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Jeff Campbell on Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?, his one-man show on hip-hop

Jeff Campbell as Jigaboo Jones.
Jeff Campbell as Jigaboo Jones.

In Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?, Jeff Campbell dissects the current state of hip-hop through the fictional story of a fallen rapper. His "one-man mockumentary on the hip-hop industrial complex" is an exploration on the exploitation of hip-hop culture, taking aiming at the industry in a humorous, thought-provoking way.

After the show's debut on Friday, October 4, at work | space, there will be a discussion of race, hip-hop, youth and community accountability, featuring a panel of local music and education experts: Musa Bailey, Mane Rok, LadySpeech, Shareef Aleem and Ami Desai. But Campbell already got the discussion rolling when he spoke recently with Westword about the creation of Who Killed Jigaboo Jones? and the effect commodification has had on the growing hip-hop community.

See also: Flobots.org break ground on $2.75 million Youth Media Studio at DHA's Mariposa Phase II

Westword: How or where did the character of Jigaboo Jones come from?

Jeff Campbell: The character came about from me and my friends kind of looking at, I would say, the current state of hip-hop -- calling it what it is. (Laughs.) Top 40 music has extracted, I think, the soul of the culture and what is called hip-hop is really a shadow of the true essence of what we feel like hip-hop was versus what it has become.

To me, the character Jigaboo Jones represents the current state of hip-hop, the quote-unquote "death" of hip-hop culture. But it also has a lot to do with me and my career as an artist, so in a lot of ways, he also represents my inner-prostitute archetype.

Finally, I think Jigaboo also represents on the macro-scale, the dominant worldview of black males in America -- which is violent, misogynist, uneducated and materialistic.

As this is a one-man show, you play all of these different characters along with Jigaboo Jones. Where did those characters originate?

To some degree those characters are pieces of my own personality, as well as people I have encountered. They are characteristics and personalities that are something I am very vulnerable to, obviously, if it bothers me that much. I developed all of the characters based on archetypes -- I did research on these archetypes and also developed the characters that way. It was very easy to take a vampire and take its archetype, study that, and then know exactly what a vampire is going to say in this situation.

Is Who Killed Jigaboo Jones? just a snapshot of this character's life or an overview of his experience?

The story is set up like a VH1 Where Are They Now? type of thing. One guy, the Media Vulture, he is the journalist -- the vulture archetype is that he waits for the kill to happen and then he comes and capitalizes off the dead carcass. He doesn't kill anything himself -- he capitalizes off the story of the dead rapper.

Then there are five characters after that, that were quote-unquote "in" Jigaboo Jones's life -- they are telling their perspective of who he was as an artist and as a person. As the story goes, they reveal how they all had an angle on the guy, how they all were trying to capitalize off of him in some way. That's why I call it a "mockumentary on the hip-hop industrial complex" -- because there are corporate benefactors of the creativity from the community from which hip-hop culture finds its origin.

What sort of dialogue do you hope occurs -- or maybe has already happened -- as you put this performance together?

Well, I mean, it gets to be a dangerous place for me to be in when I have an objective or I if I put too much of my intentions or my opinions, rather, of what people should think from the work of art. They need to take it as an interpretation themselves, and the dialogue really needs to happen organically. But, speaking for myself, what I really wanted to say is that we are complicit in our own manipulation and exploitation.

We used to, at the turn of the (last century) with minstrels, we used to be handed a script from a white writer and were told to put on a black face and portray this image. Now we write that script ourselves and we put on the black face or, in other words, we portray the stereotype in hopes for the big paycheck. In hopes that this is our ticket out the ghetto. You know what I'm saying?

That's one of the many points that I am trying to bring across in this script.

This character of Jigaboo Jones is ubiquitous in pop culture in 2013. There are so many versions of this artist that I think we can look to.

Exactly, there are so many versions of this person. This is my story. Jezebel Jenkins is coming up next -- I'm not sure how we're going to do Jezebel Jenkins -- but the sexploitation of women is something I am looking forward to co-writing (about) with a woman artist to create the female complement to this very story.

Also, with this particular production, I'm branding my company -- this is the kind of thing I want to do. It is my approach to theater. I like to call it multimedia underground storytelling because we are using video and photography as well as acting and music to really bring this whole story out in a dynamic way so that it reaches and captures the attention of the audience from a generation who is not into the traditional format of theater.

I think it is great, relevant conversation to bring to all audiences, but especially younger people. Hip-hop itself is a fairly young genre -- but it has changed a lot over three decades, and that is no time at all.

It is a tool of empowerment -- I'm just going to be quite frank with you, if I may. These poor, despised and rejected young people from a community -- that the country, that the government, that society had given up on -- developed a culture, an art form, an artistic expression, that has become a multi-billion dollar annual industry worldwide that they are not the benefactors there of.

The fact that music is the vehicle is frustrating.

And music is a far more powerful tool than they are willing to admit -- when it is convenient for them. The companies will hold their hands up and say, well, we are letting the artists be themselves, this is their community, this is what they are about.

But if I were to write a song like "Cop Killer," for example, it would be taken off of my album. If it is just music and it is just entertainment, then why are we protesting them? Yet, we are not protesting, kill every other powerless person on the street. Kill people over turf wars and the drug game -- because that's just entertainment. But if I talk about killing police officers, all of a sudden, that could incite violence toward police officers.

And meanwhile, we're dealing with cases where police officers are shooting and killing innocent people who are looking for help.

I know. I'm very tongue and cheek in my approach -- and I make a statement regarding that, kind of, with the character The Deceiver of Justice in the play. But the script is fun and there are a lot of nuances and I don't think everybody will catch everything the first go-around. But that's the whole point -- it's embedded with little nuggets of truth and reality, in a satirical manner. That way people can come and see it a second and a third time and enjoy it on a different level, because there is plenty to discover within the story and script.

I think that is also something that lends to the coverage of a topic like hip-hop being multi-generational.

Absolutely. There is definitely stuff that only younger people will get, or hip-hoppers and music folks. It's "mockumentary" in the way of like, Spinal Tap. But at the same time, there are so many things only older folks will be able to understand and get from their perspective. It is a lot of fun, but at the same time, it is really highlighting some important things that folks should walk away from, hopefully having that conversation.

What is your background as a performer and artist?

I've done lots of theater work with donnie (betts, Jigaboo's director) over the years, particularly with his Black Radio: Destination Freedom days. In addition to that, I have cut a few PSAs with him for the Department of Transportation.

But I would say the majority of my performance experience is in hip-hop -- as a performer, I've released four studio albums under the stage name Apostle. I toured the U.S. and Canada with a band, Heavyweight Dub Champion, which I released two albums with also. I was first published as an artist in '94, and my last release dropped in 2008.

Over that time, I spent a lot of time in the game as a hip-hop artist. In addition to that, I think my greatest accomplishment was in 1997: I founded and directed the non-profit organization Colorado Hip Hop Coalition. I led that organization for nine years, and it was basically the precursor to Youth On Record. Jamie Laurie (Jonny 5 of Flobots) was one of my instructors back then. Basically, we did assemblies, workshops and after-school programs for high school and middle school aged youth who had an interest in the music industry and hip-hop culture.

I raised almost a million dollars in the name of hip-hop education when that was basically unheard of in this part of the country.

Hip-hop is the microcosm -- what is happening in the plot of this story is really happening in every 'hood across the country. We are being murdered, we're being exploited, manipulated -- and we're complicit. We completely are participatory in it. The audience is complicit in this manipulation and exploitation; it's one big handshake all the way around. From the corporate benefactors to the consumers to the creators themselves, everybody is just fine with Jigaboos.

Now, I also want to talk you a little about the word Jigaboo -- this is really important. What you'll find curious is that the n-word is never used in the entire play. Because if I said, who killed Nigga Jones, nobody's eyebrows would be raised. Now, I can go to my fellow brother on the street and say, what's up, my nigga? I can do that and I will get, hey, what's up?

But if I say, hey, what's happening, Jigaboo? He would look at me like, what did you say? My mentor, Brother Jeff Fard, really explained to me the dehumanization of language. So, that's what using the word Jigaboo is about. I put that out there as the title for a reason.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but this is the inherent problem: if we can sit here and call each other nigga all day, and not be offended, then dehumanization becomes embedded in the psyche and then we can't rise above that. We can justify killing the next nigga on the block because it's just a nigga.

I had a similar reaction recently when I stood next to a woman at a concert in a Kendrick Lamar-referencing shirt that said, "Bitch, don't kill my vibe." Bitch operates in a very similar realm of vocabulary.

In our minds, it makes us easier to assault that way. So there it is.

Who Killed Jigaboo Jones? opens Friday, October 4 at work | space, 2701 Lawrence Street; opening night is sold out, but tickets are available for additional performances running Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through October 19; for a schedule and tickets, $16 to $20, visit the venue's website.