Words by Eric Diep
Chicago is still very much a vibrant city for hip-hop talent. Since the rise of Chief Keef and Chance The Rapper, listeners have tuned into the scene and familiarized themselves with any new act with a significant amount of buzz. Jahzel, who started popping up on blogs like Fake Shore Drive and DJ Booth as early as 2012, raised his profile from underground rhymer to the city’s next star after a string of projects (Jet Lag: The Mixtape, In God’s Image) showcased his style that blurs Lupe Fiasco’s lyrical prowess and Common’s personal narratives. On Jahzel’s latest album, The Wake Up, he strives to share his vision of success, while inviting us into his tough upbringing in Chicago’s Northside.
Born and raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and being a son of first generation Nigerian immigrants, Jahzel has a lot more interesting facts about him besides what’s on paper. Just days after The Wake Up dropped, WatchLOUD got on the phone with the 28-year-old spitter to get a closer look at the newbie outta the Chi. From his nickname as a kid, to the origins of his rap name, favorite track off The Wake Up, and his go-to spots to grub, there’s a lot to soak in. Here are 11 Things You Didn’t Know About Jahzel.
1. He first started off as an audio engineer before becoming a rapper.
Jahzel: I was an audio engineer in college. That was rough because I was recording cats out of my dorm room closet. And like, everybody would come through and I had a lot of house rappers, a lot of weed rappers come through. I had to sit there and engineer their project. It was painful. I was like, “Man, lord! All of your music sucked.” So, then, eventually I was like, “You know what? Yo, I’m working on my own stuff.” I feel like I am a lot better than these clients that I have. It kind of helped me thrust into a natural progression and just doing my own stuff.
2. He wanted to be just like Diddy growing up.
Who didn’t want to be Diddy growing up? Diddy had all the talent. He had Biggie, Craig Mack, Mary J., Shannon, Jodeci, all that. He was like a new age executive. He wasn’t what your executive looked like or what you thought your executive looked like. He was a young dude doing his thing and he was making it happen behind the scenes. So I’m like, “Man, Diddy is the style I like to be.” He didn’t want to be in front of the camera. I wanted to able to make things happen. Close deals. Still rap. And maybe do a couple of dance moves in the video here and there. So I was like, “Diddy is the man!” That’s what influenced me. I’m like, “Yeah, I think I want to go the Diddy route.”
3. Chicago summers are his favorite.
Ladies is usually one of my favorite pastimes. [Laughs] But really, I like to chill. I’m a car guy. I like to get in the car, nice sounds, and just cruise. We have a lot of good food in Chicago. There’s so much to do. You can go eat; you can go to these different music festivals, where they’ll be ladies. So you got the eye candy there too. [Laughs] My favorite would have to be just cruising back and hanging with friends. I think life is all about making memories, and I try to make as many as I can, especially in the summertime.
4. Giordano’s Pizzeria and Uncle Remus Chicken & Barbeque are his go-to grub spots in Chicago.
I can’t even say one, I don’t want to offend. I would say I love Giordano’s pizza from Chicago. I always go down to Giordano’s, get me a nice pizza. That’s dope. If I’m feeling chicken, you gotta go straight to the Westside to Uncle Remus Barbeque. Be careful though. You don’t wanna go around there if you don’t know anybody. But the best chicken ever is over there.
5. He’s a fan of Maroon 5.
I listen to it all. I’ve been rocking with Sam Smith. I know Sam Smith has been out there now like that. His project is out there and did numbers [and won] Grammys. So I was rocking with Sam Smith. I’m a songwriter so I love well-written pieces. Sam Smith’s writing was solid. Frank Ocean. You remember when Frank dropped his first project Nostalgia, ULTRA? That was one where I was rocking with it. People think because I am a rapper, my style is a little edgy that I don’t listen to anything but hardcore rap. I actually like Maroon 5’s Overexposed project. That was so solid. That’s actually one of my favorite records. Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox? That project is solid. I was thoroughly surprised.
6. His nickname as a kid was Rock.
They used to call me Jigga. I used to want to be like Hov. They also used to call me Rock because I had—I still do—a really big head. A really big, hard head. They used to call me Rock because I was stubborn.