Jeffrey Weaver: The Evolution of an Artist-Educator

Philly born and raised, Jeff Weaver is an educator who since the beginning of his career has stood on the edge of his field. and on the field. An audacious, perceptive, and clairvoyant challenger of the status quo, Weaver’s original philosophies have brought his students and others around him to new ways of thinking and exercising freedom. He is the author of a recently published book called “5/5 No Compromise: The Inalienable Human Rights & Souls of Black Folk!” which touches upon the commonality of Black cultures worldwide: the drum pulse that originated in Africa. In this feature, the Afrocipha begins a highlight reel of the vivid life of the great educator.

W = Jeffrey Weaver

S = Spady

B = Bajulaiye

S: What were the pivotal aspects of your educational experience at Hampton University in the early 1980’s?

W: I was in the Summer Pre-College program at Hampton University. I met my man, George McDonald, who was from Harlem and he and I became very tight. He was also up on Malcolm X. We had a lot of discourse. You know what I mean?  We would do rap sessions on campus.

B:  Were you Rapping at the time?

W:  No, I was never rapping. This is interesting. I didn’t start rapping until seven years ago. That’s crazy, right? I will be fifty in August. But it never dawned on me that because… It’s funny how shit works, right?  I loved Hip Hop but never thought about expressing this love through rapping. My family’s influence was always about law and politics. My mother was an attorney. She was the Chief Deputy City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia. And my uncle was Mayor. I had this mindset at the time, ‘this is something you do socially but not professionally.’

B:  You were thinking, ‘This is something you do for you but not as a career.’

W: Exactly! First of all, as you get older you start to see Hip Hop was not bullshitting. This shit has turned into a multifaceted business venture. Looking back, I think that had I gotten that at an earlier age, I would have pursued a career in the rap industry. It was at the beginning of my sophomore year at Hampton that I met Freedom Williams who wrote the foreword to my book.

S: Yeah, he wrote a very perceptive introduction to your recently published book, “5/5 No Compromise: The Inalienable Human Rights & Souls of Black Folk!”

W: Now, Freedom is the one from C & C Music Factory who wrote “Everybody Dance Now.”

S: So you and Freedom were actually classmates at Hampton?

W: No, he actually came a year after me. I was at Hampton a whole year before him. But he was a Five Percenter!

S: Was he a Five Percenter?

W: Oh, Was HE?

S: You had the Five Percent Nation on the campus at Hampton Institute? Come on, Freedom brought Freedom, Justice and Equality to Hampton back in the day. Like that, though?

W: He brought it down there and he BORNED, I don’t know how many he borned. Don’t know how many Gods he borned down there. When he first came down there he began teaching the Five Percent Lessons.

S: HE turned Hampton’s campus around?

W: He turned them out!

S: Where did he have Tha Ciphas?

W: He would have them on the block.

S: When they were pledging and stepping?

W: You been to Hampton, right?

S: Oh Yeah!

Five Minutes of Funk at The Open Mic

W: Freedom brought those knowledge ciphas right in the cIick. But he wasn’t really rapping on the block like that.  He was rapping conscious stuff because he was a Five Percenter. Initially, I didn’t even know he was a rapper until we had that first Jam on campus. There was an Open MIC at the Grill. And he got on the microphone…I remember they were playing the instrumental of “Five Minutes of Funk” Whodini! [Weave scats/beats like he was back on Hampton University’s  campus in the 1980’s]. Freedom was spitting over that track but he was spitting Conscious Rap about Ancient Egypt. I was like, ‘Ah shit.’ I had never heard no ish like that before! Because before that … The closest to Conscious at that time… In fact, “The Message” didn’t come out until 1985. And this was like 1984. So that Conscious Rap Freedom was Rapping was even before that. I’m like, ‘Oh shit.’ Then I had an epiphany, ‘There are limitless possibilities in Hip Hop.’ You know what I’m saying?

S:  This ish had levels.

W: Meek shit. Yeah, there’s levels to this ish. That really expanded my mind when I heard Freedom rapping. And he had a couple of rap groups while he was at Hampton. In my senior year, I lived off campus and he was the manager of an off campus house. It was a house that the choir director, Mr. Carter, owned. So what Freedom did was to break the rooms up.

S: A kind of Art House.

W: Right. So I was renting a half room from there and Freedom was the manager. He collected the rent. And so in Freedom’s Half, he had some crazy studio equipment. I ain’t ever seen that much equipment… He had all of that in his room and he used to just blast that throughout the house. That’s when I began to get a different perspective. Ya See!

One finds that Weaver utilized Hip Hop in his classroom pedagogy. It was introduced as a contributor to his promotion of drum culture.

S: Tell me, how did you actualize your classrooms? Let’s saying you’re walking in, the first semester of middle school or senior high school. What was your point of entry?

W: I hoped to introduce drumming into my class. Even when I wasn’t teaching music. You know Kenyatta right? You know I’d bring him and he’d drum in the class, I’d introduce the culture. My first recognition of what I just read, when I was teaching at Overbrook, it was a kid in the class who was reading the dictionary. He wasn’t doing my assignment, but he was in the dictionary. I mean he was IN the dictionary. He was engulfed in it. And I said, ‘what’re you doing, this is not my assignment?’ He said he was looking for words for his rhymes that he could use to battle at lunchtime. When he said that, that really blew my mind. That was like an epiphany. I can’t get these kids to do no homework assignments, classwork, none of that shit. I end up teaching them, but I have to make them laugh, I talk shit. And then interject history in between for them to retain it. But here’s something he’s doing all on his own. And he was IN it. That’s when I really got on this real quest for Hip Hop. I started working with rappers in the school; I started having ciphas in my classroom.

S: How would they jump off, how would you do it?

W: Sometimes the kids would come down, because I was popular, so the kids would come visit me in class to just set it off. And if someone wanted to battle someone, they would come to my room.

5_5fb cover

S: How do the students respond to you validating ciphas? When did it start?

W: The 90’s. The mid 90’s. I facilitated a lot of ciphas. Then I would encourage them to read, you can’t be an MC and all you know about is the streets. You gotta to know more shit than that.

S: What would you have them read?

W: Well you know I’d have em’ reading about the same shit I used to read. Malcolm, and about Black History. You gotta know about everything that’s going on. You gotta incorporate, and then when you say that shit it’s gonna go over them niggas in the game who didn’t study that shit. You gotta be more well versed, so I used to come at them at that. I actually ended up starting a Hip Hop program, which we don’t do officially anymore, but my wife and I still have it.

S: How did it work?

W: Well it’d help your vocabulary develop. When I was working at Vaux, in 07′, I would drive by the city and pick the kids up in the morning. The Principal that was supportive, she couldn’t get no money from anywhere but she let me use the school afterschool and in the summer. So I’d drive around the city, pick the kids up, and take em’ in there, and I’d have the vocabularians they work with. This was like 10th grade vocabulary though, and these were younger kids, but they would master it because they rhyming. So they was hungry to learn, look up the words, break it down, get the syntax, pronunciation and everything. And then we got a couple of folks who make beats. I even established a relationship with the music box music school. We never got to that point that they was making cd’s. You see I was trying to put everything together, so they could write their own rhymes, record, and go sell em’ at the store. We were teaching the entrepreneurship part that they don’t teach in schools. That whole concept and idea came from Overbrook. When I would go into the school, I’d always come to them with Hip Hop. If I’m new to a school, I’d come to them with, ‘who’s your favorite rapper?’ They’d say ‘Jay.’ I’d say, ‘man that nigga corny.’ [everyone laughs]. And I pull em’ right in. See what I’m saying?

B: Were there any opportunities to ever integrate Hip Hop into the curriculum?

W: Not officially. The principals wouldn’t allow it. It was only one — Sandra Piercing. R.I.P, she passed away, she had a brain aneurysm a few years back. But she was the only one. You remember Reed Dollaz? So a few years ago when he was hot, when him and Meek were hot, another kid named Sean was supposed to battle Reed. So he was like, ‘Yo old head, my man tryna set up a battle with me and Reed. When that nigga come here ima rob him.’ He was dead serious. He said, ‘I’m serious man, I’ma rob him.’ But you see, I wouldn’t take the traditional teacher role, I’d chop it up with him and show him, ‘man don’t do no dumb shit like that. C’mon why would you rob another black man?’ That was an opportunity to teach. So I’d hit him from a leveled place.

Weaver is a progressive, pragmatic and effective educator. He has used multiple approaches to inspire, motivate and teach his students about the world around them, and about how far reaching their capacities are. In support of the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012, he directed a crafty song called “Rock Barack Obama,” which featured a number of his students. Within the moving, swaggy, mesmerizing beat and style of the record, important topics on the table were covered such as Healthcare, the unemployment rate, and the 99% vs. 1%. It’s incredible the level of self-empowerment, agency, and comfortability in expressing their full selves, that was encouraged in the students as a part of the video direction and production process. Rare Genius Productions — the company owned by James and that drove the song’s creation — is also responsible for the more recent direction in the  “Cheeky” music video, and the running of the Miss Black Genez, Blue Jeanz Woman Empowerment Pageant. Weaver is very much here and there.

OFFICIAL MISS BLACK GENEZ-BLUE JEANZ PAGEANT FLYER

I’m not a rebel. I’m an affirmationist. I affirm African culture. I’m living this

S: What do you see as a major challenge in the communities today?

W: The world is a jungle. Like, you got buildings and pavements and streets. It looks like civilization. But if you look at it from a plane down, you see greenery and streets that look like a maze. But we’re actually in a jungle. We live in a façade and we think it’s a civilization, but the jungle don’t change. So that’s why a lot of niggas get caught up in the streets, because they think they in the streets, but they really in the fucking jungle. And the jungle rules predate the street rules. So if you get in a confrontation, a lot of brothers when they should retreat, because of their ego, the streets say, ‘I can’t let niggas know that I’m a bitch.’ They think, ‘I gotta get that back, If you say some slick shit I might punch a nigga in his mouth.’ But the jungle rules say if you got one space to retreat, you fucking retreat. Survival. I did a couple of workshops on that: “Welcome to the jungle,” how so many brothers say they from the streets. But if this is your stomping ground, if this is your terrain, then why so many brothers locked up? How you getting caught in your own terrain? Because you think you’re from the streets, but you’re really from the jungle.

The Afrocipha will continue, down the line, to elaborate on the life and times of Jeffrey Weaver. Until then, check out his literary treasure: 5/5 No Compromise: The Inalienable Human Rights & Souls of Black Folk!”

Copyright James G. Spady and Akinyemi Bajulaiye 2015