“I’m just a poor black musician trapped in the system fighting for my life sliding backwards through a tunnel moving further from the light. Music is my only salvation. Without it, I think I would surely die.” - Myron Hodges, serving a life without parole sentence at Angola, LA.
It's been three years since a notebook jot-down outlining the idea for what would become the concept album project "Die Jim Crow". I was on the B train to Kingsborough Community College where I was studying history. There was a book in my hand and I was about halfway through it. "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander.
I was twenty-three years old and I wasn't sure what my truest passion was - Music? Filmmaking? History? Activism? So I'm halfway through the book about two stops from the end of the line, and I write down:
"A concept album* called 'The New Jim Crow' (*a la 'Amused to Death')."
Yes, my title - not too original. We'll call it an homage. "Amused to Death"? A concept album by Roger Waters about humans amusing themselves to death with TV, basically. The album came out pre-internet. Worth listening to. It's use of repeating musical themes, intense builds between tracks, and dark sociopolitical commentary appealed to me. Later on Pink Floyd's "The Wall" (which Waters wrote) would become a much greater inspiration.
I'm a Jew from the Lower East Side of New York City who has never been to prison. So why did I care? For starters, the book in my hand. I was reading about this very current and domestic human rights crisis, so well researched in Alexander's book, so beautifully articulated - but I was lacking the personal stories. I wanted to hear it from the folks who were living it.
I got off at the last stop and waited for the bus. "If I take on this project, I am going to meet people who I will know for the rest of my life - people who will change my life forever." The bus arrives.
Growing up in L.E.S back in the day, you see a lot, and that includes drug dealers, drug addicts, prostitutes, parolees, you name it. In my late teens I met a man who was all of the above at one point or another. He became somewhat of a soul mate to me. I made a movie about him: Pridgen.
I knew others who'd done time as well. A few of them I considered friends. But I had no idea, prior to reading "The New Jim Crow", of the scope the issue: so high in number, so historically rooted, so national, so many things.
I could elaborate on other reasons for becoming so obsessed with the project, but I'll keep it simple and turn reason to question. A question I'm still asking today. What is freedom?
Three years and hundreds of prison letters later, here I am - but more importantly - here WE are. Die Jim Crow has gone from a notebook scribble to a realized project involving artists formerly and currently incarcerated from all over the country. Recordings have been done with formerly incarcerated artists in Wichita KS, New Orleans LA, Philly PA, and Brooklyn NY. At Warren Correctional Institution, a maximum security state prison in Ohio, myself and co-producer/engineer dr. Israel have recorded a 22-member choir as well as individual artists in the prison.
From this body of work, we are thrilled to present to you the first big sample of what the Die Jim Crow full length album will sound like. This is the Die Jim Crow EP.
- Fury Young, producer of Die Jim Crow
The Die Jim Crow EP is a six song album, mainly recorded at Warren Correctional Institution, a maximum security state prison in Lebanon, OH. Additional vocals and instrumentation was done in Philadelphia PA and Brooklyn NY with formerly incarcerated artists.
The Die Jim Crow EP is a precursor to what will eventually be a full length album of the same title (with an LP at the end!). The Die Jim Crow LP release date is TBD. In the meantime, the EP gives a strong taste of the LP vibe: each song tells a true story, and puts the listener in the place of the narrator.
Fury explains the concept behind the project:
Not only are these narrator's voices seldom heard, but via DJC, they are lent to music in a powerful and carefully crafted way. Producing the tracks are newcomer Fury Young and seasoned producer and vocalist dr. Israel, who has worked with Santigold, Bill Laswell, Mad Professor, Sepultura, Rancid, Sublime, and Lee “Scratch” Perry.
The EP releases May 1st (2016) - also known as May Day - a day celebrating workers and social justice struggles. We are honored to release the album on such a historical day. But we need your help.
What We Need
Fury Young began Die Jim Crow in 2013 completely as a passion project. He has secured fiscal sponsorship from Fractured Atlas, which makes DJC eligible to receive funding from grant organizations. DJC has received one grant so far, albeit a small one. Fury has applied to several other grants (and continues to) and has been denied. The project is non-traditional, and securing organization funding has proved difficult. That said, funding is needed immediately to make this EP happen.
A fully itemized budget is available by contacting diejimcrow [at] gmail [dot] com.
Artist & Technician Payments: $5300
Merch (EP book, vinyl, t-shirts, posters): $3800
Transportation, Gas, Parking: $200
Release party: $500
"Headed to the Streets" music video: $3500
5% Kickstarter fee: $725
Watch this short video of Doc and Fury discussing key EP budget items:
There are many great items we offer. See parenthesis for corresponding pledge amount!
Digital download of EP (all rewards except for $2) featuring six original songs PLUS a remix by dr. Israel.
8 1/2" x 11" EP Poster (PLEDGE $15, $25, $35, $1000) designed by Fury Young, high quality print. Signed by Fury Young.
DJC T-Shirt (PLEDGE $20, $120, $200, $300, $500, $1000) available in different colors and sizes, design from handmade collage by Fury Young.
Die Jim Crow EP: The Book (unsigned: PLEDGE $25, signed by Fury Young and dr. Israel: PLEDGE $35, $120, $200, $1000) featuring handwritten lyrics from prison, behind the scenes photos, original artwork, and more. EP download link inside each copy.
27" x 41" EP Poster (PLEDGE $50, $1000) designed by Fury Young, high quality print in standard movie poster dimensions. Signed by DJC collaborators Dexter Nurse and Apostle Heloise, as well as Fury Young and dr. Israel. For image see 8 1/2" x 11" poster, two rewards above.
EP on Limited Edition Vinyl (PLEDGE $60, $120, $200, $1000) for the vinyl enthusiast! Each vinyl copy features original (one and only!) drawing and/or writing from currently incarcerated DJC artist inside sleeve. No copies - each sleeve is unique! Vinyl release is late June or July. Vinyl cover signed by Fury Young and dr. Israel.
Original Artwork by DJC producer Fury Young (PLEDGE $200, $1000) view Fury's work here. No commissions. Piece will be determined after this campaign ends.
Original Artwork by currently incarcerated DJC musician and visual artist Mark B. Springer (PLEDGE $300, $1000) view Mark's work here. No commissions. Piece will be determined after this campaign ends.
Homemade meal at the Revolution Sound recording studio (PLEDGE $500, $1000) Fury Young, dr. Israel, and Die Jim Crow artists will prepare and host a homemade meal at the Revolution Sound recording studio in Brooklyn NY - where Die Jim Crow EP was edited, overdubbed, arranged and mixed. Incarcerated DJC artist will call in to give donor a personal thank you and greeting.
Risks and challenges
In terms of our current stage of production, the biggest risk/challenge we face is a lack of funding. To put it simply - we really need the money. Everything else is in place.
Once the EP is released, we run the risk of upsetting folks who may be on the other side of the spectrum in terms of their opinions on the US prison system. Perhaps they have been victims of crimes, or they have a harsh view on how a penal system should be run.
But Die Jim Crow is not a hyperbolic nor preachy project - it's philosophy is "show, don't tell" - the listener can come to their own conclusions. DJC shares the stories of folks who have lived through the system - it is an ethnography. Some have taken lives, some are innocent - but that is not the point. The point is letting people tell their stories and moving towards a healing process. The point is to humanize. The point is rehabilitation - not only of the folks who are currently or formerly incarcerated - but of the laymen listener. Everyone has faced a mental prison at some point in their lives. We must learn from people who are seldom heard - the dispossessed, the oppressed, the caged.
If Die Jim Crow the EP is not palatable for certain listeners based on their political persuasions, that's okay - what's most important is that a dialogue is begun.
There are over 2.3 million people in US prisons and 80,000 in solitary confinement. Black Americans are the most disproportionately affected group in this broken system. This is a discussion that must be had. Let's ignite that conversation through music.
Let's hear these stories, let's hear these songs.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)