David Jassy playing music for Common and guests Hip-hop artist Rashid “Common” Lynn heard about the positive music being produced from prison by David Jassy, a Grammy-nominated Swedish rapper and producer, and came into San Quentin to meet about a collaborative project.
“He has a genuine interest in prison reform,” Jassy said. “They heard about the YOP mixtape and they have ideas they want to discuss.”
The YOP mixtape, produced by Jassy, showcases the raw voices of young incarcerated rappers rhyming about their truths, without glorifying violence or cursing.
“Their raps feel real to me,” Common said. “Their struggle resonates.”
“We want the voices from in here to be heard outside — through artwork, music and storytelling,” Common said. “When we get the word out, people will see humanity and our truth.”
Common, a Chicago native, is a hip-hop icon, actor and activist. He’s won two Grammys (2003 Best R&B Song, 2007 Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group) plus a 2015 Golden Globe award for Best Original song (“Glory”). He’s also done several movies: “Aces,” with Alicia Keys, and “American Gangster,” with Denzel Washington, among many others.
“When people see the humanity in our brothers and sisters locked up, they get to see human beings who made mistakes,” he said. “I think that’s important for our society.”
On Aug. 2, for the first time, Common visited San Quentin with Budnick and Jessica Sloan (Cut50), among others, to meet with Jassy.
“It was a productive meeting. I’m excited to see what it leads to,” Jassy said.
Sloan added, “We have a shared goal of elevating the voices of people inside and showing the incredible talent behind bars.”
“Dear prison, you’ve been stealing my time for too long …”
After the meeting, he had a prison tour by Public Information Officer Lt. Sam Robinson, who came to work in the middle of his vacation. He saw a cellblock, the inside of a cell, a chow hall, the exercise yard and the media center.
As he walked through the Lower Yard on his way to the media center, incarcerated fans greeted him. He took time to acknowledge each person.
He signed autographs and posed for pictures taken by an incarcerated journalist, with the permission of the prison officials.
As Common walked past the basketball court, he was challenged to a game of one-on-one and he accepted. Displaying the dribbling skills of an NBA point guard, he took San Quentin’s former Warrior Blade Kittrell-Leaks to the hole, but missed the shot.
Kittrell-Leaks, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound North Richmond native, kept his body on Common, playing tough defense. Common responded in kind. It took several shot attempts before he nailed a short-range shot for the win. The home crowd cheered for him.
Inside the media center, he was treated to a performance of “Break the Mold,” written and performed by Eric “Maserati E” Abercrombie. On the spot, Common added a freestyle verse.
“We can break the mold, don’t let the prison take control, God has the goal …,” Common rapped.
“That was dope,” Jassy said. “That was real freestyle, off the dome. Common is a true MC.”
Next San Quentin’s Gregg Sayers performed a soulful R&B song: “Dear prison, you’ve been stealing my time for too long …”
Sayers talked about his motivation for song-writing. “If you have a way of getting someone to listen, what do you have to say?”
Common talked about how he started visiting prisons. Budnick came to his concerts for seven years trying to get Common to come inside a prison, but Common resisted. The socially conscious rapper said he focused on trying to stop gun violence on the streets of Chicago. But Budnick remained persistent. When it clicked that everything is tied to the prison system, he decided to join him.
In order fix the system, Common said, you have to involve the people in the struggle because they know best how to solve issues that affect them the most.
“It has to be defined by the people from there,” Common said.
“I grew up listening to Common. ‘I Used to Love Her’ was one of my favorite songs,” Jassy said.
Common has an album out with Robert Glasper called “August Greene” and he’s working on a film called “The Hate You Give,” based on a poem by Tupac.
The YOP mixtape is awaiting clearance from the prison administration for its release.