Roots & Branches: The Make-Do-With-What-You-Got-Ness of Jaci Caprice Clark

If anyone truly embodies the spirit of Next Level, it is Jaci Caprice Clark. The Detroit-based producer and vocalist’s relentlessly positive attitude was apparent from the moment she joined the Next Level family as the beatmaker for Team Zimbabwe. After the residency ended, she contributed her insight to our orientations and other programs, and more recently she has taken on a larger role as the site manager for our residencies in Croatia and Azerbaijan.

Through all of these endeavors, her enthusiastic, artist-centered approach has built bridges between multiple cultures and communities. Which makes her a perfect choice for the next installment of our “Roots & Branches” series.

In this series, we look at the long-term, ongoing results of Next Level programs – sometimes long after the residencies end. How do the seeds that we have planted take root and grow? In previous posts, we have discussed how Next Level has influenced artists’ attitudes towards educationtechnologycommunity building and emotional healing. This time, we speak with Jaci about developing a culturally sensitive approach to professionalism in the arts. What does it mean to be an artist? How does one balance one’s artistic goals with more mundane responsibilities of life? How does this balance differ between cultures? What insights can be shared across cultures?

One of the first steps to answering these questions, Jaci observes, is to respect the professional challenges faced by hip-hop artists working in diverse social and cultural environments.

“Each place I go, people are serious about this,” Jaci says. “They’re not playing. They’re not trying to emulate what they see in America. They’re seeing what we have going on here, but they’re putting their flavor to it. And that’s exactly what hip-hop is about: you bringing your story, putting your flavor, and making something out of it. And I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve gone.”

Jaci uses this artist-centered view to build bridges that are both personal and professional at the same time. “I’m the type of person who is very relationship- and communication-oriented so this is the perfect situation for someone like me, who is about establishing and maintaining relationships. In hip-hop, it’s reciprocal! It’s not just me. We’re here to learn and we’re here to teach. It serves a dual purpose. All three residencies I’ve been on, that’s held true. I’ve learned so much.”

Once that mutual connection is made, each exchange naturally on its own character, based on the goals and interests of the participants on both sides. “We get the artists to come together as a group and go to different countries and to teach these workshops and stuff,” she acknowledges. “But on the flipside of that, we’re artists too. So there are certain things that we should also want to experience, that will help us grow as well. We come to fine-tune our skills, as well as gain new ones, while connecting with artists in other countries. And in my experience this is always achieved. It is an amazing exchange!”

And that doesn’t end when the residency ends. “There is so much that happens within that small bit of time,” she reflects. “It’s become a global family.”

“I’ll have artists checking on me from Croatia – like, ‘What up, sis? What are you up to?’ – and they’ll send me newspaper clippings [of what they’re doing]. In Zimbabwe, there’s a beatmaker who is establishing his own creative lab for the community and he’ll ask me, like, ‘Hey, what do you think of this proposal?”

“People like to bounce a lot of ideas off of me from every one of those countries. And I’m honored. Because that shows that there is trust and that a relationship has been established. I think that that’s the whole point of what we do at Next Level: to establish and maintain relationships. And that’s what I do!”

For Jaci, the connections are deep and personal. In fact, she was surprised at how comfortable she has felt in many of the places she has visited…especially Zimbabwe. “It was like, honestly, stepping out of my front door and walking back into my front door,” she laughs. “It was the same feel. And the hustle, the drive, the passion, the make-do-with-what-you-got-ness. And then using that to produce a product that’s just outstanding with very little, you know what I mean? And just the heart of hip-hop. Just having that soul. Not it being like a money maker, but it being a mode of creativity, a community connection, and really just getting your voice and your mission out.”

“That’s what I really took from Zimbabwe, and that’s really why I have such a love and a passion and a connection. I mean, if I could live there or have a house there, or something, I would. That would definitely be a place that I would want to have some roots there because of our like missions and visions. So I stay really close with several of them.”

In the end, she says, the one thing that connects all Next Level participants is their commitment to their art and to each other. “They’re doing it. And a lot of times, I find that a lot of them are doing it better than we are! As artists, we learn so much. “

“We become networked, because people are serious about their passions.”

Check out “Beat Maker’s Anthem,” by Jaci and her students in Zimbabwe:

Jaci writes: Produced in Harare, Zimbabwe by the phenomenal beat makers who participated in the Next Level workshops, and recorded at Art and Life Inc. studio in Harare –done in less than an hour (amazing!), the stems from the recorded session were then given to and mixed by me at ThinkingCap Productions Studieux in Detroit, Michigan.

This “Anthem” is the result of a collaboration between beat makers from different cities out and around Harare (the capital of Zimbabwe)who came together to produce a “sound” that we call “ZIMerican Music”. And it is only the BEGINNING of a work that will continue to be done through Hip Hop in Zimbabwe and beyond.

We are the “Digital Drummers Circle”…

Tamba nevamwe–
tamba nevamwe, shamwari!
*(chant repeated)*

Chant Translation:*
“Tamba” means play or dance
“Ne Vamwe” means with others.
“Shamwari” means friend.

So, it means “dance or play with others my friend!”

For more info on Jaci’s work, follow her on: