Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Heliocentric Worlds of Darkleaf: An Interview with Jahli

Crazy Wisdom Master
I'm very proud to announce that The Homie Alex has blessed us with another spectacular post - An interview with the one and only Jahli from the legendary Darkleaf!  This shit is amazing.  Read on.

    Darkleaf is a crew with deep roots, and their released recordings are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re probably best known for the Kimetic Principles albums and their label debut, Fuck the People, but Darkleaf’s history is, for the most part, shrouded in mystery. Jahli is a founding member of the group, who not only coined the name Darkleaf, but was also responsible for developing the fragmented, spaced-out sound exemplified on 1998’s Kimetic Principles. I had the opportunity to chop it up with him and he was able to give some insight into the formation of the crew and their many variations throughout the years.

Can you talk about how Darkleaf formed and the early Good Life days?

    Me and Terry (Hymnal), we went to school with Cut Chemist. We went to a school called Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (L.A.C.E.S.) and Cut Chemist was always, ever since I’ve known him, he was into DJ’ing, right? So, for a long time, we were his friends but we were also his cheerleaders, you know what I mean? [laughs] So, there were times where he was afraid to DJ, at a party, and we would pop him off and he would do it. So that was our association with music. So after we graduated, maybe like ’90, ’91, ’92, during that time, he created a crew. I don’t know if he created it or they got together and created it, but he was doing music with a bunch of people, Nu-Mark, Marvski, and officially he got…

Was that Unity Committee?

    That would become Unity Committee, but before that, he was already, you know, we would go over and we met Marvski and we met Nu-Mark. There was a school by Cut Chemist’s house called Marshall. All those guys went to school together and so I guess there was a relationship there. That was more of a Cut Chemist relationship, but we all hung out. Volume 10 was part of that too. He used to be Double D, and Son Doobie was a part of that, from Funkdoobiest. They became Unity Committee and as they became Unity Committee, we were over there and then another person, St. Mark – St. Mark went to school with me and Hymnal.  Me and Hymnal left L.A.C.E.S. and went to L.A. High and we met Marcus (St. Mark) and started hanging out a lot. We took him over there, hanging out with Cut Chemist and everyone, and eventually, Hymnal and St. Mark - they were already writing rhymes and stuff - and so we decided to make a group. And so, I would make a beat. Hymnal would help me with a beat. He would do rhymes and St. Mark would do rhymes. And, believe it or not, I am the dude that coined the name Darkleaf. I made up the name Darkleaf. One night, we were doing this song called “The Shoes.” It was just all of the people that were around. It was supposed to be a song with everyone. And, at first, St. Mark and Terry had this Native Sun title for the group and then I came up with Darkleaf. And from that point, me, Hymnal and St. Mark became Darkleaf.

That’s interesting because, there’s a handful of different stories I’ve heard. I’ve read it was J-Smoov, Hymnal, Sunshine aka Tone, and St. Mark, and then Daddy Kev, I think, wrote an article saying it was you, Hymnal, Blackbird and Dark Cloud 9.

    That’s the beginning. Now, I can tell you about all those different variations, but that’s the beginning. So, after that, slowly, we started to kind of pull away from the Unity Committee and start to be more just Darkleaf, you know what I mean? Not just thinking about music when we’re around those guys, thinking about it on our own, finding equipment. Me and Hymnal really started working on building the beats and learning how to make beats. And as we did that, St. Mark is connected with J-Smoov, okay? That’s his friend and so he started bringing J-Smoov over. And J-Smoov is sort of the one that really took Darkleaf to the Good Life, in my eyes, you know? And so, J-Smoov joined the group and he was part of that whole Leimert Park scene a lot more than me and Hymnal were. I don’t know about St. Mark, but J-Smoov definitely was and so, as he, I mean, we were already doing it with just us because we had already branched out with a DJ, DJ Wolf, and he had a group, and so we were working on music with him, but then St. Mark brought in J-Smoov, so then we were officially part of the whole Good Life scene.

    And if you hear stories, you don’t hear about me a lot because I was just the dude making the beats and I was always very distant from the whole stage scene at that time. Like, you could see Hymnal. You could see St. Mark. You hear about those guys, but you don’t hear about me much because I always sat at the house all the time and made music [laughs]. I was a little afraid of even really… I just thought, you know, “Dude, we’re not that good at this shit. I’m wary of this shit.” But, see, I also have a connection because I learned how to make beats from Def Jeff. And he had some dancers called the Soul Brothers and I was roommates with V-Luv from the Soul Brothers and so I got to work with Def Jeff and he kinda taught me the MP. So did Cut Chemist, but that’s where I got to work a lot and I got a lot of exposure from that side that probably know one fucking knows, right? 

    So, J-Smoov joined the group, but at the same time, Hymnal, Gershwin (Blackbird), he went to school with us, and so he started to come in and Hymnal kinda brought him in more, and then Cloud 9, we went to school with him and his crazy ass started to come over. And it’s more of a Terry thing, but I guess a me thing too, but they started to become part of the group. And at that point, there started to be some friction, I guess. And I guess it was at that point people were fighting over the direction of what the group would be. And in my opinion, it’s like “Dude, we’re nothing. What are we fighting about? [laughs] Motherfucker, I’m eating bologna sandwiches! Fuck off, bud!” And so St. Mark and J-Smoov left the group and made a group called Brothers Manifesto. And then Herndon (Dark Cloud 9) and Blackbird stayed, and that’s where you get that whole period of "Fuckin’ Up the Earth." And that’s where you get Hymnal, Blackbird, Cloud 9 and Jahli. So, there wasn’t much recorded with St. Mark and J-Smoov that I know of.

I know there’s a track called “Tales from the Darkside” (circa 1992, featuring Hymnal and Dark Cloud 9 on vocals) but I heard there was also a tape with that title. Is that true, or was it just that single track?

    It was just one single track. I made the beat. "Tales from the Darkside", Hymnal took the beat up to Cut Chemist and they recorded it. I did the beat, but I wasn’t there for the actual mastering. I set it up to be mastered, but I wasn’t actually there for that. 

    I mean, we did some other shit. We did a demo, man, and "Tales from the Darkside", "Fuckin’ up the Earth", that was all part of that. It wasn’t even an album or anything. It was more of a demo. That was me, Hymnal, Blackbird and Cloud 9. That doesn’t have J-Smoov or St. Mark in it. I can’t really tell you what actually got recorded while those guys were part of the crew ‘cause I think there was so much of hyping the group up, and doing freestyles and being part of the Good Life. I know I was working on an album that everyone could rhyme on, but I think motherfuckers broke up before that, so that was that. So then, I don’t know how it happened, man, but slowly there just became a separation between me, Hymnal, Cloud 9 and Blackbird. We were working together, being together every day, really trying to be a group. Slowly, I don’t know, what happened was, eventually I hooked up with Longevity and I helped him, I mean, he was getting help from, learning equipment and shit ‘cause he was part of that whole Atban Klann…

I heard that Longevity did some co-production on the unreleased Atban Klann album. Is that true?

    Yeah, he was a part of that. When I met him, he was in a group with Taboo. It was him, Taboo and a guy called Mr. Shaw. They were a group and then there was Atban Klann. And Atban Klann was will, apple, and a guy called Mookie. Mookie got replaced and Taboo replaced him. When I first met him, that’s what Atban Klann was. And so, Longevity came and started to pick up on what I was doing, which was this fragmented, crazy, beatmaking shit, you know, just something very abstract from the norm, you know?

So you were already on that Sun Ra vibe back then?

    I was Sun Ra from the get go! It took a minute but once I started messin’ with Ravi Shankar and Sun Ra, that was it! And Longevity tapped into it really quick and we joined up. From that point on, most of the production was me and him, and as far as beats and everything, it was me and Longevity. You’d get Hymnal every once in a while, but Hymnal, for a while, stayed outside of it. Me and Longevity, we brought in Kemit and Akmed (Metalogik) and then we made Wolf our DJ and that’s how Darkleaf turned into that whole “alkemy, chemisty” and all that shit. That was me, kinda, just taking over. I guess at some point, I was just like, “Fuck it! I’m Darkleaf, you know what I’m saying?” [laughs] and that’s what I assembled, along with the help of Longevity.

    And once in a while, if we could get a Blackbird, he would be in it. If we could get a Cloud 9, he would be in it. If we could get a Hymnal, he’d be in it. But Hymnal kinda went with Cut Chemist. And I think that’s why you end up seeing a Cut Chemist/Hymnal album. But Darkleaf became me, Longevity, Kemit Qutob Shabazz, [Metalogik] and DJ Wolf. So, I assembled that. That’s probably when you start seeing me on stage to hear me rhyme and shit. I mean, those guys started saying, “Hey man, you’ve gotta join too. You can’t just make a beat and be in the background like you used to be with Hymnal and them.” And so I did, I guess [laughs].

    And, you know, we did a lot of music. I just don’t think a lot of it got out to the people. And what got out, it was alright, but I think we did a lot better music. When labels started actually giving us little deals to do our albums, I think we weren’t at our peak anymore. Or we were, but we were at the last... You know, Darkleaf, to be on what we were on, I mean, the album, which I named, kinda says it all – Fuck the People. There was a point where we kinda gave up on the mass majority. Like, “Okay, they’re not gonna like this shit.” And I think a lot of it had to do with what we did, as a group. I hate to say it, but we got really drunk and really high and played with girls way too much and I think that stuff caught up to us in the end and fragmented the group. But, you know, especially for me, I was just putting out one album. I mean, that whole Fuck the People, even though it was our first album really being in front of people, I don’t think it was the best. I think we just gave them some shit. I think we just said, “take this, this and that and make it an album,” more than really making an album. We had a more cohesive album called The Mission. Daddy Kev and DJ Hive had a record company (Celestial Recordings) and so, there’s an album we did for them that I thought was way more cohesive than Fuck the People.

Was The Mission recorded before Fuck the People?

   Nah, it was after. It was almost simultaneously. We were doing Fuck the People and we were doing a lot of different things. We also did an album called After the Plane Crash. I don’t know what happened to that album, but I think if people heard that, they would’ve liked it a lot. And that one started to feature Otherwize ‘cause Otherwize started to hang out with our crew and Longevity was doing an album for him (Disturbing the Peace), and there’s one album that I did that got totally erased that I think everybody would’ve loved. It was called Shapeless Matter and it featured everybody from Aceyalone from Freestyle Fellowship, to Madlib, to Sucram from the Wascals, to Fat Lip from Pharcyde. I had a bunch of people who I had met throughout my career and I had this album, and me and Longevity had this board that was digital and it fuckin’ all got erased, so after that I pretty much, I didn’t quit, but you didn’t really hear from me again [laughs].

There’s a tape floating around called Zero. Do you know anything about that?

    "Zero" should be one song. It was when Eclipse, when Longevity first came in. The beat is by me and him. It was me, Longevity, Blackbird and a couple other people. I just know it to be a song. If it’s turned into some compilation, that’s probably Longevity because he probably has the majority of the material that has survived and that was probably him putting shit together, just something that survived from that era. "What Is" (track 2 on Zero) should go all the way back to, really, the whole "Fuckin’ Up the Earth" era. That’s kinda when Longevity came into the crew. That’s amazing because we did all that shit on a 4-track board, so he’d have to be pulling that shit from… Unless, I mean, we did go and master shit a lot. People always wanted us to come and do shit, but a lot of the time they’d just say, “Oh, this shit isn’t commercial enough.” And so, I don’t know, I guess he kept it.

Well, he said he’s planning on releasing a lot of that old material. I hope that happens.

    Yeah, if he does, the only thing is, I think it’d be quite muddy. I mean, we were a muddy group. But you have to understand, I liked doing that! I liked making the beat go off. A lot of people would say, “Oh, you didn’t make the beat good or you didn’t do that.” No, that was my style! I look at it differently today, but, during the time, I just thought those smooth-ass beats, you could say anything over it and it makes it good. So I’d always trigger the beats so that it’d stop your ass and, I was hoping it would make you think about what we were saying.

    First of all, you really had to get into it to understand what the fuck we were talking about because we were taking all these different types of terminologies from different aspects of academics and putting it together into this collage and then spitting it out to you. And we were ultimately trying to say, you know, we are parallel to everything, and there’s just so much more, and sometimes when you use words, you need to, you know, the word needs to be magnified. And I used to wonder, “If anyone likes this shit, then they’re down as hell” [laughs]. I purposely kind of made it that way, like this is for those who really like to sit down and really break shit down ‘cause we’re gonna do it. If you’re talking about matching it up with Snoop Dogg, nah, we can’t do that. You can’t match it up, technically, with Freestyle Fellowship. We just decided to be in a real class of our own and, hey man, we paid for that. We kinda knew that. It wasn’t like we didn’t understand that that’s what we were doing and that’s the type of response we were gonna get, but I think, all in all, we got a lot better response than I ever thought we would get.

Well, you guys really carved out a sound that I have never heard anywhere else - the production on Kimetic Principles is fuckin’ magic - and, I have to say, it’s a bit of a trip for me to be talking to you right now because, on record, you always sounded like some sort of shaman from another dimension!

   [laughs] Well, there’s two Kimetic Principles, right? The first one, I dunno if you can tell – it’d be dope if people could – the first one is me and the second one is more Longevity.

So Lodge Infinite is you and Longevity as a production team?

    Yeah, Lodge Infinite is me and Longevity.

After all that, you did a couple of collaborations. A favourite of mine is a track you did with Art Deko, called "Fusion", released in 2005. Can you talk about working with him?

   Art Deko is sort of from Metalogik’s side. Metalogik is from D.C. So, Art Deko came out and he really wanted to be part of Darkleaf, even though he’s from a whole ‘nother underground in D.C. However, I thought he was really talented. His vibe was like that Roots vibe, you know what I mean? And so, we were cool for a minute. He’d be the Roots, I’d be “motherfucker, I am mathematical dungeon,” you know? [laughs] And so we started to hook up and he was there all the time and ultimately, to me, he was a guy trying to get on and, at that time, Darkleaf was really active and he wanted to get down. So we started hanging out and I did a lot of stuff over at his house because sometimes I wouldn’t want to go through the whole mastering part of it – I can do all that mixing and mastering shit, but Longevity started slowly going in a different direction. There were groups asking for his beats, so I started to drift with Art Deko more. If you get anything with Art Deko, I don’t even know about an album with Art Deko. If there’s an album out, it’s probably because he took shit we did and what he did and turned it into an album. So, there’s an album called Fusion?

No, that’s one track from an album called Personal References (The Dark Side). I wanted to ask you about your lyrical content – were you describing some sort of spiritual experience, what was the inspiration there? Where was that coming from, because a lot of it was very abstract, right?

   Yeah, a lot of it has to do with Sun Ra. Dude, when I got into Sun Ra, I was like “Oh, this motherfucker is awesome!” Where he went with it and how he understood that music is all sound. Yeah, man, I mean, I wanna name a lot of others, but, yeah, Sun Ra is pretty much… actually I’ll give it to you, you gotta put this down. Sun Ra and the Jungle Brothers, but only for one album. That "40 Below" album (J Beez wit the Remedy). Nobody really liked it, or remembers it. I took that style and Sun Ra and fused it, and I thought that shit was the dopest shit on the planet, yo! They got a song, the Jungle Brothers, called "Spittin’ Wicked Randomness" and that fuckin’ beat is just fucking off the hook!

After Fuck the People, you kind of seemed to disappear a bit, but you did some tracks in the Philippines. You recorded some stuff with Paolo Garcia?

   Well, the Philippines has nothing to do with music. Nothing. I just went to the Philippines, you know. I met a girl, you know, pretty much that’s me. I decided to, I needed a change and so I went there. And it’s funny, I was just out there, dude. I was with my girl, hanging out and shit. I stayed out there for four years. But one day, all of a sudden, my girl comes up to me and she’s like - you know, I told her I was in the group but I don’t really talk about Darkleaf much. I don’t bring it up. So anyway, she’s like “You weren’t fuckin’ lying. There’s a guy out here who knows your group! They wanna meet you.” So, these guys come over, we hook up. I kinda told them how the underground started, since I was a part of it. And, believe it or not, motherfuckers had CDs, albums, of Fuck the People, and all our shit, and I was blown away, bro. I haven’t been that blown away since I went to Barcelona, Spain, and got treated the same way. I was blown out my socks that somewhere way across the world, motherfuckers were down.

    So I met him – it was me, Paolo and Martin (Labjaxx) and I went over and I hooked up with those guys, did a track with them. I don’t know if I was at my best. It’s been a while [laughs], you know what I’m saying? But I thought that I’d do a track with them so they could use me for whatever they needed. And so, that’s why that song came out. And I’ll probably do more ‘cause I’m going back out there and I’m gonna see those guys. And Paolo Garcia, he’s a major component for the Philippines – that whole triangle – Philippines, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China. He’s definitely one of the ones out there. He’s really gettin’ down. And Martin, his lyrics, for a minute, I was like, “you ever been to Project Blowed?” and he’s never been to America, so... But damn, his shit is dope, man. They’re putting it down, man. I’ve seen some really dope shit out there and I know all of it comes from what we all did in the beginning in that Leimert Park area. We don’t even know how far it went, you know?

So, I guess, the last thing I wanna ask is what are your plans for the future? You have any plans to record more music, or release anything?

    Well, I’ll tell you this. A lot of people keep telling me to get back into it and I’m going to, man. I just talked to Hymnal. Me and Hymnal talk a lot. ‘Cause me and Hymnal grew up together. We’re best friends. Longevity just hit me up recently, and there’s some Darkleaf reunion, December 29th and he asked if I was down and I said, “Of course!” But as far as me, man, yeah, I’m gonna do something else, man. I dunno to what magnitude, you know? I’ve just heard too many people telling me I need to light the torch back up and so, yeah man. I don’t know how much the public will get. But I’m gonna start music again. There will be more music from Jahli. I don’t know how much of it will get out there. Believe me, 2014, Darkleaf is still alive. We survived the plane crash.

I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, man. I’m a big fan and it’s very cool to have this stuff broken down.

    Dope, dude. I appreciate it too, man, and it makes me feel like dedicating 15 years of my life to the underground, it was worth it...


  1. Hell Yeah !!! Very very fresh interview. Thank you BeetBak & Jahli for sharing. Hip Hop could benefit immensely from a new DARKLEAF album. Please manifest this creation.


  2. Great read - I've had a lot of questions about Darkleaf for a long time, and I think this interview answers them all.

  3. Awesome interview, as a longtime Darkleaf fan, reading this was a fantastic experience.