Keith: Welcome to Disability Empowerment Now Season 2! I am your host Keith Murfee-DeConcini. Today I will be speaking to Keith Jones who is an Emmy Award Winning musician, CEO and Founder of Soul Touchin’ Experiences and co-founder of KripHop Nation. Join us now.
Keith: Keith very much welcome to the show.
Jones: Well, thank you for having me. It is an honor to be here and thank you for taking the time to actually wanna talk to me.
Keith: So I became aware of you in the documentary, Including Samuel, that you did with Daniel Habib.
Keith: About his second son Samuel Habib, and to jump right into that, one quote of yours really stood out to me and I just watched it a few minutes ago where you were talking about how people would perceive a black man in a wheelchair having to be an act of violence, having to have been a part of a gang, a gang banger.
And that quote in particular has stayed with me for almost 10 years and I always wanted to ask you about how you confronted the brutality of having to face that arrogance, that ignorance, day in and day out?
Jones: Well, um, the quote, I kind of chuckled because when the question was asked about what is it like, or how do people perceive you and going, you know, and when the documentary was filmed, we're going back, Sam is a grown man now, so it's like 15 years and you know, it hasn't changed from the moment of filming until now.
When you are a person of color with a visible disability, or even in the disability space, the overarching narrative is something must have happened. Something, what happened depending on where your lane is, if you're talking about faith, then people are like, oh, your mama must have done something to God to piss her off, which is why you look like that.
But in America, if you're particularly, if you're an African American male, if you, if you have a disability, the assignment of how you got it is always related to violence. It's always related to, or some sort of quote, social dysfunction, unquote, within the family structure and that's, but that is the functioning practice of racism and white supremacy and, you know, and the indoctrination that we have in this community.
So how do I deal with it? I laugh. I mean, I laugh internally. You know, depending on the situations I handle it agnostically or professionally, or, you know, I just keep it pushing, but it is feedback. It's one of those things where you like you America, we are doomed because people can't get beyond Quote stereotypes.
So my internal and my external reaction is calm and not visceral, but the way I deal with it is, you know, no pun intended, but people are stupid. So I laugh at the stupidity that the projection of violence is the reason that I have Cerebral Palsy.
Keith: So we not only share the same first name, but we also share the same main disability which is Cerebral Palsy.
Keith: I follow you on social media and became aware of your work with your co-founder or one of them Leory Moore, with your work KripHop Nation. And you sent me a great piece written by your co-founder. But in your words, can you describe what KripHop is and its overall mission.
Jones: Okay, well, KripHop Nation is a you know, for the general public, it's a loose collective of international artists with varying disabilities and, you know, artists' overall spectrums, you know, depending on how, you know, whatever their medium is.
So currently we have 13 chapters on each continent outside of Antarctica. We have a loose network of about 600, 650 disabled artists or artists with disabilities. So the mission is, activism or disability rights is to get the human condition to be just that and so that your talents are what drives, you know, the narrative, your humanity is what drives the narrative, the quality of your existence and how you interact with other people. So, but KripHop Nation and disability justice is the forefront and the tagline, it's more than music because we can't get to creating art if we're not talking about healthcare, if we're not talking about housing, we're not talking about education.
We're not talking about transportation. We're not talking about safety. We're not talking about everything that preempts the ability to just be just to just be, is really what drove Rob Da Noize, Leroy Moore and myself, to put this thing together and, you know, we chose KripHop you know, people used crippled or crippled or handicapped or those things in a very negative and divisive tone or divisive of manner in order to reduce our humanity so much, like everybody's reclaiming negative words. That was the impetus. So the goal is to, you know, is one human rights, economic justice, social justice, for people with, and without disabilities and two, just to bring really beautiful art to the world.
So that's sort of the ethos of what Kriphop is.
Keith: So in Leroy’s words, language like other oppressed groups, was taken from people with disabilities, and the language was turned on us to oppress us. We have to name ourselves and have used the negative terms to our own benefit to not only shock people but to respect that those words are history and we must reclaim them .
Jones: Yes, yes and we are, but that's the American history that is social justice in all forms. There is, you know, this is huge in every social justice movement. There are specific social justice movements in which the language, the terminology that is destructive, corrosive and divisive, has been adopted by their very same community and, and the connotation and the meanings have been inverted and so I think what for us, when we talk about Kriphop nation, now, ironically, when we started it, people thought we were talking about Crips the gang. Um, and if you go into the history of how they became the Crips, there's a disability angle to that. But when we started Kriphop, it was because I, myself, on the verge of going to you know, I don't know if they still exist, but it was Sony Polygram at the time and, and having these, these dreams and these visions of being an artist in the industry and literally being told I'm too crippled to do anything on too crippled to rap on too crippled to make beats on too cripple to do this. And so that being the ubiquitous thread throughout the world, it's not that people aren't talented.
It's not that they don't have the darling compassion, it's that people literally are like, well, you're crippled so you can't, which for me, and for our, you know, for the co-founders was like, how do you claim superiority by pointing out a defect? Why by relying on your defective intelligence about my humanity.
So, yeah, we claimed the word, we took the word, be inverted, the word, inverted the meaning of the word, and we gave it, you know, and the ethos again is be proud of your humanity. No matter how you show up, that is your human condition and that is your drive, your acceptance in whatever society you are.
Keith: So apart from the byline of KripHop Nation which you just referred to, it's more than music, another byline of and correct me if I am wrong, both Kriphop Nation and your own Soul Touchin’ Experiences company, is, the work. And please elaborate on that as much as possible because when I first read those words they meant nothing to me, apart from the generic, you can place any meaning on them, but as I got to know you and I got to know Leroy, I relayed my own ignorance in relating to that very important term, so please elaborate on that more.
Jones: When we talk about the work, this is a larger context in the disability rates movement, the social justice movement, the economic, any of those movements where we're seeking equity and equality and the equilibrium in society to do that. It is your actions and your character that define your, your status and your movement versus subjective standards like, oh, you're not middle class because we don't like you.
So when we talk about the work, the work is we do what needs to be done. We are in the schools talking to young disabled kids, if you don't wanna learn, that's fine, but it is not okay for a teacher to project, their perception of your intelligence upon you in order to make you stupid in order to pass you through.
So you go through school and turn 22 and get on section eight or get on benefits, or it's not about, you know, being black queer, disabled and you know, and having a learning disability as well, and then not being able to get service. So when we talk about the work, yeah, it's nice that I have an Emmy, it’s shiny and I won't give it that, but the effort of the work is that we don't so that we don't have to do it anymore.
The disability rights movement should have moved. The civil rights movement, the social justice movement, all of these movements should have an end goal. Nobody should be dying and activist or an advocate. So when we talk about the work, the work is if nobody wants to give young kids with disabilities a place to perform, then we'll do it.
If we don't, you know, if there's no comic book, reflective of a young immigrant child's disability, we'll do it. If there's a kid in Africa who has never seen, you know, disabled black men or disabled black women or disabled anything, actually living a life with their disability and not letting it be the determinative factor of whether or not they can, that's the work.
So the, you know, and for me, it takes on a different kind of meaning now, particularly because we've been doing this, I mean, Kriphop has been around for 20 years, formally 13 to 14 years, and then, you know, my work in and of itself, I've been in disability rights, social justice and policy for coming on three decades. I, nobody should die or have their tombstone, you know, impressed upon, oh my God, they were a lifelong advocate.
I will say myself that I must suck at what I do because I'm having the same conversations about education, inclusion, economic empowerment, voting access, criminal justice reform now that I was having 25 years ago, So when we talk about the work, we have successes, but when we mention the work that's for those people who are in this space to perform and to get accolades and to be on TV and to get, you know, articles and books published and written is that's nice.
But the kid in Houston who is black, who has a diagnosis that was tagged to them solely because people didn't understand his cultural backdrop and his behavior that tracking of that child, will follow them through the rest of their life.
I had that happen to me and my daughter. They spent 45 minutes and then tried to give her a diagnosis that I knew would travel with her throughout the entirety of her educational existence. So the work is so that we never have to have these conversations. That is why, when we talk about doing the work, it's not glamorous, it's not sexy. It doesn't get you on the cover of Time Magazine. It doesn't get you in the front of the, you know, like none of this, this is housing, this is transportation.
This is education. This is legal representation. This is criminal justice reform. This is migrant immigration reform. This is, you know, this is environmental justice. These are all, this is indigenous and first nation people getting their things. That's the work that is not sexy if you're trying to be on CNN or MSNBC.
And so that we take it from a standpoint where the work is about positive and sustained efforts and outcomes for the community in which we are part of and that we represent. So that's the story behind the tagline, the work.
Keith: So tell me more about what led to the creation of Soul Touchin’ Experiences and where did you come up with that name?
Jones: Soul Touchin’ Experiences came about, which is related to the last answer. I graduated college. My dream as a kid growing up and going to college was to be an Aeronautical Engineer you know, and design next generation propulsion fuel systems and all of that.
I got to school and ran into that one teacher that sent me off so I'm a trained Sociologist, Researcher and the Data Collector was a minor in African American studies and so, and I wanted to teach, but in trying to get into the Boston Public School System, I was told I was too crippled to teach and so that was the first one.
And then I by stance, I happened to become an employee of the Boston Center for Independent Living and then moved on to what was then called BSA Arts but both of those work experiences showed me where the chasms are not just in society, but within the disability movement, disability justice, disability rights, however you wanna say it.
Never mind having a couple of very unpleasant supervisor experiences, I was like, well, look, it's America. So I took everything that I liked and loved and basically was like I'm working for myself.
The Soul Touch Experience is a metamorphosis of my hip counterpart or alias, which is Leon AKA Dasoultoucha and so essentially what I did was take everything that I liked and said, well, damnit if imma work for somebody I might just work for myself and do everything that I love.
Now, I'm fortunate enough that I've managed to at least be interested and engaged in things that have allowed me to go 25 years in this lane. But what really was driving me was, and still is for the company is that we don't get no love unless you are connected, unless you are a particular kind of black, unless you are a particular kind of disability or unless you are white, there is no easy entree into entertainment or into tech or into banking or into housing or into education or into any kind of thing that most of the things that you would see on Bloomberg they're talking about or on MSNBC.
So it was one but it was also, you know, anode to my family. Like, look you know, there are no excuses. You got to figure out something and because I know that the way that I do things going to flip a hamburger at Burger King would get the restaurant shut down and get me fired.
So I had to lean on not only the belief in myself but in the talents or, you know, whatever I had, but just the desire to not be that same kid that gets sent to what, you know, in Massachusetts, was the Massachusetts hospital school and then sent off to some nursing home facility because we couldn't find accessible housing.
That is not the desired outcome for myself or anybody that I care for or anybody that we're fighting for. If that is your choice, fine. But Soul Touchin’ Experiences and its tagline, everything has a soul, It's true. It doesn't mean that the soul is positive or negative, but if you think about what we're talking about with Joe Biden and Donald Trump and Democrats and Republicans and people are battling for the soul of America, that's BS.
America has no soul. If America had the soul, we would, America would rectify, but this happened to first nation people and those, and those of us who are in the diaspora, and then talk about how we can literally have a function of democracy that is beyond a fractured and ratchet two party system.
We can't talk about those things. If kids with disabilities, don't even get to go to parties that their schools are presenting because they're in segregated classrooms.
Like if I hear another prom story about, oh my God, John got invited to the party because he has a disability but look, nobody cares. If you treat John as a teenager and understand that there is a human condition that may require separate accommodations then it's not a story.
John is actually a functioning teenager with his peers. So that's really the ethos behind it. It's, it's getting people to, you know, probably gonna gimme in trouble, but I'm telling people, I'm not giving no more passes for stupidity. You can't be teachers and decide that a kid doesn't mean anything or has no value or is unable to learn.
You can't be a doctor and say, well, because you are you because you have Cerebral Palsy, you can't have sex. You can't be a banker or employee and say, well, the reason you have a, you know, you have chronic illness or you may have mental health challenges we can't have you in this job. And if those are gonna be the reasons that 15%, 20% of the planet's population, 25% of America's population are going to be set aside and excluded from just enjoying their human existence then Soul Touchin’ Experiences needs to be there to either help those companies understand what they're not getting, but more importantly, to help the community understand that you know, you don't necessarily need to go to the big guys in order to do what you wanna do.
Keith: I can’t argue with any of what you just said. It's so on point. A few more quotes that really touched me from Including Samuel. You talked about how your parents knew the benefit of what education meant.
Keith: And how they fostered that in you and how you weren’t going to let anyone put any limits on you?
You wanted to get married, have kids. Have a job. You weren’t going to settle for any stereotypes and you weren’t going to be defined by any preconceived notion of what being disabled would be like. You were going to do it your way, because that's how your parents raised you.
Jones: I mean, you know, it's funny because people will like to do the presentations and do the workshops or tell the story. It's my mama, it's my mama and my people. And, you know, in the history that they bring, it is something that has been passed down to me. And it's not about, it's not just about education, because again, I'm black in America with a disability and without getting too deep into the nuances about the construct of race and the construct of whiteness and how blackness is defined within their construct of whiteness.
The reality is that we are descendants of stolen people. So the story has been passed down that when my great, great, you know, go back maybe a couple more, stood on the auction block and was sold and how that lineage of strength and survivability you know, and the fact that you had to develop strength in a very traumatic situation and how, from that, you know, you had the generation, my grandmother generation still being shared croppers, but then going up into St. Louis and becoming licensed practical nurses and becoming, you know, black male men and black, you know, and government workers and coming outta World War II where you were fighting the Germans, because, you know, there was an issue with them trying to do world domination and killing off a particular athlete group, and then returning home to get, to have same type of issues that you faced in Europe.
And to have that passed down. And then to have my mother have me at the end of the 60’s and at the height of this and we, and being the first generation born with the Civil Rights law in place and then seeing all of these things and the sociological and the socioeconomic backlash to people in the African diaspora and all in the indigenous people.
And those who would benefit from civil rights receive these backlashes and people now and I'm only 52. And so it was, it was, you know, my mother, I do have, you know, some stories. I came home and I had a bad grade on my report card and you know, I wasn't really stressed about it, but I wanted to go outside with my friends, and I wanted a little spending money in case I was out.
I asked my mother for five dollars and she said, I have five dollars, you don’t have five dollars. Stupid people don't make money she said.
Because in this country, right, because everybody's like, oh my God, your mother raised such an advocate. I'm like, no, my mother was raising a black man in America. That is a very particular kind of upbringing. You know, if you are a first nation or you are in the diaspora, now there are other, there are other groups that have similar stories, but specifically in the history of this country, first nation, and those of us who are from the diaspora have a very, very, very, unique and intertwined and a very, very, caustic relationship with this country.
And so anytime, you know, my mother would look at me and I'd try to have pity for myself. No Uhuh can't do it because the world don’t care. And this country does not care. So you better, one, be smart, have confidence in yourself and be a decent human and be trustworthy and be honorable. And so you can't do that if you are not intelligent.
Keith: So for, uh, those who don't know the term, please define what diaspora means.
Jones: Okay. So those of us. So when you talk about the African diaspora, it typically refers to those of us who are descendants of Africans that were enslaved and brought via the triangle trade from west coast to west central, to Western Africa, into the Americas.
Sold, in exchange for cotton and sugar or other things that were available in the quote the world end quote and then that was taken back to Europe for wealth collaboration. The triangle trade lasted for almost 500 years. You know, and there's a term called the middle passage, so this is when you were instantly warehoused in the bottom of boats for the two or three month journey to the new worlds where you would, you know, if you died on the way they threw you overboard. If you were fortunate enough to come up for them, one day they would walk you in order to keep you in semi shape.
Most people would jump over the board and kill themselves because I would rather die than be enslaved. And so those of us who made it here, and depending on where you get your data, it's anywhere from 120 million to 400 million Africans that were stolen from that continent and put over here.
And so when you talk about the diaspora and its ramifications, particularly here in America, and particularly when you talk about disability, there's absolutely a racist component to it. There is absolutely that. That's why, people talk about mind and gynecology. That was that what was learned here was working on African was working on slave women, black women.
And so when you talk about that, when you talk about eugenics and when you talk about the ugly laws or you talk about vacancy or you talk about anything that's negative, when it comes to disability, a lot of those connotations are subsets of being black in America. And so that's when you say in the diaspora, you literally are talking about everybody from the tip of Argentina, to the Heights of the Arctic Circle who are descendants of those who are from Africa.
Keith: Thank you for that detailed explanation. Getting back to you. Tell me, if you can remember, what’s your first thought relating to your disability.
Jones: Well, you know, honestly, it's funny that you ask that I don't really like, you know, Cerebral Palsy we get it from birth so like it's been the only thing we know, right? Yeah. Like this it's the only body we've ever had and however it functions is what we deal with right. So my disability in my upbringing with my family and you know what I mean, was it a topic? No. Was it an issue? No. Did it, did it come up in a fight? No. Like internally in my family that I know I cannot. And I'll say this again. I cannot remember a discussion in which it was used as an excuse or reason for me not to do, it was quite the opposite.
It was. If you try to use it, you've lost your line. And we don’t want that to happen right. If you, if you lean on the fact, oh Lord, I'm too disabled. That was never the thing. So when I didn't really start having quote on quote issues with my disability or having, you know, negative aspects of it creeping into my psyche until I hit puberty.
You know, my mother always laughs when I tell her this. I'm like, yeah, I remember that and it reframed and it just reinforced everything. I knew I got slightly off track.
I came home and I had the biggest crush on this young lady in my high school, oh we had been talking.
And I was like, she was gonna be my girlfriend and we are going to do these things, and then one day I went to school. And when I approached her to have the discussion, she was with her friends and they were like Ew, you gonna date him? He crippled. Ew. And she was like, ha ha ha, no girl. And, and was like, I ain't dating him. Look at him.
I came home to my mother and was like, oh my God, she doesn't love me because I'm crippled.
She doesn't want me because I'm crippled and my mother's words were, she just don't like you. And it's simple, but the intention, the intent and the meaning behind it was you better love you, if they don't like you, they just don't like you, that's your business and that's their problem. And so that was one of the points where I said, okay, well I do have Cerebral Palsy, but dammit I'm still sexy.
So that's, you know, and so that was the point where, you know, I hit a low point, I mean, and there are other points in my life later on there's two distinct points where, you know, I was still going through a crisis about identity as a young guy. You know, because not only do I have a disability, I am black in America and I'm not fitting any of these stereotypes about what masculinity is, quote, onquote, supposed to be what a good black man's supposed to be.
Like none of that. I didn't fit any of that. And so how are you a good black man when everything that people are defining as a good black man, you can't quote unquote fit into that box. So you, you either have to be strong in who you are or you will wilt under the pressure. So it took a while like, and I tell my kids now I was like, it took me a while to get comfortable in my skin fully.
Each day is a new opportunity to learn something new and incorporate it to be better and so that's kind of the way that I approach things now.
Keith: So in terms of the different modes of disability, your co-founder Leory in commenting on the religious model of disability mixed with the tragedy and charity model said the idea that disability is essentially a test of faith or even salvation in nature. If a person does not experience the physical healing of their disability, he or she is regarded as having a lack of faith in God while depicting disabled people as victims of circumstance deserving of pity.
Keith: Did you ever feel like that growing up? How did you approach that mode in making your way through it to where you do feel very comfortable in your skin now. You do consider yourself sexy so tell me more about that.
Jones: Well, I tell people, my grandmother took us to church Monday to Monday.
So she was a woman of faith. My grandfather was a man of faith. You know in Missouri, you know, we are the Northernmost Confederate state. Hence the reason you had the Missouri compromise, faith was always, you know, faith being a person of the diaspora or black and having a faith based in Christianity has always been a point of contention.
But the way, you know, my mother, my grandmother, and I would travel around St. Louis and people would run up and go mother ‘cause they knew her and they'd be like, oh Lord, can we pray for your baby? And, and she, and because she was a woman of faith, she was like, okay, I'll let you pray. But they were always praying that I would be healed.
And so the conflict in that, in that discussion about. Is that regardless of who you are, if you think you are a God or your, your entity or your deity cannot make mistakes and thus your life is charted already, you are predestined right. Then you cannot then turn to me and say, let me pray your disability away.
If God doesn't make any mistakes, then why are you trying to change who I am? And so if, and whether that's orient, sexual orientation, gender identification, disability, why, if I am embodied in the image or whatever creator you, it doesn't matter what your faith is. However it just distills down to your human existence.
You can't then turn to me and say, well, God don't make a mistake, but you are F'd up so we gotta get rid of you. So that means that then you're not judging me on the faith that you have, you're judging me on your own biases and religious beliefs. ‘Cause there's a distinction between faith and religion and a lot of people want to co-mingle those things.
So when you understand that the walk of faith, regardless of what your faith is about, is a closer connection to your entity in order for you to be a better person, you then do not concentrate on people's flaws, you accentuate their powers. So to the point where I'm comfortable now and dealing with the intersection of race, disability, ethnicity, socio economic justice, and faith is a very interesting part because if you talk about religion and disability, you know, how many churches are accessible.
How many mosques, how many synagogues? Right. If you're talking about you are a person of faith, but your school districts are still graduating kids with disabilities at 13% of, you know, or, you know, one out of every 100 compared to their counterparts. Or you're telling me that the reason I'm a person of faith, but I think you should kill that kid because they're gonna be born with down syndrome or I'm a person with faith, you know, we should kill you because you don't have a quality of life.
Then I don't want to talk to you because that's not about faith. That's not about religion. That's about your own discomfort with my humanity and the discomfort about my humanity is because you constantly imagining yourself. Like, if that was me, I don't know if I could do it. That is. And I tried to impress upon people.
You believe what you believe, your faith, your walk of faith is as individualistic as you are, but anything that you call into question your existence and the quality in which you exist, that brings you joy. That brings you peace. That brings you sanity, as best as it can and leads you to have a positive effect on others.
Then I can't knock that. But if that is not what you're coming with and you're looking at us as flawed, broken, needing to be eradicated or fixed then that is not a function of faith. That there's a function of religion. And that that's to me is where, you know, being comfortable with myself, and having like I had people run up to and pray to this day, not even a couple months ago when I was on the road, so I'm like, damn! I’m chillin!
So you saw me and you are so depressed about my human condition that you feel like I need to be prayed for. But I am in the airport with a ticket just like you with a ticket just like you. So clearly we are semi in the same place, so that is kind of the way it works.
Keith: So tell me how you met Leroy Moore.
Jones: Leroy found me on Myspace in 19, No two. Was it 1999, 2000? Yeah, no, it was 1999. I had put my first single first solo quote, single, up onMyspace and he just happened to be looking for rappers with disabilities. He and I reached out to me. We talked and we chit chatted back and forth and did these things for like two or three years after that virtually and then he had the opportunity to come to Boston for the Democratic National Convention.
And we met face to face at the DNC. When he was up here as a delegate in Boston, as a delegate. It's funny because we have been in lockstep for two decades and so it was one of those things where you're like, okay, so I'm not the only one in the trenches having this fight, you know?
And that's number one and number two. OK. I'm not the only one in the trenches having this fight and that's how we met. And it literally has been and for the last two decades, it's just everything that we've done for Kriphop Nation has been by Hooker Crook, but with the larger mission of having, making sure that, that, you know.
It is being able to, you know, black, disabled boys looking in the mirror and saying, I don't see myself on TV. Well, here's the comic book where you can see yourself or young black women with, or young women with disabilities or young people with disabilities, you know, questioning their gender identity and whether or not, you know, and who they love and how they love.
And not because they're confused, but because they're understanding that once they make their choice, society will either accept them or reject them. They know that they can turn to us and know that their humanity will be embraced in its fullness, you know? And so that's you know, so that was the journey.
That is the journey now. And it's, you know, we're going on, God, this is 2022. Yeah. So we are going on 22 years just being cool and just having my brother with me. But in terms of this mission, you know, formally it's 15 years, informally it's 20.
Keith: So I wanted to get your opinion on this. Do you think that's something about the hip hop dynamic, or seen a style of music that is more inclusive to disability and other minorities than other music maybe?
Jones: Well, hip hop came out of a struggle, right? So hip hop was born in New York city in the 70s, you know, the beginning of the 70s, into the 80s where you had, where you saw New York, literally be vacated by white folks because of what happened in the 60s.
Then you had, you know, had recessions, gas prices. So that’s economic depression, it's why, when you listen to the message by GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five, that's where what's going out of disability has always been a part of hip hop, or all a part of music like blues music. You've always had disabled artists, R and B.
You've always had that. So I think hip-hop is a little more accessible in terms of the art form, because you don't necessarily need to be quote unquote, formally trained on an instrument and because it, you know, to be an MC is a personal expression, or to be a DJ or to be a graffiti artist.
So to be a dancer and now with the fifth part or to be a historian or a lecturer I mean, it is global. So I think that kind of indicates in terms of this acceptance and image embrace of whoever does it but yeah, you won't, the odd part is hip hop is just like the, you know, the quote industry unquote is just like every other part of the music industry is that the aesthetic of the presentation of said artist and or craft is Paramount versus their skill.
So if I, again, they, I was too crippled to rap. Too crippled. They didn't know how to use me, quote, unquote. I'm like, bruh, I wrote the song. I produced the song and I made the beats. I wrote, right there, so there, so it's not that I can't do it. You just don't want me to be the one that you say do it to
And so I think, but I think now that hip hop is almost 50 quote unquote almost, or is the reason we are still doing what we're doing is because it's not the art form. It's the industry that profits from the art form that has restricted various artists with various disabilities from, you know, just like their music or their art for itself.
So I think hip-hop is ubiquitous and that it can be done by anybody and working with students in Australia, working with kids in Calcutta, working in kids in Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Watts, Inglewood, New Orleans, Boston, you know, creative is creative, but the acceptance part outside of just being an artist is where the intersection of artistry and industry where the people find the problem.
Because the industry is not about your artistry. It's about money. And if you don't fit a particular popular aesthetic, your disability can be used against you. And so it’s a yes and a no answer.
Keith: You mentioned earlier on in the interview about the work and everything that goes into that and how it's judged as not sexy. You and Leroy have been in the trenches together for years and years, doing this work, this unsexy work. And you do get moments where you break through and you get opportunities like collaborating on the title track of Rising Phoenix. And not only that. You get nominated and then you win an Emmy for your work, and you're not only representing yourself, but you are representing the organization you co-founded. And really all of the audience that are in that organization so there are moments of sexy to use a very weird phrase.
Jones: Yes, the moments of sexy are why we. Um, you know which goes back to the original part of, you know, the statement of the work, right? Like we do the work, not for accolades, but for the results, you know, if, you know, if a kid and the, and when you see the response and the reaction to people talking about, you know, I heard Rising Phoenix and, you know, thank you so much.
‘Cause I feel empowered now. Then you have to, you have, you know, you can't be mad. Like the world is good now, you know? And so the moments of sexy are always fantastic. It's the tragedy of the journey to get to the good part. So that's that.
Keith: And so tell me how you got connected with Harder Than You Think and how they got connected to the Paralympics and how Rising Phoenix came about in your involvement in not only collaborating on that track, but also rapping on that track with your Cerebral Palsy. I mean, you've mentioned a few times that people in the hip-hop industry wouldn't let you rap, wouldn't let you perform your own work because they were afraid of it.
And yet on the other side, years later you are slaying on the title track of a Netflix documentary, pardon me for assuming, but it must be nice to have that moment of I told you so, I could do it.
Jones: Yeah. Well, you know, it's funny because I still walk by the statue, and poke it, waiting for it to turn into a hologram. So you know, it's still surreal in terms of that, but the, you know, the way harder than you think they had reached out to Leroy, and was like, do you have any artists with disabilities?
And Leroy sent them, Tony Hickman, George Duma, or AKA George Tragic and myself and they were, they came back and they were you know, and he said, look, Keith has to be on it. These are the people that are on it. If you are gonna do something about disability and then here other people to do it. So I got the call literally like two days before they were gonna finish locking the end credits and I wrote my verse, I got the beat.
I got the track on a Saturday night. I got the documentary on a Sunday morning. I watched the documentary, and I got the track. I wrote my verse and recorded it Sunday night and sent it back and it was mastered on Tuesday. So, you know, it was crazy, you know, it's still random and this is at the height of COVID.
So we did well, still COVID this year but we did everything remotely and I sent him my vocals. And so when, when it got nominated, I mean, the documentary is well acclaimed, you know, Credit Choice awards and now Emmys, when I watched the awards y'all I was like, oh my God, we got an Emmy.
What? Uh, but the funny part is like I remind Leroy and I tell myself and I tell my kids you know, and I tell all my friends, like when people are looking at you and doubting you and things like that, the best revenge is success. You don't need to be nasty to people. You don't need to be rude. You don't need to be mean.
They can be whatever the hell they want to be. You wish them nothing, but the best genuinely. And you hold them in regard, but when it comes to it, if they doubt you, the best revenge is success, I've been at this a long time. I still have no record deals. Ain't no, even with the Emmy award, nobody's kicking down my door.
Wow. And so you know, even with having a global movement that is started by us, nobody's paying attention. I mean, those that know, know those that know who don't want the world to know, shut it down. So, I think that the moment we got that Emmy was I like winning it and being like, oh my God, we won it but when it actually showed up at the house and, and you see your name and on the golden statue, it's something.
But, you know, I keep laughing because my friends are like, you don't tell nobody you won an award. I'm like, I've never been that way. I know you need to tell everybody. Right. But what I've learned and, you know, and it keeps me, you know, and then the humble for me is that there are people who, you know, from my neighborhood, you know, there are kids that I've known for years and like, oh my god Keith, you don't understand how big that is that somebody from the neighborhood or somebody we know, or somebody from the hood has a statue.
And I just know, like you have an Emmy and you, and you was in the hood with us. You went to like there's no, there's no fairytale to my story. And so the kids, you know, and that kind of put me in this place where I like, well, fuck, excuse my french I'm like, wow, I didn't know. Um, and you do know, but if you are constantly with your head down to grindstone, you know, you rarely look up for accolades and we don't do this for accolades.
It's always about the work. It's always about giving families with people with disabilities or families or people who are marginalized housing, whether it's through poverty scholars and, you know, poor people magazine giving them education and information, or whether it's through documentaries or whether it's through clothing lines and saying, see, regardless of how society wants to cast you, you still have the ability to achieve whatever greatness is inside of you.
You know, it's not so much as an I told you so moment, again, the best revenge is success.
Keith: So, how did you meet Daniel Habib and become involved with Including Samuel? And a follow up, if you could talk to the younger version of yourself and offer him a bit of advice as silly as that sounds, what would be that advice and why?
Jones: Right. Um, well, the funny part is ‘cause the way Daniel Habiband I had met was he was doing research for, Including Samuel and he had reached out to a friend of mine who was the director of partners with youth with disabilities and she said, oh my God, you need to meet Keith. And so Dan and I met and that's how it started. That God, it was 2003, I believe, maybe. So, you know, he was in the process, so he was like, when you're doing some things, let me know I'll come down and we just clicked and, you know, I think even he and I talking, you know, as much as you, you know, Including Samuel and all those things that have transpired, I think, you know, I don't wanna misquote him on misrepresented him, but I tried to show that your son, regardless of his medical conditions or his complexities can have a hell of a life, right.
Like you can, like, the boy is, that's my man. And so. You know, and it evolved from being a subject in the movie to being those are my friends. That's, you know, those are my family, you know, Sam knows that he can call me anytime and ask me the most outrageous questions and he has parents permission.
Um, so, you know, it's just, but again, it's like, I came to Boston and I got mentored by Kinlock Hart, which, you know, partners for youth with disabilities. I was one of the first matches and that was in ‘82. In this work that we do that we choose to do, it is incumbent upon you to give that, you know, it's not stated, but it is implied, it's not mandatory, but it's necessary and so, you know, hanging with Dan and Sam, just reiterated that and here we are some 15 years later and people are still finding nuggets and finding hope within their documentary. And they've done amazing work after that. But the fact that I still see people who are pulling out quotes from the movie and talking to me about it and how it has impacted their outlook on life.
So that’s how we met and how we got here and if I had to give my younger self any advice it would be, it's going to be okay.
Stay true to you. Essentially, I would give the advice that my mother gave me. You know, be trustworthy, be honorable.
If you are in a room full of crooks, you'd be the one person that everybody can trust. If you are in a room full of liars, you'd be the only person with honor, right? You carry your integrity, your value in your worth, wherever you are and it doesn't diminish regardless of who's around you or what their title is.
If you hold yourself to the standards of being honest, truthful, honorable, and upright, it doesn't matter if you're nonverbal, it doesn't matter if you need AAB or AAC, it doesn't matter if you are deaf, blind and you are interpreting, your integrity is attached to your humanity.
So that would be the advice that I would give my younger self.
Keith: So going off that, for any inspiring advocates who are listening to this and getting ready to dive in to join you and Leroy in the trenches of doing the work, what would be some action steps that you would recommend?
Jones: First of all, I would say the actions to do what you're passionate about, make sure that when you are doing your advocacy, you are doing it from a place of wanting to no longer have to advocate for that issue.
Right? Like do the advocacy in order to achieve the mission. If you're advocating for housing, then your mission is housing, how many units do we get? Who are the people that are no longer unhoused? If you're doing disability advocacy. That's a huge umbrella, right? But if you focus on disability justice at school as a young kid, who's doing this, find something you're passionate about, let that drive, but learn everything that is tied into that passion.
Understand that it ain't glamor. I would never tell anybody to grow up to be an activist or advocate because this should not be a career path. This career path that's indicative of a society that has made choices that has relegated our humanity to a place where we have to constantly advocate and fight for.
So as a kid, so to all the young insider adults, Or advocates know your issue, learn to understand the difference between an ally and an enemy, because sometimes they can interchange depending on the circumstances. Also understand that if you are going to, and this is for anybody, this ain't just the kids, but anybody who's in this space, you cannot advocate for justice and social justice and, and rights for people and still hold contempt for other groups.
You can't talk about disability rights and still be homophobic. You can't talk about LGBTQTIA plus issues and still be racist. You can't talk about us reproductive rights and still see women with disabilities as asexual. You can't talk about criminal justice reform and then say, well, we don't like Negros.
Like you can't like, you can't hold the quest for justice while holding the torch of oppression. You just can't do it. So you are either, you are either for everything now. And again, you don't have to like everybody right. Like that's not what we're here for, but if you're going to be in this fight, you need to understand that everybody's humanity should have an equitable value.
And then the quality of that humanity is derivative and determinative by their actions.
Keith: So the last question, it's a two parter and I think it's a perfect segway in what you just said, but I always like to end by asking my guests, what they hope that people who have yet to have disabilities get learned from this interview. And likewise, what do they hope that people with disabilities have learned from their interview?
Jones: Okay. Uh, well, I'll take the last half first for people with disabilities who are listening to this. And again, keep thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed and for your passion and commitment to this.
For our community of people with disabilities is to understand that, yes, we are people with disabilities, but the operative word is, people.
And regardless if you're nonverbal, if you have no divergence, if you have a sensory disability, if you have a mobility that those are descriptors, they're not definitions of your humanity or the quality of your humanity, how you move in spaces that you find yourself, how do you interact with people?
Are you coming from that interaction of a genuinely authentic place? Is it in the affirmative? You know, doesn't mean you have to like everybody, but at worst when they interact with you, are you neutral? So hopefully that as a person with a disability, you look at yourself and say, okay, I'm just Keith, right?
That doesn't eliminate your disability because we know what we got. I have yet to wake up and be surprised that I have Cerebral Palsy. Oh my God. Right? Like that's not like that that's not gonna happen. No. Right. So let's, let's be clear that, you know, how we move in these spaces and whether or not you're an activist or not, is that the quality of our society is really judged upon the way that people hold their interactions in their humanity when dealing with somebody who they may or may not perceive as either better or worse than themselves.
And for the people without disabilities, who, you know, at some point may or may not cross that rubicon to get that label, your human condition is not determined by your limitations, right? So if you're looking at me and saying, oh my God, he can't, you know, use his hands to do da da, da, da. So he's not worth X.
That is not a reflection of my humanity. That is a reflection of the lack of intelligence that you are displaying. If you're superior, you don't need to tell people you're superior, right? Like you are better than me. You don't need to constantly say I'm better than you. Yeah. But clearly you're not.
And if, if you want greatness in your society, you need to be able to understand your own biases and your own dislikes and be able to functionally compartmentalize those as not to be an ass or caustic or toxic in a given setting. Doesn't mean you have to like me, it just means you need to be aware that if you do have bias prejudice towards Keith with Cerebral Palsy or towards somebody with autism, you understand where that comes from because they don't get it, we don't get to take that off.
But you do get to take off your stupidity. You do get to learn how to understand somebody with communication difficulty. You do get to understand how somebody who is non-binary is choosing to identify themselves. You do get to understand that love is love is love, but if you are entrenched in your default as well, I don't believe then understand that belief is a choice and that I, and that we hope that you believe that our humanity is just as worthy as yours.
Keith: Very well said. My friend In case listeners want to know more information about Krip-hop Nation or Soul Touchin’ Experiences, or to follow you on social media, how can they do that?
Jones: Okay, well, it's the at sign? D A S O U L T O U C H A @ Dasoultoucha that's across Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and it's Keith Jones on LinkedIn and Facebook, Krip-hop nation.com.
Although we are in the process of moving everything into one website, which will be Dasoultoucha.com , which is D A S O U LT O U C H A .com. And that's where you, you know, and if you look at Krip-hop, you can Google it, Krip-hop Nation but those are the things that we're doing now. And we will be launching, we have a couple big announcements coming in October.
We will be launching our streaming service, which is called the channel and so people will be able to subscribe for $5 a month or $60 a year, and get these kinds of discussions with people such as yourself. We're starting off slow using the stuff that we have access to cause we are doing this by Hooker Crook.
People can find us on social media and on platforms and hopefully, you know, we can get enough people to join the conversation that we can make it so that we don't ever have to have this conversation.
Keith: Keith I want to thank you once again for this very timely and lively discussion and for being one of my idols in the fight to do the very necessary work that hopefully our grandchildren and their grandchildren and their grandchildren will not have to do. We are all fighting for the next generation and the generation after and the generation after that and thank you very much for being as candid about this discussion and everything that we talk about thus far, and I hope you will come back again.
Jones: Thank you, Keith. Absolutely. And brother, man, you couldn't have said it better. So if you need me back, all you guys to do is reach out. I got you.
Keith: Thank you my friend.
Jones: Alright, thank you.
Keith: You have been listening to Disability Empowerment Now. I would like to thank my guest today and you, the listener. More information about the podcast can be found on visit on disabilityempowermentnow.com. The podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts or on the official website. This episode of Disability Empowerment Now is copyrighted 2022.