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Interview with Jabriel Winfrey (Billy D. Brell), August 27, 2019

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:15 - Earliest Memories

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Partial Transcript: So, Billy, what, uh, what's one of your earliest memories?

Segment Synopsis: Jabriel Winfrey reflects on his childhood, recalling the house he grew up in with his grandmother and great aunt located in Athens. He describes some of his first memories, including the greatest disappointment of his life when he met his biological father for the first time. His mother had lived with her husband in Greene County when Winfrey was young, but he chose not to live with them so he could be close to his cousins.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Barnett Shoals Rd; Chitlin Circuit; Erma Winfrey; Greensboro, Ga; House of Blue Lights; Mike Dekle - State Farm Insurance Agent; Shane Dekle - State Farm Insurance Agent; black-owned business

00:06:40 - Growing Up in Athens

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Partial Transcript: Gotcha. Where, um, where'd you go to elementary school?

Segment Synopsis: While growing up in Athens, Winfrey attended Gaines Elementary School, Hilsman Middle School, and Cedar Shoals High School. He was isolated on his family's property and kept to himself outside of school. He describes his relationship with his cousins, who he feels were more like brothers. The city didn't become relevant to Winfrey until he was older.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Cedar Shoals High School Class of 1998; Downtown Athens; Edward Wright

00:10:03 - Division in Schools/Gang Activity

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Partial Transcript: Would you say, um, it was less violent?

Segment Synopsis: Even though Winfrey didn't put himself in any trouble to begin with, there was overall less violence in the city when he was younger. He remembers the earliest acts of violence, including the murder of one of his close friends, Desmond Sims, when he was in ninth grade. He begins to describe the East versus West division in Athens that he thinks was always present in schools. Winfrey remembers when influence from Atlanta came to Athens in the 1980s. There were gangs on both sides, but he remembers specifically hearing about Marco Polo on the west side. Winfrey feels that Athens is a small city with the feel of a big city, and there shouldn't be tension between areas so close together.

Keywords: Athens PROBE College Fair; Athens, Ga; Cedar Shoals High School; Clarke Central High School; Clarke County; Kilo Ali; The Classic Center

00:14:20 - Family Stories

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Partial Transcript: Do you think, and you don't have to answer this...

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey shares his thoughts that the segregation of Athens is in the mind frame of its citizens. He recalls some stories his elders told about segregation, including a conflict his mother was involved in when she was younger. He believes both his grandmother and his mother attended segregated schools. He then describes his great uncle, who filled the role as his grandfather and was the first established black mechanic in Athens.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Clarke County Schools; Oglethorpe County; discrimination; shotgun house

00:20:49 - School in Athens

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Partial Transcript: Okay, can you maybe tell us a little bit more about, uh, you going to school in Athens?

Segment Synopsis: While discussing school in Athens, Winfrey mentions that he was always better at English and History than Math and Science. He was a quick learner and became friends with three or four of the black teachers at his elementary school. He had his first black male teacher in middle school, Dwight Mansey, who is still a major figure around Athens. He also remembers all of his coaches, from his youth organization to high school. After playing football in high school for two years, he began smoking marijuana and getting into rap music, losing focus and eligibility for football. He talks about football being the ultimate team sport, as nothing interferes with the bond between teammates, especially skin color.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Cedar Shoals High School; Clarke County Schools; Gaines Elementary School; Ray Roach; Rico Thomas; Satterfield Park; Scott Wilkins

00:26:54 - Personal View of Athens and Self

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Partial Transcript: Is there something about Billy, or your family, or about Athens...

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey says after living in Athens and traveling to a lot of places in the United States, Atlanta simply was not as big of a deal to him as other people make it seem. He'd gone back and forth between Atlanta and Athens his entire life. Some of his cousins referred to Athens as "the country," but even for being a small town, he still feels that Athens is more alive than Atlanta. He describes Athens as having a lot of character, forcing each citizen to build their own character and establish themselves. This plays into how he considers himself a renaissance man. He mentions that he actually didn't begin dating until he was fourteen because all of his spare time went into creativity rather than pursuing girls.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Atlanta, Ga

00:31:45 - Beginning Music Days

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, once I started rapping...

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey explains that once he started writing raps, he hardly did anything else. One of his friends, Coleman Taylor, was the only person he would let listen to him and gave him the confidence and motivation he needed not only for his music, but to talk to girls as well. Winfrey received a Sony tape recorder for Christmas one year and began rapping into it, giving the tapes to people at school. Through his tapes and rap battles at school he improved and built a reputation for himself. He remembers a few other Athens hip hop artists coming up around the same time as him, such as Eugene Willis and Duddy Ken. He also discusses the talent show Willis put together that he made a surprise performance at, making it his first time on a stage. He didn't begin considering himself a rapper, though, until he and his group opened for K.P. & Envyi.

Keywords: Carlos “Lo’ Down” Jones; Cedar Shoals High School; Clarke Central High School; Ken “Duddy Ken” Richardson; Lo' Down and Duddy; Young Guns

00:38:07 - Hip Hop in Athens

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Partial Transcript: Who's the first hip hop artist in Athens...?

Segment Synopsis: One of the first hip hop artists from Athens Winfrey remembers is Lo Down and Duddy. Once he was involved in rapping, he began going to a garage studio, what became Underground Sound. Carlos Jones, Lo Down, took him under his wing. It was there that Winfrey witnessed Lo Down and Duddy create their own beats and the original tracks for their first CD, Between the Hedges. He also discusses other artists and groups he remembers releasing music separately from Underground Sound. These artists would perform shows in local clubs, such as Connections, but there wasn't a strictly downtown scene.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Beat Town; Big Earl and dem Twin Boys; Carlos “Lo’ Down” Jones; Cedar Shoals High School; Downtown Athens; Duddy Ken; Eye 4 Eye Entertainment; Greene County; Ken “Duddy Ken” Richardson; Kendrick Richardson; Tragedy Clique

00:45:03 - Producing a CD/ Studio Time

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Partial Transcript: Okay. When, um, when do you remember cutting your first CD...?

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey mentions being a part of several projects and persevering through people losing faith in him. Despite others giving up, he continued on and began his own project, "Patiently Waiting," in his cousin's studio, which was never released. His first release was titled "Jumping Off the Porch" under the name Ya Boy Brell. While experiencing complications with producers and buying studio time, he released mix tapes to keep his name circulating. He soon got a producer and began his next project, "Billy-ville," influenced by a life in the streets, which didn't sell as well as he had hoped. This carried him into "D&D: Dedicated and Determinant." He describes all of his albums as having themes and concepts, establishing a vision and building from it.

Keywords: Nebula Productions; Tragedy Clique

00:51:29 - Progression of Musical Identity

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Partial Transcript: After I did that, you know I went into a process where, you know, I became a father...

Segment Synopsis: After his release of "D&D," Winfrey's daughter was born, changing his perspective on his music. He developed a new identity writing poetry, which allowed him to comfortably shift back into music. Winfrey then discusses the overall progression of his music, beginning with his "New York" style in Cedar Shoals, to a "Southern Trap", and then bringing them together. In his mind, Athens has both a Downtown scene and a Street scene to appeal to. He began using his self given name of Billy D. Brell once an artist got signed under the name Ya Boy to avoid confusion. His new persona was officially born after his opening act performance of "Get Like Me" at a friend's party.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Billy Dee Williams; Cedar Shoals High School; Downtown Athens; Kendrick Lamar; Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK); Talented Mr. Winfrey; To Pimp a Butterfly; Ya Boy Brell

00:58:33 - Current Role in Athens Hip Hop

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Partial Transcript: And what would you say you're doing now?

Segment Synopsis: With his most recent hip hop identity, Winfrey now produces music the way he has always wanted to. He finds that his use of cleaner lyrics has also improved the quality of his music. Even as someone around for the first wave of hip hop in Athens, he wasn't aware of the respect he received from his community until he got recognition from the music he produces now.

Keywords: 706 Legend; Athens Hip Hop; Athens, Ga; profanity

01:01:26 - Writing Experience/ New Book

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Partial Transcript: Definitely. Um, so I wanna dive a little more into, um, you wrote a screenplay, right?

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey summarizes his experiences with writing, mostly limited to school. Previously, he had started works, but was never interested enough by it. He also recalls a time a teacher told him he should pursue his writing, but at the time he was only focused on his music. He wrote a short story inspired by the recent killings and police violence towards African Americans and shared it with friends who convinced him to take it further. After providing a sample on Facebook to test reactions, he plans to release a full version that he hopes to take to the screen one day.

Keywords: Cedar Shoals High School; Justice and Julius; Police brutality

01:06:27 - Renaissance Man

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, you used a term that really, really describes you...

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey feels that his talent in many subject areas, such as sports, writing, and hip hop, originates from his isolation as a child. He took it upon himself to learn things he didn't know. He began doing research of his own because he always wanted to know more about what interested him. Winfrey explains that he doesn't speak about things he isn't knowledgeable about, so if there is something he wants to discuss, he ensures that he can speak correctly about it.

Keywords: James Arthur Baldwin; Louis Farrakhan Sr. (Louis X); black power

01:09:32 - Black Power and Hip Hop

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Partial Transcript: So you said you listened to, you listened or you saw Farrakhan...?

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey describes his viewing of Farrakhan on VHS to be the first time he had seen black men speak so fiercely. Having grown up in a Christian home, Farrakhan and the topics he brought light to were much different than the preachers he had experience with. His interest led him to learning more about Islam. He then lists several artists and groups that stood out to him as contributors to black rights through hip hop, as well as discusses the impact of the movie "Do the Right Thing." He describes it as what validated the life in the streets that artists had been rapping about.

Keywords: Black Power; Black Rights; Elvis; John Wayne; Louis Farrakhan Sr. (Louis X); Nation of Islam (NOI); Poor Righteous Teachers; Public Enemy

01:12:58 - Influential Artists

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Partial Transcript: So who would you listen to?

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey lists several artists that influenced his taste in music and how they relate to his own progression of style. He recalls who he was listening to as early as first grade. His first actual tape, though, was by Kid N' Play. He later took to more "gangsta rap" until a group called Black Moon on the television show Rap City introduced him to the New York style rap. Winfrey also dives into a big moment in hip hop when Outkast came into the scene as the first southern rap group to make it big, which led to more southern artists.

Keywords: 8Ball & MJG; A Tribe Called Quest; Christopher George Latore Wallace (The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or Biggie); Eric B. & Rakim; Eric Lynn Wright (Eazy-E); Geto Boys; Michael David Cummings (Spider One); Move the Crowd; Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones (Nas); Robert Lee Green, Jr. (Spice 1); Suave House Records (The Legendary Suave House); The Dungeon Family; UGK; Wu-Tang Clan

01:16:33 - Personal Value of Hip Hop/ Hip Hop and Politics

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Partial Transcript: So, what, uh, so what, what does hip hop mean to you?

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey dives into how important hip hop is to him, being all he ever had at times. He relates it to being like his father, teaching him and guiding him through even the simplest lessons. He says hip hop artists are "reporters for the streets" by the way they share a message, especially like N.W.A., one of the first groups to bring such controversial topics into their music. In his opinion, it wasn't until Boyz in the Hood came out that people had a visual to put with the realness of gang violence and drug addiction in rap songs. He feels that because of these influences, as well as the ability to effectively bridge a gap, hip hop does more for the public than a political figure.

Keywords: N.O.R.E.; Political hip hop; Substance abuse; Victor Santiago, Jr. (N.O.R.E., or Noreaga); politics

01:21:23 - Growing up near the University of Georgia

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Partial Transcript: Well, this was, this was a beautiful interview...

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey describes growing up and living his life near the University of Georgia as being a blessing and a curse. Although he used to go to parties on campus when he was younger, Winfrey doesn't go on campus anymore and knows several people who make the same choice for similar reasons. He shares an experience he had in which brothers of a fraternity jumped him at a party, but he was the only one that got kicked out. Since then, the closest he gets to campus is usually the Downtown area, attending the same places he knows he is welcome and won't be stopped based on how he looks or what he wears. With the university being essentially another city inside Athens, he feels it's a segregated city.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Athens-Clarke County; Clarke County; Downtown Athens; Toppers; University of Georgia (UGA); discrimination; segregation

01:27:43 - Black Men in Society

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Partial Transcript: Has the black man become the villain or have we always been the villain?

Segment Synopsis: Winfrey feels that not only has the black man always been the villain, but always will be. He suggests that there has always been a fear of the capabilities of black men, thus steps are constantly being taken to suppress them. With some of the steps taken to suppress African Americans including drugs and infections, Winfrey theorizes that because only black people carry the sickle cell trait, it had to have been placed intentionally. He also mentions that in order to overcome current issues and for the black race to move forward, disagreements need to be set aside.

Keywords: Black Rights; Syphilis; sickle cell disease