Jaja Soze Talks Building Brands And Reaching Your Highest Potential No Matter What!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Jaja Soze : "That's What I Think Every Kid Needs, Plant That Seed, Water It And It Will Grow."

Former South-London notorious gang member Jaja Soze is a role model to young people who come from deprived backgrounds. He is a prime example of making something out of nothing, and although far from the usual rags to riches story, Soze has become a successful creative entrepreneur that is on a mission to change the world he lives in.

Suffering a traumatic past, having been caught up in drugs, guns and crime, to serving long jail sentences, you'd have to own a pretty cold heart not to commend this man for his efforts, in bettering not only himself, but the community around him.

I walked into the PDC studio, completeley in awe and admiration of the innovative and slick design of this entity that Jaja had created. I sat down on a sofa, filled with graffiti scribbles and writing,which really captured the creative and edgy feel of the art and culture of the area.'What a masterpiece', I thought to myself, whilst scanning the contents of the studio,as Jaja finished some final touches for the editing he was doing on his brother's music video.

Jaja remembers his childhood to be very cultured as he grew up originally as a Rastafarian and claims to have learnt a lot of his personal history during this time. Although  Jaja was influenced somewhat by Rastafarian culture, he had family members that were Muslim and so always had love for Islam.  However, his journey into becoming Muslim was different to the usual go into jail and come out Muslim, for street credibility rather than out of sincerity and respect for the religion of Islam. Needless to say however, some converts to Islam that are incarcerated are genuine and practice the religion to a larger extent than born Muslims."For me, Islam came to me for a different reason to everybody else. I didn't do it for religious purposes or joining crowds. Mine was a journey that I found myself embarking on. I was looking for that discipline in my life that I didn't have from anyone else. Like there was no man or no person in my life to give me the discipline that I needed, " he stated. He mentioned that during his former years he was a bit on the wild side and that the only thing that he connected with, which could tame him down too, was Islam. He told me, "The beauty of Islam lies in the discipline it can bring to an individual."

Today marks the first day of Ramadan in 2015, and is promised to be a challenging, but rewarding 30 days of fasting and charitable giving and kindness towards others. "The discipline part of Ramadan is serious. if you get through the whole of Ramadan, I give you full ratings. I've done two all the way through in the past and they were hard. Especially in the society we are living in, its so hard. It is so hard, if you can get through half of it, I give you top ratings," he said sympathising with Muslims fasting in the blessed month of Ramadan.

 Drifting onto a conversation about what his past life was like, he stated that his childhood was very lovely to begin with, since he was brought into a household with a mum and dad. However, he made the point that things started to get a bit pear-shaped when his parents split up. When he was about seven or eight years of age, he moved to London from Birmingham with his mother and younger siblings.

They had moved into the Angel Town Estate in Brixton, which was known for its reputation with soaring crime rates and dangerous incidents. Jaja recalled, "As I got older, I started becoming more boisterous and adventurous and this lead to other things," before he wet on to explain," It goes from bikes in the park to drugs and crime." His tale of falling off the rails due to no one being around to discipline him or teach him any better, was moving to say the least. "I didn't have no one to discipline me, no one to say 'yeah lets try this' and 'lets do some washing machine jobs' or 'come work in my shop', no one offered me a job," he told me.

Deep into the drugs game and gang galore, Jaja got put into prison two times, the second time being his will to change his ways. Reflecting on his time in jail, he very vividly described his experience, " I just always remember jail as being boring. Bored till you start counting the spots on the roof and counting how much dust there is on the curtains," he said. Despite being locked up for endless hours, Jaja made sure he was being as effective and productive with his time as he could be. Whilst in jail, Jaja spent a great deal of time reading various type of literature on a variety of topics, as well as maintaining gym attendance.

"The education system - they teach you one way, you're going to come out thinking one way cos [sic] they only teach you one way. They don't give up options for education. To educate yourself is very important. Whatever road you're going down, whatever path or career you choose to go down, educate yourself. Because if you wait for people to educate you, it's just going to be a nightmare," he declared in an earnest manner.

It was during his second time in prison that light-bulbs started lightening up in his head and Jaja came up with a strategic plan to improve his livelihood. He told me, "I thought about what I can do to change the direction I was going in. I didn't have links to anyone with a business plan at that time, I didn't have links anywhere. So I said to myself what do I have that is accessible to me at the moment and I thought of the mandem (plural for group of boys) and the gang and our brand." After this epiphany, Jaja utilised the skills of the members of the gang and utilised members for graphic design skills, dealing with money and other small, but significant things to run a business. He turned the gang PDC (Peel Dem crew) into an independent music label.

Touching base on the music scene and his own performance as an artist, Jaja said, "At that time, I had a lot to say about certain things and the best way to project that, was through spoken word. I was educating myself, reading up on certain things, watching stuff, I was growing as an individual." He spoke about his array of interests and readings of topics ranging from social economics, business, culture and much more. "I got a big young street following, so I wanted to educate them on another level. We all know about streets, drugs and knives etc, so I said you know what 'let me spread a different message.' Not all of them are going to listen but out of 100, if 20 listen, that 20 can change the lives of people in the future and that was my aim and that is why I did spoken word," he explained.

He went on to talk about Poetry Luv, a poetry event he co-created for the simple reasons of allowing people to have a platform to express themselves as spoken word artists. "I believed there wasn't any platforms at the time, because when I started getting into spoken word, I used to search for stuff and it was small and humble. People looked at like it was a posh kids thing and by coming up with Poetry Luv, we made it (spoken word) kind of cool and we put a certain look on it," he told me proudly. Poetry luv is an event that runs every month, with the next one estimated to be held in Early July.

With a previous background of being a drug dealer, Jaja has picked up some vital life skills which he has channelled in the positive brands and platforms that he has produced and developed. " The whole planning the drugs circulation, bagging up, that's made me good with handling money and organizing things. From planning drug games to armed robberies, I've now got a skill that they would now call 'project co-ordination.'

This is proven to be true, as he has run many successful projects, Indigo Youth being one of them." Indigo Youth was started so that I could do projects that I wanted to do as well as help young people. I want to help. A lot of these government schemes and programmes have certain categories of ages and background for you to be accepted on to things," he said before explaining that with Indigo Youth, you are able to do what you want, there are far less more boundaries. He claims that this his form of charity, as he believes charity to be a very important thing to exercise. Quite relaxed but earnest at the same time, he declared, " If you have, you should always give back."

Starting off was not an easy process for Jaja, but a lengthy and complex one. However, he was grateful for Heritage Lottery's money in helping him to fund the Hip Hop Heritage project. He also went on to describe his admiration for Arts Council, in assisting him. "I like working with Arts Council because its based on the arts, its not like the dodgy government ones where you have to snitch on the kids," he said.

For Jaja, the driving force behind most of his brands, is to provide a space and platform for people in a particular craft/field. This is why he created Hip Hop Nation 28, which is an open-mic space where people can get up and enjoy the genre of Hip Hop music. "If I was coming up, I'd be happy Hip-Hop Nation was there," he boasted.

Contemplating on the current scene of Black artists and their music, Jaja was very passionate with what he had to say. " The word 'urban' .. I don't really rate urban, I think its a mockery, the saying 'urban'. To me, urban was a word for everyone to be involved in Black culture and Black music. That's why the word urban was created - we can jump on this great thing they have created, but not give them the credit. It is a blatant disrespect, they couldn't do that with Bollywood or anyone else's music. Bollywood is called Bollywood, so don't say 'urban' for Black music. They're trying to keep 'Black' out of everything, "he explained nodding his head in dismay and disapproval.

But it is not all doom and gloom, as Jaja is determined to override this racial and political identity struggle by creating his own industry. "My plan is to join all my brands together and go to festivals, have our own label and make an industry," he said.

A jack of all trades, or should we say a Jaja of all trades, he does not just limit himself to just music. Jaja is renowned for making hard-hitting and informative documentaries online, as well as short-drama series. In addition to this, he offers life coaching to people that may need or want some guidance in life.  He claims to have been a life coach without a title before he started professionally, as kids involved in gang life and criminal activity, would come to him for help and empowerment. "I've helped a lot of young kids who are on the road, and now they're in jobs, doing university, doing big things, moved country, just doing big things from certain things being implanted in their heads. Just from that one seed they grow! That's what I think every kid needs, plant that seed, water it and it will grow," he described.

For those who may be interested in starting an independent business and creating multiple innovative brands like Jaja has, he provides some exclusive advice. "When you get you main idea, its about where you want to go with it. Creating a business plan, a plan of action. Then you contact someone, you can now get business templates online. When I was growing up, you couldn't do that, YouTube came out the other day. The new school young people have way many choices and directions to get out there. Now you can go online and Google business plan templates and pay for one as little as £5. I couldn't do that, you can get contract templates now, everything is on Google. There's so much out there," he explained.

He went on to say that there is a multitude of business mentors that you can access if you search for them online. Jaja also stressed the importance of being pro-active in studying the field that you would like to get into. With the stresses life brings with it, it can be easy to get tumbled down and loose motivation, but as Jaja said, "You got to build and keep building."

 He highlighted the benefits of leaving one's comfort zones and how this can nurture your talents and make you more well rounded as an individual.  "There's people in London that have never been to Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester. I know grown people that have never left London, you've got to think where's your mind at. That's not growing. A lot of people that are succeeding, are travelling. They're going to Dubai, they're linking people, they're making connections. With links come opportunities and that's how you become successful, because you're making opportunities. You can meet a man and a woman and they own a multi-million pound company and they could say to you, 'we're looking for someone like you!' That's it. That's you gone. If you're lazy and you want to sit down and create an online business than that's you. But if you want more, you've got to get up and do more. Get up and look for it!" he exclaimed. Jaja himself has been to many parts of the world on business ventures, including Sudan, Egypt, Morocco and parts of Europe and some Caribbean Islands.

Jaja's motto in life is to 'reach your highest potential in everything.' "Reach your highest potential in all aspects, whether its money, faith, religion, spirituality, growth, fatherhood, motherhood,education. Be the best you can be. The more you grow and evolve you can give back to your kids and the more you grow. And the more you build, you can leave behind a legacy for your family," he said beaming, his smile emitting self-belief and knowledge to a high degree.

If Jaja could change one thing in the world, it would be to get rid of people's ignorance. "The ignorance of the world, towards each other and the planet. Towards other cultures. Ignorance probably causes the most problems in the whole planet," he further explained.

To get involved with some of Jaja's projects or simply keep updated with his documentaries and upcoming events, make sure you stay posted on : www.jajasoze.com

                                                   Me & Jaja Soze at the PDC studio.


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