If Houston rapper J. Xavier, 16, weren’t home-schooled, he would have a killer “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay. Saturday, Xavier, his dad/manager and an interpreter will fly from Houston to Beijing to perform at the 2008 Olympics, which get underway tomorrow. (Or may be underway already; I forget how all that International Date Line stuff works.)
Already a nine-year veteran of the rap game, Xavier released his debut album, The Young Prince of the South, on Houston’s Music World Entertainment in December 2006 and plans to perform songs from his upcoming LP The Youngest in Charge, which he’s releasing on his own label, during his three weeks in China touring hospitals in cities and villages affected by May’s devastating Sichuan earthquake.
The exceptionally polite Xavier (real name Justin Xavier Harris) spoke with Rocks Off this morning about, among other things, his impending trip and Yao Ming’s budding love of hip-hop.
Rocks Off: What exactly are you going to be doing? How did this come about?
J. Xavier: I have a song for Yao Ming called “Yao Ming Wants to Dunk.” It’s actually a remake of George Clinton’s “We Want the Funk.” Gotta get the rhyming thing in there. We did the song first of course in English, and then my dad, who’s my manager, came up with the idea to do it in Mandarin Chinese. That came out real well. The next thing you know, we were meeting with three Chinese businessmen we got in contact with. We said, ‘Hey, we have this song for Yao Ming, we want to try to push the Olympics.’
So they referred us to this representative of the Beijing [Olympics] committee, and the next thing you know, I was selected by the cultural activities department, so I’ll be performing on August 12. I also have an Olympics tribute called “The Olympics Call” that I co-wrote with another American artist by the name of Che’Nelle, out of New York; she’s signed to Capitol Records.
RO: Have you ever been out of the country before?
JX: No. This will be my first time.
RO: Are you excited? Nervous?
JX: Very excited. Not really nervous. I think it’s going to be a great experience – I know it’s going to be a great experience. I’m looking forward to it, not only to go over there to represent myself and young people, but the U.S. – it’s like, “Wow. This is huge.” I’m very thankful for the platform.
RO: Who else is going with you?
JX: It’ll be me, my manager – that’s my dad – and we have another representative who’s part of the Chinese community. He’s going to be our interpreter.
RO: Have you met Yao Ming, then?
JX: Yes. I got a chance to perform at his “Roast and Toast” not too long ago that they held over there at the Kingdom Builders Building with Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell. It was a formal event, and I got a chance to do the song.
RO: What kind of music does [Yao] like?
JX: Actually, I think he’s into hip-hop. Slowly but surely, I guess you would say, he’s making his way through the hip-hop world. If I’m not mistaken, I believe there’s an online store he’s set up where he sells music or something. I don’t know the actual site, but I got a chance to read on it not too long ago.
RO: How hard was it to record a rap song in Mandarin?
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JX: [Laughs] Well, it was tough a little bit, but it was fun. We had an interpreter by the name of Susan Shien. She put all the verses on CD for me piece by piece. I just tried to write it down on a piece of paper as if it were English, because of course I don’t know how to write in Chinese. It came out really well.
RO: Did the flow and the rhymes work out OK?
JX: Actually, it was kind of different. In English, you have the beat down and your rhythm, or pattern, and the Mandarin version, it almost seems like it doesn’t rhyme. It was kind of funny. – Chris Gray
J. Xavier performs at a going-away/sendoff party/fundraiser, with a live sports-memorabilia auction, 6 to 9 p.m. tonight at Kim Son Restaurant, 2001 Jefferson.