Preach Jacobs Interview with The State “Done Preaching to the Choir” by Otis Taylor

“Done preaching to the choir”
Music maker wants to spread the word of hip hop to new audiences by Otis Taylor

Some first-row fans clamber to the front of general admission concerts only to sing their favorite songs and take a photo soon to be uploaded to Facebook and Twitter.

Others, like the guy at the Lupe Fiasco show at the Koger Center in 2007, make the performer notice them.

“Shout out to my man with the dreads,” Fiasco, a Chicago rapper known for his affiliations with Kanye West and Jay-Z, said.

The guy with the dreads was rapping every word. His stretched-out arm, with the palm down, fluttered like rappers do when they’re reciting their lyrics to a beat. It was like the guy in the dreads was performing, too.

The guy was Preach Jacobs.

“I knew all the lyrics to the songs,” Jacobs said. “From a musician’s perspective, I get excited when I see hip-hop heads in the building. Not just young college girls. To have people that look like you that get what you’re doing, I understand how it is.”

Columbia is getting Preach because he’s giving the city something to get. The rapper, writer and party promoter is melding hip-hop into the local art scene. He’s presenting the genre — commercially recognized for its callous violence, drug peddling and store-bought swagger — as an art form.

At Mo’ Betta Soul, the monthly parties he hosts, Preach gives hip-hop fans — no, music fans — a snippet of the culture. He embodies the ethos of hip-hop in its purest form, and that’s not something one can fake. Because in hip-hop parlance, real recognize real.

Fiasco could see that in the crowd of college students at the free show.

“People are there because they know that you’re famous, but they don’t really know you,” said Preach, who met Fiasco after the show. “They don’t study the rhymes line for line.

“I know how important that is to see that.”

Preach opened for the Artifacts, an almost forgotten ’90s hip-hop duo, in Greenville a few weeks ago. The guy with the dreads was again in front of the stage rhyming the words of the headliner. In this era of hip-hop, a rapper vibing too much to another’s music is seen as a weakness.

Yet Preach said, “To have appreciation, I don’t think I’m dissing myself.”

Actually, an appreciation — and respect — has kept him on the grind.

Bringing it all together

The posters on the Maple Street studio walls and refrigerator are a path to his musical soul: Common, Dilla, De La Soul, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

Two Numark turntables are on a table with a Mac laptop, an Akai MPC 2000 music sampler and a lava lamp. There’s a framed photo of Preach, whose real name is Dherick Jacobs, as a cherub kid in glasses zipped tight into an adidas track jacket.

Records are stacked on the floor. A signed copy of President Obama’s GQ cover is framed on an end table.

The studio is also Preach’s living room, but there’s no couch — only three chairs. (You can see the place in the video for “Falling” on YouTube.) Preach, 26, hovered over the laptop selecting music to play, snippets of what’s he’s working on. And he’s always on the next project, one of which includes the launching of Sounds Familiar Records.

The label, named after the defunct record store, was formed by Preach and Travis Bland, both former employees at the shop that closed in February 2009.

Tonight’s Mo’ Betta Soul party at Immaculate Consumption will serve as the label launch with the release of “Rebel Radio,” Preach’s collaboration with producer Katrah-Quey. But the label, which is also working with guitar and cello duo DayClean, isn’t just hip-hop music.

“If you look on most people’s iPods, it’s not going to be just hip-hop,” Bland said. “Making our concentration one thing is narrowing our path and limiting our chances to succeed.”

The label will have small vinyl pressings of releases as well as a strong digital presence, Brand added.

“As far as selling it in stores, that’s not something we’ll do,” he said.

Sounds Familiar isn’t just for local music, either. In October, the label will release “Black.Girls.Rock!,” a long-delayed second album by Philadelphia singer Res, once a major-label star who was part of the early 2000s neo-soul movement. Res’ new music, a mix of R&B and indie pop, is what Kid Cudi wants his recent rock fusion experiments to sound like: smooth, unpredictable and, most importantly, fluid.

Res said Preach is sincere and hardworking.

“The most attractive thing about Preach’s work ethic is that he is always coming up with amazing ideas that when put to action actually work,” she said.

Preach and Bland, who plays in the indie-punk band Sons of Young, are also partners in Mo’ Betta Soul, the promotions arm of Sounds Familiar that began as an online magazine. MBS, which has put together genre-combining shows at venues such as New Brookland Tavern, has settled into a monthly arts gathering that introduces people to new ideas and music.

“The MBS concept is our way of having control over events instead of going to a place where we have to deal with a booking agent,” Preach said.

Last month, Converse Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers were featured, as well as visual artists and The Dirty Drummer, a Charlotte beatmaker. The latter performed with an MPC, turntable and a beat machine.

“No one knew who this guy was,” Preach said. “After the show, people lined up and bought his merchandise. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”

And he wants to do it in Columbia. Tonight’s MBS will feature DJ Prince Ice, the photography of Patrick Wright, posters by The Half and Half and a preview of illustrator Sanford Greene’s “1000,” a graphic novel that contains a soundtrack.

“A lot of people complain about Columbia, but our scene is pretty dope compared to other places,” Preach said. “I continue to do stuff here because there’s a want and a need for it. There’s definitely potential here.

“I want to see the city’s artistic side thrive.”

Reaching out

Preach can’t recall when he started rapping, but in 2006, with the release of “Garveyism,” he realized he could make music his career. He hasn’t blown up out of nowhere like, say, Waka Flocka Flame, but Preach has steadily worked toward branding himself and his music.

He began performing with alone in 7 Moonz as a teenager before forming the hip-hop group Kindablu. Preach has worked with several bands, and currently he’s backed frequently by the Secret B-Sides, an Asheville-based band.

Preach also works with a variety of producers, some of whom don’t live in the state or the country. Last year’s “Maple St. Sessions” was a collaboration with European producer and DJ Denz, and his partner for “Rebel Radio” is Katrah-Quey, who lives in Minnesota.

“We haven’t met yet,” Preach said of Katrah-Quey. “We just do good music.”

Preach is more than a rhyme writer and party thrower. He’s a consultant with the Nickelodeon Theatre, and he freelances for several publications, including the Free Times, where he pens the crime blotter and hip-hop pieces.

His appreciation and respect for hip-hop sometimes puts him in a position to defend the genre.

“The only thing is we hear bad hip-hop,” he said. “That’s why when I write about hip-hop in the Free Times, I take it seriously.”

Since Preach is something of an expert, it’s fair to pose these questions: Why does mainstream hip-hop lack originality or creativity? Why is South Carolina the only Southern state that hasn’t had a breakout hip-hop performer? And whose fault is it?

“The average person, I don’t think, they don’t actively seek to find new music,” he began. “When (corporations) treat radio stations like a McDonald’s, it becomes an assembly line. Instead of a record getting played based on merit or people enjoying it, now it gets played because a label puts money behind it.”

He exhaled.

“I’m tired of being in a position to defend hip-hop. I just want to do music.”

But isn’t it frustrating that rappers like Flocka and Gucci Mane, those whose subject material is limited to drugs, guns and girls, overshadow a lot of music?

“I don’t think crack rap or crunk rap is the problem,” Preach said. “I can’t get angry because obviously we’re not fighting for the same demographic.

“Besides, if they’re supposed to be so ignorant, why are they more successful than me?”

He’s not hating on popular rappers. He actually respects their grind. It’s just that Preach chooses to seek success in a way hip-hop purists can appreciate.

He gives people something they can get: music.

“If there’s a place that can set up a PA system and has the right type of ambiance, I can throw a show anywhere,” he said. “And that’s hip-hop. That’s how it started.

“We threw shows on the street corner until the cops came.”

If you’re looking for hip-hop — no, if you’re looking for good music — just look for the guy with the dreads.