Jahshua Smith’s wardrobe tells as much of a story as his music. Despite rocking the latest designer streetwear, he rarely leaves home without his wristband that sports the Pan-African flag. Smith’s conscious, sociopolitical lyrics about his experiences in Detroit hit just as hard as his fly, cocksure rhymes—and that balance has a platinum-selling producer, some of Michigan’s most respected rap names, and a league of blogs and fans behind him.
“My music is an extension of the things I learn,” says Smith, who was recognized in the DXNext column on top web site HipHopDX in July 2011. “After so long of rapping about the experiences of my adolescence, I knew that speaking on the things I learned in college would balance out my arsenal.”
Smith has music in his blood – his great grandfather, Motown Records Executive Music Director Maurice King, oversaw projects by legends such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight for ten years. Jahshua began his own career as an affiliate of Dramasetters Productions, a stable that crafted beats for iconic Harlem rap group The Diplomats. After the group dissembled, he continued as a solo emcee under the name JYoung the General. Influenced by legends like 2Pac, Nas and AZ, he paired a multi-syllabic flow with lyrics that honored rap’s traditional braggadocio while maintaining a keen awareness and opinion of Detroit and the world around him. His 2006 debut, The Megaman Mixtape, earned online acclaim and a development deal with Universal Records that he declined to finish his tenure in college.
“Turning down that deal was a tough decision, especially with the momentum I had built up,”Smith remembers. “But I knew that things would work out the way they needed to.”
After graduating from Michigan State University and leaving his post as co-host of the campus hip-hop radio show Cultural Vibe, he continued to pay dues. Singles such as the female-friendly “She Likes Me” and the uplifting “Black Nationalists” nabbed college and Internet radio spins, and earned placements on top web sites such as HipHopDX. He opened for the likes of Wiz Khalifa, eLZhi (of Slum Village) and others, and co-hosted two monthly hip-hop nights in Lansing, Mich. Smith also co-founded BLAT! Pack, a Michigan collective of music professionals that have won various city, state and national competitions since its inception.
In March 2010, he teamed with DangerousNEGRO Apparel and Nick Speed—Detroit in-house producer for 50 Cent’s G-Unit Records—to create Black History Year: Installment One. Inspired by his passion for African American studies and his day job as a residential counselor for at-risk youth, he aimed to enlighten listeners on complex issues in a digestible, entertaining way. The project was featured on prominent blogs such as 2DopeBoyz, and helped Smith fatten his show resume with performances around the region. The next month, he dropped Jahshua 1:6, an EP that satisfied fans with favorites like the aforementioned “She Likes Me” and “Black Nationalists.”
In the sequel to Black History Year: Installment Two, Smith raised the stakes by enlisting Michigan hip-hop staples like OneBeLo, Mae Day, and Buff1 for guest appearances, and T. Calmese to help cover topics like the Black Panther Party and gentrification. Nick Speed returned to executive produce, and KevinNottingham.com joined as a sponsor. The album’s success earned Jahshua rave reviews, recognition on XXL’s “The Break,” and performance slots on HipHopDX’s 2011 A3C Hip-Hop Festival, MissDimplez’ unofficial SXSW showcase, and Vans Warped Tour.
After his video for “Censored” burned the ‘Net with coverage from AllHipHop, Ashley Outrageous, COMPLEX and 2DopBoyz, Jahshua Smith has teamed with YouHeardThatNew for his new album, “The Final Season.” As his first effort outside of his old moniker JYoung The General, Jahshua uses the opportunity to showcase his layered persona. “Censored” and “Say The Words” tackle issues such as systematic racism and sexual abuse, while songs like “Butt” and “Carry On” brim with carefree energy. With another critically-acclaimed record under his belt, the BLAT! Pack general’s winning streak continues.
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(Photos by Thomas Xu.)