Growing up, Jabari Johnson could always be found near or in front of a computer screen. Now, he creates digital documentaries for them. Recently, UPTOWNSocial caught up with the up-and-coming filmmaker to discuss his humble beginnings.
How did you break into the filmmaking business? I went to Howard University, and there’s an unwritten rule that every hip-hop or rap artist has to come there. So when these artists came on campus to perform, I would interview them and put the videos online. This was only a few years ago when online videos were just starting to gain popularity because of YouTube.
As the people I interviewed started getting more and more famous (he interviewed Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber right before their music careers took off) people started to pay attention, and that’s how it all began.
In the last two years, I’ve transitioned from simply doing interviews with artists and entertainers to a more documentary style of filmmaking.
Why do you think your work is important? Hip hop isn’t just a niche market anymore--it has found its way into mainstream art and culture. And because the industry is always evolving, the work that I’m doing is important because it is capturing these cultural moments on film. I can look back at some of my interviews now and say, ‘Wow, that was only a few years ago and now this person is the biggest artist in the game.’
Claim to fame: I don't think there’s one thing that is specifically my 'claim to fame;' I still have a long way to go. However, I do think I’ve hit a lot of milestones, such as my documentary series, Jabari Presents, which led to BET wanting me to host and produce my own digital series on BET.com called Face to Face.
On the horizon: I’m really just getting started with Face to Face on BET and it’s going very well. I've been able to introduce a ton of new artists including Mac Miller, Stalley, and Shawn Chrystopher to the BET audience.
I'm also directing my first feature film, a documentary on Tinie Tempah who is the biggest rapper in the United Kingdom right now. We shot his first UK arena tour, and that was an amazing experience.
REFLECTIONS: Age: 24 * Advice he would have given himself 10 years ago: Hard work and practice is what determines success, not natural talent. * What keeps him up at night: Editing videos. Always! * Most significant life lesson: Life is about experiences. I want to have as many memorable and positive ones as I possibly can. * Words to live by: Stay ready, so that you never have to get ready!
DIVERSIONS: Reading/Watching now: I just watched the entire Awkward Black Girl series. I think it's a funny show. * Reading next: I want to read the Steve Jobs autobiography. I know he has so many good quotes for life. * Last fun purchase: A hard drive from Adorama (a camera store in NYC). Buying a hard drive may not sound fun to most people, but needing additional drive space means that more work opportunities are coming my way…and to me that’s fun. I love what I do. * Recently discovered: The Louis C.K. news about how he sold his comedy DVD stand-up special on his website for $5 dollars, which was pretty inspiring. It's cool that people like him are taking their career in their own hands and directing their destiny.
PLAYING FAVORITES: Hotel: Radisson Blu in the UK * Getaway: Miami * Entrée: A cheeseburger from Five Guys * Drink of choice: Rum and Coke * Location to capture on film: Definitely NYC. I walk around the city everyday and always find some thing or place that I want to film or use as a backdrop. NYC may always be a staple, but as I travel the world I’m sure I’ll add other locales to my 'favorites’ list.