Photos by Ziggy Mack
Songwriter, producer and rapper Havier Green explores his upbringing, curiosity, zen and philosophy.
I grew up in South Memphis. I don’t really have a relationship with my father. Actually, I have no relationship with my father.Fuck that guy! He was a bastard! He left my mom! We lived in Atlanta and he fucked her over, so we came back to Memphis to be with her family.
My grandmother took my older brother in because he was starting school, but I guess I was either too young or too hard-headed. So, my mom and I bounced around a lot. We were even homeless for a while. But, we spent a lot of time in libraries and the zoo and stuff like that. I guess that’s really where my love for learning came from.
My real name is Xavier, but mom always called me ‘Havier.’ It was just one of those eccentric things she did when I was growing up. She used to speak a little bit of Spanish to me even though she doesn’t fucking speak Spanish. But still, she always called me Havier. It never really meant anything to me, it was just her pet name for me.
I remember I could always ask her any question. I remember being super young and asked her, ‘What is a prostitute?’ She said, ‘Somebody who has sex for money.’ I was like, ‘Ohhh… OK?’ I remember the first time I taught her something. I told her, ‘Did you know dolphins speak with clicks and stuff? It’s called echolocation!’ She was like, ‘What?’ I’ve been into kind of random information ever sense.
In fact, the zoo is still probably my favorite place in the city. For a kid like me growing up, to be able to see animals in real life just blew my mind. I can’t wait to show my kids an elephant.
I’m really smart, but I’m also from the hood. And, in the hood smart kids get ostracized. But anyway, I was in C.L.U.E. (Creating learning in a unique environment.) in middle school. After I finished middle school somebody who was affiliated with the program put me in touch with the Rotary Program, which is a program that would send kids from the hood, sorry ‘underprivileged kids’, to prep schools for the summer.
My brother did it one year and I did it when I was 16. I was sent to The Taft School in Connecticut for the summer. It blew my fucking mind. School had always been a breeze for me, I passed every class. But, that was the first time something was bigger than the knowledge I felt I already had. It started making me actually curious.
There was this old white guy, I think his name was Berkley Buckles, who had to have been like 70 at the time. You know how Danny Glover is like, ‘This is my last year!’ He was one of them mother fuckers. You could tell he had been there forever. But, he loved what he did and he was real as fuck. He would cut your paper down so quickly. And I loved that. I loved the fact that I couldn’t just get away with anything anymore.
I don’t think any of the kids were as into it as I was. Most of them were rich as fuck already. They were either already prep school kids or diplomats' kids from like Nigeria or Puerto Rico. They were just there because their parents didn’t love them. But, I was really soaking it up.
They would tell us how poets are really some of the realest people out there. They’re not just soft bitches or pansies or shit like that. They’re really in touch with something that needs to be said.
I just really remember soaking all of that shit up, reading Seamus Heaney, Ernest Hemmingway and my favorite writer Gabriel García Márquez. I remember reading “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Márquez. That shit really blew my mind.
After high school I went to Vanderbilt for history and English. I didn’t finish, but I went there for two years!
I loved writing, I’ve always loved writing. I wanted to be a writer for a long time, but all the old people in my life always told me, ‘Writers don’t make money! Go be a doctor or some shit.’ So I was like, ‘I guess I’ll be a lawyer or some shit.’ So, I went to Vanderbilt University for history, English and other interdisciplinary stuff. But you know I really dabbled in everything: cocaine, beer pong.
I actually started writing poems for this girl I went to high school with. We were in some kind of weird long-distance friendship. I guess I was never cool enough for her, but I would write her poems. I came home for Summer break after my freshman year and she ended up getting pregnant and not answering my phone calls. I was like, ‘Fuck. Who am I going to write poems for now?’ So, I thought maybe I should just start writing songs and write them for myself. So I started rapping and making songs.
I always loved music, but it never clicked with me that I could actually do something with it. I spent my whole high school years just stealing music off LimeWire and learning the history of music, tracing it back to the blues, The Beatles, Bob Marley, Stax.
A year and a half into college I was looking at the courses and saw songwriting. I was like, ‘What the fuck? You can actually take a class about songwriting?’ So, I took the class.
One of our first prompts was to just write a story about being on a trip or something. So I wrote this trippy ass story about a unicorn in the Amazon or some shit. And my teacher just ate it up, but English teachers have just been gassing me my whole life.
She was like, ‘This shit is good! You can probably write some songs, man.’ So I was in the class, but most of the songwriting examples in the book were of course about country songs, because we were in Nashville. It kind of made me start to become disillusioned with school. I was like, ‘Not all of these mother fuckers in the class are going to be good songwriters. Somethings not right.’
I started thinking that class wasn’t where I learned to become a good songwriter, it’s probably where I learned that I needed to learn how to be a good songwriter. So, I dropped out of school and started making music.
I wanted to make a studio, and so I did. I worked at Dillard’s and had some other jobs to save up money. I can’t even hate on Dilliard’s because without them I wouldn’t have been able to get this place
In 2017 I got the building and started working on what would become Studio 88.
People think I’m into astrology, that I’m an occultist or that I’m into numerology, but I’m really not. I’m kind of a grounded mother fucker. But I do believe in synchronicity. I do believe that the more grounded you are — the more aware you are — the more you see patterns. It doesn’t mean the patterns are there specifically for you, but you can just see them.
The number 88 came up in a song I wrote when I first realized I could build a studio and help people out. I feel like everyone has two infinities. There’s the infinity before you were here and the infinity after you’re here. You live your life between those two. It’s a very small and limited amount of time. So, that’s where the ‘8’s come from.
As deep as that sounds though… the song was like, ‘69! 69! 69! 88!’ Because my homie had a jersey on that said 88. So people would listen to the song and be like, ‘I know what 69 is, but what is 88?’ So I started making up different shit for people. But it’s weird, because just having a symbol told to you makes you more attached to it. As writers and artists I feel like we do that a lot. It means something, but at the same time it doesn’t mean anything.
I’m not the best with time but I think I’ve been over here for three years. It took about one year to build it all up and get some songs ready. But, last year we released “Shea Butter” and now we’re in year three.
We’re working with a lot of young talent, people in their early 20’s. A lot of the people we feature are new to recording. We try to give them a place to take a crash course in the industry and try to inject our knowledge into them.
I would describe my music as poetic. It’s me trying to remember that rappers are poets. Especially growing up in the ‘hood,’ that male machismo — don’t care about ‘bitches’ and get money attitude — is really kind of force fed to you through rap. Then I was sent off to all of these prep schools and colleges where I started to learn about poets. Then when I came back I had a new ear for music. I was like, ‘Wait a minute… Rappers are poets.’
We try to dress ourselves up in all of this machismo because we kind of have to. But really we’re just speaking on our own insecurities. You know sometimes I want to talk about bitches and hoes, but sometimes I want to talk about other things, talk about being human.
I don’t write all the time. I know there are people who are disciplined as fuck and wake up and start writing. But I take a more zen approach. There’s a zen saying that’s like, ‘If you want to be a master of something, you need to learn everything about it and then put it down. When you pick it back up, it’s just flowing through your veins.’
Once the world stopped I couldn’t write at all. People weren’t working, the government was worse than ever and there is a disease killing thousands of people. Everyone’s freaking the fuck out. Conspiracies were at an all time high. As an artist I just tried to stay tapped in to how people are living. And it really didn’t seem like people were living to live, more that they were scared of dying.
I just couldn’t write. I just did what everybody else did, I stayed inside and became a couch potato. But when George Floyd died, and people started to protest and rebel it seemed like things changed again. There’s something about burning buildings that gives you hope I guess. It just made me realize I wanted to make music again.
All of these problems are universal: racism, sexism, so on. It’s about just being a human. We have so many labels for ourselves and until it affects our personal labels we just dodge it or try to make it not affect us. As a human we should be tapped into all problems.
Privilege. You know everybody has privilege. You should look at everybody else and make sure that your privilege isn’t stepping onto other peoples lives. I feel like as a man, you have to learn the power that you have. You don’t really become a man until you destroy something. Then you have to deal with that tragic feeling of fucking something up. It’s something you’ll do over and over again, but the key is trying to become better.
For many men, the first thing you fuck up is how you view women. Especially if you're growing up in this machismo society that really shits on our better half. They literally are. But, because we're so insecure we can’t let them know that. We put so much pressure on women just to keep ourselves inflated. Men have to realize that women aren’t objects. They are not here for our satisfaction. A lot of people are getting called out right now and good! Because karma comes back to you.
People always think karma is going to be the exact thing you did come back to you, but no, it's the memory of what you did. You know what the fuck you did. No matter whether you’re caught red handed or it’s been five years, you need to ask yourself, ‘What did I do to end up in this situation?’ Maybe you got a little too frisky or you fucking shit the bed. But you need to finish that karma and make amends. I feel like justice in itself is an illusion, but we have to try. Especially nowadays when the government is not just. Justice just doesn’t really exist. So when you have to call somebody out they may be guilty, but that’s such a fucking precious word. That’s why judges wear wigs and live by themselves and we don’t ever hear shit about judges.
Because you have to treat it so sterile. It is such a weird thing — the act of codemning another human being — because we all fuck up. We all have friends who have been called out and we know that their personalities fit the description. Even if you haven’t been called out, you might be afraid that you might. Because the things that these people are being accused of are things you might have even brushed against it your damn selves.
I don’t think it's ever really about one person. One victim or one perpetrator. We’re all the victims and all the perpetrators. So, we should all remember that.
These safe spaces are all illusions. There’s no real thing as a ‘safe space.’ I don’t want the idea of a safe space. I want that if something happens we’re going to pop up and deal with it right then. Knowing something happened around me, I’m going to respond as I need to. But safety is an illusion.
I kind of watch what everybody does. Being super meditative I kind of feel like I’ve freed myself from a lot of the ideas about the bubbles inside the bubbles inside the bubbles that we live in. I watch what everybody is doing. We should be getting justice, we should hold people accountable. But, maybe I think clearer because I’m a little more removed from it.
But, how do these people get back into our little society? Well, humans create a society. If you don’t carry yourself as a human being, then you’re not really a part of society are you? You’re just an animal surrounded by the shit that you want to fuck up.
When you get caste out of that society. It should actually start your journey towards becoming a better person. It’s kind of like the Garden of Eden. We did some fuck shit. God threw us out. And, now we’re supposed to be making our way back by redeeming ourselves.
Being thrown out should spark your humanity. A human knows whether you’re being humane or not. If society doesn’t feel that you're human, society doesn’t have to let you back in. Be human.
That’s the shit about the ego though. As long as you keep that same belief, no matter where you go, whatever you pick up your’re going to fuck it up. You’re going to just keep breaking shit until you realize how to be human.
If there’s one thing good about 2020 it’s that we’ve had so much time to be human — to have to deal with shit. Be human.
ERU NI OBA
The Slave is King
Written by The Poet, Havi and Spekulate the Philosopher.
Life in reverse where the slave is the king
Cotton be the throne where the black man can dream
Inner chi God tier ultra light beam
Love from within inshallah so it seems
Nigga I don't even care what's real
Bitch I'm bigger than a trillion dollar bill
In the right hands I can make the hood heal
The wrong hands I can make the blood spill
Plus I can never fold even if I'm on parole
And the cops is on patrol and the block hot as a stove
Trillion dollar baby, fuck you pay me
I need the reparations 'cause my ancestors was taken
We been broke so long generation to generation
Now I need some compensation 'fo it be some complications
This is my declaration, of independence
I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T do you know what that mean?
That mean I need more commas than a novel
It'll be a short story if you try to make me grovel
No Horry, I will rob you, end of story
What's the moral? Nigga I will rob you
Point blank period like Meg said
It's in my jeans rockstar 'till I'm red dead
Or I'm comatose, this is lyrical overdose
Spiritual holy ghost mama kiss you and hold you close
Not my baby, please lord, please lord
Please save him just take me
Swan song to ones who long gone
The good die young thinking 'what I then done wrong?'
I don't wanna go to hell, I don't wanna go to jail
I ain't got enough for bail oh to be a young, black male
And you will never know how that feel, and that's real
That's why I need a trillion dollars like Wall Street or NASDAQ
Before we end up on y'all streets in black masks
And he who laughs last laughs hardest
Just my karma I'll come back as a sketch artist
'He had a nose and lips like chimpanzees'
Empty banana clips and watch yo rich ass bleed
Go back to Africa? Shit is laughable, blasphemous
Like I'm magical, abra cadabra
Take me back to where my ancestors were
That's all I got
Life in reverse where the slave is the king
Cotton be the throne where the black man can dream
Inner chi God tier ultra light beam
Love from within inshallah so it seems
I wrote it during the protests and the riots. You can hear it in there, it’s a little violent but also calm. There is a sense of being ‘fed up’ in it. There is a lot of white fear. The irony of having to watch somebody giving a description of a criminal who fits this person’s image of a black man. There is a chasm there, where I’m not saying the fear isn’t justified, but the fear isn’t the real image. You know the violence isn't the real image.
My skin is black, but I couldn’t be Black unless everybody else thought I was black. I’m not Black to me. People will say that that’s fucking cliche, they’re like, ‘Oh, you don’t want to be Black?’ I’m only Black because of society. It’s like driving on the right side of the street. You just have to do it because everybody else is. Personally speaking, I kind of just watch things as they play out and speak from my perspective. Because I’m Black in society, I do speak as a Black man. But, I’m not afraid of whatever comes with that.
I feel like Black culture has a huge part to play on why people are becoming conscious. It’s infiltrated in ways only culture and art could do. Hip-hop has kind of made our story known around the world. You may not even know any Black people, but you know us and you love us. So, you have to speak up for us.
I’m really not trying to threaten anybody. I’m just speaking about how it’s a threat to everybody’s existence if we don’t do something about this situation. When push comes to shove I don’t want riots. Riots don’t solve anything. They might be a good place to start. I’m not looking to go backwards and start over. We’ve been doing this a while as human beings. I don’t think violence is the way. But, the song is kind of like, ‘You see me as violent. Sometimes we are violent. Let’s talk about it.’
Learn more about The Poet, Havi by visiting Studio 88's webpage.