop. Mainstream websites like AllHipHop.Com have caught wind of the Philly lyricist and have covered his content. The “Small World” video was featured on several platforms. Sphere of Hip Hop got the opportunity to speak with him about the album, his record label and what’s next. Enjoy!

Sphere of Hip-Hop:
To begin, for those who are unfamiliar with Japhia Life tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into Hip-Hop.

Japhia Life:
I’m an emcee from Philly and I got captivated by the art form when I was a youth, just seeing dudes on TV like KRS-ONE, Rakim, LL Cool J and Run DMC. It was a way to express myself. I knew songs by these artists word for word. It really captivated me but I never felt that I would be a part of it in the beginning. As time progressed some of the guys I grew up with were already doing Hip-Hop and putting out little tapes and stuff like that. I was always on the sidelines and one day they said you going to rap in the cypher. I kind of brushed it off like “Na I’m good”. They were like “Na spit something” “Kick something”. I did and they liked it. From then on it was curtains from there.

SOHH:
How is the Philadelphia Hip-Hop scene compared to other regions in your opinion?

Japhia Life:
Just to keep it all the way 100 with you, I don’t really feel like the Philly Hip-Hop scene is thriving right now. It’s kind of one-sided. In terms of what people see and how the city is depicted culturally. It’s like all you really see is Meek Mill. Shout out to Meek Mill, Dream Chasers and all those dudes but there really is no yin to their yang at this point. Until somebody else becomes just as big as Meek or bigger and sounds nothing like him, Philly isn’t really going to be a market again in Hip-Hop. Of course you have the mainstays like Freeway, Cassidy, and just your legendary cats from the early 2000’s (Beanie Sigel, State Property, Peedi Crakk). Right now those dudes are not really moving right now. They kind of did their thing. They are more so doing it on an underground level. Freeway is kind of like doing different boutique projects, which is dope. In terms of overall how the city is viewed in terms of Hip-Hop, right now your mind would go to the Roots. They on Jimmy Fallon but they are not on peoples mind to hard body. When you think of Philly Hip-Hop right now, most people think of what’s coming out of the city and that’s just Meek Mill. Philly has always been different. It’s always been its own world. Every city is different. Philly just has that thing about it where you can tell someone is from there. Were totally different from New York, we are not like DC, we are not like Baltimore. Even though we all come from the North East, we are different. Next to New York, Philly is probably known for coming with the most Hip-Hop in terms of substance. I’m just excited to see more artists eventually come out of the city and provide the yin to the yang that’s present. I think my camp (Arms Out ENT) will contribute to that in some form or fashion. It’s pretty exciting.

SOHH:
Why did you name your latest project ‘Westside Pharmacy’?

Japhia Life:
It was a real personal album. A lot of the songs are revealing, intimate and vulnerable. I’m from West Philly so it’s giving you my story, where I’m from, how I grew up and how I live. I’m bringing you to my world and I’m kind of encapsulating it into a pill for you to swallow so that’s like the pharmacy part of it. I hope that my story and my experiences can provide some form of medication for people in their personal lives. Also there was a place not too far from where I grew up called the West Side Pharmacy that’s no longer there. It was kind of reminiscent of that. If there was a place that people can go to for the pain that they experience it would be called West Side Pharmacy. It dropped on me like that. A place people can come to let their burdens down. I’ll be the sacrificial lamb. If you want to be Christ-like you have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable. That’s what Jesus did. He was a sacrificial lamb. Every generation and genre has a sacrificial lamb. So I kind of take the role of the kamikaze. Like ok, I’ll put myself out there and let them crucify me so everybody after me will have it easier then I had it. That was kind of the whole vibe of it.

SOHH:
Can you break down the sound you were going for?

Japhia Life:
I was pretty intentional with taking this sound in another direction compared to other projects. It’s a reflection of my growth. I wanted to take it back to the early 80’s and give it that different aesthetic. Pop music in the 80’s was more organic compared to now. I wanted the production to allow me to have a soundscape I could express myself freely over. I think the production on ‘West Side Pharmacy’ was executed very well. It wasn’t just for people who are Hip-Hop enthusiasts but it was for people who are music enthusiasts. A lot of Hip-Hop purists have a limited palate when it comes to music but I don’t have a limited palate when it comes to music. I just like good music. I don’t care where it’s from and I don’t care what genre it’s from. If it’s dope it’s dope. I’m just a fan of the dopeness. I wanted to be fearless with the production. I wanted to set precedent even if it’s for one artist. It would great if even just one artist said that it inspired them to make music without fear, sonically and content wise. Even if people don’t like it, you did what you wanted to do. I did what I wanted to do on my album. I think it worked.

SOHH:
One time when I was checking Facebook and I saw that you posted a picture of books about artists like Jay-Z, Nas, and I believe a spiritual one was in there. Do any of those books or artist influence your sound?

Japhia Life:
Yea there was the “Decoded” (Jay-Z book), “Born To Use Mics” (Nas), and “The Search For God and Guinness”. Definitely Jay-Z and Nas inspire me. They are living legends that do what I do. They are Hip-Hop artists. Unfortunately when I say “They do what I do” some people will say “What do you mean they do what you do? You are a Christian and they are not.” My thing is it doesn’t matter what religion they are, they still do Hip-Hop. When you separate Hip-Hop and Christian Hip-Hop there is a difference. That’s why I say they do what I do because I don’t create Christian Hip-Hop. I feel like I’m Hip-Hop so Christian Hip-Hop doesn’t inspire me. They don’t call Muslims that rap “Muslim rappers”. They don’t call Freeway a Muslim rapper. There is not a genre for Muslim Hip-Hop artists. Why aren’t there many self-proclaimed Christians who are living their life in Hip-Hop? Why are you in a separate genre, a whole separate entity away from Hip-Hop if you rap? It doesn’t make sense to me. Guys like Jay-Z and Nas are the kind of lyricist that inspires me. They rap and I rap plus they are great at what they do. They are phenomenal artist.

SOHH:
Do you think some Hip-Hop artist that are Christian have sort of stunted their growth because they don’t listen to everything that’s on the market?

Japhia Life:
Hip-Hop is an art form. Rap is a form of expression and it’s a part of Hip-Hop. So if I’m a video director I want to look at people who are dope at directing. I’m sure there are Christian video directors that don’t look at secular videos for inspiration and a lot of times you can see it in their work. They deprive themselves of great forms of expression. It based on a religious bias. I think it’s because they have been taught wrong. They think when studying video directors for inspiration that somehow they are giving credit to the devil. There is no way you can give credit to the devil for somebodies art because God gives people their gifts. The devil doesn’t create any gifts. All gifts are given from God not from the devil. You might pervert the gift that God has given you but God is the one that created it.

I think those people need to be retaught in the direction of sound doctrine. If that happens I believe you will see more Christian’s impact culture and connect to people. When I look at Paul, he went to Mars Hill. That was like Hip-Hop back then. That was where all the secular godless philosophers congregated and philosophized. Paul was right there with them speaking his piece in a godless environment. There were times in scripture where he quotes lines from secular philosophers. He was up on secular art. If we totally take ourselves away from the world there are no ways you can reach them. We are in it but not of it. Biblically we are called to be in the culture. I think it unbiblical to be outside the culture. I think the idea of Christian Hip-Hop in terms of how people are separatists is unbiblical. A lot of the theology is bias and hypocritical. Everything I see in scripture points to being in the culture and just being a Hip-Hop artist.

SOHH:
What are you striving to do with your record label “Arms Out ENT”?

Japhia Life:
Honestly, we are revamping a lot of stuff because my base had become something that I never intended it to become. It has become Christian Hip-Hop orientated. When my first album ‘Pages of Life’ came out that was on Ready Rock Records, a label that put out music by Dilated Peoples and Ras Kass, just underground Hip-Hop legends. I just wanted my music to be a healthy alternative to the poison that was coming out in Hip-Hop but because my faith was apparent in my music without being preachy or saying Jesus people still heard my beliefs. They were like “I think this dude is Christian”. People from the Christian Hip-Hop community started reaching out to me so out of a pureness of heart. I was like “These dudes are Christian and do music like me. Let me check them out and see what this is about.” After a while I kind of got acclimated and simulated into Christian Hip-Hop. My music then started becoming something God and I never intended it to be. So we are going through a revamping phase and we are in the final stages of that. We are kind of going back to the whole ‘Pages of Life’ thing just making music that’s dope. With that being said “Arms Out Ent” will be a much pure organic picture of what it intended be. We got a couple different producers and artists that we are moving with. We are trying to make sure my brand as an artist is as strong as it can be because “Arms Out Ent” will only be as strong as my brand.

SOHH:
What was your favorite song on ‘West Side Pharmacy’?

Japhia Life:
I would probably say “Cloud”. It has an old school feel to it. In Cloud I’m not talking to people in a Church demographic. I’m speaking to secular artist. It’s really my response to what their putting out. It’s like a mission statement.

SOHH:
Why did it take so long to drop ‘WSP’?

Japhia Life:
After I left Beat Mart Records, I kind of had to start over from scratch. I lost a lot of time and money just trying to get back on my feet. I really didn’t have the finances to record an album on a consecutive basis. I was only able to record songs here and there. ‘Nazareth’ was a compilation of songs that were recorded at different moments. In a lot of ways ‘Nazareth’ was supposed to be ‘West Side Pharmacy’. There were songs on there like “Don’t Keep Me Waiting”, “I Wanna Go”; some of the most profound records I have ever done were on ‘Nazareth’. I would play those records for any executive at any label. Those records are timeless. Once I got to a place where I could record on a more consecutive basis you saw things starting to pick up with ‘WestSide Pharmacy’.

SOHH:
That makes sense. Being an independent artist seems to not be for the weak. Can you explain how that it is being independent?

Japhia Life:
People don’t understand that I’m an independent artist. I’m not on Def Jam so a lot is based on what I have the ability to do. It’s a lot more organic and a lot more of a slow burn. Things take longer when you’re independent. Like I don’t have any investors, nobody came to me with any grants. I had to do it all from the muscle so really no help. So that’s pretty much what it was plus I was in kind of like a dark place to be honest.

SOHH:
Word, any chance you can share with the people about that dark place and how things are going now?

Japhia Life:
I was in a very dark place in terms of my transition. I wasn’t getting a lot of support from Christians. I started feeling like you know what, maybe this is God’s doing. Maybe God is allowing this to happen because he doesn’t want me to expect any help from them or any support from them. Maybe he doesn’t even want me to be involved with them in terms of my approach. So that’s why I stopped going to a lot of Christian events. I turned shows down. After a while you saw me less and less at different Christian events. It wasn’t because I fell off spiritually; it was because God was separating me from them. You see God separating believers from believers throughout the Bible. You see God separating Abraham and Lot for a season. He separated them. It’s not unlike God to separate Christians. People see everything as community driven and lose sight of the fact that God will sometimes separate you from other Christians for his purpose. He will provide things that will sustain you. He will still have people in your life that are Christian. For me, I had to remove myself from the Christian market because it was hurting me more than it was helping me. So I really had to take a step back and ponder what Christian Hip-Hop is all about. What are its motives, purpose, goals and what effects does it have on people. What does it take for someone to really get their message across to people in a way that’s accessible to the amount of people you want it to reach? I didn’t want to compromise my message to appeal to a small group of people. I don’t need to compromise my message to reach the people who need it. People may say “Well you have to compromise if you want a record deal in the secular market”. The good thing about me is I’m not looking to sign a record deal in the secular market. I don’t desire a record deal. I just desire to express myself freely, artistically, and creatively from a genuine pure place where people can have access to it that want access to it. I just want to put it in an open market where whatever your background is if you like this, it’s available for you whether you’re Christian or not. If I open up a restaurant, I’m not going to open up a Christian restaurant. I’m going to open up a regular restaurant where anyone can buy food. It will not just be for people who are Christian; it’s for people period to buy food. By virtue of the fact that it’s open for everyone to come it gives me access to everybody no matter their background. Now I’m building relationships with people from every background and religion. So now I get a chance to reach them. Not to say I absolutely won’t sign a record deal in the secular market because some of them are checking what I’m doing. I’m willing to entertain deals with labels as long as I can get creative control. There are relationships that could be built in that way as well. If I sign with a secular label I want my position to have an effect on everyone there.

SOHH:
In your song Lifey’s Revenge (feat. Tena Jones) on ‘WestSide Pharmacy’ you call yourself the “Switchfoot” of Hip-Hop. Can you explain that metaphor to those who didn’t get it? Do Christians that rap take themselves way too serious compared to Christian Rock artist?

Japhia Life:
I would love to break that down and elaborate on it. Basically, as a whole when I scour the perimeter of faith based Hip-Hop communities, I look at it and it seems like people in my opinion have way too much to prove. That being said, I’ve never been a Christian that felt like I need to prove myself. Not to other Christians or even non-Christians. I’ve never felt a need to prove my faith to anyone. To me, in my estimation, that’s what Christian Hip-Hop is. It’s like a genre of cats who are trying to prove that they are not ashamed of their faith. My thing is, if you’re not ashamed of your faith you don’t have to say you’re not ashamed. Just live your life. To me it’s like marketing. I’m not saying that they are not about reaching people but some are overkill. Rappers got too much to prove. Rock artist don’t have too much to prove. They just live their life. I’ve never been that type of dude that felt like he had to prove himself. Even before I was a Christian, I just did me. I was never trying to be super gangster or super thug. Even artist that are not Christians seem like they got to prove themselves like their so tough and gangster. I never felt a need to do that. Speaking on the Christian Hip-Hop realm, I don’t see why outside of marketing they would need to prove their faith. I tell people all the time. You don’t sell records in Christian Hip-Hop because of your music. You sell records in Christian Hip-Hop because of your message. So whoever is pushing the most hardcore message coupled with a mainstream aesthetic is probably going to work. Because what you are doing is providing a safe alternative to people like Lil Wayne. To me that’s marketing. That’s not reality, that’s just marketing for church youth groups. I’ve never been the type to do that. I’m not about proving myself, music should speak for itself. My music speaks directly to people who are not Christian and the people who are Christian that feel like I feel.

SOHH:
Do you feel that the over saturation of music releases put more pressure on artists who stick by the quality over quantity standard?

Japhia Life:
That’s a good question. I don’t really feel that pressure. I’ve always been from the school of quality over quantity. That’s just the cloth that I have been cut from. That’s all I know how to do. I’m sure there are artist that feel that pressure. I personally don’t feel that pressure. I don’t have anything to prove. I just want to put out the best quality work possible. I try to give people something they can hold onto for the next 5 years.

SOHH:
Thanks for taking the time to share your heart!

Japhia Life:
I appreciate the opportunity. People need to hear this stuff.