Life and Arts

Existing Between Artist and Student

An artist of multiple mediums balances life between Oakland and Humboldt State University student life

Jhsiri “Siri” Emerson-Massey does more than just rap.

Even though her last name holds a reputation in the genre, the Humboldt State University student prefers the term “artist” and expresses herself in more ways than one.

A lot of people don’t see art as profitable. We think of it as just a hobby and you can make it a lifestyle,” she said. “We are forced to take science and math, but art is just as important.”

Jhsiri Emerson-Massey

With roots in Black and Asian heritage, the Oakland native is harnessing her platform to make change in the community. As an artist of color, she sees a need to prioritize art alongside education.

“A lot of P.O.C. have a generational hold where they don’t take their education seriously. I don’t fault my people for that,” she said. “The way we look at things is because of history, and it translates into the future.”

Most of her work in music has been in her home base. She spent her spring break in the Bay Area, mixing music at parties under her DJ name, DJ Mouse Twat, hosting club events.

Even when she has a break from school, the 21-year-old keeps herself busy and doesn’t lose artistic momentum.

“If you’re a creative person, you are going to create,” she said. “Im a city kid, I’m always doing stuff.”

From Oakland to the Redwoods

In the HSU ceramics lab, she brushes a layer of underglaze onto a clay figure she sculpted. Instead of the monochrome streetwear she glistens in on stage, she wears loose, printed pants, a black tee and beanie.

“I come here to get my rehab on,” Siri said. “Doing art in the city is different than doing art out here. It can be stressful, but once you’re done it’s rewarding.”

Siri moved to Humboldt right after she graduated high school in 2015. After four years at the university, Siri is participating in the May graduation ceremony. In December, she will receive her  bachelor’s degree in art education.

She focuses on making art for school during the week and takes a seven-hour bus ride home every other week to work on her music.

Both her parents are college graduates and growing up in a family of artists and musicians, Siri was raised to see the value in both art and education.

“A lot of people don’t see art as profitable. We think of it as just a hobby and you can make it a lifestyle,” she said. “We are forced to take science and math, but art is just as important.”

Hip-Hop Heritage

Her parents, Tajai Massey and Acacia Emerson, instilled the importance of art in her at an early age by being both artists and college graduates.

Her mother draws, sings and crafts handmade upcycled furniture – like a TV console made from pallets in Siri’s apartment in Arcata.

Siri’s father, Tajai Massey is a rapper and started the hip-hop group Souls of Mischief in the early 90s. The team of rappers also belong to the Hieroglyphics Crew and have become a staple of underground hip-hop, especially in Oakland.

Raised alongside the Hiero legacy, expectations of Siri’s musical success were high.

“People group me with my dad because of lineage and think I’m some sort of music prodigy,” Siri said. “I have no problem with that, because it’s a dope lineage to be part of, but I do a lot of other things too.”

Projects and Future Visions

Her first project, G.L.O.E. or Give Love Over Everything came out in 2016. She writes lyrics and music for songs and links up with producers through Twitter for the beat.

Jhsiri Emerson-Massey performs at Feels 6, an art and music exhibition on June 16, 2018 in Richmond, Calif. | Photo courtesy of Saliaha Saadiq

The multifaceted project is a layer of brutal rhymes and bars on top of rhythmic and sultry beats. The juxtaposition is striking. Since then, she has not released a project, but is constantly creating.

“I try to make new stuff every time I go home, but I don’t want to just be putting things out,” she said. “I hold on to my art a lot, it’s a bad habit. You don’t grow if you stay in the same position.”

Her time at Humboldt State has helped her grow as a person and an artist, and she is not sure she wants to leave the student life behind after she graduates.

“School’s easier than real life. When you graduate, shit hits the fan and you gotta figure it out,” she said. “However long it takes to figure myself out.”

Before she starts “real life,” Siri wants to travel the world and visit place like Japan and China.

Her dream is apply her learned experiences to her Oakland community. Siri wants to use her degree to start an art education non-profit.

The organization would provide kids with opportunities to experience and learn about art – something she realizes not every parent instills in their child as hers did.

“I want to re-establish the importance of education in our communities. You don’t only have to be one thing, you can use all those skills,” Siri said. “You can make music and also go to school for business.”

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