Jessica Disu, aka FM Supreme, is a multi-talented artist who defies normal categorization. She's been rhyming since the age of 10, and whereas many would be quick to tag her as a one-dimensional "female lyricist," Jessica is just as quick to squash that misnomer with a perspective that deals more with sense and logic than mere gender politics. In her relatively young career she's released five respectable projects, including a recent EP entitled The FM Supreme Project
. The EP is a culmination of her experiences over the past 16 months, and holds her at her finest as she commands the mic with razor-sharp precision and heady wordplay.
At this point in her career, FM Supreme has moved away from the fickle music scene and dove headfirst into the classroom, where she's eager to share her perspectives on life. As she continues to juggle her talents, it would be wise to keep tabs on her to see what she comes up with next. Centerstage caught up with her before her EP release party at the Beat Kitchen to talk about those ambitions and what we can expect in the coming months.
Are you from Chicago originally?
I was born and raised in Chicago. I have lived here a majority of my life with the exception of two years living in NYC. I went to college in Midtown - Manhattan - after I graduated from The Chicago Academy for the Arts High School. For a short while, lived in Harlem while interning in the promotions dept at Warner Music Group.
How and when did you first get interested in hip-hop?
I first got interested in hip-hop when I was 10. My mother was a manager at the time and had her own record label. Being around her inspired me to become an artist. I figured it would hold my mom's attention and it was something that just stuck, but I wasn't serious about it. When I was 11, in 1999 I think, rapper Eve came out with her song "Love is Blind," which is about domestic violence. It was then that I knew I wanted to rap for sure and that my music could relate to people. I had a cousin who was experiencing the same type of abuse that the girl in Eve's song was, and it just hit home. It was my "eureka!" moment and I knew then that I wanted to be the hip-hop artist to speak to girls and women, the way Eve spoke to me.
Was there one particular moment aside from that that inspired you to become an emcee or was it just a culmination of things?
The moment that made me know and believe that I could actually be an emcee was when I was 13. I actually had the opportunity to meet Eve on the South Side of Chicago. The movie Barbershop starring Ice Cube was being filmed around the corner from my mom's apartment. I went up to the production set everyday and would rap for Eve and the other crew members of the film. She basically mentored, motivated and inspired me for a few weeks and told me to go to the studio to record my material for the first time. Those were real moments for me because just two- three years ago, I'm listening to Eve on the radio and watching her music videos, and now in real life she's telling me that I'm a good rapper and could make it and that I should go record myself to hear how my voice sounds. I've been recording ever since. That was my moment of inspiration to begin my journey as an emcee and performer.
How does Chicago inspire you as an artist?
Chicago inspires me a lot, and for many reasons. There's a lot going on here. I'm a part-time creative writing teacher at a private all girls school. I am also a teaching artist for youth organizations, Young Chicago Authors and Kuumba Lynx. I frequent performances and writing workshops in CPS. I am personally connected and affected by the youth violence and murders that are taking place here. It is as if it has become the norm. It's not even news anymore. It's crazy.
My biggest fear is losing one of my students to violence. I told them, "bullets have no name on them and death happens in a moment. In one moment, that could've been you, or me." This is the city of shady politics, corrupt governors, mayors who step down for "no reason," and home to the first black family in the White House. Chi City is full of stories, imagination and inspiration. It's just really about choosing which ones are worthy enough to tell.
What's your take on the hip-hop scene here?
The hip-hop scene here to me is arbitrary. I think there are many different scenes; grungy underground backpack rapper scene, hipster/hip hop scene, 'I'm too cool for school' scene. I mean I'm sure there's more. I try not to get too involved or caught up in any of the scenes. This city lacks unity for the most part. The scenes here don't seem to be interested in unifying to become one voice to make noise - that would make the industry and world alike notice our music, movement and culture. This inspired my song, The Barrel on the EP. My take is, think globally, act locally. Most of these artists are "local-minded" and are content and comfortable with being local. I'm good on that. I have already toured in Amsterdam and London in 2009. I'm touring overseas again soon. I can't be caught up in Chicago politics of any kind. It's not even important on a larger scale of things. What is important is the voice, and plight of the shorties (youth) that are dying. I'd rather rock shows that are worth it at night, financially and in my day life inspire the future. That's what it's really about.
As a female emcee, what are some of the biases that you've encountered? Has that fueled you in any way?
As a female emcee, I'm constantly hated on by my male counterparts. I've been performing on a steadfast grind since 15 years old; hitting the scene with mix tapes, EPs and albums before cats started rhyming. Seriously, some of these dudes just started rapping a year or two ago, and you can tell, and they still don't show me the love and respect that I feel I deserve. I think that has a lot to do with my talent. My lyrical ability is supreme and my performance is high caliber. If you share a bill with me, you have to "bring it" or be upstaged by a girl ... and no one wants that, so I'm not typically booked by these guys for shows. They never ask me to perform at their events even though they are fans or have heard of FM Supreme. I'm a very consistent emcee, I just happen to be a woman. I'm not personally offended or anything. It makes me work that much harder to be better at what I do.
In addition to emceeing you also work as a social activist and educator. What programs are you a part of, and in what ways has hip-hop helped you in terms of conveying a larger message?
I teach at an all girls high school and recently signed up to come into a CPS grammar school to teach 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. This is exciting because at the all girls school, my students are juniors and seniors. I teach creative writing, poetry, hip hop and the art of life. I'm always drawing from life experiences so my students can relate and hopefully get the lesson without having to experience it firsthand. Hip-hop gives me my credibility. The youth listen to me and look up to me because they know I'm real and because I can rap that makes me a "dope teacher." I don't take this responsibility lightly and because I have power and influence, I'm responsible with it or at least I try to be. I don't curse in my music anymore or use the N-word, hopefully this will inspire my students to utilize their vocabulary more. We are all poets. My mentor, poet and Oak Park River Forest slam coach Peter Khan has always told me "rap is rhythm and poetry."
Could you tell me a little bit about your label, the CommonWealth Music Group?
CommonWealth Music Group was formed toward the middle of second semester in college, 2007, while living in New York. I had already independently released two projects prior to graduating high school and I was functioning like a label exec: fundraising the budget, getting the graphic designer, finding the producer, etc. When I was 18, I decided to give what I was doing a name, and spirit said, 'CommonWealth Music Group' and I've been rocking with it ever since. I've had several young artists come and go/grow. Right now, we are in a nice place. I have a solid team behind the scenes. Talent (Producer/MC) and I are the only recording artists signed to the company presently.
CommonWealth is a movement though, full of activists, artists, educators and entertainers. My production team is sick. Be on the lookout for them, a trio including Talent. My logo and visual image is brought through the lens of my photographer, James Cox and graphic designer, Summer Coleman (Blknd Graphics). I also have a young protégé, Jasmine Carter, 18 year-old singer/rapper who’s a freshman at Columbia College. We are CW.
You're about to release a new EP, The FM Supreme Project, could you tell me a little bit about what went into it?
The FM Supreme Project EP is a short piece of a larger body of work that is being written and or re-written for the full length LP that will be dropping in March 2011. This project was written during some very defining moments in my life over the past 16 months. The mind state that I'm in is like that of the projects, a place where you can survive but not live. Like you aren't meant to live there your entire life. If you do live in the pj's your whole life, it can become a hindrance to your worldly development. Or like even if you planned to live there forever, you're hit with the reality of gentrification that knocks down the building you live in and everything around the world that you thought you knew.
To see more about FM Supreme, check out her website.