Big Daddy Kane rose from her concrete and never let anyone forget. Mos Def immortalized his love for her on his classic debut album, Black On Both Sides. If Jay Z didn’t renege on his promise, the young woman he’s raising would be named Brooklyn Carter instead of Blue Ivy. Countless extraordinary emcees, wordplay wizards and culture cultivators were born and bred within the womb of Brooklyn and have always paid homage to home.
Jimi Tents is no different—an offspring of East New York, a son of Brooklyn—but she is no longer the place he calls home. Not because of some desire to leave but rather, a case of gentrification taking the very place in which his family raised him. Jimi’s debut album title, I Can't Go Home, is inspired by this circumstance.
The literal sense of losing his home is expressed through the album's title and the cover art but there’s another meaning that the album embodies and when I spoke with Jimi over the phone, he expanded on what else he meant by not being able to go home:
"I’ve come to realize that in black families we have little anecdotes that we say to each other. Some are common in every household. Some families might say, ‘If you lose a fight, don’t come home.’ It instills this mentality of being a winner. So 'I Can’t Go Home' is like, I can’t go back home until I win. This why the album sounds more aggressive, more demanding and more assertive than '5 O'Clock Shadow' because I felt there was more on the line this time around. The whole mindset behind 'I Can’t Go Home' is to go out and get it and not come back until I have it."
When former DJBooth managing editor Nathan interviewed Jimi for our Top Prospects series in 2015, he walked away from the conversation seeing within the young Brooklyn rapper an artist who embodies the everyman. He didn’t have anything but honest music that gave him a relatability factor in an age of gimmicks, posing and overzealous marketing. As a listener, at times the most endearing quality of a new rapper is their ability to appear three-dimensional―5 O'Clock Shadow, Jimi’s debut EP from 2015, proved he existed on this planet with songs like “Jazzy,” “Elmer Fudd” and “Should’ve Called.”
The transparency of a rapper getting a taste of success juxtaposed with life’s misfortunes drives the music on I Can’t Go Home, where honesty pours from the pores of each song.
"I’m a nigga with substance that has a great appreciation for everything, whether it be ass, titties, bands, big chains or a book. That’s me," he expressed after admitting how much he loathes being called a conscious rapper due to his lack of mumbling. It’s obvious that every line is written with a sense of purpose, thoughtful and considerate. Rappers have always been placed in boxes based on the topicality of their rhymes, their subject matter affecting perception; in the age where you are either deemed mumble rap or conscious, Jimi hopes to sidestep both.
For listeners who felt 5 O'Clock Shadow was a strong first impression, its follow-up is an artistic upgrade. It houses pleasant production and lyricism submerged in substance and serenity, but it’s Jimi’s voice that is most impressive. His deeper tone has always been attention-grabbing, but he raps with even more determination, personality, and presence this time around.
“Rick Rubin” takes you into a thrilling summer, “Below The Surface” drags you into the depth of a distraught soul, and “Should’ve Called, Pt. 2" is more like reading his innermost thoughts than hearing a song. Being able to feel and empathize exactly what he articulates is why Jimi is so relatable. This approach to making music is, for him, the way he keeps sane, but he also understands how his music has the potential to help others.
"I’m not writing for anyone else, to be really frank. I do try to appease the masses, I do feel like I have good taste in what sonically sounds good, but as far as writing, I’m not really writing to appease people. I’m just trying to make sure I keep my sanity. This is how I keep thoughts out of my head, get some closure, get some peace of mind. Hopefully, me speaking from such an honest stance of what I’m going through and how I’m handling it, listeners can take something from my perspective. I don’t do it for them but I want people to relate to my story and my messages."
The original 5 O'Clock Shadow release totaled seven songs, while 13 appear on the extended LP edition. Before narrowing down the track list, over 40 songs were recorded during the making of 5 O'Clock Shadow. He wasn’t sure how many were recorded for I Can’t Go Home but he recalled a wager with a friend. “I had three sessions a week. When I first started the process, me and [my manager] Haarlem had a bet that I couldn’t cut two songs a day. 'I bet you can’t cut two fire songs a day. I bet you can’t have six or seven songs done in a week.' I was just trying to knock them out consistently.” Countless hard drives worth of music was recorded during the process but Tents had foresight for each record. Like Kendrick and Joey Bada$$, Jimi doesn’t produce, but his hands-on approach in the studio guarantees that every beat is crafted to his liking. Feeling is what mattered most, and he knew when the feeling was right.
Feeling is also what stopped Jimi from leaving the studio at 3 a.m. After spending six hours working and recording songs, a good night's sleep was earned, but before walking out the door, his producer TheVamp began working on a skeleton of a song. He was captivated by the loop and was too entranced to leave. In 45 minutes a hook and a verse were written. The song wasn’t complete but the feeling that possessed him couldn’t be ignored. The incomplete skeleton would become “Domino Effect,” the second single released from I Can’t Go Home. Foresight is how he knew the record would become something special, and being able to make it in that moment was a perk of having a home studio.
"We recorded '5 O'Clock Shadow' in the basement with little to no money. Most of 'I Can’t Go Home' was recorded in the crib. The Vamp Cave. The same setup but we had a budget. I just wanted to pay the people I was working around. Show them their time had value. I honestly prefer being in the crib than a major studio. I love the environment. I used to go out my way to feel like I needed certain things to be super successful and have the best sound, but once I started recording in home environments and getting the same sound, it was more comfortable. I would rather be in an environment where I don’t have to worry about someone else needing this room in an hour. I'd rather be somewhere where I can sit and create at my own pace and I don’t have to rush my creativity."
Jimi Tents technical talent and relatable honesty will keep him from being held down. He’s growing as an artist and lyricist, becoming more precise and potent. Signs of a monster in the making. There’s no drive like a man who has lost something important, something they’re determined to get back―just ask John Wick. I don’t know if Jimi will ever get his home back, but the loss has unlocked a passion for success big enough to topple an 18-wheeler.
Gentrification has changed her and shows no signs of stopping, but Brooklyn's womb has produced another worthy son to carry the borough's good name in hip-hop.
By Yoh, aka Rick Yohbin, aka @Yoh31