RedefineHipHop: James Sumbi a.k.a J-Sumbi (of Freestyle Fellowship and All In All) Parts 1 thru 5!!

July 30, 2012 6 min read

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!

PART TWO:  In this segment we get into him producing early demos with West Coast Posse (Ganjah K’s crew), why Marley Marl was God, balancing College life and the Hip Hop life, convincing his Mom to pay for the Recording Arts and Science Certificate program at UCLA, his college professor Glen Ballard (song writer/producer for Motown, George Benson, Michael Jackson, Pointer Sisters, Al Jarreau, Eveylyn Champagne King, DeBarge, Chaka Kahn, Alanis Morissette, Aretha Franklin and countless others!!), building his mogul mentality, being a closet Rapper, and recording one his first solo 4-Track demo as the Human Beat Box, Producer, MC, and his own hype man on a cut called “Proper Is Pleased”!!!
PART THREE: J-Sumbi somewhat jokingly hoped we could keep moving forward on his 90s adventures, but I had to inquire about the late 80s when J Sumbi was given the name DJ Curl Activator (though he never had a jheri curl) and was the driving creative force behind the music, lyrics and scratches for Deryl With The Curl! He also reveals that Ganjah K was a rhyme writer for Deryl With The Curl’s appearances with Bobby Jimmy (a.k.a Russ Parr) on KDAY! He gives the details on the unreleased video show he did with Deryl With Curl, driving around in Pink Convertible Caillac with Zebra Skin interior!!!! This show featured, now Power 106 DJ, Big Boy, who was promoting his “Married To My Mic” 12”. The stories continue…
PART FOUR:This is the part of the story where I just sat there wide-eyed as it felt like he just teleported me back to retrace the steps with him to how “To Whom It May Concern” came about. This story continues thru the next couple chapters and is pure Hip Hop History gold!! He breaks down how the West Coast Posse discovered the Good Life and came to his house and told him he needed to go experience it and bring a beat tape. They all went the next week and J-Sumbi remembers having his mind blown by Aceyalone, P.E.A.C.E. and especially Myka Nine. From that moment he started to formulate a masterplan to form his own Juice Crew. He describes the vibe of the Good Life; who was there, people choosing their favorites, and how his beats started to make their way into the mix.

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!!! 

PART FIVE: J-Sumbi tells the heart-breaking story of being a intern at Jive Records and part of his job was erasing unsolicited demos with a giant magnet because the label said they couldn’t legally listen to them…WOW! He explains how that was another part of the inspiration to go the independent route with “To Whom It Concern”. He gets into details about the recording and engineering of the project and breaks down the various producers who were involved in making the beats. He lays down all the specifics of getting together the money, how it was mastered, him making the artwork, and then getting it pressed on cassette. He explains their plan of the take over of the Good Life on the first Thursday of October 1991 and they performed “To Whom It May Concern” by signing up on the list in order and tore the house down and then slanged tapes outside! He gives C.V.E their props for how they were already hustling and merchandising, which was an inspiration.

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!!

J-Sumbi Music Sampler:
Written and Interviewed by Kevin Beacham Video Shot & Edited By Adam Stanzak

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