Usually the reason why I’m able to get so much interesting information from an artist I interview is because of how much I know…the further I reach, the deeper they dig generally. However, with J-Sumbi (James Sumbi) I didn’t know a whole lot. He has long been on my list of the largest Hip Hop mysteries. I had searched for more info about him years and mostly hit dead-ends, but every once in a while I would get a small tidbit of info that was interesting, but usually that just spawned even more questions. When I finally established contact and locked in the interview I was re-inspired to put forth my most spirited search for more details on him, which again only yielded limited results. When I finally pulled all the scattered small pieces of information together for the first time I knew this was going to be an epic interview. The raw info didn’t necessarily suggest that outright, but I just had this feeling…
Videographer extraordinaire, Adam Stanzak and myself met James Sumbi at his comfortable home in the Leimart Park area. I think he was nearly as eager tell his story as I was to hear it, perhaps that is because despite his important contributions to this Culture, you are unlikely to find many, if any, other interviews with him…I couldn’t find any. Here was a goldmine of information that he’d been sitting on for a couple decades now and here was finally an outlet. My basic approach was to just sit back and let him talk and share as much as possible. Even though that made some of the editing challenging, I was able to get so much more from him that way.
The result is a very extensive interview with James Sumbi. The more he spoke, the more questions arose. He had an endless supply of stories and I wanted to hear them all. Even after I left, feeling like a kid who just got everything he wanted for Christmas and then some, I found myself thinking of things that connected with those stories. Definitely a follow up discussion is going to be needed.
As for now, we discuss how Freestyle Fellowship’s “To Whom It May Concern” probably wouldn’t exist without him, not to mention his importance in Freestyle Fellowship’s forming in the first place. We learn why he wasn’t a part of “Inner City Griots”. The story of his group, All In All, who won The Source’s Unsigned Hype and their then pending record deals. Plus we cover his involvement in The Nonce getting signed, why he disappeared from the scene and his very extensive archive of unreleased music.
For those completely not in the know, J-Sumbi is a LA based Human Beatbox, DJ, MC, Producer, Instrumentalist, Music Theorist, and self-proclaimed bookworm/nerd, who was more than amply skilled in each aspect. This is his fascinating story…
PART ONE: In Part One, we just start to scratch the surface on his earliest days discovering Hip Hop. He discusses the music his parents played growing up and how that transitioned to his allure with Funk and eventually Hip Hop. He also talks about the early differences of LA and East Coast Hip Hop. He talks about his music training in school band and how he benefited from the LA Magnet Performing Arts School Program. He remembers meeting his All In All partner, Mellow D, in High School and forming a DJ crew and being active making Mixtapes and then later 4-track demos. Plus he recalls his high school days as a Human Beat Box, convincing his Mom to buy him turntables and a 4-track, and shopping for vinyl at the Roadium Swap Meet as Dr. Dre was influencing what was being sold there!! We come to a close of Part One with him remembering reading the paper and learning about a local high school group that got themselves on a late 80s Soundtrack (movie called Big Shots in ’87). He reached out to that group and they joined forces and the group featured the MC who would eventually become known as Ganjah K!
He speaks on the magjc of how well him and Myka Nine collaborated from the first song they recorded. He goes into great detail of how the idea for “To Whom It May Concern” came about. A big influence of that was getting a job in the music industry doing marketing via his college professor and how that gave him some insight and connections to make his compilation plan a reality.
Once he had the idea in place and the tools to pursue it, he went to the Good Life and pulled his favorite MCs to the side and invited them to his house to have a meeting about making a compilation. He also explains why The Chronic p.k.a West Coast Posse (LT. KMC a.k.a Ganjah K & Dr Bombay) weren’t on “To Whom It May Concern”. Essentially he breaks down the whole process and plan for doing the compilation; the investment plan, the recording process, the marketing ideas and full business proposition that he proposed to the MCs!!!
The story about how “We Will Not Tolerate” came together is pretty amazing!! It all started with a slightly oddball idea from Myka Nine. J-Sumbi tried to bring it to life and when he was working on it in the living room and figured a trick to make it work, the guys came out of a bedroom and heard what he was working on and immediately got into it…then BAM! The track was spontaneously born…
This leads to a discussion of how Myka Nine would get involved and add to the production and ultimately helped open J-Sumbi’s mind to new boundaries in production. He also explains how Myka’s input affected the songs “7th Seal” and “5 O’Clock Follies”!! This is just fascinating material good peoples!!