For about as long as there has been popular music, there have been songs about coffee. From Frank Sinatra to Otis Redding, Kate Bush to Black Flag, Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash, coffee has been the topic of songs from some of the most famous singers in American music history. Mostly recently, Kelly Rowland added her own very good entry to the coffee canon with a single titled, simply, “COFFEE“. But save for maybe 90s punk act The Descendents—a bunch of dorks and caffeine fiends who sang about coffee regularly and had multiple pieces of coffee-related merch—the world’s favorite beverage is rarely more than a device to tell a different story.
Enter Propaganda, the stage name of Los Angeles-based hip-hop and spoken word artist, author, podcast host, and activist Jason Petty who has just today, Friday, May 22nd released a new song, “If Coffee Were A Man.” As the title suggests, the spoken word over a beat piece imagines what coffee would be like in the context of personhood. Appearing on both the upcoming book and album for the LA-based polymath, the new track draws from his deep affinity for and knowledge of coffee—how many songs do you know that reference a Porlex hand grinder or have a video that begins by making a pour-over? But the message runs deeper; it's a track that rewards repeat listens.
We spoke with Propaganda via digital communique to learn more about the making of “If Coffee Were A Man,” this visuals in the video, and his own coffee journey.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Hey Prop! By way of introduction, can you tell our readers a little more about yourself?
Sure, my name is Propaganda. I am from South Central Los Angeles and I've lived in pretty much every corner of LA County. I am a hip hop/spoken word artist, and as of last week an author! I do a lot of justice and advocacy work around black and brown communities. I serve on the board of directors for Preemptive Love, a non-profit organization operating in Syria, Iraq, and Venezuela. Pretty much anywhere there is a refugee crisis Preemptive Love is. I also lead a podcast with my wife Dr. Alma Zaragoza Petty, PhD in educational equity called the Red Couch Podcast as well as another podcast called Hood Politics. And I drink a ton of coffee.
So where did the idea for “If Coffee Were A Man” come from? What's the message you want listeners to take away from it?
The idea originated with some homie Sekajipo from Panther Coffee in Miami and from Black Rooster. This idea of 4th wave coffee being coffee for the people. So he was the one that said the first line to me as a writing prompt, “If coffee were a man, it would be a black man.” The poem is a part of my new album and book called Terraform, set to be released later this year.
I guess one of the biggest takeaways is a reclaiming of a narrative of sorts. Coffee, like many things the world enjoys, was invented by or originated from people of color. More specifically black people. A lot of times, this truth get lost. And I feel like it's important not only for us consumers but for all the farmers across the world, who have to live along the equator for the coffee to even grow, to know and to recognize what a gift the people are to us, also the gift that sits right in our cups. Hopefully people will catch the metaphor of how we could be treating each other so much better than we actually are. Ultimately I would hope that it would inspire people to treat each other better.
You drop quite a few deeper coffee references—Porlex, natural processing, etc—what's your involvement with specialty coffee? How plugged in are you with that world?
Basically my intro to specialty coffee happened by accident. In the process of touring as an independent artist, you stop before the show and grab a cup of coffee and notice how much longer this cup takes than the cup at 7-11. And then in those late-night rides between cities you stop at a gas station and get some coffee to keep you up for the drive and now you can totally tell the difference. If I'm really specific I'd say the city of Portland basically converted me. My record label is based there and we just got used to a certain quality of coffee. Next thing I know baristas are recognizing me as I walk into shops, my music was featured in A Film About Coffee, and I would get @ mentioned on social media that baristas had my music playing out of the booths at Expo. Once upon a time, I owned a little micro roaster called Left Roasters. But as you know, you can't launch a specialty coffee brand part-time. So I was content with just learning on my own and really just being a fan of specialty coffee.
In the video, there are quite a few scenes set in Africa, including a coffee ceremony. Was this a coffee-related origin trip?
The trip was with a relief organization called Food for the Hungry. I was with them doing some relief work in Ethiopia. I specifically asked to go to Ethiopia obviously for the coffee, but also on a personal note. Throughout my life I've been mistaken for Ethiopian. And not just by anyone but by actual Ethiopians. As a matter of fact while we were in the country, the security guards never checked my passport. We would be at restaurants and the waiters would look to me to translate for everyone else. So for me there was the relief work, there was my passion for coffee, being at the birthplace of coffee, but also in the homeland of my ancestors.
I know that's a much deeper answer than you were asking but the moment was so special. And that coffee ceremony that's in the video was completely impromptu. The video doesn't show me balling in tears from the beauty! Lol I met that lady that served us, not even an hour before that moment. She is one of the family's Food For The Hungry servers. We struck up some small talk. I bought something from her little corner store. She was also convinced my ancestry was Ethiopian, and it just kind of moved her so much that she invited us to her backyard to make some coffee.
During quarantine, you've also been doing Pourigami Fridays on Instagram. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Yes! So Pourigami Fridays came out of a conversation with me and Brian Papé, the founder of the drinkware company Miir, who are the inventors of the Pourigami pour-over product. We've been cooking up some cool partnership ideas, including a coffee club in the style of a wine club. As the seriousness of quarantining was becoming more and more obvious, we were trying to think of ideas to A. sell some merch! B. keep spirits up, and finally figure out a way to support all these rad roasters that have lost all their foot traffic. So every Friday morning on my Instagram live I feature a different roaster then I shoot the breeze and I make a pour-over with one of my artist friends. We then post a discount code on my website for the folks to order from that roaster.
What's been cool is a lot of my buddies have gotten into specialty coffee because of me. But they didn't have all the tools and know all the language that I know around coffee culture so they felt like they weren't in the know enough to participate. But they really love coffee. I feel like that represents pretty much the rest of the world. We all love coffee but everyone doesn't have a burr grinder. So I just wanted a fun way to have some entertainment and support all of my coffee partners. And also lead the way in knowing that the best cup of coffee is the one in your holding.