From battle MC to poetry Slam master Jah Smalls has touched it all. With his home base now in NC this native New Yorker hosts a variety of affairs from open mic nights, poetry slams, and writing workshops. Jah is the eldest of 8 children. An unfortunate event at his former job opened the door to a new area of ventures including publishing his very first book. He’s the Co-Creator of @grannae’sboyz, the slam master of Respect Da Mic Poetry Slam team and also a Guerilla Poet. This outspoken advocate for victims of gun violence and those who suffer with depression as a result of PTSD hopes to one day have his own facility that teaches and introduces the participants to writing exercises that will help them cope with their day to day activities.
The Curvy Vegetarian is grateful for the opportunity to interview Jah and hope that you will enjoy the feature for National Poetry Month!
When did you discover your gift with poetry and words?
“I’ve been a writer as long as I could remember. In elementary school I would write poems to the girls I liked and I wrote plenty or raps. By the age of 13 I.was a battle MC.”
How did you come up with your poetry/stage name?
“My stage name is actually abbreviated from the name one of my favorite cousins picked up. His name is Jahi <Jah He> its an African name that means dignity….. Jah means God in some languages and its vibration is also very powerful.when you recite the name. So Just Jah <the_jstah> ,I drop the “U” to make it selfless when I’m giving myself to the people. Its all about the people I am just a spoke in the wheel.”
What has been your most valuable takeaway from being a spoken word artist/poet?
“For the most part the validity in the affects on others surpasses anything and everything when it comes to my gift. I only see rewards in the craft, even when there’s a small audience. I realize someone is always listening even when it appears to be no one listening.”
In what ways do you feel poetry can impact our mental and spiritual health? Has poetry helped you heal from anything?
“Awesome question. I am a victim of gun violence. It happened when I was 19. Until I began to open up and express myself through my gift I had no idea I was dealing with PTSD. I had no idea PTSD was a ‘thing’.
My craft has allowed me to feel free expressing myself even it it means I do it alone, in a mirror or in front of a room full of folks. Its a very rewarding and healing instrument that many of our people can gain from. It certainly has become a major part of my healing process…”
I’ve seen on your Instagram that you are very dedicated hosting and judging poetry events all over as well as your own in Charlotte. Where does your passion lie? Hosting, writing, performing, or all of the above?
Unfortunately I was disabled on my job in 2011. Being out of work and not sure where the next $1 was coming from is indescribable. I was in a dark place and needed to find an outlet but I was afraid of the impact the head trauma would have on me. I spoke to one of my brothers <biological brother> Mr. Witz who happens to be an amazing human being and a poet/writer and we shared some ideas and I somehow found the courage to fight through this pain everyday at every event. There are times I cannot move the next day however this gift is bigger than I so I keep pushing.
What inspires you?
“Oh my, there are so many things that inspire me; people, poets, hurt, movies, sufferage, injustices, I can go on and on. However the story of my mom, the strength in this little woman with the Giant spirit is spellbounding. She had a scholarship to Alvin Ailey dance school in one hand and with the other hand she held on to this tiny fetus that later would be known to this world as the_jstjah. She made her decision, an almost impossible decision for many had become as easy as sunday morning for my Umi <Arabic word for mother>. She gave birth to 8 children and of her 6 sons there was only one who had a little trouble with incarceration. She is a mighty woman, an educator, designer and devoted Muslim woman. I love my Queen.”
Have you ever had “writer’s block”? If so, how did you overcome?
Yes. Writer’s block happens, often sometimes. When this happens I have 2 alternative music or listening to other poets via youtube. Jazz or some sort of binaural focus music, sort of like a Zen music station. That normally does it for me.
If you had the opportunity to encourage another aspiring artist on his/her path, what would you share with them?
The number one rule for any artist of any genre is stay true to yourself and just write it out. Don’t try to make it perfect until you’ve gotten it out first….Stay Focused!!! Once its done believe in it to the point that a confused person would be swayed by your confidence.
Will you share your three favorite scriptures or inspirational quotes?
I have one quote that I would love to share my father told me years ago.
The perfect religion to follow is:
“Do unto others as you would have the do unto you”
The Quran teaches “Allah is sufficient” and it is Allah alone who make Muslims <one who submits to the will of God>.
Follow Jah on Instragram: @the_jstjah for more inspiration!