Some say there are two things that are impolite to talk about with strangers—religion and politics.
So perhaps that’s why local alternative hip-hop artist Jerry Abasto, stage name JB Envy, is so soft spoken. Upon first meeting, the mellow composition and carefully worded conversation of Abasto doesn’t scream performer—specifically the type to get up in front of crowds at the Knitting Factory and regal them with political statements and revelations drawn from his personal life.
But it seems that when handed the microphone, Abasto’s alter ego of JB Envy takes over not just in name, but also in persona. He’s an open book, as he says onstage, about personal subjects from his girlfriend—who has two songs dedicated to her on his new album, Vimana, released on April 20—to his 5-year-old son. Abasto may be the epitome of table manners in the day-to-day—but once onstage, he holds nothing back—and every dish is served with a dash of true-life spice, and a side of politics.
“A lot of what’s on the new album is political,” Abasto says. “It’s based around my life and my views.”
Taking the political route in artist style is a decision Abasto made organically. After graduating high school in 2002, he went straight into the military, working as an administrative specialist, stationed everywhere from South Korea to Washington, D.C.
Returning to Reno five years ago—he initially intended to focus primarily on songwriting, with no interest in vocalizing his thoughts. But he soon found the path to rapping the lyrics himself furthered the message. The relationship between his hands-on military experience and his performing presence was found to be a strong crowd appeal.
“They love the fact that I’m a veteran, and there are songs directed to the military that they can relate to,” Abasto confirms of his fan base. “In mainstream music, they don’t have anyone like that—they can’t get the full connection.”
Abasto’s experience in the military provides a source of inspiration not only in political statements, for which he says the iron is hot to strike. “These aren’t the best of times for our country. So my songs are geared towards the change that we were promised.”
A single off his new album, for which he has a music video accessible on YouTube, “Going Down,” is based on the true-life story of a military friend’s son—who had a puppy love romance that ended in tragedy.
“My friend’s son had a crush on a girl in his class,” Abasto explains. “And so he wrote a ’check yes or no’ note to her. She never responded—because she died in a car crash that night.”
The realistic video—even featuring a fire truck loaned by the Reno fire department, thanks to the director’s volunteer firefighting—spares the gory details, focusing mainly on the emotional sentiment of young love and the fragility of life instead.
“We tried to stay away from the violent aspects in the video—we kind of just paint the picture of the crash scene,” Abasto says. “It’s meant more to make people think, like most [of] my songs, which ultimately have a positive message.”
In fact, despite being cast in the political side of alternative hip-hop, which typically equates to angry rants, Abasto says he’s shy of the labeling, there’s only one song on Vimana he considers antagonistic.
“’Windows’ is the most aggressive song I’ve done in a long time,” Abasto concedes. “It’s me just getting everything out.”
So while he may speak with his mouth full of strong words—he’ll still politely thank you for listening.