No one is surprised to hear lyrics on the radio about sex and violence, or a combination of the two. It’s pretty much expected in modern rap. However, rapper Juma Inniss, a senior marketing communication major, is using his business savvy to spread a different message.
“I believe that there is music and there is magic,” said the Boston native, whose stage name is simply Juma. “Music comes and goes, but magic pervades throughout generations. Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, The Beatles — they all made magic. Magic is what I strive for.”
A rapper and songwriter since high school, Inniss released his first album Blast Music in 2005 on his own independent label, Inniss Entertainment Group. After taking time off from recording to soul-search and participate in charity work, he hopes to self-release his sophomore album, Fall of the Giants, next month.
His recent efforts haven’t gone unnoticed — the music video for “Til the DJ’s Gone,” the first single off Fall of the Giants, was recently posted on VH1.com after he “sent it in on a wing and a prayer.” The video, which also features his song “We Don’t Really Care,” comments on media influence on the public, flashing video clips of celebrities over the repeated lyrics “Hypnotized, control your mind.”
His music, which he describes as “pure funk,” combines rap, hip-hop, alternative, indie, and electronic. He also tends to play with some unexpected sounds: light piano dances over a persistent thump in “Fine and Crazy,” while the audio of a live audience and a booming beat in his recent track “Giants Fall” make it difficult to keep your feet from tapping.
His lyrics also stand out from those of his contemporaries.
“Fall of the Giants deals with freedom from fear, form, and limitation,” he said. His songs discuss the importance of individualism, the impact of mass media, the lives of underprivileged youth, and the role of religion in politics, among other topics. “There’s a social dimension to it, a political dimension to it, a spiritual dimension to it.”
Inniss said that the force behind much of his songwriting is his Christian faith.
“God has done great things in my life and I’m happy about it, and a part of the impetus for what I’m doing is to share that joy, that liberty that I’ve experienced,” said Inniss, who is in his mid-twenties. “The hope is that more people would take up a sense of social responsibility with their lyrics.”
But Inniss wasn’t always so focused. As a kid in Hyde Park, Mass., he only knew he had found something he loved in rapping.
“It came from following my cousin around. He was a rapper and his friends were producers, he said. That was one of my first introductions to music and the production of hip-hop.”
As he grew up, he aspired to rap professionally.
“I just caught the bug. I remember in high school, I wrote my first song, and I became hooked on the process,” he said. “It was an incredible outlet for me ... I was definitely involved in freestyle sessions in the cafeteria.”
However, after high school, he reconsidered his dream and decided to pursue a career that would offer a day job, earning an associate degree in television broadcasting from the New England Institute of Art in Brookline. After graduating in 2008 and starting work at an editing job, he realized he didn’t want a career in television. But today he recognizes the value of his degree.
“There are huge takeaways from my time at [the Institute]. I cut my teeth as an editor,” he said. “In looking for people to direct my videos, I know what to look for. I’ve been on the inside of the process, and when I see somebody’s work, I can tell what they know and how well they know it.”
Two years after graduating from NEIA, Inniss realized he wasn’t knowledgeable enough about a huge part of the music industry: the business end.
“What brought me to Emerson was the recognition that I need some sort of business/marketing foundation to support what I’m doing with my art,” he said. And with graduation just around the corner (he expects to earn his B.S. this summer), he recognizes that music is only a part of the music business.
What’s more, Inniss is interested in helping other artists start their music careers. At first, he only crafted the record label to support his own ambitions.
“But as of recently,” he said, “with time and maturity and understanding, there is a huge shift in terms of the goals and aspirations of the company. It’s a much broader scope than Juma music.”
While Inniss Entertainment Group is currently only supporting its creator, Inniss hopes that what he accomplishes in his own projects will create a “platform” for other artists, musicians he will help to develop.
But he’s certainly not giving up on his own artistic dreams. While he admits that he is unsure of where his career will end up, he said, “What I do know for sure is I’ll be in the pursuit of social change through art.”