Every New Yorker remembers where they were when The Towers fell on that chaotic morning in September of 2001. Brooklyn MC, DJ and producer J-Live is over a decade and several hundred miles removed from the tragedy where terrorists flew planes into The World Trade Center but he recalls it like it was yesterday.
“I was living in Brooklyn on Myrtle and Emerson in Clinton Hills,” he says from his current home in Atlanta. “I was home playing Madden and I heard thunder thinking it was raining. I looked out the window and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. So it tripped me out for a second. Then my boy called me and said turn on the news, a plane just hit The Towers. So that’s what that sound was. That’s how the news struck me.”
At 8:46 am American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into floors 93-99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building. 17 minutes later, hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into floors 75-85 of the WTC’s South Tower with similar grisly results. A total of 2,996 lives were lost in the attacks, which included a downed airliner near the Pentagon, with thousands more injured and millions to mourn.
Blame was assigned and claimed. Clouds of conspiracy mixed with the asbestos particles in the air. First responders succumbed to illness. Insurance companies sued, developers profited and eventually rebuilt the World Trade Center, reopening it with a memorial in 2013.
The response from Hip-hop ran the gamut from well articulated rage to microwave patriotism, with some cold blooded indifference in between (Dipset really renamed themselves The Taliban for a minute). However, J-Live was working on his sophomore album All of The Above, an intelligent, dense and jazzy collection that reflected a variety of influences. Several months after the attacks he recorded the album’s third track, the DJ Spinna-produced “Satisfied?” It was a pointed wake up call to his generation who’d been lulled to sleep with the promise of luxury cars and overpriced clothes. The nation was slipping into recession and things would get worse before they got better.
Lights, camera, tragedy, comedy, romance
You better dance from your fighting stance
Or you’ll never have a fighting chance
In the rat race
Where the referee’s son started way in advance
But it was the second verse where he addressed the post-9/11 reaction and the related hypocrisy head on. J-Live called out rappers for using the tragedy as a punchline but also cautioned those who saw the events of 9/11 as a magic salve for America’s racial ills.
“Looking back that’s still one of my biggest tunes,” he says. “I still perform it at concerts and festivals. People that know the song can relate to the time that it was written. And people that don’t still knock to the beat and when they hear what I’m talking about everything I’m saying is still true to this day.”
Read on as J-Live discusses that verse from “Satisfied?” and the songs of his that it spawned since.
Hey yo, the air’s still stale
The anthrax got my Ole Earth wearin’ a mask and gloves to get the mail
I know a older guy that lost twelve close peeps on 9-1-1
While you kickin’ up punchlines and puns
The thing about it was I was hearing a bunch of raps kind of trivializing things. “Knock you down like the Twin Towers” and bullshit like that. I remember whose line it was, but I won’t say it [now] because they’re a friend of mine. I’m not gonna put em on blast because we’ve spoken about it since then. [Laughs] But I was like nah, that’s not what hip-hop is for. This is too big for that. Plus everything in the song was true. This brother of mine lost six people. This girl [I knew] turned down a job that would have had her right there on the top floor. She got twins. It don’t get no closer to home.
Man fuck that shit, this is serious biz
By the time Bush is done, you won’t know what time it is
If it’s war time or jail time, time for promises
And time to figure out where the enemy is
The same devils that you used to love to hate
They got you so gassed and shook now, you scared to debate
It’s so funny now because I just posted this pic on my Instagram of [Rudy] Giuliani stumping for Trump with a hat that says “Make Mexico Great Again Also” talking like he saved New York and I’m like nah, that happened on your watch! That happened on his watch and Bush’s watch. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he let it happen. But don’t sit here and try to say you’re Mr. Safety like that doesn’t count on your record.
The same ones that traded books for guns
Smuggled drugs for funds
And had fun lettin’ off forty-one
But now it’s all about NYPD caps
And Pentagon bumper stickers
But yo, you still a n*gga
Obama, elected with the mandate he was elected with, has been one of the most moderate presidents, efficient presidents in terms of foreign policy and domestic policy. Whether you want to call America great or not, he has been extremely efficient at being POTUS. I say that objectively whether you’re a fan of the status quo or not. Fans of the status quo attack him like he’s some kind of liberal savior. If he was a liberal savior there’d be no drone strikes and he damn sure would have done more for poor people. He’s been very moderate. For the GOP to fight him at every turn…to see filibusters spike the way they did. If you compare filibusters before Obama it literally looks like the Twin Towers. It went from zero to 100 real quick.
My thing about Giuliani was that his reign ties into the issues of gentrification we deal with today. He made it a police state. He put a cop on every block so the affluent weren’t scared of the hood anymore. And that ushered in the Bloomberg era when the prices jumped. Safety is synonymous with police, but the safest neighborhoods here in Georgia are because of a stable economic community. Nothing is going on because business is booming.
It ain’t right them cops and them firemen died
The shit is real tragic, but it damn sure ain’t magic
It won’t make the brutality disappear
It won’t pull equality from behind your ear
It won’t make a difference in a two-party country
If the president cheats, to win another four years
It’s almost like Trump is cheating right now because he’s using these people’s racist bigotry and xenophobia and poverty. He tricked poor whites into thinking if they go against other races they’ll be on the same footing as rich whites. Saying a wall will keep us safe is like saying a wall would have kept terrorists off the planes. It’s ludicrous. But people are so racist that they want some kind of answer record to the last eight years of Obama. The racists have had eight years of hell and they’ll do anything to give all the Obama supporters eight years of hell even if it means electing the most inefficient possible candidate. They really want to swing the pendulum all the way back.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s no place I’d rather be
The grass ain’t greener on the other genocide…
There is nothing more American than descent. This country was built on descent. I love this country and I hate this nation. The country is the people. This is my country. I have as much right to these rights as anybody. As a descendant of slaves, from my segregated mother, my segregated grandmother, my enslaved great grandmother and my indigenous great great grandmother I have as much a right to this country as anybody. [But] This nation does not represent my interest and it does not enforce my rights. You got 500 people murdered [by cops] this year because police are scared to do their jobs. Their safety comes before the people they’re supposed to be protecting and serving to the degree where they use deadly force when it isn’t necessary. If that ain’t cowardice in the name of the brave I do’t know what is. You have a gun, a badge and a license to kill and you taking out 12 year olds with toys in the park. You arresting women and they don’t come out the precinct [alive].
But tell Huey Freeman don’t forget to cut the lawn
And uproot the weeds
Cuz I’m not satisfied
That’s wild because I remember having lunch with Aaron McGruder through [Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival creator] Wes Jackson a couple of months before 9/11. I was a big fan of the comic strip, this was before the show. I remember totally understanding why the comic was the way it was, how he feels about race in this country. He was definitely speaking through Huey. Hip-Hop is Gangstalicious now.
Two songs of mine, “I Am A Man: American Justice” speaks to the brutality issues that “Satisfied?” spoke to and another called “Worlds Apart” speaks to all of the foreign policy issues. I wrote “I Am A Man” after Ferguson. That’s the frustration when you write politically charged songs. You hope to see some progress but… It’s been two years since Mike Brown was killed and in that time we’ve gotten name after name. That’s why I didn’t put any names in the song because I knew he wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last. The most impactful racially motivated killing was Dylan Roof in South Carolina and the most impactful one on gender and sexual preference was in Florida. Those have been the worst crimes of that kind in the last 75 years. As much progress as we have made, we have taken steps backward in the last five years. None of us expected to be living out our personal Civil Rights movement but that’s where we are right now.
J-Live’s latest release, How Much Is Water? and his full discography can be streamed and copped on his Bandcamp page HERE.