Oklahoma City rapper Jabee turns ugly memory into gold

BY GEORGE LANG glang@opubco.com Modified: March 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm •  Published: March 22, 2013

Oklahoma City rapper Jabee took an emotional scar from his childhood and turned it into gold.

Jabee, who performed three sets at this month's South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, is celebrating the release of “Stephanie,” his new single produced by alternative hip-hop star El-P, with an all-ages show at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Conservatory, 8911 N Western. The first 20 fans through the door will receive gold vinyl copies of the single with original artwork by local artist Michael Anderson etched into the B-side.

But this golden moment in the emcee's career was made possible by an emotional setback. “Stephanie” was originally called “Super Ugly,” and it came from an insult hurled at Jabee by a middle school crush.

“When I was 11 years old, I liked this girl named Stephanie, and she called me ugly,” Jabee said while taking a break outside the 512, the Sixth Street bar that was ground zero for this year's Buffalo Lounge, the annual SXSW showcase for Oklahoma artists. “I think I've been carrying around that bitterness since I was 11. I wanted to tell a story, so I wrote a song like I was 11 years old but with the mind that I have now, so I could tell her who I would become and what I would be doing.”

Jabee had the subject and the verses ready to go, but he needed someone to put it all together. Since his teens, Jabee had been a fan of El-P, the rapper, producer and founder of the Definitive Jux label, and when asked during interviews what his dream collaboration would be, Jabee always mentioned El-P.

After a few years of casual talk, Jabee sent El-P an instant message, formally asking him to produce a single.

“I said, ‘If I don't ask, I'll never know: would you consider doing a track with me?' He said, ‘Let's do it,' and I promise you that I was thinking, ‘This can't be for real.'”