Juice Aleem: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

July 23rd, 2018 | Category: Headline, Interviews

Once a member of the brain-forward UK crew New Flesh for Old, Juice Aleem has long since stepped out on his own. Griff Rollefson writes in his book Flip the Script that on Juice’s first solo record, Jerusalaam Come (Big Dada, 2009), Aleem “recuperates universalism by locating and privileging a pre-Enlightenment performative linguistics” (p. 196). In other words, he uses his lyrics to go back in time in order to envision a better future. His latest record, Voodu StarChild (Gamma Proforma, 2017), continues his quest to create not just better visions of the future but also better futures for real.

Friend and fellow emcee Mike Ladd tells me,

I first met Juice when on the Infesticons tour in the UK in 2001, I think. We didn’t have enough money to bring over the whole band so Juice filled in. Rob Sonic and I were so drunk every show that Juice did all the rapping. Mostly freestyle, I think. Since then, Juice has been a consummate collaborator and best friend. I know few emcees personally who are as introspective thoughtful and as studious as Juice. This man has volumes of knowledge at his disposal and dispenses them with a gentlemanly generosity… Juice will blow your mind on stage as a performer and off stage as a friend. Every time. Without fail.

I’ve been in touch Juice for the past few years, and I concur with Mike Ladd: He has always been genuine, generous, and supportive. Juice’s old crew, New Flesh, did some tracks and shows with the god Rammellzee back in the early 0s, so I had to ask him a bit about that as well.

Roy Christopher: Your first solo record, Jerusalaam Come, goes back to a precolonial time in order to imagine a better future. Is there an underlying aim with Voodu StarChild? If so, what’s the story?

Juice Aleem: Yeah, there are several themes and aims within Voodu StarChild. A lot of it is about people being aware of the magic inside themselves and understanding how that is under attack. How that hidden Self is dark, female energy, and it’s questioned at every moment. Our original selves are out of equilibrium in regard the male and female balance, and this album is a play on that. It’s not only a critique, but it has a few answers within on how I address certain parts of this for myself and those around me in regard to things like diet, family, love, and when to go to war.

For years we have been taught that Voodu is a bad thing, when it is our own personal rituals and practices that will do a better job of saving us than the politicians and the religious have done so far. There is nothing to fear in the dark.

RC: In your book Afrofutures, you talk about hackers and whistleblowers. What do you see as the connections between them and hip-hop?

JA: To me there are many connections between them all. The hacker is the most obvious though with the wiretap on all the juicy insides of whatever tech is already out there. Using everything from drum pads and samplers to magpie the last few centuries of speeches, music, and commercials and turn them upside-in for the betterment of the practitioner and listener. Hip-hop is hacking.

The whistleblower is also well seen in hip-hop form, from P.E. telling us “Don’t Believe the Hype” to Kanye telling us “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” The moments are loads with little between. Hip-hop traditionally has been one of the biggest whistleblowers out there till recent years. I’m sure the new gen can get there too in between the adverts for big Pharma opiates.

RC: You’ve been organizing and hosting festivals and workshops and such. Tell me about those.

JA: Workshops have been a thing on and off since Lord Redeem started the Ghetto Grammar sessions back in the mid-90s. I helped out, then he and myself took it London and UK wide. Since then I’ve worked and tutored in many places including schools, youth centres, Uni’s, and even a few prisons. Even got caught up doing work in France in a prison outside of Paris.

It’s not sumthing I do everyday, but I like to bring it back now and then for certain projects such as my lyric-writing workshop as part of this year’s AfroFlux events within the B-SIDE Hip-Hop Festival here in Birmingham, UK. B-SIDE has been running three years now, and this year had around 10,000 visitors over the weekend in May.

I’m one of the core artistic directors of B-SIDE and the main person behind AfroFlux: It’s a concept where we look to celebrate the Black and brown thinkers and makers who don’t usually get the accolades while also applying hands on practical applications of cultural markers such as Afrofuturism. We have had a few stand-alone events and plan to expand on that with our partners in other parts of the globe.

RC: You and I were talking before about Rammellzee. Did his work influence your own?

JA: In a way, but similar to other’s in his kind of cultural echelon, you don’t always realise till looking back, and also seeing that part of the reason you like them and their art so much is due to the parts of self that have a resonance within the artist you look at. Ramm is a perfect mirror for the things you’d never think would be reflected and magnified. There are things I had thought before I ever knew of Ramm, and to see a person not only having a knowledge of things but living them to the full is his real influence on me. Not just on my art but the living of it, being all aspects of my thoughts and creations.

— New Flesh Plus One: The Rammellzee as Crux (the Monk)

RC: You recorded a song with him with your old crew New Flesh for Old. What can you tell me about that session?

JA: We did a few songs, two of which made it to the Understanding album. They were a little out there, ‘cause those were the days of still recording songs in the same studio with people actually being there. So, having these songs come from Ramm rambling down the phone at all hours and us making sense of it was a real new thing. Then he sent tapes over to Part 2, and we edited the pieces we liked best. There was intended to be a whole series of stories from his Cosmic opera. “Mack Facts” was cool ‘cause we had a theme of this whole future arena style thing with us being the gladiators and Ramm as the announcer. Think of an intense episode of that Gwar, Mad Max show starring Sonny Chiba and Sho Kosugi as Nuba warriors on Plutonia. Speaking with him and listening to him so much on those tapes was kinda trippy, and how he’d take any little idea and run with it creating a session’s worth of vocals. This wasn’t your average 16 bars, but reams and reams of classic adventure rasped in an intense style that fully drew you in. We still have a few bits and pieces from those sessions.

RC: What’s coming up?

As per usual there are a lot of things happening. My three main things I’m gearing up for right now are a new festival in Birmingham by the name of High Vis Festival. It’s a bunch of art loving heads such as myself and graffiti writers like Mose, Panda, and Wingy who have decided to put on a festival highlighting comics, Street Art, Graffiti, Zine culture, and other visual movements with a strong ethic in serious Street Culture.

A couple of gigs with the Exile All Stars, which is myself, Mike Ladd and TIE. We have all been friends for a while and have promised to take new music and perform it. This is the promise.

The number three is from even longer ago, and it’s all about new music from Shadowless. We took the passing of one our brothers by the name of Defisis to cement the call for new tunes. Watch this space.

RC: Is there anything else you’d like to throw in?

JA: Do not be afraid of your own Voodu.

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