Waajeed is an artist with deep roots in Detroit’s musical landscape. Growing up during the ‘80s in Conant Gardens, things could have gone in a very different direction for him and his friends. A chance meeting with local musician Amp Fiddler would steer the adolescents on a creative path that would culminate in Slum Village and J. Dilla changing hip-hop. After spending some years in NYC and growing disillusioned with mainstream rap, Waajeed moved back to Detroit to connect with Mad Mike and Underground Resistance, and together they’re now working on a major project to help raise a new generation of Detroit musicians.
As with most conversations nowadays, the struggles of the past year come up first as we start our conversation. “My story is the same as everybody that I’m surrounded by,” says Waajeed, known to those around him as Jeedo. “You think that you’re okay some days, and other days you’re really not. What it has taught me is the importance of real-life communication and how important it is to see and to speak with family and friends and loved ones. Just to be out and about. So yeah, I’ve been up and down. Primarily I’ve been up. But it’s a fight for your sanity some days, especially given what’s going on in our political climate and for people of colour in the United States.”
While lots of DJs and musicians resorted to streaming DJ sets over the internet, many artists in Detroit have not delved as heavily into that realm. There has always been a sense of knowing one’s worth and not being taken for granted that has resonated with generations of musicians from the city.
“I’ve been doing very few streams intentionally,” Waajeed says. “I believe that professionals should be in the category of professionals. I put in the work, I’ve been a part of the dance community and the music-making community for such a long time. I believe that sometimes we are undervalued. In general I feel with the free streams that are happening, it undervalues the mental and psychological work that artists do to help people heal. We’re shamans, largely. And I believe that a shaman needs to be there in order to keep doing the work.”
For the last few years, Waajeed has been building The Underground Music Academy (UMA) a few doors down from Underground Resistance headquarters. The brainchild of Mad Mike Banks, Wajeed and other close collaborators in the community, the idea is for it to be a space that the next generation of Detroit musical artists emerge from. As the world shut down due to the pandemic, Waajeed took the opportunity to focus more on getting the school off the ground.
“The thought was largely to put some paint where it ain’t, as my dad would say,” Waajeed explains. “To find people who are from similar conditions as myself and put them in the workforce and diversify dance music, electronic music, in general.”