Jah Mikal Spice is 54, and Jah is actually his first name. In March, he’ll join The FADER for The FADER FORT Presented by Converse in Austin for a third time, taking up his post at the venue’s coveted back door, where anyone who gets in must speak with him first.
The FORT, now heading into its 15th year, requires a large team to pull off. But perhaps no one’s contribution is more spiritually significant, or hard to explain, than Jah’s. Below, he explains what executive security is, the attitude that work requires, and why the best way to control a chaotic event is to know that nothing, really, is that serious.
JAH SPICE: I mentor and help artists. Mostly young, up-and-coming hip-hop artists, helping them to find their best self and put their best foot forward. I have some guys that I’ve mentored for years that I still stay with, like Wiz Khalifa. You have people that agree with whatever he’s doing, whether it's good or not, whatever, just because he is Wiz Khalifa. I think I give him something different. When Wiz has a situation, I've told him, “Don't respond to that foolishness. Don't be baited.” This last Kanye situation, he just felt he had to respond. But typically I address most of that stuff for him. I’ve also worked with Yelawolf, Akon, and Wale. And I manage artists, tour manage, and consult for labels.
I was born and raised in the Virgin Islands. St. John. I went to New York to go to school and then I ended up in the military. After getting out of the military, I ended up in Texas. Then I was trying to figure out where I could go. I didn't want to go back to New York and didn't want to move to Miami. Didn't want to go to the West Coast because it was to far away from my mom and family. So I moved to Atlanta back in 1988. At the time, Eastern Air Lines had a three-hour direct flight back home, from Atlanta. So it worked out perfect for me. Plus I had family in Atlanta. So Atlanta became the stop.
I started in this industry as a DJ, way back when. Then I was a concert promoter in Atlanta. I did all the big reggae concerts there. Then I started managing artists. I managed a reggae group called Born Jamericans in the ‘90s. Then I started with Akon. Prior to Akon being Akon, I worked with Akon. And I produced. I did a little bit of everything in the industry. Then by default I fell into doing some security for friends of mine. I’m not a security guy. But I trained folks in how to do executive security.
Executive security is about providing security for someone—it could be the president, or for an artist. But it’s not just being a body. You have to conduct yourself in a certain way and possess a certain amount of skill. It’s not necessarily about being a big body that intimidates folks. Being a big body kind of helps but having the skill to defuse a situation is better than allowing a situation to happen. If you’re a big guy, you can crush somebody the minute you engage in an altercation, but to do that you have to leave your client and then your client is exposed. So executive security is just a higher level of security.
“Sometimes, you’re just supposed to just flow and allow things to fix themselves. That’s the hardest thing to realize.”
This year is gonna be the third FORT I’m officially working. It was unofficially before that. Back when I was working with Yelawolf, I would come to the FORT. One day, [The FADER president and publisher] Andy Cohn was spazzing out because something wasn't going right. I had to talk to him and tell him to calm down. He didn't see that it would be OK and I told him it would be OK, “Just let me handle it.” And I just told him, “Whenever you need me, I'm here.” He said, “Why don’t you just come on and let’s make it official.”
Initially, I was supposed bring some spiritual calmness to the FORT. Specifically in the backstage area. It got a little crazy back there, primarily with our hip-hop genre, because artists would come with the entourage. In 2013 at the FORT on Saturday, we had Tip and Future and Trae Tha Truth, and everybody had 40 people with them. You know what that’s like. Nobody really wants to have to deal with that. [Former FORT event producer] Lacy was screaming at the top of her lungs and they were not listening to her. I pulled Tip aside and told him, “Listen, you’re not going to disrespect this lady. She’s running the show.”
I’ve been in Atlanta for so long, that most of the guys that come out of there, I’ve at some point been a part of their career in one way or the other. And now I hold them accountable for the blessing that they have. At FORT I have been dubbed “the artist whisperer.” I don't know what that means. I guess it’s like the dog whisperer—I can reach these guys in a certain way.
There’s a reason why there’s more drama and physical altercation in hip-hop than in most other genres—not to say that the other genres don't have their share of drama and crookedness. But you know, it's like the old proverb, “If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.” If you put out that type of energy, then there’s no secret why you always have drama. But if you operate in the space of goodness and kindness, then thats whats going to come back to you. Whatever you give is going to come back to you.
Being West Indian is a huge piece of my personality. It is probably the entire piece of my personality. The West Indian culture is laid back. The whole "No problem man" that everybody always hears? It's really the way we live. Like, nothing is that serious. There’s no need to get all worked up and frustrated.
I’m also a shaolin practitioner. I started studying way back in middle school. We believe that for every question there is an answer. So for me, there’s never something that can't be worked out. My first shaolin instructor was an older cousin of mine, and as a young man I wanted to be like Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee was one of my idols. I still live according to some of his principles today. That’s where my big mantra comes from, of being and flowing like water.
When I say “Be like water,” I’m talking about out how water is always in constant movement. You can try, but you can’t hold it. Nothing can stop water. If you put water in a glass it becomes a glass. If you pour it around a rock it becomes the rock. Water will go through, over, and under to get where it's going, and it always comes back to claim its natural space.
I've been on so many events. Big ones, small ones. And the FORT is amazing, actually, to me. You folks have been doing this for a minute and I think you have a handle on it. It grows every year and every year you think it’s going to be insanely crazy, and then by the end of the week it's not. Sometimes people are wired and need a little calming. Imagine any situation that you have been in that you thought it was going to be the worst. I promise you, when you got through it, it was not nearly as bad as what you were anticipating.
We actually do more damage to ourselves by getting all worked up about how bad this thing is going to be, as opposed to saying, “You know what? It's going to work itself out.” We are such control freaks that we try to control every movement. In fact, the movement teaches you how to move. If you submit to the movement, it teaches you what you're supposed to do. Sometimes, you're just supposed to just flow and allow things to fix themselves.
That’s the hardest thing to realize. Speaking as a control freak myself, I get it. It’s hard to let things flow because it means something may not happen immediately like we want it to, or that we don’t know how something is going to happen. And we don’t like that. That makes us uncomfortable.