Jeff Campbell’s genius can sneak up on you if you’re not careful. Unlike many rappers, he’s not the type to lead with his résumé, so allow me to do so.
He was one of the first Denver rappers to get a distribution deal as far back as the early ’90s. He was the founder of the Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition. He parried his lyrical gift into play writing in 2013’s satire, “Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?” directed by the incomparable donnie l. betts. Then, in 2018, he launched the Emancipation Theatre Co. with their flagship play, “Honorable Disorder,” which yours truly had the privilege of starring in.
Now, Jeff Campbell returns as the rapper Apostle to flow about what matters. In true hip-hop fashion, the single “Message to the Mayor” literally speaks for the streets.
Campbell brings an all-star lineup to the project. Heavy hitters from the Mile High rap scene like Kingdom, Sandman and Chill, join the Apostle for a scathing, lyrically rich, socially conscious anthem calling out Mayor Hancock for this city’s treatment of humans experiencing homelessness. Soulful Denver native Kid Astronaut adds his smooth, youthful vocals to an irrepressibly kinetic track that satisfies hip-hop purists and music-lovers alike.
This isn’t Campbell’s first attempt to get the mayor’s attention on this subject. His Allies to Abolitionists coalition wrote a detailed list of demands to confront the scourge of homelessness and to end the sweeps of our unhoused neighbors. It came with a list of civically responsible and reasonable demands, among them amenities like safe outdoor spaces, hand washing stations and toilets at the encampments.
Then, Allies to Abolitionists stepped it up with a YouTube video from a plethora of concerned citizens. The message was simple: Denver can do better than this, and leadership on these issues start at the top.
“We released it as a PSA, but it wasn’t able to get the traction because Facebook has blocked ads of a political nature,” says Campbell. Still, the quest to raise awareness continued.
Homeless veterans are at the center of Campbell’s concerns, which led to him centering a vet in his play, “Honorable Disorder.” I asked Campbell when his interest on this subject began. It turns out Hancock himself activated Jeff on this issue.
“Mayor Hancock has a long history of being averse to providing support for homelessness,” Campbell says. “He literally criminalized being on the streets.”
Campbell’s tone grew more incredulous and upset as he described the mayor’s stances.
“During his campaigns, he said that he was homeless at one point in his life. That really seems inconsiderate and cold-hearted that someone who was in that position at one point in their lives themselves would be so harsh to put an urban camping ban in place, and keep it during a global health crisis.”
After pressing the issue through his activist channels, Jeff Campbell decided to pick up the mic. Inspired by producer Mic Coates’ viral video, “I Can’t Breathe Again,” released during last summer’s BLM protests, Campbell reached out to the acclaimed producer. When Mic agreed, the all-star cast of performers, and the rest is history, unfolding.
No matter where you stand on the issues of Denver’s growing homelessness crisis, there are certain things we can all agree on. One of them is that due to COVID’s impact on the economy, it’s going to get worse.
Anecdotally, when I have fed the homeless, I see them getting younger and younger. At the food banks I’ve volunteered at, the clientele is diversifying on socioeconomic lines, rapidly.
Crisis like these are what spawned hip-hop to begin with. Like the genre, Jeff Campbell the Apostle has regained momentum in these troubling times.
It’s good to see real MCs can still rock the mic, and hopefully, the world!
Theo Wilson of Denver is a poet, speaker, author and activist.
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