On October 21, Jasmine Waters, known to many in the media world as Jas Fly, would have turned 40 years old. Unfortunately, Jas passed away this past June, leaving fans of her work (on everything from This Is Us to Vibe to reality shows like The Gossip Game, in which she starred), her peers, other creatives she'd interacted with—including Issa Rae and SZA—and her friends and family to tell her story. The irony? The woman who, among her many gifts, was able to put pen to pad and craft the stories that have made us laugh, cry, think, and feel is now not here to put together the pieces of her life so we can better understand what we had while she was still here.
What follows is an oral history in three acts. We chart Jas' beginnings in Illinois, and how she became enamored of film and how movies are made. That spark took Jas many places. Through the voices of her friends and family, as well as that of Jas herself (through podcast recordings, Tumblr posts, and interviews), we piece together the trail that Jas Fly blazed while she was on this Earth. This one's for you, Jas Fly. Go Cinderella.
AS TOLD BY
Jean Threat - Mother, entrepreneur
Angel Cole Williams - Friend
Water5 - Brother, musician
Chris Morrow - Friend, author, podcast producer
Datwon Thomas - Friend, writer; Editor, Vibe
Jamal Jimoh - Friend, digital marketer, co-host of JumpOffTV
Kazeem Famuyide - Friend, creative executive
Mr. Mecc - Friend, writer, editor; co-host of JumpOffTV
Kim Osorio - Friend, writer, editor; co-star of The Gossip Game
Jas Waters (aka Jas Fly) [posthumous, from interviews]
When Jasmine “Jas Fly” Waters passed on June 9 of this nightmare year, the flowers the world failed to give her in time spilled down everyone’s feeds via thoughts and prayers. Celebrities, contemporaries, and loved ones all struggled to process the many levels of loss that came with her departure.
I‘ll never forget being so excited to get an interview w/ @JasFly for Necole Bitchie back when I was working on ABG. I could feel her warmth through the phone. Over the years, I got to know & appreciate her even more. She was so generous, beautiful and REAL. I’ll miss you, girl.— Issa Rae (@IssaRae) June 10, 2020
This news took my breath away. Jas was absolutely brilliant and had so many stories still to tell. She made an indelible mark on our show and my heart breaks for her loved ones. RIP @JasFly https://t.co/fAZlIjhsIH— Dan Fogelman (@Dan_Fogelman) June 10, 2020
There will always be the emotional pain of losing a fellow human—the intimate moments of the past that only you two shared, the loneliness in the present, when you just want to check-in, the frustrating impossibility of planning future memories together. But with Jas, there’s also the selfish loss felt by everyone who knew her true power. Like seeing your team’s leader tear a ligament in the first quarter of the biggest game—you don’t just miss them. You were counting on them. You needed them.
On a 2018 episode of The Brilliant Idiots podcast, close friend Charlamagne Tha God told Jas to her face, “I don’t even wanna say she’s the next anybody, But I’ma tell you how much I believe in Jas as a writer. What Shonda Rhimes does, I believe Jas is that, times 10, to me. I don’t want to put too much pressure on her, but I’ve been reading Jas’ stuff for years. And she just gets better and better.”
He knew, as some are still learning, that the world needed Jas way more than another superhero movie or vanity streaming series. Thankfully, she left behind a lifetime’s worth of jewels in spiritual and digital form, and an army she’d been covertly training to carry on and protect her crown. None of us knew exactly how heavy it was getting with every new gem she dropped on the world. Until her absence forced us to try and carry on ourselves.
“It’s been interesting to talk to people who met her in different times of her life,” Angel Cole Williams, Jas’ childhood best friend, explains. “I think a thing that’s pretty universal is that once she chose you, and she decided that you were part of her tribe or part of her family or one of her people, that was it. You were hers and she was yours. And that was true back then, even when we were little.”
“Jasmine had a plan,” says her mother, Jean Threat. “It really hurts me to know that she did not have the help that she needed to get through this.”
Threat had a plan of her own, too.
“Jasmine was planned,” her mother says a week and change before what would be Jas’ 40th birthday. “I remember the moment that I had sat down and talked about who she would be. We grew up in Evanston, Illinois. We were at my parents’ house. And I was sitting with her dad. We were planning our wedding. I said, ‘Our first child is gonna be a girl.’ I planned everything from her hair to the eyes to the texture of her skin to how brilliant she would be. He thought I was crazy… But I knew right then that she was not going to be a 9-to-5 girl.”
Jas touched down in Evanston on October 21, 1980, but her coming-home celebration occurred across three cities. There was Los Angeles, her final home, where friends and co-workers marveled at her latest growth as a screenwriter in Hollywood. There was New York, where she made her name as a blogger, producer, and personality in the 2010s. And then there was Paris, France, her favorite home away from home. As her disciples joined to spread her praises across three time zones, they braced themselves for a world without their superhero. And like all survivors of a loved one’s suicide, asked how they could have prevented it.
“There’s this saying, ‘Check on your strong friend,’” says friend and fellow writer Kim Osorio. “(But) it’s not enough. I check on my strong friends all the time. I’m strong; people check on me all the time. You don’t know how to handle that unless you have real training.”
Kim had just caught up with Jas for the first time in a while via FaceTime. Days before the tragic news broke, Kim saw signs of distress and told Jas to book a plane ticket to come stay with her. She got more nervous with every passing day she didn’t hear back from her.
“Thinking about some of our conversations,” remembers her mom, “I just came to the conclusion that Jasmine was there checking in on everybody else... She was the strong friend. She was a giver. She gave herself.”
As fans, we love romanticizing artists who are “underground” or “ahead of their time,” and will hesitate to celebrate “the sellout.” But all of those phrases hit different for the millions of creators who live by the beat like America lives check to check. Jas was the one in a trillion who wasn’t doing it for flowers, funds, or fame—spoils that never came in the droves she ultimately deserved. Still, she kept taking straight bets on her own immeasurable odds, faithful that her lifetime of preparation would pay off in the form of more chances to bet on herself.
Fellow writer and collaborator Mr. Mecc testifies: “Jasmine knew as long as she bet one herself, she couldn’t lose. She literally just kept going. She doubled down, and won again, and cleared the table. Three times. ‘I’m going again!’ And everybody else is like, ‘Yo, what you doing? Stop! Look at all the money on the table! What’s wrong with you?’ That money’s in her purse now that’s already spent. Time for the next lick. And Jas never stopped. Relentless with her ambition.”
Kazeem Famuyide remembers: “She was just somebody who lived so many different careers. And I never seen her really fail. I’ve worked with her when she was low-key managing Ne-Yo. Then worked with her when she was doing stuff for Compound. Then while she was writing for magazines and getting her pen off. But everything she did, she excelled at.”
From television shows (ER, This Is Us, Kidding), movies (What Men Want, the Barbershop and Spider-Man franchises) to culture-shifting podcasts (The Combat Jack Show, Brilliant Idiots, and JumpOff TV) and best-selling books (The Art & Science Of Respect with J. Prince), the superwriter known online as @JasFly used her words, wit, and spirit to put on for the culture every single second of her life. Then, after every win, she doubled down on herself when anyone else would have cashed out and called it luck.
“I’m incredibly grateful,” Jas explained in a 2017 podcast interview on Let’s Talk About Me, Baby. “But it’s not luck. It’s just who I am.”
Any witness to the murder she wrote could tell you it was strictly aim. And anyone blessed to share her air will tell you about the moment they knew she was different. Not special. Not unique. A different fabric completely. Like Nipsey for hustlers or Kobe for hoopers, Jas was a real-life superhero to those in her field and fans alike. So rare for her era, no matter how much praise she got, in the moment, she still felt underrated to those who really knew the game. “I’m a writer, and I think she’s more talented than I was. I was frankly jealous of her talent. I thought she was an incredible writer,” admits best-selling author Chris Morrow, who helped 50 Cent and Charlamagne pen their recent books.
Mr. Mecc describes her in a tribute as “a woman who made a victory lap look like a morning jog.” Famuyide compares her ever-evolving game as a writer to future NBA hall-of-famer Chris Paul’s game on the court. "She did everything she needed to do. She could do prototypical stuff—by the book, write you under the table… [But] she didn’t do anything just because. She wanted to be good at everything, and not just excel at the things she was naturally good at.”
“This woman engineered every evolution of her life,” stresses Mr. Mecca. There was a brilliant and beautiful top layer, polished by a lifetime of focus and dedication to her craft. Stacked on top of immense talent, tireless work ethic and a fearlessness that only comes from competing with yourself, day in and day out. Not for the awards. Because you were born to do it.
“I’m incredibly grateful, but it’s not luck. It’s just who I am.” - Jasmine "Jas Fly" Waters
It’s not a coincidence that Jas elevated every peer and platform she crossed along her journey. From Ne-Yo and Wale in the 2010s to countless fellow writers, producers, and platforms along the way. Every project she touched remains better for it. And in the months since her tragic passing, it’s become clear that Jas’ influence went deeper than even her closest friends and biggest fans realized. Clip by clip, Jas was building a legacy that should have been limitless. But more often than not, it was undermined by the usual: Racism. Sexism. Capitalism. And still, she rose to every occasion, mastering the pain before our eyes and ears. Amazing and inspiring with every syllable. Speaking truth and holding accountability over anyone in her voice’s heavens-high reach.
Kidding showrunner Dave Holstein told the Los Angeles Times that Waters was “a one-of-a-kind voice and an integral part” of the series’ writing team. “This is a devastating loss for those who knew her and lived in her light,” Holstein wrote in a statement. “One of my favorite lines of hers is resonating especially loud with me today: Our scars do not mean we are broken. They are proof we are healed.”
When the news of Jas’ passing broke, words of her majesty flooded Twitter, Instagram and group chats, instantly cementing her legend to the unfamiliar. Weeks later, she was honored as part of the BET Awards’ “In Memoriam” segment, then at the Emmys.
“Seeing Jas be honored, it’s therapeutic,” says her mother, who watched proudly as her daughter’s accomplishments were celebrated on some of entertainment’s brightest stages. Just like seeing Jas’ name in the credits of network TV shows and the New York Times Best Sellers List books, the posthumous recognition of her eternal talent sends chills through close friends and distant encounters alike.
Famuyide reveals that “It still don’t feel real sometimes. I can’t even believe we’re talking about her in the past tense."
Datwon Thomas remembers, “When her picture came up [on the TV], I had to pause it. I took a picture and was just like, “Wow, look at my girl. She made her career, her life. And her life is being honored because of everything that she put into it. And it was just the ultimate salute to someone that just carried themselves with the utmost respect. And I was just in awe man.”
“Even for all of her accomplishments, it felt like she was marginalized,” remembers friend and fellow writer Jamal Jimoh, who hosted the pivotal YouTube series JumpOffTV with Jas when she first moved to NYC.
In her one and only solo podcast recording, A Word With Jas Waters, Jas reflects on the feeling of being an outcast, even among fellow writers during her five-year detour in New York. On a subway ride Uptown from a night out with fellow music scribes, she was informed that her peers didn’t view her as a “real writer.” They told Jas that she didn’t write every day for a living, for A-list websites, like the rest of them. One member of the clique took it upon himself to inform her: “We just don’t think it’s fair for you to call yourself a writer,” primarily because she wasn't living a “writer lifestyle,” as if there’s some grand design for someone to end up writing Emmy Award-winning television like This Is Us.
Watching Issa Rae, Lena Waithe, and Michaela Coel dominate the current media landscape can be bittersweet for those who saw similar creative heights in Jas’ near future. But the same cultures she went to war for on the daily also marginalized her by design. In both hip-hop and Hollywood, she didn’t cower to those that tried to tell her she didn’t belong. And somehow, some way, Jas kept breaking through barriers most couldn’t even see for her. Showtime, NBC, NYT Best Sellers List—strictly off her strength, not favors. And after every breakthrough, she went back for her people to show them the way. Checking any fool who compromised the mission. And speaking life into any soul who’s path got dim. The way hers sometimes did.
New York-based publicist and longtime friend Nakia Hicks remembers both the highs and lows of Jas’ journey. “She designed herself,” says Hicks. “She cultivated her whole life. She created her whole world and willed her own destiny. And that’s inspirational, because a lot of people don’t figure it out. If you read her tweets, everything was about pushing past. Knowing who you are and really going for it. I feel she’s this amazing Oracle. I’m just blessed to have experienced [her].”
Now, the same platforms that told Jas, Michaela, Mo’Nique, and many before them that they just weren’t worth what they thought they were suddenly get it. Thankfully, Jas was never doing it for them in the first place. She was doing it to them, for us. Pulling off stellar productions with the intensity and precision of a casino heist or military coup. Casually dropping work worthy of “genius” and “so and so of her generation” for over 15 years, across every possible platform. It just so happened that Jas was flyer than any “forces that be” could fathom. And it’s not just their loss. It’s all of ours.
Jas grows up with her grandmother in an elderly living facility. Her father would take her to see movies like Harlem Nights on Sundays. When Jas is nine, they walk out of a theater and she says she could have written a better film than the one they just saw. Her father buys a notebook and challenges her to write him one.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): I started going to the movies with my dad when I was like four or five. My dad, God bless him, he is the dude that you just take him or leave him—he will not change. Not even for his five-year-old daughter. So, he loved going to the movies. We’d go like every Sunday after church. We saw everything. We did not see kids movies. I remember seeing Harlem Nights in the theater. He took me to everything that he wanted to see, because he felt that as long as he could explain what was happening to me, that I would be OK. I wouldn’t be scared by it. What that did was it gave me an innate curiosity about life and about people. And it also taught me story (telling). So over time, I’m having all this on-set experience. Movies are just in my life.
Jean: I always said Jasmine was gonna be in the arts. I knew she would be somewhere in the arts. She was very independent. And she was outspoken. She was very polite, but she spoke. If she couldn’t have a conversation with you, she just wasn’t gonna be around you. Point blank.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): I’m like nine, and we were leaving some movie and he’s like what do you think? By now, I have deep movie discussions. And so I was like, "Well, I think I could have done better." He was like, "Alright." Stops at a store, gets a notebook, plops it in my lap, and was like, "write me one better." And that was my first script. I put everything into it. So it stuck. So this is who I’ve always sort of been.
Jean: I can hear Jasmine saying the movie was weak. It was pretty hard to watch TV with Jasmine. She didn’t watch everything. It had to be to her liking. She didn’t watch things "from the chitlin circuit" as she used to say, and she wasn’t a fan of reality shows.
Jas (via BuzzFeed): Oprah used to come to my church once a year. She was super cool with my pastor, who was politically connected, and he was also my godfather... And not only getting to see that, but her seeing me. It was a really impactful thing because we all just want to be seen. When The Color Purple happened, it was the very first time I remember looking, sitting in the [theater] row, and my entire family was there. And I could not believe it, and I thought to myself, "Oh, this must be important." The idea that my entire family would gather in the same space to see this showed me firsthand how important telling a story is and also telling our story. And then, of course, the film starts and who's on the screen but Oprah.”
Angel: She always had a pen and a pad. When we were younger, it was poems, it was short stories. She would sketch, she would draw fashion. She would draw these elaborate outfits, these ensembles. She was always deep in thought and creating in her pad that she always had. And if you were lucky she would show you what was in it. She was really kind of shy about it back then. So she wouldn’t read you her poem, she would just hand you her notebook and just sit and watch you take it in. And then she would of course read your face. And based on what your face said, she would ask questions. But always creating, always had this vision for making something.
Jas (via Shadow & Act): By the time I was eight or nine, I was like Roger Ebert. I had such a grasp on what made a movie good; what made a story good. I’m also a poor Black kid who grew up in an old folks' home. So I understand ground-level life, and I bring that perspective to everything I write.
Water5: She was always just the fire. She had it in her belly from a young age, so I don’t remember her ever being young. She was also raised by my grandmother, like me, and she was just this wise eagle. I’m sure (my grandmother) just imparted wisdom while I was out there playing. She didn’t have opportunities to play like that.
It’s always been the little things. She got a cat. She was living with my grandma, and my grandma killed the cat by accident. It was a mattress [that fell] on the kitten. But it was the way Jas responded to losing this thing she cared about. She wasn’t crying, none of that stuff. She was just like "let’s go bury it." I always looked up to people like that, who don’t respond 100% to their emotions.
Angel: We met in fifth grade, we were ten years old. Back then, that’s when junior high started. That’s when all the various grammar schools come together. Our town is kind of a small town, in that families know each other. But we didn’t know each other until we went to school together for the first time. It was just kind of an instant click. I was more quiet and shy. She was less shy, but also kind of pensive. She was always in thought. You could always tell that she was thinking about something. I think something about those traits kind of pulled us together, and that was kind of it. We always joke that she kind of decided that I was her friend and there was no separating us from that moment.
Water5: I don’t think there ever was a little Jas. She’s always been a very intuitive person. She grew up so fast, by the time I came into the picture, she was pretty much an adult, in her mind. She grew up in a world without her mom, so when someone is devoid of a parent, whether it be the dad or the mom, she’s gonna feel some type of way and she’s gotta understand things on a whole different level and learn through herself and her own experiences. She grew up really fast. I can’t imagine a day where she wasn’t trying to teach me something, because she had already had this knowledge from an early age.
Jean: Did you know she tried out for Motown, or Columbia Records, for a singing contest? So Jas told me she wanted to do it. I said, “Ok, I’ll go with you.” And Jasmine can sing. She didn’t get that from me. So she practiced. And we waited for like six hours. And they finally called her name. On the ride home, I said, "are they gonna call you back?” She said, “probably not.” I said, “why not?” She said, “I didn’t sing that song. I sang a song that I wrote.” What? Did you have music to it? She didn’t. She said "I wrote this song and I wanted to sing it." She just flipped the script. I said, “Hey if that’s what you felt, then you do it.”
Angel: Back then, age 10, it was whatever our parents were listening to or whatever was on the radio. Junior high—she would kill me right now, but she was really into Boyz II Men. That was like her group. We liked Brandy. Basically, she was always a little bit ahead because I think she was back then listening more to the lyrics than most of us. So she would get a connection to an artist or the song, but then she would take it a step further and be thinking about what these songs are talking about. Like what’s the message here? It was more R&B back then, but because we were both raised with old people, we had that kind of old school R&B taste where we were the only little fifth graders who were interested in Stevie Wonder. She loved Michael Jackson. She loved Janet Jackson. That whole singer/songwriter thing, it makes sense now that she grew to become a writer, because she was interested in what they were talking about and how they were talking about it.
Water5: As a child, she felt like she was the black sheep. She gave herself that title, by the way. Words are real, and it means that much more to a conscious young girl. She’s mortal and she has feelings, and a lot of the things she wanted, she couldn’t attain, particularly with people. You can change your circumstances, your ideas, but you can’t change nobody else. They gotta want to change.
(1993) “Rookie Of The Year” - Jas’ middle school in Evanston, IL, was the location for the 1993 movie Rookie of the Year. During a scene, Jas pesters director Daniel Stern with questions about the shooting process. Impressed by her curiosity, he pulls her out of the scene and has her shadow him for the day.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): They shot Rookie Of The Year at my school. I’m in the 8th grade. And I’m sitting right in front of Daniel Stern. And I have questions about the scenes, about what’s happening. I’m curious. And I’m asking him. And the more I’m talking to him, he pulls me out the scene, sits me next to him, and I spend the rest of the day watching him and shadowing him. It’s so ridiculous and random.
You know what’s funny? I’ve never seen it.
Jean: When she did Rookie Of The Year, she came and she talked at my church on career day and she brought some props from that. She talked about careers behind the scenes, other than being an actor. Being a writer, the producers, directors, things like that.
Jas (via BuzzFeed): In terms of career, when I started getting into high school and discovering the types of stories that I was drawn to, someone who really opened my eyes was Gina Prince-Bythewood. She wrote and directed Love & Basketball, but Gina also came from A Different World, and A Different World changed my life. A Different World made me want to go to college. A Different World taught me so much about Blackness and about my own experience, and it formed so much of who I was as a kid. I remember going to see Love & Basketball and thinking, "Who is this woman that wrote and directed this?"
Jean: She’s got a couple screenplays here on my bookshelf. They’re from her childhood. They just travel; when I move, they move. It’s part of my book collection. I was a fan of Jasmine—the person she is, not her work. If she told me about a story or something she was working on, I would just listen to her and imagine her writing that story from Jasmine’s point of view. That’s the part I was listening for. To make sure it’s gonna be Jasmine’s.
(1999) “ER” - (Confidence, Eriq La Salle) - While studying screenwriting at Columbia College, Jas runs into Coming to America and ER star Eriq La Salle on the street. She had just seen his directorial debut, a made-for-tv movie called Mind Prey, and had questions. The chance meeting ended in an internship with ER.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): So I go from high school to Columbia College in Chicago, and I have a chance meeting on the street with Eriq La Salle. They’re in Chicago shooting ER. I had just seen Mind Prey, which was a made-for-TV movie that he directed, his directorial debut. Three days before (I saw him on the street), I randomly saw (his movie). And I had questions, because I was in the Columbia College film program for screenwriting and directing. He’s the prince of Soul Glo. He’s walking down the street, I’m coming from my professor’s office. And I stop him. And I had some sort of question about the story in Mind Prey. Something that was unresolved for me, so I just asked him about it. And he was like, “Who are you?” Obviously. And I asked him if they needed any interns. And he was like, “Well how long do you have to wait?” And I was like, “As long as I need.” And he later told me that answer was what got me my shot. But he made me wait outside of his trailer for five hours. So I just sat there on the sidewalk and did homework. He came out, saw that I was still there, took me upstairs, introduced me to the AD. He was like, “Use her tomorrow.” And they were like OK, you can come intern, which is not what an internship is now. It was a free "come-and-let-us-beat-the-shit-out-of-you" day. And it turned out, in my four-and-a-half years of production, that still stands as the hardest day. It was 22 hours. They recreated a 300 car pileup on Lake Shore Drive. It was grueling. It was so painful that the next day I couldn't walk. But I got in there and I hustled and I worked my ass off. And at the end of the day they were like, “We’re gonna pay you for the day and we’re gonna bring you back for the rest of the shoot.
Jean: She wanted to study film in school. I remember when she was in Columbia and she told me about ER. She was doing assignments for school as a P.A. And I was excited about that. “That’s good.” I felt like she’s on her way, she’s getting in the door and that’s good. But then when she came and said that they wanted to hire her permanently, and she had to leave school. I’m like, “Jas, leave school? You can’t continue to do it part-time?” So we had a conversation about that because I really wasn’t on board with her leaving school because I thought she needed an education. She knows how I felt about education. I have a Masters in Business Management and Entrepreneurship. So she called one of my girlfriends who had worked as a P.A. before, and she was a buyer for Mystel’s Downtown in the Loop. So they double-teamed me and convinced me this is the way to go, this is the way to get in there. She really recruited her to help her out. So I said, “Jasmine, it’s your career. You just have to work extra hard without an education."
(2001-2004) Assistant Producer, Coordinator, Executive Production Manager, Line Producer on Various Projects - Jas parlays her first production gig into more experience on Chicago-set productions including the Barbershop franchises, the Spider-Man franchises, Hardball, Antique Roadshow, Save The Last Dance, MTV’s Real World Chicago, commercials, music videos for Bow Wow and R. Kelly and an independent film titled Blue Car.
Jean: I remember she wanted to take my car one time. I always put my trust in her. Because I always tell myself, “OK if it don’t work out, I’m gonna be there to help her out.” So I always put my trust in Jasmine. It was never a time that I didn’t trust her. That night, it stormed. It stormed so bad the power went out. And at that time, there were cell phones, those big cell phones or whatever, but all I had was a pager. The phones weren’t working and Jas started paging me about 11:30 at night, 12: 9-1-1. And I’m freaked, because I couldn't contact her. There was no place I could go to call her. So the first daylight we walked to this store. Me and her little sister walked about two miles to this store to call her. And she let me know, “Oh I had a flat tire, but my dad came and helped me out." (Sighs) To let her take the car, it was already cloudy, I knew it was gonna rain. But I had to trust her to do those things. If I didn't give her the opportunity to go out and do those things, to make those mistakes and let her know I'm gonna back you then she wouldn’t have any self-confidence. She wouldn’t do it. She’d be scared to do it.
In 2006, Jas goes to Hollywood and is immediately faced with a tough decision. Work as a producer on a weird porn set, or do an unpaid internship with Eriq La Salle’s production company? She ultimately “craps out spectacularly,” gets fired and ends up on dead-end tracks with MTV and Nickelodeon.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): So I sold everything that I could. Got rid of everything. Moved to LA with $900 and started over. When I got [to LA], I came here with two [job] interviews. One was for an associate producer job at Night Calls, the porn show on The Spice Channel. Saw it on Craigslist, applied literally for any job I could find. They called me back. Then I had an interview at Eriq La Salle’s production company that I had kept in contact with...from my ER days.
Jean: I didn’t know anything about producing softcore porn. What happened with that?
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): [I] do the porn interview. Wild interview, I don't take the job, because ultimately, I didn’t come here to work in porn. The production(!) job in porn. It’s on that Friday, [the porn boss] gives me the weekend to think about it. But I have to turn it down on Sunday because I know on Monday I have the interview with Eriq’s company. I’m like, I will get the job. Get there, I get the job, but it’s an unpaid internship because they can’t afford to pay anyone. So I literally have to hustle out here for a few months and figure it out. I’m staying with cousins in Compton. I’m taking the bus three days a week, four days a week, then finally five days a week from Compton to Beverly Hills and back every day. Two hours each day.
I was working production jobs on the side. I produced this video shoot for this basketball tournament on Venice Beach with Nate Robinson and all these random street ballers. I worked shitty music videos. It was literally however I can get money. Just trying to make it work. I did that from March, then he hired me in June. Got hired as an office assistant, then executive assistant then creative executive. And I literally worked my way up in development.
I can look back now and honestly see that I learned very valuable things in each step that I can’t—and also, I'm not a fan of nepotism. I want to know that I earned it… It was a totally different world (from ER). Production is so different from development. I’m at a production company (now). I had to learn coverage. I had to learn how to hone my instincts. It was a development company. I had to learn a completely different set of skills. But again, it was teaching me more about the story. This was 2006.
I get fired (more on that in a second), crap out spectacularly and then I end up working at MTV for like two months, because it was this weird sort of environment. Then to Nickelodeon. And then at that point, I was so disenchanted with the business. I think I was just really disconnected from who I was, I was like “fuck Hollywood, fuck the dream.”
Jean: She told me about Eriq La Salle and how she was going to go work for him and his production company out in California. So she got set up out there, and I think she stayed with her dad’s family. And things seemed to have been going well. She wasn't writing but she was doing different projects. She would tell me about the different projects she’s doing. She’s scouting for talent. Going to comedy clubs scouting. And her little sister went out to visit her in California. She was definitely going through it.
After Jas started moving around, they were not as close as my youngest daughter wanted them to be. She had her come out to California and spend some time with her out there when she was working with Eriq La Salle. Jas followed her on social media. She always would follow her. She wouldn’t say anything on her page. But she was always—I would know—"so what did you put out there, because Jasmine just text me? Don’t take a picture like that ever again." They had a conversation, I don't know what the conversation was about when she was here in December.
My youngest daughter had gotten married, so Jasmine came down to Alabama and she felt it was her duty to speak with my daughter’s husband. She had questions. She took it upon herself to feel him out, see what kind of person she was. My daughter has four kids—two boys and two girls. Every Christmas they always got big boxes. I was like, "OK, here’s Jasmine’s Christmas." She always surprised me around Christmas. One time I was in Alabama, she came down; she surprised me. I was really shocked. But it was fun. I’m always excited to see her. And we always sit up and talk all night long.
When my youngest daughter was born, Jas was right there. She was right there at the hospital. She had her dad drop her off at the hospital. She was right there all day long. She guarded her even after she would let everybody hold her. She was a good big sister. I always think that she needs that—to talk. And for the longest, Jasmine has always been mad at me, and I did not realize it until like a month ago, why she was so mad, but she always said she was mad at me because I left her with her grandmother. Some kids get over the divorce. I guess Jasmine didn’t get over the divorce.
Outside of the work she’s done, I’m most proud of [Jasmine's] character. The person she is. Jasmine was the same every day. She worked on her career every day. She built relationships with her friends, with her peers. She was that type of person. She was a good person to know. She also had a lot of people that she worked with, a lot of people in her industry and her circle that she talked to, and she needed those people just as much. I think she got something from everybody. And that’s a good thing to do. Get something. Gain some type of knowledge, gain something.
Jas (via The Brilliant Idiots): At that time, Eriq was so big in Black Hollywood. This was the Will Smith era, and we were plugged into that. When Jamie Foxx used to throw his big ass parties, we were there, but we were working. So we got to see the world and not be in it, sort of be protected from it. Also though, at that time I was really young. I also just didn’t know who I was. You give a young person that much power and access, and I just went crazy with it.
While making $21,000 a year as an assistant in LA, her younger sister got pregnant. Jas started using the company credit card to buy things for the pregnancy, which totaled $4,000. La Salle found out, fired her, and pressed charges. Her short stint in jail changed her life. [Ed note: You can listen to the full story here, around the 1:23:00 mark.]
Jas (via The Brilliant Idiots): Technically, I’m a convicted felon. So in LA, I work my way up from intern to office assistant, to office manager, to executive assistant to creative executive, and just started over.
But I was also not making very much money. I was making $21,000 a year, which is kind of hard as a functioning adult by yourself… The dynamic in the office was unhealthy. It was very unhealthy. It was autonomous. This is one person’s company. But also, there was this false sense of family. This false sense of like, this is us! That’s why now, I don't use the word family or friend lightly. Those things actually come with responsibilities. There was this false sense of (family)... So Eriq and I started falling out. Because also, I was at the point in our mentorship where I should have left. This was also a lesson of where you’ve gotta know when it’s time to fly. So he and I were sort of battling for control of me. Right around that time, my sister got pregnant. And she was even younger. And this was sort of a what-the-fuck situation in our family… And I used the company credit card to buy stuff for her pregnancy. And it started out as a, “Oh, she needs this, I will get it back or whatever.” And then it just became too much to pay back. It was $4,000. That was a quarter of my salary. That’s a lot of money. Also, coming from the world that I’m from, where my dad, for most of my life, has filled up his gas tank $10 at a time. So $4,000 might as well be $40,000. Now, was $40 a lot of money to Eriq? No. But I got fired. And that was the first of the heartbreak. And rightfully so, I should have been fired. I take full responsibility. He and I have never had this conversation, so I’m not gonna speak for him.
Jas (via Buzzfeed): I want to just be very clear. I had done something wrong, and he called me to the office to fire me. And he proceeded to tell me something that was true in part. He said that I had just wasted four-and-a-half years of my life; I had erased it. I don't think he meant it maliciously, but he said that my career, essentially, was over. I didn't realize until 2015, 10 years later, how much I believed that. I wrote my first script when I was nine. I had only worked in entertainment. I had only worked in production and development. This was my dream. And so I genuinely felt, "Oh my god, I have crapped out. What do I do now?" You know, like, how do I find a new dream? And then I ended up finding blogging, which was sort of dream-adjacent. Even though I knew within my heart of hearts that really wasn't it, I was gonna make "it." And I loved my blog. And so as it grew, it was not only creatively satisfying, but it was also just sort of partially validating. But I also lived under this fear and this stigma of the really stupid choices I had made.
Water5: After that’s when she created FlyStyleLife. She created that in Chicago, then she took it to New York. She went to jail. And it’s a felony on her record. So to see her bounce back from that and do what she did, it’s kinda like, “you can’t tell me nothing. I just got outta jail.” But that’s the next kind of mindfuck. Because you came back from whatever you was going through before, but...
Jas (via The Brilliant Idiots): In hindsight, which is the only way I can look at this, it was the absolute best thing to happen to me… I get fired, and at that point, I then went to work at MTV for a second, and then Nickelodeon. I’m totally (disenchanted) with Hollywood. Fuck everybody who loves it, I want to go home. I want the safety of my family, and I’m gonna go home and work for AllState.
Chicago is an amazing city. That’s one of the reasons (that) I really am into The Chi. Because it's showing the roundness of Chicago. There’s so much there that we have not seen before. So just know, it’s not all just shooting off at every corner.
So I’m showing my apartment because I’m gonna sublet it for the rest of my lease. And it’s the end of the day, and I get a knock on the door. And I’m looking at my list, like I’ve seen everybody. And it’s this White man and woman. And they’re like, “Can we talk to you for a second?” They show me a badge.
Prior to that, I had a couple of moving violation tickets, driving. This is not my world. This is not who I am. And they’re like, "do you know who he is?" Yeah, he’s my former boss. "He’s alleging that you have stolen 20k." And I’m like, “No, that’s not true.” I knew enough not to say, “No, I stole 4!” Shout out to Law & Order. But I was like, "that’s not the case."
I was like, "we’re gonna sit down and talk about this." And they’re like, "no we need you to turn around." And I’m like, “wait, what?” And so I was arrested. And they took me in for the night. And the next morning I had to go in front of the judge. And it was surreal—I never thought I’d find myself in this situation, but here I was. And it was really interesting because the education started the next day.
'So when they arrest you, at night, you get a bunk. And then the next day you’re going to court. And really what that means is you’re just sitting in different rooms. And I'm in there with women from all walks of life. And I just started talking to them. And they started talking to me. And the night that I was arrested, there was a girl in there who she was in three cells with me. So by the second cell, I’m like, “Who is this girl?"
She clearly was picked up for prostitution. They took her out. She comes back in and she’s been bawling and she’s laying on the bench. And no one will talk to her And then finally, someone who knows her went over and was like what happened. They have a conversation in the corner and the other girl is like, “oh well fuck you then.” So she comes back and sits next to me. And I’m like, “Is she OK? Does she need a hug, what’s going on?" Naw this bitch is done! Well the girl tested positive for HIV on her last arrest. And then was arrested again for prostitution, so now she’s being charged with attempted murder. So now she’s looking at ten years, opposed to just a simple prostitution ticket and release. So I’m like, “Oh my God.” Here's this girl who’s like 19, 20. And not only is she doing with the deal she’s HIV-positive. But also now, something’s going on in her life that she’s prostituting. And now she’s gonna go to prison. There was so many layers on it. In my mind, I just felt for this girl. And they’re like, “Yo fuck her.” That’s the girl who set up Merlin Santana, Romeo from The Steve Harvey Show, [to be] killed. So it became a thing that I was dealing with in my life. But it was so interesting. Because it was so eye-opening in so many ways. I bonded out the next day.
My apartment was already up for lease. I had to move home. But also I was flying back and forth for a year and a half to make every court case. What little savings I had went to the private attorney. When that was over, I ended up with a public defender. And the public defender from jump was like, “Take a deal. You're facing three years and you do admit that you're guilty of some of it so take a deal."
What it came down to for me was my grandmother. My grandmother’s my mom. She raised me. And at that point she was 86, 87. She lived in Chicago. She can't get on a plane and come see me. I don't want to go to jail and miss the end of my mother's life. So the deal was 90 days in Lynwood County Correctional and then three years probation. And at the time I turned myself in I had to present a check for $2,000 which at that point might as well have been two million dollars because I’m not from a world where we have $2,000. They gave me three months (to save the money up). If I had literally saved all of my money—because at that point I was temping, I was making 300 a week, mind you. I go home back to my working-class family in Evanston, Illinois. And everyone keeps saying, I don't know but Ima pray for you". It got to the point where I was like, “Fuck y'all and your prayers.” Like no I don't need you to pray for me I need somebody to cut a check. I even went to church and was like I need to come up with this money. And they're like essentially (we’re gonna pray for you). My dad’s a minister, I was raised in church. Finally, I had a conversation with my dad. On some real shit like, "you know this 'praying for me' stuff is actually not gonna help me". He goes, "yeah cus you ain’t praying. Everybody’s praying for you but you're not.” So the next morning when I got up, I just said this prayer and I sort of just ad hoc'd it. Then the next morning, I said the same prayer. Then the next morning I said the same prayer. Two weeks before I’m supposed to go back, one of my best friends growing up comes to me and she goes, “I got an idea. I applied for this credit card. I can get a cash advance. I got my $2,000 dollars 24 hours before I was supposed to leave. Get back to LA. Total buzzer-beater. Turn it in. Turn myself in.
I'm preparing to serve 90 days. My public defender is saying, “It's your first offense. It's a non-violent crime. We're estimating at this point that you'll do about 30 days.” I had a job offer back in Chicago. I told them that I was having a surgery that I could be vague about and that I needed to be out for 30 days. But if I could get out and back home in 30 days I could have a life essentially. So I’m just praying like, "OK, I’ll be gone a month." I don’t know how I’m gonna do a month in jail but I’m gonna do a month in jail whatever it is.
Everybody’s together. You’re just wildin'. The night that I was arrested it became apparent very quickly to just know how to handle yourself in this situation. And so I turned myself in we gotta get on the bus. And now I’m moved to being moved with other inmates. We get to Lynwood and it's a big field house. You walk in and they tell you to strip down. So it’s a whole bunch of women. Face the wall. You gotta squat. You gotta cough. They’re checking you to make sure you're not bringing anything in. They give you your clothes, your uniform. They assign you to your bunk. I came in at night. The woman on the bottom bunk was detoxing from crack. So she was shitting herself and throwing up.
I get on the top bunk. And so now I’m gonna go to sleep. They tell me to get a work detail because it will make the time go faster. So I’m like let me just go to sleep and I’ll wake up when they call for work. Go downstairs, they're assigning out the jobs based on how long you’re gonna be there. So if you're gonna be there longer, you're in the fields. And then the shortest is in the kitchen. So everybody’s hoping they assign you in the kitchen because that means that you're gonna get out quicker. They get to me. They call Waters. And I’m like, "I want to work." They're like, "great, you're in the field." So I ask the officer, “They said I might be getting out in 30 days.” She says, “90 days, you're in the field go back up to your room.” And I climb up on the bunk and I just lose it. Like I’m really about to be in jail for three months. And I don't think that we really understand what jail is. It’s putting a human being in a cage. It’s not some glossed over thing. It’s nothing to be proud of. It’s not some badge of honor. It is caging a human being. And the idea of doing three months there. You're with the unknown, every day. You don't know what you're going to face. It all just sort of hit me, and I get up on my bunk and I’m just bawling. I didn't know what else to do but talk to God. I couldn’t talk to nobody else, I'm isolated. I just said a prayer. "God, I get it. If this is what you want me to do. If yhis is where you want me to be. Then come on, I’m riding with you." And I genuinely just surrendered every single thing. Go to sleep. My plan now is ima sleep as much as possible to pass the time. The crackhead has the right idea. And so I go to sleep. And you have those sleeps and you wake up and it felt like four or five hours. No, it was an hour later. And immediately I’m back in different cells talking to different women. One woman was picked up in Atlanta for an LA warrant. It took them six months to process her.
It was eye-opening to how all-encompassing that system was., and the weight of it and how unjust it is at times. But also how biased it is. Because all the people in there were Black and brown. I saw maybe one white girl, who I don’t think she’d seen a white girl in a very long time. It was so completely just biased.
So they start moving us. I'm being moved to this one room. They pull us out and put us on the yellow tape. And I’m hearing the officers say. They’re going out. So is there another jail. What’s happening. They move us to another cell and another cell. They come in and hand us a bag with our street clothes. I’m like, “Wait.” I put my clothes on. And you can’t ask anybody anything. They make us wait for two hours. I'm sitting with my clothes on confused as to what the fuck is happening. They move us again. Start signing your release paperwork. I’m like "wait, OK, cool." They move us one more time, then they open this door. It’s literally the garage we rode in. They took us to the street and they’re like, "go." I just booked it. I did 24 hours. Overcrowding. That estimation of 30 days was one day. I got out to the street and in that moment I was like "alright God, whatever you want, let’s go. It’s the same prayer I’ve said every morning of my life since then.
Thank you for waking me up this morning.
Thank you for allowing us to see another day
Thank you for Another opportunity to do better and be better
Thank you for Coming into our hearts and to our minds
Bless our lives dear God
Help us to be honest and live to hour potential
Protect us from anything not of you and you do the same
It was the ultimate humility. You have power over nothing. ]We talk about humility, but real humility is just making yourself small so that you can hear God over everything else. Including yourself. And that was my "a-ha" that then when I got home 24 hours later and everyone was like, “Yo what the fuck just happened?"
Jean: I didn’t get the whole story of that. I still haven’t got the whole story. I’ve heard a couple versions of that. Only thing I heard from Jas, like a week before she’s supposed to go to court, she calls me and tells me this story about she may go to jail. She didn’t give me details. I could tell she was dancing around the truth. "What do you mean you may go to jail? You went from working every day to I may go to jail?" Maybe three days before, she calls me and she says: “I go to court, they’re gonna lock me up.” I go “oh my god Jas, should I fly out there? Where are you?" I felt like I was totally lost... To this day I don't know why she was locked up. I don’t know. I just know I got up from my desk at work and I took a walk about a half a mile away from the office and I just prayed and cried. I was just so nervous. I had never had a daughter of mine go to jail. I only have two. And I didn’t know why she was going to jail. So by the time I got back to my desk, I got a call from her, and she said, “Mom I’m out.” That’s pretty much how the conversation went. And I’m like, “Jas, can you just call me later? Where are you? What are you about to do now?”
Jas (via The Brilliant Idiots): Life was different. I began to trust God. Which then meant that I trusted myself more. Which then meant that I knew that I could leap. Because even if I fell then I would be OK. And continually, God has shown me that. Over and over and over and over, to the point where I do make big leaps. I expect miracles and they come because I expect them. And when they don’t come, the lessons I’ve learned always lead to what I ultimately need. You start to see the world in a different way and it helps you prioritize things. It goes back to the more you know yourself and the more you understand yourself. It’s not about religion. Man made that, and I’m a preacher’s kid. I’m a PK. I don’t go to church.
Me personally, I don’t subscribe to religion. Religion is a community. And many people need that. There have been times in my life where I still need that and I'll dip in and dip out. But what I’m talking about is a connection to your inner self. That moment where you start to realize, "Oh I’ve been looking at this wrong. Maybe I need to see this in a different way.” I think for me it was that realization that first, it started off as power. Years later I learned it's not about you. But also just realizing that life is so much bigger than the stuff that we think is the biggest thing. Because what happened? Every one of those cells you realize that if you know who you are, you can talk to anyone, you can understand anyone, because you see the humanity in them. And I think about those women that I talked to, and those stories, and why they trusted me. I did talk to homegirl on the bench (with AIDS). We had an hour-long conversation. She trusted me with her story. There was a sense of responsibility. And through that I found my purpose.
I moved home (to Illinois), and was gonna go work at AllState. That was not popping. I had never worked outside of entertainment. And we’re talking about nine years. So I end up getting two separate temp jobs. And I’m home for a year and a half, a couple years.
Jean: That's when she tried to be 9-to-5 and she wasn't. She just wasn’t 9-to-5. She’d complain about people at the office. The ladies in the office—you know how offices work. Close contact, you gossip. She just wasn’t that person.
Jas (via The Brilliant Idiots): The first year I was definitely dedicated to home. Then my grandmother ended up passing, which kept me home an additional year. My grandmother was my mother.
Jean: This is why Jasmine would stay with her grandmother. We had brutal winters up there when me and her dad separated. We were on our way shopping one Saturday. We were in the vicinity of where Jas goes to daycare, and she’s only two or three at this time, and she had a fit in the backseat. She was saying, “No, no, no.” And I’m like, “what, we’re not going to daycare.” I found the daycare through this childcare program. It was an at-home daycare. That Monday at work, I was so uncomfortable that she was so riled up about us going there. So I went and got up and just kind of dropped in. And Jas was crying. And the lady’s like, “She cry all the time.” And I said, “where is she? I can hear her.” She was in a closet. The lady had put her in a closet to stop her from crying. I grabbed her so fast. I left her bottles, extra clothes—I didn’t care. I did not look back. I’m like, “How dare you put my daughter in a closet?” She was about three years old. She was old enough to freak out about it and know we were close to the lady’s house. From that point on, I just said in my mind, “Nobody else is keeping my daughter. That’s it. Nobody’s keeping her. So I had to figure it out. My mom worked everyday. One day, I was just talking, telling Jas’ grandmother about it. She said, “We’ll, I’m about to retire. I can watch her.” I said, “That’s great.” Because I trusted her. She loved Jas, so I definitely trusted her. So that’s how Jas started staying with her every day. I was right around the corner or a block away. Her childhood when she was with me, we did things, we went places. Whatever she wanted to experience, she would experience.
Her grandmother was a good grandmother to Jasmine. When I moved to Florida, and I had talked to her grandmother because I just really wanted to leave Illinois and see what opportunities were there. She said, "you don’t have to worry about Jasmine, she’s gonna be fine with me." And I left Jasmine with her grandmother, but came back and got her cousins to come down with her. Jasmine said she hated Florida. I don’t know. She said she just hated Florida. I don't know what she didn't like, the heat or what. When I saw her last Christmas we laughed about it. I lived in Jacksonville and I worked for a bank there. So she spent most of the day with her cousins who I brought from Chicago with her to keep her company. Her grandmother took real good care of her. At any time, Jasmine could have come and lived with me. At any time. When I came back from Jacksonville, I was right there in Evanston where she was, but her grandmother was very attached to her. Had gotten very attached. And Jasmine was getting older. Pretty soon she would have been out on her own anyway. When her grandmother passed, I know that devastated her because she raised her.
While mourning her grandmother, Jas began a blog in the same vein as gossip sites like Necole Bitchie. She begins traveling between Chicago and New York City to do interviews and cover events.
Jas (via The Brilliant Idiots): In the middle of all of this, I started a blog. FlyStyleLife.com. It was urban news, music, movies. But it was just at that time when Necole Bitchie had just popped. And I knew Mario—Perez Hilton—from my time back here. So I started this blog, and I fell in love with it. It made me feel alive. It was so creatively just inspiring to me. Because I got to learn everything on my own. I started on Sitebuilder, and then put it together. And just learning all the technical and design aspects of it. And then just being able to write whatever I wanted to. It was great. And I found myself just deeper and deeper into it.
Angel: When we were kids, she was on BlackPlanet, she was on MySpace. And that’s when her page started to be different. It wasn’t just what was going on in her life. It was fashion, it was "what is this artist doing? What’s the talk around Chicago?" And that kind of gave birth to her blog, when she started FlyStyleLife. So it started off as just little snippets there. Then it moved on to Tumblr and Twitter.
I remember when she was doing this, it was new, and I was like, "I don’t understand what you’re doing. I don’t understand what this is." But she was excited about the fact that she found like-minded people there who were interested in having these long discourses and conversations about these artists, these movies that she felt so passionate about and that she was so excited to be able to start making on her own. She really found a home there on this online community. And that’s when she started to go out to New York to meet people she’d connected with on Twitter and things like that.
Jean: I would just tell her "don’t stop writing. Don’t give up on your dream." I was in Atlanta at the time and she came out to visit. I think that was around the time my youngest daughter’s father had passed. She came down to be with her. And then we all went down to Florida for a short vacation. I think she was just always comfortable talking to me about the things that she couldn’t say out loud. Because she knew I would give her my honest opinion. I didn’t care about all the fluffy stuff. I’m not a groupie. I didn’t care about all that. I really cared about what was going on with her, no matter what.
Jas (via The Brilliant Idiots): It just kind of became a world unto itself, and I made all these blogger friends, and it was cool. Then I started doing video, and it was before everyone started doing video because I had this production background. I had a Flip cam and I knew how to use editing software, so that started driving traffic and I started getting interviews. I was flying back and forth from New York to Chicago, interviewing all these rappers or whatever. And then I started over again in 2009.
Jas takes a “five-year detour” in New York and rejuvenates her writing career. She expands FlyStyleLife.com, starts with her own Tumblr page, and collaborates with Valeria Lora, Jamal Jimoh, Mr. Mecca and Nile “Low Key” Ivey on Jumpoff TV, as well as other start-up productions. While freelancing, Jas lives in 11 different places in New York. In the process, she gains the connections and inspiration she needs to return to Hollywood as her best self.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): When I moved to New York [in 2009] I was a blogger. Then I moved towards journalism. I let go of my blog, FlyStyleLife. I started writing freelance. I wrote a lot for Necole (XONecole, formerly Necole Bitchie). I was writing enough to be able to pay my little rent for a few spurts at a time. I lived everywhere in New York. I lived [in] 38 places total in my life. It was mostly Harlem, Brooklyn, all over Manhattan. I think in New York I lived in 11 different places. But I feel like that’s normal in New York.
Jean: She was gonna have to work harder, and I told her that. She would say that she went for an interview or sent someone her information. I would tell her how to follow it up. I would give her suggestions. If you really want it, let ‘em know. You gotta follow it up. She was trying different things. Podcast, a website, magazine. She never stopped trying.
Kim: I actually met Jas at S.O.B.’s one day. She came up to me, I don’t know what show it was that night. She was like, “Hi, you’re Kim. And I was like, “Yeah.” She was like, “I’m Jas.” She told me she was a writer. She was extremely confident and social. She had no problem just coming up to me and just introducing herself to me. She asked me to read her stuff. Generally, when people send me their stuff to read, it’s not that easy. Because I’m running around, or I gotta find it, or I gotta come upon it. Or maybe I’m not in the mood to read a bunch of submissions. But I remember her telling me that and she followed up immediately and sent me her writing the next day, or the same day. And it was great. I loved it. I loved her perspective. I loved her writing style. I loved how vulnerable and honest she was.
Datwon: We met at the 40/40 club, Jay-Z’s spot. I’m trying to think if I was still at XXL at the time. Probably not, but I was in the building. She was at the time working with Melyssa Ford, who’s a really dear friend of mine. And we met at one of the Monday Night Football nights that they used to have at 40/40. Any Monday night, 40/40 showing the football game and you don’t know what celeb is gonna come in. It was different ones in there that night. And Melyssa was like, “Yo, y’all need to know each other.” Then someone grabbed Melyssa. Now it’s just me and Jas. You know those kind of intros are always awkward. Because the person who introduced you is supposed to drop the names. But someone grabbed her. We was just like, “Hey, so, how are you?” And she knew about my career and stuff. And I just found her conversation interesting.
Kim: I hear a lot of people talk about journalists and writing, like “take yourself out of the story. It’s not about you, it’s about the subject,” but it's always about you. Everything we do is very personal, so that’s how you approach a story. But you do your best to not inject yourself so obviously into the story. But I think that Jas’ writing was extremely personal. That was one of the things I took to. I read the writing, and you want to know about the writer. That is how I came close to Jas, through her writing.
Datwon: She’s an imposing woman… they had these steps you had to stand on in the (40/40) V.I.P.. Jas is standing up and I’m on the lower step. Now mind you, I’m 5’8 and a half, 5’9 with some good Nikes on, but Jas is clearing six foot, easy, and she’s on these steps. So I’m looking way up, and I’m like, “Hey." She’s like, "I’m a fan of your work." I’m like, “Word, how is it up there?” She's just such an imposing figure, and she just held her space with this regal royalty kind of thing. Even if she didn’t feel like it. And later you would find out a lot of the time she was figuring out how she felt and what it was that was supposed to power her spirit, but she always carried herself in this respectable manner. In her voice. In how she cut through arguments with Mecca or Low on that YouTube show they had, that was Jas, she was gonna get her point across. I felt that the first time I met her.
Mecca: I don’t remember when I met Jas. It was just one of those things where she always seemed to be around. I don’t remember who did the introduction, I want to blame it on Rae Holliday. Maybe close to 2008, 2009. I was dead in the mix as a music editor for the Source magazine. That was when me and Jas started up, along with Low Key and Valerie Lora and Jamal Jimoh and we started doing JumpOffTV together. That started after I left the Source. That was a great time. That’s when I got to see who Jas was as a person. How her mind worked as a thinker and how I got a taste of her ambition outside of just the show and being a super-sharp mind and always being able to make a dope point, listen, and be able to come back and all that flyness. That was all well and good and was dope. I was happy to know her just off the strength of that.
JumpOffTV (2010) - Jas and friends discuss the nuanced and controversial points of pop culture at the height of the blogging era. In one episode, Jas stands her ground as the rest of her co-hosts claim Drake’s Take Care album is too soft to be considered hip-hop.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): The blog thing I did. Then writing freelance and interviewing people, and we were doing this web series JumpOffTV with myself and a few of my close friends—Low Key, Mecca, and Jamal (Jimoh) joined us. That was my first time being on-camera talent, and I really liked parts of it; I liked the creativity of it. I knew I wanted to do more talking head stuff. I told Low at the top of the year, “I’m going to get a television show this year. I can feel it.” But I started doing castings and stuff for more newsy stuff because that’s the lane I was in.
Kaz: I met Jas I want to say maybe ten years ago, around 2009. Had a lot of mutual friends. Earlier in the days of working at The Source as an editor and writer, you would just run the town and see a lot of the same faces over and over and meet folks who have similar interests, similar thought processes, styles. I was fresh out of college and I was thrown right into the mix in the city and a lot of people I met in that time were either bloggers or writers or work in music or journalism in some way shape or form. Jas was one of those people. I met her through Chris Foxx and Low Key. There weren’t a whole lot of girls who hung with us a whole lot of times' my friend Nicole and Melyssa Ford used to run with us a lot. We were all in the same sort of social circles. We’d end up in group chats together and Twitter followers and we’d have a group chat or an email chain that would just kind of keep us all in the know of what was going on. Whether it was a new song that dropped, a new album, something funny happening on Black Twitter—before it was called Black Twitter, it was just Twitter for us. That was the kind of stuff we just kind of talked about. We all were kind of inseparable. We all kind of ran the streets together. I can’t give you a specific day or way we met, but Jas was just one of those people, we kicked it so long and been around each other that it was just like, "oh man, we’re friends now."
Mecca: I knew she was different for the first time on JumpOff TV. I know I watched her air out on some subject, and that was when I first hit her with that “dag face.” I was like, “Oh, not just a pretty face,” and I think every moment after that has been confirmation and an incline of that initial moment. It’s the same moment, just turned up and louder and bigger and less deniable. There’s no doubt that I’m looking at fire. There’s fire here. This chick has got it. There’s something popping. I’m not even sure where it’s gonna end, but it’s here. And everything she did just confirmed that initial, “naw, there’s lightning with this one. There’s something here. One of these kids is not like the others. She’s playing different.” And I don’t know what she’s gonna do with it, but it is there, and it is getting bigger; everything she [did] just kept proving me right. Even against my own doubts and my own fears and my own knee-jerk reaction to slow her down or discourage her for what I thought was her own sake. I really thought I was doing the right thing when I was like, “God, I hope she calms down, I hope she slows down. God protects her. I hope she snaps out of it and finds satisfaction somewhere. Because I don’t know if she can handle the weight of her ambition."
Kaz: Here’s the thing about Jas: when she put her mind to something, there was no maybes. She’s like, “we’re just gonna do this.” I knew Jas in so many different forms of her life. Whether she was writing for Vibe or any other magazine, writing for movies, writing for TV shows, she just had an amazing mind. She was super duper passionate about Kanye West. We would always argue over Kanye albums and where we ranked them, but she was so passionate. It wasn’t just like regular dudes are talking about albums, it’s about bars and regular conversation, but she just thought so differently. It hit her a little differently because Kanye’s from Chicago, and just seeing the trials and tribulations that he’s gone through. It was always kind of personal with Jas.
There were time’s we’d really get into it on some, "You don’t know what you’re talking about. How you gonna write for this magazine and say this and that". And I'm like, "you don’t know what you talking about." It was like barbershop conversation with your homies, but she was a woman, and she was just so passionate. She was not somebody who could take losing an argument, so after we would have knockdown drag out arguments over albums or reviews, we’d always settle it over chicken. That was our thing. Once we felt like somebody lost the argument or felt like we needed a truce because it got too intense, we’d get some fried chicken, and probably some brown juice, and we’d just laugh about it. She was always just hella passionate about any sort of music conversation. That was the crux of our relationship, but it would grow.
This was about ten years ago. This was the My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy/Yeezus-era Kanye when he got very controversial. Those conversations would grow from music conversations to life, to how we carried ourselves as men; she just was always so deliberate with her words, even if it kind of hurt you. You knew it never came from a bad place. It came from an honest place, and you have to respect that. That’s what I loved about Jas. She didn’t give half fucks. That’s probably the best way to put it. If she was gonna talk about something or put her heart towards something, she gave as many fucks as possible. She was super deliberate; she always called herself a shark. She just had so much passion for culture. She had so much passion for art, and words, and the way we carried ourselves as people. Nothing she said was just to say it. She was very deliberate with her words.
Mecca: I thought, “I hope life is kind to her and treats her ambition the way she would like it to be treated. I hope it encourages her ambition instead of running into a brick wall and a buzzsaw," which is what I suspected was coming, and it never fucking did. It never did. The woman was unstoppable. And the worst thing about seeing somebody unstoppable is 9/10 you're behind then, and all you can see is the wall that they’re about to run into. But you don’t get to see the look on their face that says this wall isn't enough, because you’re just in the dust. I just watched her plow through everything.
It’s weird once the race is over, you look back and you realize that you were in the presence of that fire, and now you’re left with what it could have turned into. You realize that there was no ceiling and you finally get that you were standing shoulder to shoulder with one of those. It’s how I imagine people who were close to Nipsey Hussle felt when he passed away. People who played with Kobe Bryant, how they felt. Someone who was Muhammad Ali’s babysitter. You just realized that, “wow, hold up—this was one of these.”
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): And then Mecca called me one day—his was life-changing. He was like, “Hey do you have some sort of reel or something?” And I’m like, “what are you talking about?” He calls me and he’s like, “I can’t tell you who or what, but someone’s considering you for a reality series. Would you be interested?” I’m like, “You can’t tell me who or what, so no. I’m good." Also, I heard reality and was like, “I’m good.” And then he calls me back and he’s like, “Well I gave them your number.” I don’t think anything else about it. Then like a week or so later, I get a call from an unsaved number and I’m like, “Hello?”
The Gossip Game (2013) - Jas stars on the VH1 reality show The Gossip Game, at the request of Mona Scott-Young. She also adds to her resume by appearing on chart-topping podcasts and big ticket interviews with Drake, Common, 2 Chainz and more.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): "Hello, darling, this is Mona Scott Young.” She produces Love & Hip-Hop, and Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta had just aired and I, along with everyone else, was really upset with the way—it was just a lot of fighting, it was a lot of negativity—and I just really didn’t like how I felt like women of color were being portrayed, and how they treated the stories about them. So she asks me to come in for this casting. I’m like, “I don't want to be disrespectful, but also, no."
Kim: They came to me with that, when we did Gossip Game. A guy by the name of Tony “Tone Boots” Turner and Jay Griffin, who I used to work with at The Source, they came to me one day. They had an idea, [and] they had four people that they were looking at. The only two that I knew for sure were me and Angela Yee, and then there were two more that they wanted to cast. This was in the initial phase of the show, before the production company got involved. Right when VH1 had said they were into the idea. It was very early, before the show went into production. Jas wasn’t in the original cast.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): But [you] always take the meeting. So I took the casting meeting, and I didn’t even take it seriously. I had on some leggings and a t-shirt or something. I go in, and immediately I tell Mona, I have an issue with how she portrays women on TV. I’m like, “Yo, this is not cool, this is not what’s up." And she was so sincere and intelligent and hurt in her response that I was like, “OK, I get it.”
Kim: Our relationship started via email, and just me kind of like, “Oh, what else do you have?” Once I saw that, I wanted to help her, like introduce her to people. Like, “Oh, you’re really good.” Even though I think it was before I had went back to The Source, she was always someone who I looked at like, “When I can be in a position to help her get her writing published, I’m gonna do that. So when I got to The Source, I don’t remember what she wrote for me, but I remember introducing her to people. I remember talking to her a lot and eventually, when the show got picked up by VH1, I was told that they were looking at Jas as one of the cast members.
Water5: When she was living in New York I came to visit her. She was on a reality show. Mind you, I don’t watch much TV. I met everybody that was acclimated with that. It really didn’t hit home with me because I wasn’t there for that; I was there to just see my sister. It turned into this whole production and all this other shit. I ended up being on the show even though I didn’t really want to be on the show.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): This is not the show I’m trying to make. I want to tell the stories, etc. Ultimately that’s kind of the show it became because of the politics, but it was great and life-changing for me because it was the first time I had been on set since working production. And I was making TV everyday. It reminded me of a time when I was happiest.
Jean: Now when she did the reality show with Mona Scott, I wasn’t excited about that. She briefly told me what it was about. And I said, "oh, OK," and I thought, "I can't believe you're doing a reality show," because they do a lot of fighting and arguing and stuff. I couldn't even picture Jasmine doing that. I watched it and everything like, "OK, a little dry." Mona had contacted me to come out and do an episode with Jasmine. And I said OK, granted I hadn’t laid eyes on Jasmine in about two years, and I had never been to New York.
So when I went out there, I kept asking, "when am I gonna see Jasmine?" I spent a whole day by myself. I kept trying to call her. They said she’s getting ready. Then 7 or 8 at night, they picked me up. And when I first seen her, I'm like, “My daughter.” And I’m looking at her and she looks tired. She doesn't look happy. So I want to know what’s going on. It ain’t like they were paying me. So the storyline I guess was to ask about her dad. And it kind of shocked me like "huh, where did this come from?" I guess she was upset about the divorce. We never talked about me divorcing her dad or why I divorced her dad, because I left him when she was just turning one year old. She kept going until I kind of said some things that she was shocked she didn’t know.
Afterwards, we went back to my hotel room, and it was as if that scene never even happened. And we talked. And my main concern was are you happy? What’s going on? She’s like oh yeah, the show’s doing good. And I'm doing interviews. And she seemed to be ok with it. I asked, "are you still gonna write?'' She said "yeah, I'm still writing." I just felt like, don't work to help somebody build their dreams and you lose out on your dream. If you want to write, don’t stop. Keep going after what you want. Just don't get into any fights on TV (laughs). That was my advice, because that sticks with you. You don’t want to be known as a reality star. You have other things going on. You've worked too hard and come too far to be known as just a reality star.
Kim: We got close doing the show. You’re on set all day, for hours at a time. I was someone who, I forget what they called me, but it was kind of, “you get along with everyone." I was at a different stage in my career and my life. So for me, there was no conflict with any of the girls. I wanted to see all of them win. Jas was someone I definitely wanted to see win. She was more on the come-up at that time. This was before she was back into TV or writing for television. She was really just trying to land articles and blog.
We talked a lot (about marginalization), especially when we were even doing the show. There’s a scene that we did, and I don’t even know if it even aired. It was one of my favorite scenes. We were in the backseat of a car, and Jas was upset about something, and she was going in. She was like rapid fire bars just coming out of her mouth. And I just sat there, because I know how I can be, and I can duplicate that. But I listened, and it was great. It was who she was. It was her feelings. It was her ability to be quick-witted and go at something like that. When your emotion gets the best of you and you're just like, “I’m gonna let it out and I don’t care." It was a career-driven conversation about just that, about getting respect and people not respecting her because she was considered to some people to be a blogger. The assumption was, "well you don’t really know this game." At this time, even with the show, it was the bloggers vs. the journalists. I remember her kind of defending that position of what people had assumed her to be: a blogger. And frowned upon it.
Coming into my purpose at that time after being at The Source and going through my own personal transformation, it was very important for me to be more of a mentor to people, especially at the time we got to Gossip Game. It was really about nurturing other women to come up and be comfortable in their voice and POV, especially in hip-hop, which has often celebrated the male perspective over the female perspective. To see other women coming up like me, being in love with the culture and being big on writing, I wanted to help them navigate in this world in a way that was beneficial to them but also didn’t make them look at being a woman as something that was a disadvantage. [For] a lot of women in the game, particularly in hip-hop, this is not the place where you can walk into a room where you can let it be known who you are, what you do, and that you’re going to do it whether the people in the room want you to. So having very thick skin [and] having a talent, that is all something that you have to put forth. And you have to be comfortable doing that. So Jas was somebody that was going to let you know. Jas had a very strong personality.
Mecca: Jas had ambition like I had never seen. Ambition to Jas was like breathing. That chick took chances that I can honestly tell you I don’t think I’d be brave enough to take to this day. I’m still trying to get like Jas in a bunch of different respects. She was a risk-taker, and she did not lose because she always bet on herself. Her career path was like a roadmap in risky behavior. It was like watching somebody constantly throw it back on the table. Like you just hit a jackpot. You hit a lick and went, “Fuck it, I’ma push. Go again.” One minute she was freelance writing, then the next thing I know, she had worked herself into the mix at a bunch of labels. She was getting interviews with top-notch artists. After that, she started working with Ne-Yo first hand. She was doing stuff over at Compound.
Kaz: Around the time The R.E.D. Album came out, Jas was working real closely with Ne-Yo. I think this was around the time I was at HipHopWired. She would hit me up randomly like, ‘You want to do something with Ne-Yo?" I’m like, "yeah.” That was a time early in my career where I could flex my scripted chops. She brought Ne-Yo over to the office one day, and if I remember correctly, we had Ne-Yo be like HR. He was the boss for the day or something like that, and I got to write for him. And he acted things out. He did a lot of ad-libbing, but we did trust falls and stuff… It was a funny thing.
I don’t know the extent of how much she was working with Ne-Yo behind the scenes, but that was her though. Anytime she got on, she was like how can I help the homies? Granted, we were all qualified homies. It wasn’t just let me throw it to Ray-Ray and them because they’re my homies, but she believed in us every time she leveled up. And every time, she found a way to incorporate her friends to make something happen she would do it.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): My responsibility as a writer is to share what I've learned., to be honest with myself about who I am—both good and bad—and to take that same honesty in an egoless form into the world and share what I've learned through this process. And try to leave the world better than how I found it.
Kim: She knew coming in that she was going to have to demand her place. And that was something that she used and helped her kind of get ahead. It’s a shame that that’s what has to be done, but you have to be comfortable doing that. With that thought, I think with years of experience, you kind of learn how to navigate better. How to fall back when you need to. I think that’s where I came into play in her life, because Jas and I had a lot of personal conversations. We had a lot of professional conversations. And the advice I always gave her came from a place of mistakes I had made that I wished I could go and change.
Jas (via Let's Talk About Me): I want to work with brilliant people. I want to work with people I can learn from, because my goal is [to] continually always to get better. So I walk into a room, and I know what the perception of me is. Every single day. I’m well aware of that.
Kim: I think her knowing that is what enabled her to listen to me more when I spoke. Also, I‘m someone with Jas, I’m going to listen. I want to hear what she was to say. In a room full of opinionated people, which is where we work and thrive, most of the time people are talking over each other. Everybody wants to be heard. That’s not the position I take with someone like Jas; I want to listen. So I listened a lot to her, and when I spoke—which was not a lot—I would give her my opinion, but I spoke from a place of experience. And I think she used them in the way I wanted her to, which was better decision-making whether career or personal.
Jas (via Let’s Talk About Me, Baby Podcast): Usually (the perception), if it’s professional, it’s that I’m the talent. I actually went into a fantastic meeting yesterday, but I walk in and the assistant looks up and goes, “Oh, casting is in the other room.” And I was like, "actually I’m--," and she was like, “oh, you're!?" But it was an immediate dismissal of talent. This is where the writers are. I face that every day. But the funny thing is, what does a writer look like? A writer looks like words on a page. If I’m just looking at words on a page, I want to learn from those behind the page. I don’t care what you look like. Now, do I have a natural urge to increase the hiring and the influence within the Black community? Abso-fucking-lutely. Proudly. Because I was that young Black kid so far removed from Hollywood that a continuous amount of people had to take shots on me in order for me to get here. So it is my duty to do the same. But that wouldn’t supersede talent.
There is a misconception I think that is very important to be cleared up. The diversity initiative is usually a “this writer's room of anywhere from six to 12 to 13 writers needs a person of color." So you’re being inserted, one or two of you in a room of 13. There are so many scripted shows, that a lot of people of color are getting hired into these rooms. But a lot of that, not saying all of it because some of rooms are fantastically diverse—but a lot of that is you’re the only Black writer in this room… I just came off of a room, where it was 13 guys and I was the one girl. The room was ethnically mixed, but I was the only woman.
The #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the part that was so frustrating for me was, obviously you want to see more people of color nominated, but at the same time, you’re not going to be able to nominate people for roles that don’t exist. The actual radical change has to come in the writing stage. It starts so far removed from the Oscars. I was like, we’re not looking deep enough into the creation of these roles.
I can only speak to my own style of writing. For me, I am very thorough with character. So I can’t write a character unless I see him or her fully. That comes down to ethnicity, or even dialect and how they talk and what they wear. And I have thought that through, that that’s so abundantly clear on the page, I couldn't do it any other way. I couldn’t do an “insert ethnicity here.” I can do it with minor characters, but definitely not in a lead.
Jas (via A Word With Jas Fly): So I got two messages back to back. The second one was from Ethiopia Habtemariam. I first met Ethiopia in 2012. I was working for Ne-Yo, who was of course signed to Motown Records. Ethiopia was the president of Motown—not only is she the president of Motown, she was also the president of Universal Publishing, so she was Ne-Yo’s boss. She was everyone’s boss.
So here I was in 2012, living Uptown on 163rd and Broadway, and I’m renting a room from a Honduran family that either didn’t realize or didn’t care, that I knew enough Spanish to know that “Gorda Punta” was not a compliment. But it was all I could afford, so anyway. Walk into Ethiopia's sprawling office, in the Def Jam building, with pristine white couches, with my little notebook full of ideas of what we could do with Ne-Yo to market his album. And the first thing she did was smile. Like for real, she smiled. And that doesn’t happen in music too often. A woman walking for the first time into another woman’s office, that she doesn’t know, and one of them isn't an artist? Shit, nobody’s smiling. I was hard-pressed to get a good job after months of tireless work, so to get a smile coming through the door? Ethiopia smiled and she heard me out, and when she saw my direct boss trying to minimize my efforts, she advocated for me. So a year later, my contract ended with Ne-Yo and I asked if I could interview her for a podcast series with Chris Morrow that we never got around to finishing. She was just as kind and warm; even after the recording stopped, we talked for hours about my experience and what it was really like. Because when I tell you I was going through it? MAN.
So now to the other message I received. As I’m recording this, my second book has just been released—two books in one month. One, a biography for a very storied music mogul, James Prince, otherwise known as J. Prince from Rap-A-Lot records. The other book, a more introspective memoir from self-help guru Rob Hill Sr. I wrote both of those books in 2015, then I went on to write a VH1 show, a Comedy Central show, and then the juggernaut that is This is Us. And now I'm on hiatus from my current Showtime series Kidding. When these two books get released, I get this email from a guy that I'd first met when I moved back to New York in 2009. I’d known him a long time. He’s a journalist, [an] interviewer of most of your favorite rappers. And no one would dispute that he’s a talented guy. So he’s emailing me for the first time in several years. But the email was specifically about what happened the night Eliott Wilson interviewed Drake live at NYU in the fall of 2012. Right around the same time that I was working for Ne-Yo and met Ethiopia. So the symmetry here is crazy. I was also at the time still working as a freelance journalist, hence why I was “Gorda Punta” in somebody’s third bedroom Uptown, ecause spoiler, rap journalism does not pay.
So this guy and I went to see Drake’s CRWN interview. In fact, I think we sat together, and he and I were cool. We worked the same circuits. We saw each other at least a couple times a week at events. We knew all the same people. So after the interview, we caught the 2 train Uptown together and talked about the interview, and it had just been announced that I had been cast on Mona Scott’s forthcoming reality show about women in hip-hop media. That’s when the convo took a turn. He was less than supportive. Which listen, I get it. I have my own bones about reality TV. I did reality TV—for what it’s worth, though, our show was type terrible, but the show was the only time in my entire five years in New York that I was able to turn a profit. And it was filming that show that reminded me that it was time to get back to making TV. So say what you want, but I am so thankful that I had the opportunity and Mona had actually given me the shot to do that.
But anyway, dude didn’t think I should be doing it. It wasn’t that he didn’t think I should be doing it, it was that the press release credited me as a writer and a journalist, and that’s what rubbed him the wrong way. So I asked him flat out what the issue was. I’m many things: I can be aloof, I can be really tunnel-visioned and stuck in my head, but dumb is not one of them. I could feel the tension when I walked by the same group of journalists I'd seen for the last three years, and it was as if I had done something to offend them. Which it turns out, I did.
Now would be a good time to get back to Ethiopia. So we kept in touch after I interviewed her. We had dinner a couple times, and I was in awe of her. I’m still in awe of her. She’s a Black woman, easily 5’10, plus-sized, and the dual president of both a record label and a publishing company...and she believed in me, so much so that she called me one day and asked me to write her official bio. This was years before I would eventually write an entire book for James Prince. Ethiopia just needed 1000 words, but she wanted me specifically to tell her story. So I interviewed her again. This time, pushing deeper into how the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants went from being an overweight introverted awkward 14-year-old to that sprawling, pristine office in the Def Jam building. “The music saved my life,” she said.
The system was not set up for Ethiopia—a young girl that didn’t meet the typical standard of beauty. And I don’t know how much you know about the real world, but Ethiopia doesn’t happen. She’s an anomaly. She’s not the obvious choice, which, ironically over the years, I've been mistaken for Ethiopia on many occasions, and every time [I am], I smile a little inside. But at 14, E had to just put herself out there and take a chance that someone would see her hand out reaching for a way in, and bring her inside, and someone did. For her, it was the legendary promo machine Shanti Das. She gave me the shot that Ethiopia was giving to me. She told me that she was happy I was doing Mona’s show. That the exposure would be good for me. Datwon Thomas told me the same thing. So did Shyheim Reid—most famously known as the most relaxed guy to ever be an MTV VJ—but thew say what I was trying to do far before the effort was paying off. They saw the effort, and it reminded them of themselves.
Datwon: My role as a mentor, I take it super serious. Reason being, I know how hard it was for me to get in. And I know what it meant when there was someone that I looked up to who took the time to at least give me an encouraging word, point me in the right direction, give me some good tips. Shit, tell me about a job or wanted to work with me. It was a couple of O.G.’s that told me, “you about to be it. You can rock,” and that let me know I could do a different degree, so I know what that means. I try not to throw that co-sign around lightly, but what it means to me is that you’re investing in someone that’s looking to further, and I hate the term “the culture,” but someone who is looking to further their talents with what you’re already doing. Which makes everybody rise. If you’re watching an NBA game, when you see Luka drop all these numbers, he’s getting busy for the first time. Then you see the stats, and Oscar Robertson was doing this back in the 50s or something. Like, “Yo, somebody was doing this before they had the handcheck?” You understand what they had to go through. I look at it like that. When I can invest in someone that’s looking to pursue their dreams, it helps all of us. Someone who’s determined. Someone who sticks out in a way that you don’t see normally. Someone that’s creative, passionate. Determined and passionate are very different. Creative doesn’t just go with how you come up with ideas, creative is also how do you get said idea into the world. If you’re meeting roadblocks, how creative are you to move it around, stretch it and get it to where it needs to go? You can see that in people. The way that they talk to you and the way that they approach you.
Those are my normal canned answers for how I know someone’s special. Someone like Jas, if you add her to it, she’s so different that she was one of those people that I, me, went on to be like, “Yo, what you think about this idea?” I don’t like to put my ideas out there too much. Not because I don’t think they’re dope, it’s just you don’t want to be bogging people down with your shit. And you always think your shit is dope and you don’t want nobody taking it. It’s like ain’t nothing new under the sun man, you just put a different color on it. She was different where she could analyze your idea without inserting herself in it. Without looking at all the pitfalls that you have with it, she could find new pitfalls that you need to watch out for, and additions.
Jas (via A Word With Jas Fly): Ethiopia said I knew music if not as good, then better than anyone else that was in the business. She said, “I knew that, and I just needed a chance to prove it.” All of this was happening while this dude was arguing with me on the 92nd Street platform that I wasn't a real writer. And guess what? He got through. Not that he convinced me that I wasn’t a writer—I had been writing whole ass scripts since I was nine. So he didn’t convince me that I wasn’t a writer, but he convinced me that I needed to prove it to him.
And see, that’s the hardest part about a dream. Most people will only take your dream seriously when it can be measured by their standards, and according to him, I wasn't measuring up, so he became fuel. His group of journalists became fuel. My old bosses that tried to shit on me became fuel. I remember Ebro of all people telling me, “Everyone thinks you got some rich dude taking care of you.
And at that time, I was wearing a $13 dress from H&M and an hour before he told me this, I had stopped at the same Western Union again to pick up the $50 my dad and I had been passing back and forth for months because it was all we had between us. No dude has ever given me anything. I use it as fuel. So by 2013, when the reality show was a bust, and the heat was no longer on me, everyone else went back to normal, except my tank was still full. I was on a mission to prove all the haters wrong.
Kim: There’s so many of us, not just women, also men, that are not given the opportunity because we don’t have either the right connections, or the experience. And it was just great to see Jas soar in that arena . And it was, for me, a hard thing to talk about, because I have my own personal struggles. One thing I loved when I talked about it with Jas, was how much in common we already knew how it was.
Datwon: Being a Black woman in any realm of entertainment is probably one of the hardest things you can do, especially as a creative. It’s one thing to be an executive Black woman in one of these spots, you gotta deal with the same things. But as a creative, you’ve gotta be able to pitch, be quality, and you’ve gotta take some knots that other people—even Black men—don’t have to take. Sexism aspect especially. But the way she carried herself, I think she protected that aspect of it.
The other realm is always having to prove she was good enough to be on that level with these people. We had conversations. There were times where we were in certain writing rooms and she felt like she was being disrespected and/or marginalized or straight up and down ignored. People don’t see that type of hardship when all the accolades come out and all the success comes out. That’s what people see, because that’s what’s celebrated. Being in that writer’s room, as the only African-American woman, that’s not celebrated in the press. Those hard-fought arguments for two or three lines of prose that you want to get out there because you know it will change the life of a young Blcak woman that’s watching it. Her fighting for those kinds of things, that doesn’t get celebrated. She had those kinds of fights that people just don’t know about, that she fought alone. But she always had people like myself and some close friends to confide in about those things.
Jamal: Jas, to no small end, she talked and she shared her upbringing. What she had been through, what she experienced growing up in an old folks' home, everything that happened in life that could have led to her feeling marginalized… But she didn’t let it diminish her, which speaks volumes.
Jas (via Buzzfeed): I had a moment on a previous show that was terrifying. When it was over, my hands were shaking. I had to say, "Hey, hey, hey, guys. Black people aren't like that. We don't do that. Or that means something different to us." And it was challenging a showrunner, but coming from a place of, "This is not true to what we actually need to see in the world, because it's just not being used right." You have to really pick your battles, and there are some showrunners that the moment you challenge them, you're gone. I learned something in that moment, not only about myself, but also about the producers who I work for in that they heard me, and they reversed course. As terrifying as that moment was, what it taught me about myself is that above all else, my commitment is to who I am as a person and who I am as a person is very much a Black woman moving in this world.
Jas (via A Word With Jas Fly): I wrote my first pilot. I started working with an assistant at CAA who took my calls in the stairwell and turned down any opportunity to further my brand as anything other than a writer. By the time I left New York in 2014, I was sleeping on Rae Holliday’s couch in Queens, but I came back to LA determined and fueled.
In 2013, it was right around the corner in this same studio. I was so frustrated. I knew I wanted to go back to TV. And I wrote my first pilot, Wreckless.
Charlemagne: “By the way, Jas wrote Empire way before there was an Empire. When I saw Empire, I said Jas you know this is Wreckless right?" That was her show.
Jas (via The Brilliant Idiots): I didn't know what to do with it at that point because most of my contacts in Hollywood had moved on. I went to [Charlamagne]. I didn't know who else to go to. I sat with Charlemagne and was like this is what I have. He was like, "yo, OK, I see it." And [he] the first person to actually believe in me. People think you get on and all of a sudden you're on. It's like, this shit has been built, and it's been highs and lows. "Yo, Charlamagne has paid my rent."
Jean: Charlamagne was a good friend of Jasmine’s. I remember one time, and I don’t know how he got in my news feed, I just commented on something he said, and we were in the living room, this is when she came to visit. It was about Snoop Dogg, and I think he was on his page or something. And I'm like, “you don’t know nothing about Snoop Dogg.” I said “Charlamagne had Snoop Dogg on his page.” She’s like, “Wait a minute. What do you know about Charlamagne? I said, “Oh, I made a comment on his page.” Next thing I know, she’s got him on the phone on the loudspeaker like, “motherfucker, my mother follows you.” Like “what? You know Charlemagne?” (Laughs) I didn’t know that they were friends, but that was really funny, because then she wanted my phone because she wanted to see who I was following. And it was like, "nope, don’t follow this person, why are you following this person." I’m like well I might as well get off the social media. But that was somebody that she could go to and talk with. I talk to him now.
Jamal: I knew she was special when she tolerated me. We met at some event. I forget what it was even, but it was early Twitter, so I knew of her, and I was obnoxious. I took her phone and I followed myself. Hindsight being 20/20, I’m happy that I did that way, but also terribly embarrassed by the presumptive nature that I have about myself. And thankfully she tolerated it enough to keep following me, to interact with me, and to have interest in building a friendship. Which I am very much grateful for.
We are part of a BBM group, so the friendship was fast-tracked that much more. It was a group of us like Low and Kaz, it was a number of us. And we’d talk shit, we’d talk dreams, we’d conspire. Just all bits of it. The digital and the real were blurred then, but not nearly as blurred as non-existent as they are now. So it was a friendship on and off the platform. I’m grateful that she kept me around and stuck around. The ups and the downs, the bumps and the bruises. She was a friend, then became family. We threw MNF parties at 40/40. Being a part of so many of her ideas and not always seeing the brilliance of them, but understanding there was a brilliant thread there.
Kaz: The first time I met Jay-Z was because of Jas. We used to do a show, [and] host this MNF party at 40/40 Club. It all started from that email chain we had met in. She wanted to throw this weekly MNF party sponsored by Ciroc or something. We packed it out. If I remember correctly, I think it was the Pats vs. the Colts. I’m pretty sure Tom Brady was playing. And it was packed. If you’ve been in 40/40, it’s a very touristy spot. It’s almost like Planet Hollywood for us. We had packed the place out with athletes and rappers, Gus Johnson was there, the commentator. Just a random slew of people all watching football. We were so focused on the game, I remember Hov walking in and he couldn't get a seat. He looked at us, I was standing next to Jas and Low, and he was like, "damn, I can’t even get a seat in my own spot, "and nobody even paid him any mind. Maybe that was people trying to be too cool, but inside of my head I was geeking. I was like 22, 23 at the time. And then every week thereafter, we would throw Monday Night Lights parties at 40/40. And that was a sort of great networking party, an extension of the weekend. If Sunday brunch was popping, then Monday night we’re all hitting 40/40 to keep those good energies going. But as much as it was fun and good energy, you meet a lot of amazing people there.
Datwon: I would call it more of a friendship than a mentorship, and it really started naturally. I knew she was hustling to write. But I never really looked at her as a hip-hop journalist type of writer. I always looked at her as what she ended up being known for, which was this TV and film stuff. I always felt like that’s how her writing was—it was so robust and big. So I would like to say that some editors within my range might look at her writing like, “What is this? What is she doing here?” She was setting up scenes in a different way than the normal hip-hop journalist was. She was always thinking on a bigger scale, and that sometimes might not fit in the hip-hop writing world. But the mentorship, she just started asking me questions. Like "yo, what do you think about this movie I’m about to make? I got offered this. Do you think this is the right way I should go?" It would be these life things more so than just work things, and I used to always feel honored that she would ask me about that. Because those are things that you normally just keep close to the vest, or just really close friends. So I started to consider myself that, and she showed me time and time again that I was that.
Kaz: I met her as a music writer, so when I saw her take that shift into straight-up television and film, I was shocked. I was like, “Damn, I didn’t even know you could do it." The blog era was super popping for a lot of us because if you had a dope blog or wrote for a dope magazine or website, that was a lot of our feet in the door to do what we really wanted to do. With her, it wasn’t a foot in the door. She took every project she did so passionately and excelled at it. When I would go to L.A., she would bring me into writer's rooms. I remember vividly, she was working on Hood Adjacent on Comedy Central and they were doing an episode on Jordans and sneaker culture. And I just happened to be in LA. I wasn’t going to visit or whatever. I came to their office and this was the first time I sat in a writer’s room that was for broadcast television. And all my writing rooms were stuff for MTV or MTV2 or commercial stuff. So she gave me that first experience.
A few years later when I was working at WWE, we would always go back and forth. Mind you, she was writing for This Is Us. Fucking Emmy-nominated, all the award-winning most extremely highest of high-brow television that you could write for, and I’m writing for WWE, pro wrestling. But she always gave me that super respect of a fellow television writer, because she knew how much I took wrestling seriously. How much I appreciated the art of it. And even if it wasn’t her thing, she understood how much it meant to me, so we would always go back and forth about our experiences, about what we were doing in our respective careers. She always kept tabs and kept in touch. When she moved out of New York and went full time in LA, she never really lost contact while I was over there. I kind of liken that to her passion and her intensity to do what you feel like your calling is. She wouldn’t be shy to tell somebody when something didn’t fit them. Or, “I know you, that’s not you.” But she knew that was me and she was always just so encouraging.
Me, Jamal, Low, Foxx, we were all like her little brothers. I wouldn’t call her mother hen or whatever, because she would party with us, drink with us, smoke with us, do edibles. She made these incredible edibles all the time. We’d go out partying somewhere and she’d be like, “Oh, you guys want a Rice Krispie treat? Y'all want a brownie?” You always had to say what kind around her. She was an amazing baker, but if you didn’t specify that you wanted an enhanced treat, she would (still) give you an enhanced treat.
The Combat Jack Show and the Reality Check podcast with NY Delight (2012-2014)
Chris: Jas stood out immediately. She was kind of a regular on The Combat Jack Show, and when we decided to spin The Combat Jack Show out into a larger network, she actually had one of the first spin-off shows which was a show called Reality Check with her and NY Delight. Jas had a very good feel for how that show would work, what her role was. She just came in very confident. At times, we would bump heads a little bit,ut from the beginning I understood that’s just who she was. It wasn’t an ego thing, she was just very confident in how she envisioned things. I just saw that she was somebody who would rather walk away from stuff and make a sacrifice for her vision and I respected her for that.
They had been recording initially at PNC Studios when it was basically an internet radio show. She was most active in the show once it left PNC and went to the new recording space. Reggie initially had the idea of giving her a show, and I think at the time, what I was intrigued by was just this idea of a woman in her late '20s, early '30s, really trying to make it in NYC, and really trying to find her footing in the industry and really just out there grinding every day. It was something that I felt was very aspirational about how forward she was. She wanted to make it, she wanted to make a mark. She wanted to be in this game with everybody else. And she wasn’t making any apologies about it. For a lot of people, especially women in media, they feel like they do have to be apologetic or they feel like they can’t be as nakedly ambitious as men are. I respected that she was coming at it with that same energy. You knew within five minutes of talking to Jas that she was ambitious, she had big dreams, she was focused, she had that energy, and I always respected her.
Jamal: There was a time, maybe like 2012, Nick was DJing a party in the Hamptons for this dude’s 40th at the Montauk Yacht Club. They had rooms for us; I was subbing for his road manager, so I would take the trip with him and be the acting road manager. So Nick goes to DJ, then has his driver take him back to New York and I’m like, "well shit, free stay in the Hamptons." So knowing that I had two rooms, I invited my then-girlfriend and Jas. I brought a friend along with me. We all had a blast. We didn’t realize until the next morning how much of the life of the party she was. Everyone at the yacht club knew her dog’s name. They knew Charlie Murphy’s name. They were referring to her by her first name. We’re like, “What did you do after we dipped last night? We went to bed, did you just stay active? Did you play poker with everybody?” And she had a phone number written on her shoulder. Yo, you really the Don Bishop. You made this yours. She said, “You just gotta live life.” And I get it. For as minimized and marginalized she may have felt in life and in growing up, she absolutely filled a room and you feel as though you were the focus of the light in that room. And it seems like she did that for better or for worse. Whether it was a matter of reprimanding or holding you accountable or a matter of celebrating, she had this remarkable ability to make you feel as though that spotlight was entirely your own, which is a gift. And that’s putting it lightly.
Chris: What I didn't realize while we were doing the podcast was really just how talented she was. And that didn’t come out for me until she started sharing her writing with me. Even some of the stuff that never got published, but some of the scripts she was working on. When she started sharing those with me, that’s when I was like, "OK, this is somebody who’s really special and really talented and really has a gift." I think that’s kind of when our relationship evolved beyond podcasting to like, "hey, you’re a fantastic writer. How are we gonna help get this out there and find the right platform for that," which she ultimately did.
Jamal: As we all do when we’re hustling, without comfort, a lot of things are magnified, sso you bring things up in conversation that you don’t think anything of. Every single time it’s a dart. You realize that if it doesn’t break you, it strengthens you. I’m grateful we got to go through the growing pains of being in your late '20s/early '30s in New York, trying at every turn to figure this shit out, especially because it seemed like she had it figured out. She worked towards a place where the spoils of the work met the work and the expectation.
Chris: Jas was always cooking up a million different ideas, and had a lot of different projects. That was one of the things our friendship was really based on. We’re both people who kind of like imagining things, having an idea for something, and then trying to bring it to fruition. So we were constantly on the phone like, "hey, what about if we try this? What if we try that? Let’s pitch this or these people." That was an ongoing conversation with us all the time.
Kaz: For somebody who was so young at the time, I really owe a lot of important parts of my life to those nights. I didn’t really know a ton of people, but putting that together with a bunch of people that were either older than me or more experienced than me really helped me out. Jas was already trying to help someone get their back scratched, and if nothing comes from it, nothing comes from it. But a lot of times, something would come from it, and I owe a lot of that to Jas. She was somebody who wore so many hats, and did so many things, and excelled at so many things. She failed a few things, but she was so good at the things she excelled at that you didn’t even realize.
Chris: One project that we pitched really hard was for a podcast that I really wish it got made. It was something about R. Kelly. She had written a piece about growing up in Chicago during that era and being kind of close to that situation and it was kind of a hybrid into R. Kelly and that situation, but also kind of talking about her own life at that time. I still remember, she wrote an opening scene that was kind of set in her apartment growing up and it was about one of the first times she kissed a boy...and it was set against that backdrop. It was one of the best scenes I’d read in a long time; definitely as a podcast. It was blowing everything else that I was seeing away, in terms of a scripted podcast. I remember I showed it to a lot of people and everybody was like “This is incredible, you guys gotta do that.” We actually got into negotiations with a platform to put it out, and we were negotiating budgets. We had the entire season laid out, and we already had an idea for Season 2, and at the last minute, they called up very apologetically and said, “this is incredible, you guys have to get this made, but we can’t do it.” I never got a straight reason for why they backed out, but we kind of lost a little bit of our momentum at that point and we kind of let it go. I regret that, because then the larger R. Kelly TV piece [came out] and it was like, “Well, that’s been covered. Do we really have to do this now?” But I just thought her ability to weave her own life and experiences into that story is what was gonna set it apart. So I do regret that we didn’t pick the pieces up and keep pushing on. For her TV work, I was passing scripts around to her.
Jas (via Let’s Talk About Me, Baby Podcast): I pin New York to this great five-year detour and really finding myself and my voice as a writer. Now it felt like it was coming full circle. Doing that show is what made me realize, I need to go back to TV. I need to go home. This is actually where I’m from. This detour was great, but it had run its course, so I shut everything down and I refused to even be labeled as talent. I didn’t take any sort of hosting gigs, or any of the residual, "oh, you were on TV now you can do XYZ.” I was like, "nah, that's not who I am. That’s not what I wanna do," and I wrote a pilot. Met my agent by chance. He read it and started working with me. Shout out to Brandon, by the way. But yeah, I ended up moving back [to L.A.] and have been working in one form or another since I got here.
Jas returns to LA and begins her ascension to mastery as a writer. She starts working for Comedy Central and VH1, then Showtime and NBC, followed by a New York Times best-seller. On her solo podcast, Jas is finally at peace enough with her progress to spread love to the haters that used to fuel her. Fresh off an Emmy-winning season with This Is Us, she receives two emails. One is from the writer in New York who once told her she wasn’t a “real writer” without a byline in Billboard. He is apologizing and trying to spin the conversation from hater-ation to motivation. The other email is from her mentor and hero, Ethiopia Habtemariam from Motown Records, sharing a photo of herself standing proudly on the cover of Billboard. The synchronicity drives Jas to tears.
Jean: When she left LA before, she said she was never going back, so to hear her say I'm going back out to LA, it was like, “oh, OK.” She was real upbeat about it and I looked at it as, she’s older now, she’s more mature. That was an experience, so maybe this time it’ll be different. Things were always sounding like she was doing pretty good.
Jas (via A Word With Jas Fly): The dude from 92nd street unfollowed me on Twitter, and I remember because I had gone on his page to see a meme he had posted and, “wait, he unfollowed me?” I know it’s a trivial thing but they really unfollowed me. So shit, I did what any sane petty person would do, and I unfollowed them. But I was hot for a good 15 minutes, because here I am trying to prove something to you and your ass ain’t even watching? Dawg, really? And then it occured to me: I couldn’t tell you when they actually unfollowed me because I had stopped checking for them because I was too busy doing everything they said I couldn't do to keep reacting to their doubts. And what I was really mad at—if I’m gonna be really real about the shit—is that I ever gave a fuck about this dude’s opinion of me in the first place.
Jas (via A Word With Jas Fly): This is where the first two of three lessons come in: You gotta know who you are in this world, because listen: there is an entire population of both friends and strangers waiting to tell you who you are not. Amd often, their estimation of who you are not is relative to who they are not. I knew I was a writer before he said I wasn't, before I even knew he existed, and I had become who I was always going to be, despite what he thought about it. Which leads me to the second lesson: What someone thinks about you is far less important than what someone does for you. I was being championed by someone at the top. Someone that looked like me, that moved with integrity, whose reputation is solid out here and who continually led by example and put other people on.
So cut to two shows, and the release of both books, and I get these two messages. The one from dude, in short, said, “I don’t know why you’d remember the 92nd street conversation.” Of course, I remember for the same reason he remembered it. Because it happened. Only, in this email, he framed it as more of a motivational conversation where he said that a lot of people were jealous because they couldn’t put me in a box, and he was glad I didn't listen. But I listened, and honestly, two years ago, this email would have felt like a vindication. Who doesn’t dream of their haters coming back hat in hand? Only I’d learned those two lessons.
I know who I am now, so much so that I can see the utter absurdity of his opinion in the first place. And I’ve been shown that one drop of love fuels you a hell of a lot farther than a tank full of hate. See, being fueled by hate means you’re going to always listen to the negative to keep going. And when you win, those haters will have nothing else to feed you, because let me tell you, ain’t nobody harder to hear than a hater that’s been proven wrong. But when you’re fueled by love, you’re trained to lean into the good energy, and when you win, you’re met with more good energy. And then I read the message from Ethiopia. She had just shot the cover of Billboard magazine and she wanted to share how much that moment meant to her. And that’s when it hit me that Ethiopia, president of both a major record label and publishing company, was still looking for her shots. Because even at the top, folks don’t stop doubting you. The stakes only get higher, and the hate only gets stronger.
If you’re still trying to prove someone wrong, you’re not going to last. Your vision of yourself is for you. It’s meant to guide you to become who you’re supposed to be, and when you start looking for other people to see what only you can see, your vision gets distorted.
I didn't respond to dude's email. I mean I guess you could count this as a response, and it’s not meant to be a petty one, but instead, I genuinely see this as a teaching moment. I no longer need his mea culpa, because he no longer fuels me. Success is not working to prove other people wrong, it’s working to prove yourself right. The middle will almost always doubt you. They won’t clap when you win. They won't credit your efforts. But if you keep your head down, and keep working anyway, the sheer endurance, the headway, the lane pushing forward, parting the high grass, will catch the attention of those above you. And they can see from a vantage point that the middle cannot. So push forward. That’s where the love is. And that’s what’s going to fill you up.
Chris: I remember that podcast. It was basically the story of her having this conversation with an unnamed member of the New York media establishment, kind of telling her that she wasn’t a real writer, that she wasn’t on their level or part of that club. And it really was sad for me to go back and listen to it because at the time, I just kind of brushed it off because in my mind, whoever that person is, is just jealous. You’re that talented, of course you’re a part off whatever writing club is out there. Anybody could see that. When that podcast dropped, I listened to her and I didn’t make that much out of it. But it does sadden me to think that she internalized some of that and felt that there was some club out there that she couldn’t be part of, because she absolutely had those chops. She absolutely had that ability. And she absolutely had that voice .I put her up against anybody.
Kim: I think a lot of people looked at her success and the fact she wrote on a hit show like This Is Us. And I saw a lot of those headlines in the days after we found out, but I was like, “no, this is who we are. That was a big accomplishment because it’s mainstream and it’s successful, and it’s a hit show that she wrote on. So of course you’re going to tack that on as the headline.” But she was one of our success stories, to be able to take the talent that she had from here, and one of the first things you hear from agents in the television and film space, particularly crossing over from being a journalist or entertainment or music, you hear you don’t have the experience as a storyteller, which is what we are trained to do, you’re told, “well, that’s different. You don’t know scripted TV." We all deal with that. But we have a certain training in storytelling, particularly in this field. And Jas was one of those success stories that was able to say, "watch me do this, not just as good as you, but a lot better." And we need that. She was breaking down doors for us in what she was doing out there, and it takes a lot of sacrifice to do that. Because you’ve gotta drop everything and you’ve gotta go. And that’s what she did. She followed her dream out there.
Chris: It was amazing. We used to watch This Is Us, and my favorite part of every episode was seeing her name at the credit roll at the end of it. It was incredible to me. I was really proud of her every time I saw that, because I knew how hard she worked to get to that moment. And I knew how much time she put in, and I also knew how many no’s she heard before that happened, because I was on the receiving end of those no’s with her, too. I think the world sees that and says, “Oh, that’s great, she made it, she’s in there." I don’t think the world saw how determined she was to get to that spot. There were a million times she could have gone for something else or said, "alright, this isn’t gonna happen," but she just had a determination about her that was really inspiring.
The Art & Science Of Respect With James Prince (2018) - Chris Morrow passes the opportunity to co-author James Prince’s autobiography, one of the hip-hop industry’s most respected executives.
Jas (via A Word With Jas Fly): Chris Morrow called me one day and he says, “Listen, James Prince is looking for someone to author his autobiography." I worked on that book for 18 months, interviewing dozens of people with 700 pages of transcripts and—no joke—a real diagnosis of PTSD, but I finished it. Then I took Rob Hill’s book at the end of the year to keep the lights on, because I'd finally gotten my own place, and dammit I liked not hearing “Gorda Punta” everyday!
Jamal: Her writing J. Prince’s book was a moment and a half knowing how much of a student of music she is and how much she loved music and how much it informed so much of her creativity. That was major.
Water5: I’m a reader, so when she wrote James Prince’s book—granted I had read the book before, but that wasn’t as good to me as James Prince. What intrigues me is shows like Snowfall, you came out of the dirt selling drugs. I really appreciated that book, it was more exciting… It’s like, "yo, I can feel this" as I’m reading it. I’m putting myself in his shoes within the context of these lines. Within her professional career, that’s where I felt like she was a success to me. And then when she invited me to Sony’s lot. Like "Oh shit, I’m here." Around the corner is Tyler the Creator, around the corner is Euphoria.
Datwon: That whole time I was getting the “what kind of splits do I get? What should I be looking out for? How is it out there"—meaning Houston—"What kind of dude was he when you met him? What was some of the landmark things that you remember from Rap-A-Lot? Yo Day, they got mad horses and stuff out there." She was at some real high-end spot and she was like, “This is insane.” I remember her waiting on Drake’s foreword for the book. I remember her hitting me with, "what do you think of this right here? Is this structured right?" That book took a lot out of her. It was a huge undertaking. And that’s your first? That was her first. I gave her a lot of respect for that. A lot of people don’t get to do someone as experienced and as tenured and as iconic in the industry. They don’t get that until deep, deep, deep into their career. And for her to be blessed with that when it happened, it was amazing.
Mecca: Then next thing I know, she’s writing a book for J. Prince out of the blue. And after that, she was heading out to Hollywood. And we were all like “what the F? What are you doing?” Next thing I know, she’s writing for this show. Next thing you know she’s writing for televisions. Then she’s heading out to Hollywood. Now she’s writing for this show and writing for this movie, and it’s Go Cinderella in the credits.
What made it risky in my opinion, what had me nail-biting and trying to get her to sit still was the fact that every place she jumped from was like the high-diving board in that specific pool. Plenty of people would have been satisfied with writing for a major publication. I know many people who have that ambition to this day. That’s what they want to do, if they could retire from that, it’s 100 percent what they would do. Wasn’t good enough for Jas. Next thing you know, she’s over here working with Compound. Tons of people would give their right arm to be working with a legendary R&B artist with Ne-Yo and be on the ground floor while he’s putting his empire together and have any kind of one-on-one contact with him—and through osmosis the Def Jam building. Jas gets there, jumps ship, now she’s doing reality television. I know tons of people right now who would kill right now to be on reality television. They would stab me and you if it meant they would get on reality television. Oh shit, now she’s writing a book for a legendary hip-hop mogul [with] thirty years in the business, never seen a broke year. She’s writing his story. Gets the book done, jumps ship. Now she’s in Hollywood.
I have no idea what else she was gonna do. Jas was probably gonna end up marrying a Rothschild. The way she was going, she could have married into the Walton family. Her betting on herself—there’s a phrase that says “if it doesn't scare you it isn’t big enough.” She lived it. Her ambition scared me for her. As her friend, as someone who loved her and therefore worried about her and wanted to see good things happen to her, there were plenty of times where I was like, "just be still. You good. You're so good. What are you doing? Once you jump from this path, who knows if you’ll be able to come back."
Jas’ actions, if I’m keeping it 1000, Jas embarrassed me, not intentionally. I was legit embarrassed because Jas went for it every time. There’s a song in Hamilton where Aaron Burr is like, “Hamilton doesn't hesitate, he exhibits no restraint, he takes and he takes and he takes, and keeps winning anyway, changes the game, plays and he raises the stakes." That line always reverberated with me, it really struck me. It really started with me. I saw myself as that guy. Jas’ life showed me that I was not being that guy. Whether I had the ability to be was a whole different thing. But Jas didn't sing that song, she lived it.
Jean: I recall one conversation we had, she told me she was writing for this show. She wrote a little script for a column, just doing little small projects, and a lot of times I would call and she was like, “Mom I can't talk now." I got that a lot. I can't talk now I'm reading a script or writing. So we emailed a lot. So instead of me calling I would email her and just see how she was doing.
Kim: She didn’t have an easy time in those writer’s rooms. I had conversations with Jas about the struggles that she had in those rooms. And that’s hard for me. But it’s like gems that we’re sharing with each other. She’s in those rooms, and I hadn’t transitioned yet, but she would tell me what that was like, to know a certain thing and not be heard. But that’s the nature of the beast out there. It’s very competitive, but the one thing about us in hip-hop, we’re like a family. People are helping each other, introducing other people for opportunities. Television is a very different, more competitive [culture]. So a lot of us in television, you’re going from show to show. A lot of times you don’t have the opportunity to build those families or relationships that you do in other jobs. I’m still tight with the people I was tight with from The Source and it’s been 20 years. In TV, your agent is hitting you up about different jobs, and you’re competing with everyone for those different jobs, so it’s hard to build a team environment and move like a team in television. I think that’s part of the struggle of being in TV and going in these rooms and having all this talent, and then being as strong as she was with her opinion and her personality. It just becomes a very tense environment to be in every day.
Then you gotta worry about what’s that next show gonna be. What’s that next job? It’s not a place where you foster camaraderie, unfortunately. I think that was maybe part of the struggle later on. Where were your [TV] friends? That keeps you going throughout, but that particular industry creates such a negative feel with people, because you’re always competing to be heard.
Datwon: I remember we went out one night, we went to Nas’ birthday party in the city. I’m just bringing it up cause it’s dope. I remember we were walking in and she mentioned how these types of parties were the ones you would always envision yourself at if you get into the industry. “I’m going to Nas’ birthday dinner.” Or you trying to go to Rihanna’s birthday dinner. And next thing you’re there. And it’s like, “wow.” That was a fun night because I got to see her happy at an event that we both would be like, “Wow, we’re here.” It’s kind of like a status thing, but I was also like our hard work got us here.
Jean: Then she got into the Writer’s Guild. She did all the writing for the other shows. So that was exciting. She would send an email and say, "hey, I'm writing for this show." Or "hey, watch this show, it’s coming out." And I would watch it. Now would I watch the whole series? No. I’m not that kind of TV watcher. Her name is on that, written by Jas Waters, "hey, I’m gonna watch that episode." But to watch the whole season, I'm not that binge-watcher. Unless it’s a good Netflix movie. Other than that I’m watching PBS, Discovery Channel, CNN, and I live on The Weather Channel. Whatever she wanted me to see, that’s what I was looking at.
Datwon: It was so gratifying to see her, because you know someone that’s about the work and is so serious about being able to lend their voice to something that’s bigger than themselves. That’s how I felt with her. She was finally getting on that platform where she could do those big ideas. I just felt like that was just the biggest win that she could have. One of the other things though was I gotta see her go from writing to helping people with their careers, then go into reality TV for a little bit, get out of that. People started to know her from that and her situation and family stuff. Then she comes out of that into this superstar realm of TV and film. And starts working with Jim Carey and Sterling K. Brown and Will Packer. I’m just in awe of the trajectory in such a short amount of time.
Water5: I’m at a place where it’s not just honoring her legacy. My next project subliminally has her involved. Just in imagery and continuing to build, and staying in contact with the people she connected me with. Just making sure the legacy continues. It doesn’t stop with her. There are more people who need more opportunities, and that’s what she was doing it for. To her dying breath that’s what it was about to her. The big picture was to be able to be in a position so that other people had opportunities so that we didn’t have to go to the industry and ask; we already had it.
I realized that she was in a really dark place and she couldn’t receive much light. I think if she would have listened to this song [Ed note: This song is titled “Catch My Drift,” and is dedicated to Jas], she would have gotten some of that light. She was part of the reason it became a thing. I had the time to sit back and record because she was pretty much taking care of me where I don’t have to worry about bills and stuff like that. She just gave me the opportunity to make this album from the heart, where it really don’t sound like shit you hear on the radio. It’s just different. She gave me the wings to fly.
Chris: The first script she wrote that I read, it was set in the music industry. It was loosely based around the life of a blogger who I want to say was kind of based on Low Key’s experiences. I know that they were really tight. It was one of these shows that kind of had elements of real-life situations and dramas, but it was also fictitious. And I thought it was amazing. I read the pilot episode and I was like, "this has to be on TV tomorrow," basically. I’m not into TV person, but it doesn’t stop people from pitching me stuff a lot of times or asking me to try to hook them up with this person or that person. I usually steer clear of this stuff, but that was the first thing that I really read where I was like, “hey, I’ve gotta bring this to some people. This is really good." Especially or essentially the first TV script she had written. I think she had said it was the first one she had fleshed out.
It [never got] made. I’m not sure what the reasoning was. I think it was one of these situations where people maybe thought that Empire's out there, Power’s out there, maybe it’s a little too much in that vein. But universally, everyone that I gave the script to said, “OK, this is a really talented writer. This is somebody to keep an eye on.” So I think if nothing else, it kind of helped open some of those TV and film roles that later came to her. Just having that kind of evidence of her ability.
Holstein (via Los Angeles Times): I wanted to meet people who shared a similar desire to be creative and weird. We sat down and had a nice, long talk, and I was pretty convinced by the end of it that she’d be great for the show.
Kaz: Jas was very empathetic. She would always put herself in your shoes. She wrote like somebody who knew she didn’t have a whole lot of time to explain herself. She wrote with a sense of urgency when it came to a lot of her pieces. And even through her interview style, she prepared herself so much. And the few times I watched her in action interviewing people, she would never just kind of wing it. Some people feel like they’ve done it so many times, we can just have a conversation. Some people are good at that. But she would never wing it. She prepared a lot. Whether that’s talking to me.
I think it was for Kidding, when she was working with Jim Carrey, she was very interested in the relationship I had with my father. Because she knew that my father was sick and had passed away around that time. So she would always just ask me questions about what my dad was like, before he got sick, before and after. How Nigerian parents usually were. And if I remember correctly, I’m almost positive she named a character in Kidding after my dad, and she never met my dad a day in her life. But she knew how tough a time I was going through watching him slowly leave.
Chris Paul’s probably a naturally gifted dribbler and passer, but he had to work to become a knockdown three-point shooter, because it became a league of knockdown three-point shooters. He came in as an incredible talent, but the league evolved to Dame Lillards and Steph Currys and James Hardens, who can stroke it from deep. So he probably worked meticulously to be on that same level. I feel like Jas’ writing was on that same level. I feel like a lot of stuff that she did came naturally to her, but you could tell that by the way she wanted to attack these new evolutions in her life, she had to work tirelessly at it. And that's nothing that happens by accident. She had to live a lot of life to tell those stories. She had to live a lot of things people shouldn’t have to experience to do that. She had to go through a lot. There’s a wealth of experience that Chris Paul has when it comes to playing ball. And there’s a wealth of experience that Jas had to live through to be able to write the things that made people laugh, cry, think, listen to music differently, made people absorb art differently. I’m sure that weighs on people.
Datwon: She worked at what she did. She wasn’t always super dope; she was open to criticism. She was open to edits. She just wanted to get better. I’ve never seen someone work relationships the way she did, and how she kept relationships tight and rose up. It was conversations with Jas that caught my eye. When I first met her and I really recognized when she was different was through social media. Just seeing the kinds of things she was talking about. Food, and being a critic, giving hot takes, but dope hot takes. You know most people's hot takes are just to get some kind of response from people. They just say wild stuff. Hers were critical, and I thought that was always ill.
There was this one story that she pitched me while we were at Vibe, and it was about the beef going on between Hot 97 and Power 105. Charlamagne and them started to turn the corner, and it was like, "oh they for real, them Breakfast Club niggas for real." Jas being Jas, she was really cool with both sides, and the way that she was breaking down how she wanted to present the story was really dope. We never ended up doing it. She actually did the interviews from what I understand, but there were some things that transpired where we never got to go back to the story. We always talked about that. But I knew she was different then.
Mecca: Pure professional. So many of us are winging it. We may have a five-year plan. We have loose ambitions. We may have a couple of ideas we may want to do. I think maybe this way, I think this would make me happy. Jas was a machine with her shit. What she wanted to do was evident because she ended up doing it.
Me and Jas started off kind of in the same place. I’m doing well. Things are great. But I read something that said, "picture getting to heaven, and imagine meeting God, and he meets you and he says, 'Now imagine what you could have been if you had used all the gifts I gave you.'" That line really struck me when I first read it, and now all I can think is Jas won’t have that problem. When she gets there, that’s not going to be an issue for her.
What blows me away about the woman was her evolution wasn’t just systemic, it was calculated. It was forced. We’re not talking about someone with a natural talent for X, Y and Z, and they’re resting on their natural talent and just take it wherever the wind goes. I’ve been guilty of that. Jas made herself what she became. Plenty of writers are happy just to write, and if you’re happy and you’re content, go for it. Jas wasn’t content, and she made herself these other things. Things most of us believe you’re supposed to have some kind of leg up on in order to be this. Nobody questions that Floyd Mayweather is one of the greatest boxers the world has ever seen because his father was a boxer and his uncle was a boxer and he came up doing it. Natural God-given talent meets hard work equals an undefeated record. Makes sense. Nobody was shocked at that. Nobody’s surprised that a dude with God-given ability who worked hard became one of the best ever...you’d be shocked if he was anything else. If he was a fucking accountant you’d be shocked. That’s natural evolution with God-given gifts. Jas had Jas-given gifts. Her ambition was the gift and doorway to everything else that she wanted. Whether it was naturally a thing she could do or not, Jas supervised every level of her evolution and brought it into being with sheer fucking will-power and just because I said this is gonna happen.
As a friend, I thought my fears for her were legitimate. I never wanted to discourage her, but I was legit worried. I was worried. I never wanted to discourage her from doing anything. But the shit I saw her doing, I would be in a panic. Like, Jas why don’t you just chill? Why aren’t you satisfied with where you are? Wasn’t my question to ask. She wasn’t, so she didn’t. Then she got to the next place.
Kim: Jas was a great writer. A complex individual. Sometimes for us minorities, it’s very difficult to navigate in this world, but I think we all have this sense of talent-spotting, so we see it in each other. She was in that circle where people who were able to read and enjoy her writing knew just how good she was. I think that Jas had so much more to do. I knew from our conversations and stuff that she shared with me just how far she could have gone. Farther than she went.
Jas (via BuzzFeed): It wasn't until 2015 when I got back here that I was authoring somebody else's autobiography. When it was over, it had paid me more money, up until that point, than I had ever made professionally in my life. And for the first time as an adult, I was in the black. And I said, “You know what? I'm going on vacation,” and I went to Paris. My second day there, I went to the Eiffel Tower and I had lunch at 58, which is phenomenal. When it was over, I was like, “I want to go to the top.” There was an hour wait for the elevators, and I was like, “Alright, well, fuck it, the stairs are right there.”
So here's the thing: The Eiffel Tower really is the Eiffel Tower. There are no sides; there are no walls. It's just metal, so as you get higher, what they don't tell you is it's swaying with the wind—and I'm low-key afraid of heights. So it's swaying, and I'm just like, "Alright, so I'm two-thirds of the way up. It's only gonna get worse if I get higher." And so now I'm considering, do I go back down? I had to stop myself, and I had a by-myself meeting in the Eiffel Tower, which sounds so ridiculous now, but this is exactly how it happened: I sort of pulled over to the side, letting people pass me. I said to myself, "Listen. Did you really come 65 stories up to stop now? Really think about everything you have overcome." Spending that time in jail and having cavity searches—that's not fun. Also, there's this social stigma. Eighty-five percent of the people who I built my life around my first stint in LA stopped talking to me. They stopped talking to me, one, because I couldn't do anything for them. And, two, because they also were like, "You are persona non grata here." I had fucked up and fouled out. And still, it all led to me getting back on my feet enough to be sixty-something floors up at the Eiffel Tower. And so I climbed.
I got up there, and I'm standing on the observation deck and I'm looking out over France. And it was an opportunity to see my life out of context. I said then and there that this was over. I was done believing that I was my mistakes, that I was a product of my bad choices—and I let it go. I was no longer going to live under the weight of being young and stupid and being entitled, and I would grow from it and learn from it and move on. And that's life. It is not letting the worst about you define you.
I don't know what it is about Paris, but I literally just came back from Paris. And I go to sleep one night, and it's like 1 o’clock in the morning Paris time, and I get this text from my niece. I have a niece and nephew in Chicago who are 10 and 12, respectively. It's a video, and I watch it, and my niece and nephew had made a television show about their youngest brother. They shot it; my nephew edited in transitions for commercial breaks. And when I tell you that—I'm, like, about to cry right now—I bawled like a baby. They were so excited. I FaceTimed them, and they were like, "Did you watch it and what did you think?" I then go back to that really small version of me that woke up on Sunday mornings like, "Oprah's coming today! I watch her—she makes me want to do things." And it just made everything worth it; it made all of the hard stuff so much easier. For all the time I've spent completely broke and figuring out how I was gonna pay rent, moving from place to place, it all becomes worth it when you realize that there are these tiny people who are the next generation of your family, who have been watching you this entire time. And they feel like, "Oh, I can do this too." And it was the proudest moment of my life.
Mecca: After the move to Hollywood, right after the television, I had to just realize that there was something bigger at play here, and it wasn’t for me to question. It was for me to respect, observe, and learn from, and it was to be inspired by. One of her favorite things to say to me was, “Mecc, run your race. Put blinders on and run your race. Stop looking here and there. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. You don’t know what kind of connects or contacts or who they had to blow to get where they are. Stop looking at everybody else, focus on what you can do, and do it all the way." And she was giving advice like that to everybody. I thought I was special, I wasn’t. She was giving advice like that to anybody who needed it. Anybody who she gave a damn about. Anybody who thought enough to ask, she gave that advice to them. And now I see she was only giving us advice that she took herself. Those were her words to her. She was just repeating what she was doing. It wasn’t even mind-blowing of advice to her, because JAs did that shit every day. Every step is a testament to the fact that she was running her race. And you could get right, or you could get left. But she was going. So what you’re gonna do was irrelevant. It wasn’t gonna slow her up.”
Jamal: She moved out to L.A., a writing gig took off, then just kept coming in more and more. She was three, possibly four years out. She was early on the pilgrimage as far as New Yorkers leaving—L.A.’s New York collective. It’s not that underground. That shit is loud. It’s made the move much easier [for me]. Because you’re coming into a village. I told her I was thinking about the move and she availed herself. Like if you need it, you’ve got it. It’s there. We went to dinner my first month here, right before her birthday. That was the true “me letting her know I’m out here officially” meeting. But we had spoken a couple of times prior. The move was fairly siloed but she presented as available despite what was a hectic schedule.
Seeing her name on screen, seeing those credits, I started watching This Is Us because of the storylines that she wrote. And I didn’t seek it out to go watch it, but I would see people commenting on how amazing certain episodes were. How in love they were with character development. How much it had ramped up this season. I was like, "Oh, OK." I enjoyed watching it, but like what’s a schedule? If it’s not on-demand and on my terms, I wasn’t able to get to it. But she brought that appointment viewing, and seeing the way that people wrap themselves in her work and put their arms around those words, and then seeing it for other titles, Kidding, movies, it’s insane. That was such a fulfilling moment, particularly when you think back to getting a link shared, or a Wale spot that she was a part of creating. Or the PSA that she did for Roc Nation. It’s crazy. It’s insane to see that growth and reception that comes with it. And to be a function of that reception. Because I came to it by seeing, like so many other people. Seeing all the endorsements that were so well earned and so properly allocated is to be marveled at.
Jas (via A Word With Jas Fly): And then I got staffed on my first show, immediately followed by my second show. And then I get a call from Ethiopia saying, “Hey, I know you’re looking to direct.” She’d seen the work I'd put in. And it reminded her of how hard it was to transition from record executive to record and publishing executive. And once again, she was giving me a shot.
Jamal: The memories were that it was never an ask or an expectation that she dream smaller. But always an understanding that she was dreaming about big as fuck. Because there wasn’t anything that wasn't within the realm of possibility if you asked her. So that was inspiring and frightening as shit when you’re trying to make sure that bills get paid and you’re not necessarily stepping out on faith. You just are stepping out on enough faith to make sure that you’re not taking a chance that feels like a gamble. Gambling when it’s a sure thing is not faith at all, and that was never how she rolled those dice. She pushed all the chips in and she let it fly. More often than not, she didn’t crap out. More often than not, them thangs landed the way she wanted it to.
Jas checks Chappelle's Show and Half Baked co-writer Neal Brennan for his unapologetic use of the N-word and displays the passion and urgency that made her an O.G. in any room she entered.
When comedian and writer Neal Brennan felt comfortable enough to say half a dozen variations of “nigga” and “nigger” during his 2014 appearance on The Combat Jack Show podcast, guest co-host Jas Fly was the only voice in a room full of men that objected.
She never raised her voice or trembled as she talked the Emmy-winning comedy wizard into a stammering, self-reflective submission in under 120 seconds—just minutes after he proudly announced that he would never apologize for using the word in his act. [Ed note: You can listen to the exchange around the 2:11:00 mark HERE.]
Loved ones know the “Jas Check” well—a multi-dimensional slap of truth and power that could shift your whole soul if you didn’t have your feet set for the impact. A Jas Check might be triggered by a deep violation of trust, or a small misunderstanding that just didn’t sit right in her chest. Either way, Jas was going to address it; and with a level of graceful gangsta usually saved for imaginary mafiosos in Scorsese movies.
Neal Brennan was having a better time than Ray Liotta in Goodfellas the day he got Jas Check'd. He was telling stories of his friendship with Dave Chappelle and gleefully sharing quirky “I Know Black People '' observations when he got Jas Pesci’d. In the words of Hov… “To make a nigga die bleeding is nothing (nothing) / You make a motherfucker die breathing. Then you saying something.”
Combat Jack asks Brennan about “the PC-game” of political correctness—long before we had the term “cancel culture”—when Jas shouts from off the mic, “The PC-game is a distraction.”
Neal quickly agrees, “It’s absolutely a distraction. It’s like (going), ‘you know what the problem in the Black community is? Michael Richards is saying nigger. It’s not incarceration rates. It’s not bankruptcy. It’s not foreclosures. It’s Michael Richards, and as soon as we solve this problem"—at this point Brennan pauses to make sure the room is still with him on this, his third hard “e-r” of the day—then continues, “and that’s why I say, the fact that, white people want to take the N-word out of Huckleberry Finn is some white people shit. It’s like going, ‘Black people have shorter lifespans, can’t get loans, and don’t have access to fair education, but I think I have the solution. And if that doesn’t get it done, then I don’t know what to do!’ To call that a Band-aid is an insult to Band-aids.”
Combat turns to Mike Vick as another example of PC-culture gone awry when Jas gets closer to the mic to make sure we hear every syllable of what she’s about to say.
“He didn’t actually go to prison for the dogs. He went to prison for the tax stuff,” she casually throws in. But it’s when they digress back to Brennan’s points about political correctness when he proudly announces: “I decided that I’m just never gonna apologize for shit. I’d rather be wrong. People respect (that)—and I’m not gonna be ignorant, but—.”
Jas accepts his challenge: “So what is something that you wouldn’t apologize for?”
Neal leans into the hook: “I won’t apologize for saying the N-word in my act,” he says. Mind you, Mr. Brennan has already stumbled into no less than six N-words in this hour-long interview, so his choice to suddenly use the term “N-word” in this context is cause for pause.
But you have to know that Jas Checks sometimes come in the form of a calm, non-judgemental question. With the same tone a parent uses while asking their toddler to explain the thought process behind their latest mess. Jas asks Neal, “Would you say it in conversation? Would you say it off the stage?”
Brennan digs his heels in and sneaks out one more, to keep his teeth white: “No. I would refer to myself, or I would refer to one of my friends like, ‘nigga you need to eat!’ Something like that, I would say.”
Combat Jack nudges Neal further into the oncoming impact: “Or the time you had that fight,” he adds. “Cause I was listening to your podcast, and I remember the one time, you called somebody the N-word out of anger.”
Neal scoots over a little to make sure he’s squarely in the path of both wheels before launching his final one for the road: “Oh yeah, I’ll be like ‘nigga what the fuck are talking about— ?’ Like, to a white person.”
Finally, Jas finally takes control of the mic: “I’m gonna be honest with you, I would spazz the fuck out.”
Neal tries to scurry free of her oncoming accountability train, but it's too late. “I would never, ever call a Black person—“
Jas adds an inch of pressure: “— No it’s not even that, just the use of the word off the stage conversationally, I would spazz out.”
Neal bluffs: “Yeah?”
Jas triples down: “Yeah.”
The other co-hosts try to cut the tension with jokes, but Jas is locked in.
“He’s rich, he can do that to you,” jokes one co-host. “We’ll settle out of court, it’ll be fine,” Brennan teases, laughing nervously. He adds, “I can’t explain it, but you wouldn’t spazz out. I’ve already said it six times or something here.”
“Oh every time you say it I’m cringing,” says Jas, frankly.
Neal skeptically: “Is that true?”
Jas, dead ass: “Yeahhhh.”
Neal: “Alright. Yeah.” He starts to clean it up, “Look I’m sensitive to-" But Jas puts him out of his misery, without even raising her voice.
“It’s one of those words. That word is a tax bonus to Black people. We earn the right, every day, all day long to say it."
Neal concedes: “Yeah, I’m with you. Yes.”
But she wasn't finished. One more question: “And because you have that white privilege, you don't pay those taxes, so why do you get to say it?”
By this point Brennan is speaking in circles: “I’m with you… I will never say it—I will say it in third person, I will quote other people saying it, I will quote myself saying it, but I would never say it—it’s conditioning from hanging out with Black dudes. The amount of times I’ve heard white people say it is five times, without irony. Like, ‘look at these n—' I’ve never fucking heard that shit… Like Public Enemy was the first time I heard it. I swear to God. Or in movies.”
*When-keeping-it-real-goes-wrong-voice: Neal Brennan dropped zero N-bombs in the final 40 minutes of the interview. True to his word, he never formally apologized. And Jas never called “checkmate” out loud. But she didn’t have to.
Friend and mentor Datwon Thomas remembers coaching her up to these kinds of moments. “I used to tell her, ‘Yo, this is the fight. Bring the sword out. You got the sword, right? Keep your sword next to you, baby, let’s go. You got more to cut.’ And she always did, and she always rose to the occasion. There were times when I can’t even front, we went to lunch and she was telling me about a situation, and I was telling her, ‘You know what, just work through that one. Forget the fight, just work through it. Because as a Black dude in that situation, I can’t necessarily fight every fight. I’ma just work through it. Then you catch up and be behind me. She was like, ‘Oh no, I’m fighting this one. Ain’t no working through this.’ That’s her in an environment where you would think someone else would step up. Here she is, like ‘Oh I gotta do this? Aight. Welp. Look like I gotta do it.’ Never one to bite her tongue, man. Gotta love that.’
NYC-to-LA co-transplant Jamal Jimoh has survived his fair share of Jas Checks, including getting yelled at by Jas in front of his former boss Nick Cannon’s birthday party. “If there is one thing that she demanded, it was accountability. To no small or convenient end. She was big on the shit. I was a general manager for Nick Cannon’s Ncredible Entertainment, and we had his birthday party [and dinner] at Lava. And I’m talking like there was no shortage of names on the attendee list. Like I sat next to Anita Baker at dinner, to give you an idea of the scope of this thing, but I’m also there working. Something happened, it was at capacity. But there were also people inside they were looking to be protective and considerate of. If I can take care of my people I’ma take care of my people, make sure they’re on the list. Jas came by. I’m not exactly sure what happened outside, but I wasn’t being a friend first. I was being "I’m still gonna have bills and rent to tend to, so let me make sure that the work part of it is done." Then the understanding is that you’ll be taken care of. I got you. And I got scolded. I got outright blamed on. And she quotes The Godfather. She’s like, “You don’t take sides against the family.” She wouldn’t scorch the earth, she would get close, she would hold you to the fire. And it wasn’t "fuck you" if you weren’t with her, but as soon as she thought you might not be about her, she’d be like, "alright, I’m good on you." Notice was served. One strike. That’s it. Zero tolerance. So I learned very early on how to keep the dance moves. I was Ben Vereen very early. Just understanding that there’s no real leeway.”
As Jas’ put it, while schooling Charlamagne and Andrew Schultz on the importance of #MeToo: “If we genuinely want to see change, (then) in order to teach people how to do things differently, you have to understand how it went wrong. We have to have dialogue for that.”
I got my own Jas Check after I interviewed her in late 2013. I was introduced by the good brothers from It’s The Real, and had long been a fan of her blogs, tweets and podcast appearances because of exchanges like the one she had above with Neal.
Eric and Jeff pulled me over to her in S.O.B.’s at some Hot 97-sponsored showcase for up-and-comers. I told her I wanted to feature her on Chris Brown’s blog MechanicalDummy.com.
Our goal was to encourage young geniuses in every field of creativity, and at first I wasn’t sure whether to feature Jas in the Young G’z section among rising stars, or the Original G’z alongside established legends.
By the middle of our interview, the answer was obvious.
Jas had a way of speaking through you, whether it was on the record or a private conversation. Her words never went in one ear and out the other. They rushed through both sides at once and made your eyes, nose, mouth, or spine move. She used the gift daily to write and deliver personalized sermons within seconds of meeting a new subject.
"You aren’t going to know who you are if you don’t lose yourself," Jas explained. "I think where I’ve made the mistake being young in this business, I started at 19, and I always laugh when people think I started in the blogosphere because I actually started in film and TV. When I started my blog, I’d been in this business for nine-and-a-half years. I think the thing to remember is that you have to make mistakes, you have to be the bad guy, you have to fuck up, you have to make poor decisions, you have to reap the consequences of those poor decisions, you have to be the devil before you can know and appreciate what it is to be the angel. All of those things helped me figure out who I was, and sometimes the best way to figure out who you are—is to figure out who you aren’t. I learned to maintain my sanity by going insane, by being risky, by taking chances. Test your own limits because that is the only way you are going to know who you are and what you are truly made of. If you pay attention to the real world, you will get all the answers that you need.
"Once you go crazy," Jas continued, "that’s when the fun starts because you’re breaking down all of the walls that boxed you in. The walls are coming down. Shiva is the Hindu God of destruction and everyone thinks Shiva is a bad God but when you think about it, destruction is the fortress to revelation. You have to tear down what is old in order to make room for the new. So Shiva really is a great God. We all try to avoid destruction, when, in fact, sometimes we have to embrace it… If you have a vision and you have a plan and you’re consistent and persistent, you will get there. And you will get to a place you never even considered."
Her spell wasn’t performative or over-bearing, but her sentences weighed a thousand words, both in print and in real life. She couldn’t waste a syllable.
"If you have a vision and you have a plan and you’re consistent and persistent, you will get there. And you will get to place you never even considered." - Jas Fly
Kaz: Jas always left an impression on whoever she came in contact with because she always made you think. She always made you a little unsure of yourself. Not in a good or bad way, but in a way that makes you change the way you thought about something. Or at least give it a second thought.
With each question I asked—about her process, her journey, her goals—she responded with the same wisdom as the artists in the O.G.’z section of the blog: N.O.R.E., Curtis Snow, Melvin Van Peebles. Young G’z answered questions like they were trying to validate themselves as legends. But Jas spoke like she already was one. And like her only focus was reaching all the hands like hers that were reaching out for bigger and better dreams.
Kaz: With Jas, it was like that intensity was something that she only reserved for things and people she really cared about. So we’d go back and forth and go super hard with debates or whatever, but she would always make sure you were super good. And not just doing stuff to do it. But doing it like, "is this your path? Are you on the right path of what you want to do in your career?"
After publishing Jas’s Mechanical Dummy interview in January 2014, I got a call from her. I was excited to hear her feedback on the story. I had just hired a team of writers and interns to scale up our content and felt like the new process was working.
Jas’ first words: “Why did you choose that photo me? There are much better, more recent photos of me out there.” I pulled up the link to look at her post. Not only was it a weak photo, it wasn’t even formatted right. She had recently transformed her body with hard work and dedication and looked like a bombshell every time I saw her in person. The slight oversight made me sick. She deserved, as we all do, to be shown in her best light.
Jas (via JasFly.tumblr, 2017): I lost a significant amount of weight. I lost 111 pounds over the course of two-and-a-half years. It was natural, it was gradual, and it was a process. And I learned so much about myself in that process that I'm very comfortable with who I am now.
Her simple question had me stuck. It felt like Kobe checking you for taking a play off. Or Nip pulling you to the side for moving funny. I couldn’t blame it on the new process, whoever posted it or whatever backend error—that would sound like an excuse. We both already knew that results count for more than intentions. And while 99% of those kinds of calls consisted of thank you’s or requests for more coverage, Jas was the exception that set the standard.
“My fault, let me go fix it. Hold on.”
Her voice crosses my mind during almost every project I’ve touched since. It’s been a standard for accountability and intentionality. For knowing your worth, the worth of others and demanding every cent without compromise. For manifesting your own destiny, against all odds.
I’d been waiting for the right moment to reach back out to Jas. To get feedback on some of my scripts. Maybe ask her to help write, produce, and appear in one. To tell her it made me proud every time I saw her name somewhere. And just to thank her for pushing me to raise my game.
But the gift she left the world is the same one she reminded us with every text, call, post or link up. There is no such thing as a right moment. Only the present.
So fly, or get out the sky.
In Jas’ memory, her friends and family want to push the issue of checking on your strong friend, and on yourself, for signs of mental health issues.
Kim: The last time I saw her was 2017, but that had to do less with Jas and more about me. I got divorced in 2017, we talked about it, and when she came to New York, we met. I still have the text thread. I was running around, I was taking long. And she was basically bossing me down like, “Kim, I’m going to leave if you don’t hurry up because I’m hungry." We met at Sarah Beth’s on Amsterdam, and I kept changing the location because this is who I am, I’m indecisive about everything. Until she was like, “No, we’re meeting here. And hurry up, because I’m hungry.” That was the last time I saw her. So we had a long lunch, it was mostly about me and what I was going through, and she gave me advice. And she was leaving for France after that. She was going on this trip to France because she loved Paris. And she was going by herself. I thought that was great. It’s something that a writer would do, right? She went to France, we talked a while, then in 2018, 2019, I really focused on my career. So I didn’t talk to her.
Jean: The Check-In shirts came after this happened. I was talking to people. I was confused. I just wasn’t getting the answer. It came back to this was going on with Jas. She came to Atlanta (in) December, 2019. She surprised me just when I was getting off work. We had a long conversation. We sat in the living room and we talked for two days straight. Thinking about some of our conversation and I just came to the conclusion that Jasmine was there checking in on everybody else... She was the strong friend. She was a giver. She gave herself.
She was an open book like here’s what I have. That’s the part I’m proud of because that’s me. You ask me a question and they’d be like, "gosh she knows everything." No, I'm giving you what I know. There’s no motive behind it. There’s no for tit tat. This is what I know and here I’m giving it to you. It’s free. She checked in on them, "let’s get together here, let’s talk." Just watching some of her interviews. People were her energy. She loved a group. She loved a good conversation. Not to sound boastful or anything. But that’s what I loved about her. And she knew that’s who I was. I don’t care if she was a zoo keeper. As long as she was happy in what she was doing and she was doing her. I’m there for her and I’m happy for it. I’m not saying nobody tried. Even I tried. But that’s how important it is to check in on each other and check on the strong friend. One day I just jumped in my Jeep and I drove south to check in on family. We have to check in on each other because we all have that mental illness in us that we aren’t talking about. We have not tapped into that. I had a little cousin that came into town last Friday that really surprised me. She read some of what Jas wrote and was like, “that’s so much me. I wonder, how am I gonna be a therapist when I’m having my own mental breakdowns?” You don't know what people are going through.
I want everybody to be an advocate for mental health. One person can’t do it. A few people can’t do it. You have to be an advocate for the person standing next to you. Do you know a person at a bus stop will open up to you faster than your best friend? Her peers and her friends and her group, they were helping her out for her mental illness. She needed her friends and all the people she would talk to, she needed that.
At first, I was giving [the t-shirts] away but the cost of shipping them to people was blowing up so now I just pray that everyone can get a shirt. I want everyone to remember her on her birthday. It’s still so unreal that I’m not gonna hear from her again. I'm not gonna see her again, like around the holidays, or my birthday [which] just passed. I would always get flowers from her. A card, you know. And her birthday’s coming up, so I won’t hear that "thanks, Mom" when I tell her happy birthday. So when I see them honoring her on like the Emmy Awards, I’m like wow, a few years ago she was on the red carpet at the Emmys and now they’re remembering her on a screen. I would have wanted to see her in a different light at the Emmys. Honoring her as a writer or director—her dream—but they’re not forgetting her, because she worked hard. She has a legacy. And she worked hard at that legacy. She had plans when she was gonna retire. So I don’t know, there was so much going on, so many mountains to get to that plan. So I don't know a lot that was going on with her. And no one does.
Kim: I’ve heard other people explain this the same way: It’s like an out-of-body experience. You’re not yourself, you’re not making the right decisions, and there’s a physical element to it as well. So just learning those feelings and those emotions, I’m definitely not equipped for that. And I’m still learning about that. A lot of us are just now being exposed to mental health in the way we’re now learning about it. I’ve had experience in my family, I’ve seen it, so I know what it is, but I’m not equipped to handle that. And I think that that’s where we have to say you can check on your strong friend, but you have to drag your strong friend in and how you have a professional check on your strong friend because you just don’t have the wherewithal. I don’t even know if some professionals do. So it really needs to become an all-hands-on-deck.
I wish that I would have not been so guarded in our conversation that day. I wish I would have been comfortable enough to call all of our mutual friends and say, "we have an issue that we need to address." But I wasn’t. I was protecting privacy. The same way I’m doing now. I don't want to say what we talked about it because it’s her business and it’s so private. But I wish that my first concern back then wasn’t protecting her privacy. Maybe we could have done more. Maybe if I would have been comfortable to call all of our mutual friends and say somebody needs to go to her house right now. You’re gonna do that for your friend, and you should do that. I know that calls were being made and they were talking about it. I respect the fact that he got on the plane. A lot of people want to jump in the middle of the hype of what’s going on. But he actually got on a plane. Maybe it wasn’t about her coming to my house. Maybe I should have gone to hers. Hindsight is 20/20. That comes with education. I’ll be the first to tell somebody when I don’t know something, and I think in that situation, we’re all still learning. We don’t know how to deal with that. So it is about educating each other. It’s not enough to just check on your strong friend. But there were a couple of text messages back and forth where I kind of checked on her. And one in particular had to do with a situation where she had expressed some things on Instagram. And so I reached out to her, sort of like a check-in. And we had a brief conversation. But because I was going through my own stuff and focused on myself, I didn’t have the capacity to be as nurturing as I had been or I was when I reconnected with her. But her tone with me was very regular Jas stuff. So I did not think twice about how much maybe she was hurting behind what people were telling me. "Did you see what she posted? What is that about?" And she deleted her Instagram. There was all of this stuff coming in to me, but I wasn’t in the right place. You can see when someone’s going through something online. I'll just pick up the phone and be like, you good?
I tend to shy away if I’m going through a personal situation. Like you won’t see me. If you see me posting about stuff, it’s probably because I’m in a really good place. I’ve seen a lot on social media with her where I can look at the messages and be like, “Hm, is she OK?” And there was a dark period that she went through. And then she deleted her Instagram. There were messages and things she talked about. About her relationship, about people who had photos with her. So that made me reach out. But when I reached out to her, maybe I wasn’t really on it the way I should have been. But the exchange seemed normal to me. And then I didn’t talk to her for a while after that. And then obviously when the pandemic hit, everyone’s calling all their friends. They’re checking like, “Where’s so-and-so. There was this feeling of, “Where’s Jas? I haven’t seen her” That’s what made me start looking for her. It took me a while to get in contact with her; her numbers were changed [and] she didn’t have an Instagram, which is how we all communicate these days. She wasn’t responding to any texts because the numbers had changed. So I started to kind of reach out to a couple of people. A friend of mine had even said, “Have you seen Jas?” “No, I’ve been thinking about her but I haven’t seen anything.” Someone told me that they saw her on Twitter. So I went to Twitter and I DM’d her. And three days later she called me from a number that I didn’t know on Facetime, and that’s how we spoke. And that was the last conversation we had. In our conversation, which was a couple of hours long, Jas confided in me and told me things that gave me the impression that she was not doing well and that she felt that she was alone in LA. And once I realized that she needed to be around people, she needed to be taken care of, I invited her to come with me. At the time my kids were spending a lot of time at their dad’s house. I had a lot of time. I was working on my own projects, but I was home all day. This was May, the pandemic was still [going on], everyone was just home. And I just felt like she could use that.
I asked her, "do you want to come stay with me?" And she responded pretty quickly that she did. So it was just me opening my house to someone who I felt like could use the company. And the reason why I’m very guarded with that conversation that I had with her that day, because she told me a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of.
Kaz: She would post some stuff that made me feel like she was really going through it. And that's the part that kind of really fucks with me, because a lot of times you don’t really realize how much people are really going through. It’s a little hard to talk about. It’s still a lot of unanswered questions. And the messed up part about when someone takes their life is you never get those answers.
Datwon: We didn’t talk a whole lot leading up to her passing, but I was reaching out. I think more than anything, why her passing hit me so hard was because I was reaching out, and when I wanted to reach out before I didn’t. You know how you think, “Oh, I have to hit such and such," and you just don’t do it. Not because of any type of issue or anything, but you always think you’ve got tomorrow. The biggest disagreement we’d have is if she liked an album and I didn’t. It might have been a Drake something, or it could have been a 'Ye.
Kaz: In the past year and change, we really didn’t speak as much. And from the time she was in New York, we spoke all the time. The first couple of years [that] she was in LA we spoke pretty frequently. But she would have moments where she would just fall back. And I wouldn’t take it personally because every time she’d pop back up, she’d say, “new movie out, just wrapped with Jim Carrey, new season of This Is Us. “ So I would take her falling back as, “Oh, she’s in work mode.” But when it comes to the success of This Is Us, I never really felt like she became a different person, but I could tell that she had to be. I could tell that it was a different world that she was taking part in. And that’s no easy feat… We hadn’t really spoken that much. And that kind of gets to me a little bit. It definitely hurts. You never want to feel like there’s something you could have done or said, or let you know how much you care about them. Every time we spoke, every time I saw her, it was same Jas. We barely would talk about work. We would just catch up. "How’s Charlie Murphy?"
Kim: We had a lot of personal conversations prior to that day, but that day it was different. I felt like she needed somebody who understood how delicate the situation was. So I told her to come stay with me, and she said she was gonna get a flight. The last words I said to her were call me back when you check the flights and tell me what day you’re coming. And then she went dark on me. I texted her the next morning like, "hey, what’s up with the flights?" She didn’t say anything. Then a couple days later, I text her again, she didn’t say anything. I think what I wasn’t aware of was just how much help that she needed. And not that I couldn’t help, but that I wasn’t equipped. And when you see those signs, you really need someone to come in on a professional level and help. The thought may have crossed my mind that “OK, there’s something not right here,” the severity of it that I wasn’t prepared for.
Datwon: She was definitely one of those strong-willed, opinionated individuals. She could turn you on and she could turn you off. If there was an issue, she would fall back for a little bit. We barely had those, because our relationship was really based on this mutual respect. And she was always open to just hearing my side of what I might think was right, wrong, or indifferent.
It is our culture to wait too late to give people their flowers. I think that’s one of the reasons we give people flowers when they die, because we didn’t give it to them when they were alive. But in her journey, just being in a friendship and in contact with her, that was the flowers. Because you actually have someone in your life that’s gonna make you smile, make you laugh, gonna make you question yourself, make you question your beliefs, might get you high—she loved her edibles and stuff. And was gonna make you feel like you could reach your highest self. And we got to see her being honored amongst the greats, man. That was amazing. Those that she wanted to see it from, she got to see it from. And then everybody else has to catch up.
Chris: Knowing what a strong powerful person she was is what makes me smile about her. She was so unwavering in her belief in her visions and what she was trying to do. And it was just really contagious. That energy, I loved talking to her. We would have these conversations about these projects or ideas we wanted to work on, and you look down when the call’s over and we’ve been on the phone for an hour and five minutes and it flies by. She had a very contagious energy. I hope the world gets a chance to know just how talented of a writer she was. I thought she was just an amazing writer who, I know she accomplished a lot, but I think she had a lot of really amazing stories in her that would have come out over the course of the next ten years. That’s what’s really sad to me. That the world’s not gonna get a chance to experience all of those.
Datwon: It hit me, hard man. It hit me way harder than even some family passing. Because she was so open with her home. Whenever I was out in LA, she would be like, “yo, did you eat you good? You straight? Aight." Or, "yo you gotta go to this spot. Meet me at this spot." She would link me up with people. I introduced her to people that she ended up being friends with out there. That's what you want when you get into this industry. People who are selfless. They care. They have some kind of humanity about themselves beyond just I gotta get mine. I gotta get on. That wasn’t the conversation. It was always about things and ideas, rather than people and situations. It was always about the bigger things.
She gave me so much confidence in me wanting to go into TV and film. She was like, “Yo Day, it’s a natural progression. You got this. Yo, let me help you with the idea." There’s a couple of things that I know I’ve gotta finish because she said it was dope. So I’m hoping I can honor her in that way by completing those things. Love to everything that she’s done. Everything that she’s created. All the different relationships and the people she affected. We had a memorial for her in New York. We all let balloons go for her on the same day. It was just beautiful to see so many people come together. We were right there in Central Park, all of us, just giving words on how amazing a person she was and is.
Kaz: I remember when I was not even super popping, she would let me and Low Key crash at her crib. If I wanted to save some bread instead of getting a hotel or something, I know she let Low stay over there a few times. I remember I stayed over there with them just to chill out. But I can’t really speak to changes personally because she went through a few things publicly that would make anybody change.
This past year all of us have kind of been hit differently, whether through the pandemic, personal loss. [Ed note: The day Kaz spoke to Complex was] Kobe’s birthday. I feel like that was a big tipping point just in terms of how much time we’ve got on this earth. When it comes to checking on your strong friends, one thing I’ve realized is, not only do you have to check on your strong friend, you’ve gotta be your own strong friend and make sure you’re good. Not just say that to make somebody else feel like they’re not a burden. I know what it’s like. People want to check on you. I’ve been through a lot of personal tragedy in the past couple years. And a lot of times you just say I’m good just to not feel like you’re being heavy on somebody. It’s definitely a lot. It’s a never-ending journey to becoming that strong friend. And as much as we can be there for people, as much as we should be there for people, sometimes you never know how far just a good you goes. I can’t tell you how many times I was going through it and I just get like a random call or text or DM, anything, “Yo, you good? Just checking on you bro?"
A lot of times you don’t even think you need (help) ‘til it happens, and everybody’s different. But at the same time, it’s really prevalent now more than ever, to do a lot of self-care. To do a lot of the work on your own. Because as much as you can want to be there for people, as much as you can want what’s best for them, you never really know the battles that people are fighting on their own that they can’t even bring themselves to speak about. I know people that can’t even express properly what’s going on in their life. It’s a lot to put on people.
Charity starts at home. And as much as you want to give to folks, as much as you want to be the strong friend, a lot of that work is done by yourself. And it is work. It doesn’t just happen. You don’t just wake up one day and you get a new car or a new job or you hit a lick or you get a girl or a boy and all your problems are magically gone. No matter what someone thinks a problem is in their life, the mental exercises to keep you on the right path never stops. You’re gonna have setbacks, you’re gonna fall off, you're gonna need a hand here and there. And that’s what you circle’s for. That’s what your people are for.
I wish I could just talk to her one more time. I wish I could just (sighs) fucking just make fun of her. I wish this was just like different, man. Like the cruelty of it all. When were in a pandemic. I’m lucky to have a fiancé that I love very much, that I spend a lot of my time with. And I know for a fact I probably wouldn’t be making it through this pandemic without her. By myself.
It’s one thing to check on your strong friends, but you’ve gotta make sure that you’re doing the work, too. A lot of times I read a lot about suicide lately and what people have gone through. A lot of times it’s like split-second decisions. Especially when someone decides to take their life, I don’t know if it’s long-thought-out. It could be a split-second decision that changes everything, that stops them, that keeps them hanging on another day.
That’s the messed up part about all of this. You just never know. You don’t know what could have been done. You don’t know what could have been said. There’s no answers. There’s no nothing. So all of this is kinda fucked up. But this whole last couple of months since Jas hasn’t been here has really made me realize how much we all need people. I always thought I was a loner. If I could tap in with you on Instagram or Twitter or a FaceTime here and there, I’m good, I know you’re good. But we need people. That's what separates us from the animals. We’re emotional beings. We need each other. It didn’t surprise me at all that Jas left this mark on people, because that’s who she was. She was one of those people that she left an impression on you, good or bad. Whenever you talked.
Jas is not a small woman. She has a presence about herself. She was like 5’10, not a small girl, and not a scared girl. She gon’ tell you what’s on her mind, if she thinks you’re full of shit, if you’re corny. But if she fucks with you, she fucks with you. That’s her. That same passion that she brings to her work and her writing, she brought to her friendships. And she brought to the relationships she brought.
She’s never gonna be forgotten. Her art’s gonna outlive her. It’s already outlived her. I see screenshots of Jas’ tweets everyday. From my friends to people I don’t even know, just fans of her work. We’ve got hours of video with her debating albums that are now our classics, that came out maybe 11, 12 years ago. Emmy Award-winning television shows. A lot of people's goal in life, especially if you’re an artist, is to create something that outlives you. The fact that we’re even sitting here and doing this story, Jas did that. I’m proud to call her a friend. I’m always thinking about her. I truly hope she found peace. I know she went through a lot. But if all that was done for her to eventually find real peace, she deserved that at the very least.
So it didn’t surprise me at all. Look at all the lives she’s touched. That’s the beautiful thing about writing; it’s non-discriminatory. I was taught that at a very young age, you can get anywhere in this world if you know how to work that pen. If you know how to take thoughts and if you can touch people's hearts and minds. You don’t even gotta hear my voice. But if you can read, comprehend and take things in, that stays with you. Knowing emotes, and knowing feelings and knowing everybody feels something. If you get people to feel something, you leave a lasting impact on them. She was an impactful person. Think of all the people she’s written for and worked with. Grammy-winning artists, Oscar winners, Emmy winners, hood niggas, legends. Who the fuck has connections to J. Prince and Jim Carrey? That’s a wide spectrum of people to touch. This Is Us, there’s not even appointment television anymore. The only real appointment television is sports and whatever’s on HBO on Sunday night. She made appointment television on network [television] like it was the '90s. Muotherfuckers were watching This Is Us, Live tweeting the shit, and talking about it, and it was the “you need a good cry?”
That can make you listen to a record you’ve known your entire life, can make you look at it in a different way. That’s a unique talent to be able to bring that out of peopl.e She’s talented, she was so amazing. I’m not saying that because we’re giving her flowers after you’re here. She knew she was amazing. She knew she was unique. You gotta have a set on youtube be like aight I’ma go do these movies now. I’m go to LA and make this shit work, and do it.
Mecca: I thought the (outpouring of love) was deserved. A lot of it made me sad. I thought it was really, really dope. I thought it was absolutely deserved, but a lot of it messed me up because you start thinking of what could have been. The weight of it all kind of all came down at the same time when I thought to myself, no what should have been, but what was definitely going to be. That part hurts. That part seriously hurts. Jas with children, Jas with her own production company. Jas writing for Kevin Hart and Eddie Murphy, then finding the next Kevin Hart and the next Eddie Murphy. And working with Dave Chappelle and becoming this thing. And then outside of the ambition, we lost such a beautiful person who could be such an absolute hardass. Who could be absolutely terrifying when she felt like it. But that was the trade-off for who she was. That’s what came with it.
I was happy, but bittersweet was the right word for me, watching that whole thing and the outpouring of people who witnessed what she was and realized what we lost. They blew it not having her as a voice for that. Whoever’s in charge of picking out the voices for certain movies, you blew it. You missed it. You had one. That woman would have put electricity in whatever you were doing. Some of these people I see being pushed to the forefront of this that and the third, If I had to pick a captain of the team, y’all blew it. Because the leader was over there… You missed all four aces by skipping over Jas. Y’all blew it. I miss my friend.
Jean: The goal is to put check-in in everyone’s conversation. Just making it a part of everyone being advocates for mental health. Talking about it on social media. Just check in on that person, in your conversation, actually being a listener. Mental health has a way of disguising itself. And it’s kind of like you have to be less selfish of yourself. You know you think people are doing OK when they're not doing OK, and sometimes people will actually tell you they're not doing OK. But you don’t hear that. You don’t hear what they’re saying. They’re saying I’m not OK. So check-in is just reminding you to check-in on people you haven't heard from in a while. Especially now during this covid. People have been sheltering. Some of them are still sheltering. And it doesn't take a lot to pick up the phone and send an email or a text. Take ZOOM, Facetime, anything. Just check-in on your friends, the strong ones especially. The one that’s always checking on everybody else. So that’s what the check-in is. And that’s what the shirts are. Just saying, I'm checking in. I have people checking in on me all the time. I check in on people that have checked in on me, and in their conversation I heard, they weren't doing too good. So now I'm checking in on them. So it’s just being a listener. Being an advocate for mental health. Just knowing that people are going through things. It may not be that they will seek professional help. Maybe they just need to have a conversation. Maybe they just need to talk. So that’s what check-in is. To keep people talking about it. And yesterday was worldwide mental health day. So hopefully next year check-in will be better known. And I’m gonna work on a website for check in and work on more resources for people to reach out to.
Jamal: There was one (celebration) in LA and one in New York. There was also someone who let balloons go in Paris, which was one of her favorite cities. Kim and Nakia spearheaded it, period. Kim reached out to me like, "let it be known, this is what they're doing." And said they’re thinking about an LA one also. I was honored to and considered it to be a blessing to be able to take the reins and be a part of making sure that it happened out here. So I found a park, put the word out, people gathered and it was nice to have two of the spots that she called home, and so many of the people who made each of them home, be a part of honoring her in that way. And to send her home from home meant a lot. Taking a look at the outpouring of sympathy and seeing the way that people responded. Doing what I thought would be cathartic in the moment, but ended up feeling like an absolute gut punch and searching her name, clicking on that JasFly hashtag. It took the breath out of me. Because it made it even more real. But then to see the outpouring and people who wanted to show up. My number is on the flier, so I had people reach out and text like, “Hey I just wanted to know, can I come by?" It was thought about being made private, but we realized the reach and the impact of her work and the enormity of what it came to be is unavoidable. So it’s not something we could keep to ourselves, nor something we wanted to keep to ourselves. Surprising, yes. But also expected. This is what she worked for. This is what she believed at every single turn. And there is not a moment where it doesn’t feel devastating. Or it’s not wrapped in a significant amount of disbelief.
When the BET Awards happened, I saw it on the timeline first. And that took the air out the room. I cried. The In Memoriam kind of cements it right? We process and deal in those moments but you lose icons and we lose stars and we lose people who are part of this collective existence and understanding, and we give it that moment to grieve, to understand, but we keep going. And it’s been something that’s been surrounding since the day I got the news. But that was that additional stamp, so that was devastating. But then to watch it on TV and to see her picture up there. I smiled. And actually admittedly laughed a little bit. Because for all that she believed, all that she fought, all that she worked, I’m hard-pressed to imagine she could have dreamed that reach or dreamed that impact. It’s hard to imagine she could have dreamed it any better than it was. For all the times we’ve watched awards shows, to know how surreal the moments were when we were on reality shows. To (now) see that all the eyes were on her, and as exceptional a writer as she is, I don’t know that she could have written it any better than how that recognition came to be. And it was one in a life of Cinderella moments. Not in the way that we wanted it, but it was in a moment of full reverence and full recognition. And you gotta cheer for your people, man.
I’ve been re-living these stories in the recent weeks and just thinking about the moments and just watching clips and doing all of the stuff that feels straight out of an R&B video, but there is some element of therapy to it.
JAS FLY: CREDITS TIMELINE
- Jas' First Screenplay (1989) - Writer
- Rookie of the Year (1993) - Assistant Director (uncredited)
- ER (NBC) (2000) - Intern, Production Assistant
- Antique Roadshow (2000) - Production Assistant
- Hardball (2001) - Production Assistant
- Save the Last Dance (2001) - Production Assistant
- Blue Car (2002) - Second Assistant Director
- Lil Bow Wow “Thank You” Music Video (2001) - Uncredited
- Ali (2001) - Uncredited
- Barbershop (2002) - Uncredited
- Spider-Man (2002) - Uncredited
- MTV’s Real World: Chicago (2002) - Uncredited
- R. Kelly “World’s Greatest” Music Video (2003) - Uncredited
- Barbershop 2: Back In Business (2004) - Production Assistant
- Eriq La Salle (2006) - Personal Assistant
- FlyStyleLife.com (2007) Founder, CEO, Writer
- Tumblr (2010)
- JumpOffTV (YouTube) (2011) - Co-host
- Reality Check Podcast With NY Delight (2012) - Co-host
- Wale, Joe Budden, Ne-Yo (2012) - Rapper Whisperer
- XONecole.com (2012) - Freelancer
- Gossip Game (VH1) (2013) - Reality TV Star
- Reckless (2013) (Unreleased) - Screenwriter
- Vibe (2012-2015) - Columnist
- The Combat Jack Show (2014) - Co-host
- Hood Adjacent With James Davies (2017)
- The Breaks (VH1) (2017) - Writer
- This Is Us (2017-2018) - Writer
- Kidding (Showtime) (2018-2020) - Writer, Story Editor
- The Art & Science of Respect (2018) - Co-author, with James Prince
- The Missing Piece (2018) Co-author
- A Word With JasFly (2018) - Podcaster
- What Men Want (2019) - Writer
- Dear 20’s (Unreleased) - Writer
- 40 Days of Dating (Unreleased) - Writer
- The Stan (2013) (Unreleased) - Writer