Who is Juma Spears? Given that Fort Worth’s music scene seems to revolve around rock and country bands, the 23-year-old rapper’s name might not instantly register with the people who frequent local venues. But for fans of the local rap game, Spears will probably ring a bell. And if he doesn’t yet, it’s only a matter of time.
Interviewed over the phone and through email, Spears said he grew up on Fort Worth’s Northside and Stop 6, the Eastside neighborhood where his grandmother lived. She would watch him while his mom was at work or out running errands, and it was during this time that he got into rap. At age 17, he formed a group called The Minority Report with three friends (one black, one white, and the other Indian). Minority Report was heavily influenced by Solja Boy, making what Spears describes as “joke raps.” This four-man crew fizzled out in a little over a week, but Spears was captivated by writing and performing. He also figured out that his career was probably better served by going solo.
“I’ve never been in another group, and I won’t [again] because most people can’t keep up with my pace,” he said.
Spears stays busy. Interestingly, he is motivated by his personal bucket list, on which “be a rapper” is apparently listed. Initially, he learned how to write raps with the misconception that filling a page-and-a-half of college-ruled notebook paper with lyrics constituted 16 bars, not quite clear on what the concepts of bars and hooks and choruses actually meant. He quickly figured it out, and, in 2012, Spears got into the recording biz, graduating from Recording Connection and interning for rapper Dru B Shinin’ at indie hip-hop label Sphere Music Group’s SMG Sound, which was at the time located in a storefront on North Main Street in the Stockyards.
“That was back when EyeJay was still around,” he said.
Connections are particularly vital in the rap scene. Back when Spears was interning, working with EyeJay was a big deal – even now, the now-Los Angeles-based producer’s name still carries weight around town. But Spears’ association with EyeJay isn’t the only name he can casually drop. Chris Rivers’ name might not be immediately recognizable, but you probably know his father’s. Rivers is the son of the late, great Big Pun. Spears used to rap under the name Knowledgeable Intellect, and he put out a 2015 release called Block Boys that featured Rivers as well as another name worth dropping at parties, Sadat X, one of the founders of ’90s alternative hip-hop legends Brand Nubian. “Trade verses with famous rappers” might not be specifically on Spears’ bucket list, but if it is, he’s already checked that off.
Spears now raps under his own name. In the time between his SMG Sound days and now, he’s appeared on a number of mixtapes – The Pledge Tape, Little Giant, Fuck Everything by Lamar Kelly, Take My Life by Enfermo – and he’s also produced a few of his own chopped and screwed projects, Straight From the Funk volumes one and two, and Slowed Side of the Fence. He’s also got a record coming out on Bay Area-producer Cole James Cash’s label, Elite Squad Recordings, called Flashback, due out March 26 on all the major digital platforms. Spears has high hopes for the promotional potential of the title track, as it features Houston heavy Lil Flip and Tweety Brd, a female rapper from California’s Central Valley who has garnered an underground following via YouTube clips that pull hundreds of thousands of views.
But even before Flashback drops, Spears is planning his next move, recording some tracks at Cloudland Recording Studio with Britt Robisheaux (Drug Mountain, Heater, Fungi Girls), as well as prepping a bounce record to be recorded there with a live brass band from New Orleans. And then he has another exotic bucket list item: start a business in Japan. To that aim, he’s been learning other languages at a church in Dallas.
“I go there every Sunday to study and practice. I can speak conversational Japanese, and I’m learning Korean, too.”
He says his music has found audiences in both Japan and Korea and thinks it would be great to capitalize on it. He’s also teaching himself to read music while he teaches himself bass guitar. Learning two languages and a musical instrument (plus the written components specific to all three) might sound like a tall order, but Spears shrugs it off.
“I think anything is a matter of practice and how much you expose yourself to new things,” he said.