Image via Javon Johnson

Image via Javon Johnson

From the fringes of hip-hop and society at large, Houston rapper Javon Johnson has provided interesting, provocative perspectives in the months since we first encountered him. Formerly homeless and living a full, often painful lifetime in his 26 years, Johnson apprehends the world with the sharpness and suspicion of a self-taught scholar—someone who devoured the books, but remembered that humans write words and humans are flawed.

African American Terrorist, his latest project, is his most overtly political release yet. It approaches its commentary with visceral writing and blunt force—this isn’t the sort of “conscious” rap that comments on the battle, it’s a transmission from within the fight. For context on the EP, we spoke with Johnson. We read our short conversation and listen to African American Terrorist below.


 

Can you give a bit of background for the title and themes of African American Terrorist?
The main theme is simple. You have brothers out there waiting for an officer to pull a gun out on them. As crazy as it sounds. I know many brothers right now that want police officers dead simply because of past experiences and current harassment. They have an urge to face what’s going on with these police officers gunning down unarmed brothers. The fear will forever exist between the african american male and the corrupt officer.

Not all police officers are bad but they should know that they’re being watched by the guys with the weapons they themselves don’t have access to. That’s the African American terrorist: The brother that has nothing to lose so he needs confrontation to deal with his personal struggles and depressions no matter who he’s confronting.

Even if it means defending himself if he feels he’s in a situation like Sean Bell, Mike Brown, Oscar Grant, John Crawford. It’s just nature for a lot of us coming up seeing cops plant drugs on brothers and making us lay on the ground when we were the ones calling to report a burglary. Things like that keep the tension between brothers and the police. We fuck up but at least let a nigga make it to booking. Is that hard to ask? Lock me up if you have to, just let me make it to the judge

“Im calling you sir…My hands are where you can see them…What’s REALLY the problem??”

Do you think there’s a “peaceful” answer to the turmoil America’s facing in regards to deep-seated racial issues?
Peace is what’s lacking the most honestly. Color seems to be involved in everything. It’s all races blaming overall violence on the other race. Sickening in my opinion.

People waiting on someone black to kill someone white just to have something to say about the other race.
No condolences…No concerns about the victims family..

The way I see it, peace comes from what you grew up around. Nobody is born with the idea of hating another ethnicity. It’s these older motherfuckers brainwashing their kids into believing the bullshit they learned from their parents. Generations started this and that’s why it’s never ending. Racism should be a religion my Uncle used to say… I never understood the meaning of that. I’m beginning to now. That’s what this nation was built off of.
Sadly.

In light of how fragmented the listening public is and how many commercial interests are at stake for high level artists, do you think rap still has the power to be the political tool it was through so much of its first two decades?
100%… if anybody reads this I recommend The Predator by Ice Cube. Even What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye. If those albums can stretch past the “Rodney King incident” and other situations then why not this time? Especially when there are cameras everywhere you turn.
I could blame the labels but it’s not them.. Who’s taking a stand as an artist?? Not many but hey.. It’s entertainment right??

Guys want to be “gangstas” instead of leaders. Foot soldiers. Baby gangstas. When the artist became an actor, it faded but it’s never too late to make these stands in the musical world.

“All music shouldn’t be serious” or “it’s entertainment” or “everything doesn’t have to be deep.”

I understand it’s entertainment but wouldn’t you like to be informed about what’s really happening out there in the streets you glorify in these mainstreams records? Where the brothers with no chains or money roam? Do you care? Are you not entertained enough? Probably not.

Do you view yourself as the protagonist of this project, so to speak, or are you taking on a character?
I’ll just say that I’ve been in that state of mind. I’m in it now.. I feel like I have nothing to live for alot of times so I can go there mentally. I’m willing to protect myself and fuck an officer or anybody up before he took me out… absolutely.
I’m not all about violence.. I’m against everything that’s happening in this nation right now but I wouldn’t just allow another human being to take my life. That’s foolishness.

I’m a wolf that watches from afar. I know what im capable of… that’s all I can say

I don’t look for it but if I’m ever faced with it.. I’m the problem.. Not the situation.

Like i said.. there are many like me out there… MANY

To ask a fairly grim question, do you think the only pragmatic solution is some sort of violent conflict? What do you feel are practical steps that could help start mending the massive divide?
First the media. It has to start with the media. The media turns us against each other for whatever reason. Always have and always will.

Most of the time Fox is no different than CNN. Blogs have the responsibility as well to keep us informed about our nation and not just entertainment in our nation.

News now isn’t everybody’s news. It’s selective. News that’s chosen based on ratings and views.

Sometimes we have to search for things happening outside of our planet because the main media outlets don’t think it’s important. What kind of shit is that?

How can we get to Pluto and not the bottom of our own Ocean? Where’s that news? Why does it have to always be violent news?

“Leaders.” “Fake protestors” looking for donations. Cops getting the platforms to diss movements like #Blacklivesmatter when they should be professional enough to ask for peace amongst both sides of the weapon no matter who’s firing. It’s sickening but, that’s our nation. Land of the slave, home of the coward

How much of this philosophy is influenced by your personal experiences with police?
Many man.. Honestly? When I was coming up, there were no racial discriminations with cops. All forms of police were threats and still are. Black and white cops. Sometimes the black officers are worse than white officers. Just keeping it real.

I had an officer in our community coming up. We called him “cowboy.” He used to drive around with a noose in his backseat wearing a cowboy hat. Driving by us, asking for ID. Threatening to take us somewhere remote to hang us. Bragging about the fact that he could cover it up. Tazing us. All kinds of shit.

Dude was brutal. He took me to jail for failure to attend school when I was about 16. While I was getting booked they looked up the info on me being on the verge of having my hands registered [as weapons]. They started pushing my buttons to get a reaction out of me. Wouldn’t work so one called me out. Telling me if I didn’t answer him he would take me to one of the side holding cells and give me a one on one with his belt and badge off.

I took him up on that offer and nearly extended my stay. My moms saw my fists when she picked me up the next night and thought someone tried to rape me. You know black mothers that have never been incarcerated. Everybody’s getting raped in their minds. I just laughed it off and kept it to myself. “Cowboy” didn’t have the guts to call me out though. I wish he had even till this day.

Sometimes I think that Sandra Bland didn’t understand how crazy our jail system was until she came out here to Texas and saw for herself. The nine hour booking process. The possibility of you being lost in the system and missing your release. The overflowing of inmates coming in and out due to it being the summer time so the crime rate is much higher and inmates literally overflow. It’s a different world but I learned that they can do whatever they want to you in those cells away from those cameras and they know it themselves.

Have you had any particularly traumatic encounters with cops?

Many man, too many to name.

One in particular I remember off the muscle is when me and a friend of mine were walking home from a teenage nightclub when I was about 15. Two officers pulled up on us because we were in dark colors in a group. I didn’t know the other cats we were with, but we were deep as hell. I don’t remember the badge number or the name. Normally I do, but a black officer had a bag of coke he placed on one of the other homies before the other squad cars came. It was crazy as hell. We were all on our stomachs begging his partner not to shoot us, but he kept shooting at the ground to make it seem like we were running from him on his walkie talkie. it was all a distraction for the other officers problem. He snorted coke. That brother went down for a little bullshit bag of coke that wasn’t his.

We were bad kids. We weren’t angels, but we didn’t do shit like cocaine or none of that. None of us were strapped that night. It was just wild shit. That’s why you have to “yes sir,” “no sir,” “yes ma’am,” “no ma’am.” Slave yourself with your hands up to give them no reason to believe you’re a threat. Be a “good boy” in a sense. Which is why I’m very respectful—even to the “wolves.”