"This is Jibri," says the MC, in a voice deeper than Don Cornelius' first thing in the morning.
It's 10:30 on a Saturday night, but Jibri isn't on the mic. He's taking a break from the tedium of stocking United Dairy Farmers' beer coolers to talk on his cell. Idle chatter doesn't make 1 a.m., the end of his shift, come any sooner.
But he takes time out to reminisce computer science classes he took at Hughes High School, where Apple IIe's macked, marvel at how the first cell phones were as big as a grown person's shoe or jibe the soul food hole-in-the-walls like Heavy's and Big Louie's that held kids down for decades with grease-saturated bags of fries. But that was then.
Let him tell it: Eating at a greasy spoon in the age of pandemic viruses is a dummy move.
"You could get a fever blister eatin' at Richie's and shit," he says with a sigh, emphasizing words, "fever" and "blister."
Most times, Allen Jibri McPherson likes to talk.
Despite that people buying beer at state-minimum prices don't know that the city's first signed Hip Hop artist keeps the coolers full, Jibri doesn't care.
He won't bring it up unless you do. And if you do, it would help to ask him an original question.
"People would always say dumb shit like, 'Yo! You Jibri?' " he says. "I'm like, 'Yeah.' "
" 'You made that House the Dog Built album?' "
" 'Yeah. A long time ago.' "
" 'Wellllll, what happened?' "
"It's hard to understand that question," he says. "Like, 'What you mean, what happened?' Like I fell off a cliff. I say, 'I was frozen.' But, like, say it serious as hell!"
Some days he says nothing. His see-me-in-the-street-but-nigga-you-don't-know-me demeanor doesn't menace, but it hushes that Behind the Music type chatter.
On the other hand, it's good that people remember him. It doesn't seem like 14 years since The House the Dog Built, but the era of 99-cent videos on Jukebox was a minute ago.
Jibri even says his voice wasn't as deep.
Back then, dudes danced like Rosie Perez, Disco rode Jeep beats and somehow red, black and green coordinated. Large Professor looked at the front door and Baby Bam said, "I'll house you. You in my hut now. "
And the cut "The House the Dog Built," riding on George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" sample, fit right in. It was danceable, felt familiar. Not to mention the LP flaunted red, black and green graphics and Jibri's starter dreads.
Whether Jibri Wise One was an exception to the industry rule, his Ear Candy deal through Chic bassist and BMG exec Nile Rodgers sure made him one in Cincinnati.
Jibri's story is very "right place, right time." In 1991, he hooked producers Angelo Ray and Chip Allen (known then as The Movies) with a chorus he dropped for an R&B group. Ray and Allen asked if he wanted to record his own track. Jibri did.
"Everything happened by chance" from there, he says, and in weeks a finished album went from the boards to Rodgers thanks to a guy named Derek Ladd, whom Jibri says turned out to be "a snake."
Like any newcomer, Jibri dreamed of getting paid. But like most newly signed artists, he received the standard "shitty deal" and says most of his earnings paid production costs. He stacked pocket touring a chitlin' circuit of colleges, traveling with artists like DJ Quik and MC Breed.
He remembers big turnouts for his video shoots, especially the two shot in Cincinnati. But 106th & Park turned into a ghetto once roster changes at BMG turned ugly for Ear Candy. According to Jibri, Rodgers wanted his Ear Candy roster distributed as a package deal, which effected him first.
"He tried Jive at the time and he tried to wrap up every artist on his label with that deal, and Jive didn't want that deal," Jibri says wryly. "So he gave them an ultimatum. And they left the ultimatum. For awhile, I was just stuck in limbo tryin' to get out of the contract, so I couldn't do anything else."
For a year and a half, Jibri recorded with Breed, including 1994's "Who Da Phuck Are You" with DJ Wizzz off Breed's Dark Shadow. He also toured with Breed as his hype man. Then he lived in Atlanta for a while. He spent the next three years in prison, over what he says was "dumb stuff."
When he left prison in 1997, Hip Hop imitated thug life, and former underdogs like 2 Pac were idolized as redeemed Scarfaces.
"It was funny too, man, because when people know you locked up, man, they'll be like, 'We know you was in there writin',' " Jibri says. "Naw muhfucka. I was in there thinkin'. Like I'm gon' have a whole buncha notebooks full of prison songs and shit! By that time, man, I had just lost the feel for Hip Hop, like totally. Just like, 'Fuck it. It's a wrap.' "
In 1999, the birth of his daughter, Kiara, cooled his heels. He also reacquainted with music and grew a second set of 'locks. Sipping tea, he explains that Kiara made him less selfish and that, while he hasn't necessarily found peace, he feels balance.
"Try being alone," Jibri says. "That'll make yo' ass realize, 'Damn. Ain't nobody else in here with me and shit! Not even a plant! I'm the only living thing in this apartment?' What the hell?"
Joking is coping. He jokes about being a "stock boy" as if he became a serf. As a summer counselor at Northside's McKee Recreation Center, he observes how some kids at are "becoming little assholes already."
But his introverted side reveals that he closes his eyes onstage and that he isn't quite ready to perform again, even though new tracks are being considered for radio.
"It'd be different," he says. "I'd have a relaxed-ass show with an upright bassist and shit!"
He's unsure if he was somehow cheated.
"I don't know," he says. "I'm just thankful to still be breathin.' I don't think about it much."
Then he reconsiders.
"I do, but I don't. I just do what I gotta do." ©