Jamal Moss never runs his mouth for nothing. He's being productive. No wonder, the DJ and producer, better known as Hieroglyphic Being, has over 50 albums under his bandcamp belt. He has released house records on labels like Axis and RVNG. Most of his electronic music comes through his own label, though: Mathematics. Ahead of his gig at Struma+Iodine, I reach Jamal over Zoom in his house in Chicago. We talk about his relationships, his upbringing in the house community and the wisdom Adonis gave him when he was younger. Jamal also explains why he no longer attends panels on afrofuturism and why we have to clean the history of the past.
Interview: Christoph Benkeser, Photography: Robert Featherson

How are you doing?

I was just talking to my cousin when I realized: I need to do something else right now! 

For a moment I thought you might have forgotten!

Nah, here I am! We were just talking about family stuff: life, love, the whole drama!

Is your cousin also living in Chicago?

Yeah, just five blocks away, but I am a hermit! When I am in Chicago, I do my work and that’s it! I don’t go out much. I’m paying too much money for my house to be running the streets all day.

How long have you been living in this house?

It’s been ten years now. My place is expensive, but you know what? Any place else is just as expensive, but twice as shitty! It’s not that I didn’t look at other places. There are houses built in the 1950s which are 300 dollars more — without indoor washer, dryer or any amenities. I’m like: Nah!

Is that the living situation in Chicago?

It’s the same in a lot of other places as well. Chicago is becoming New York in 1996. Even in a place that is considered high-crime, the rents are out of control. So, a lot of people cohabitate. To be honest: I don’t mind having a roommate, but I’ve been on my own for so long, I wouldn’t even know how to act with someone else in the house.

You’re living on your own then?

Yep. I tried to get into relationships in order to split the bill, but I just can’t do it!

Because you want to be on your own?

I would really love to be in a relationship, but relationships don’t like to be in love with me

Sounds like you’ve tried!

I really did. It’s so complicated, though. When it comes to people bonding, the dichotomy of society is ass-backwards. People do not know how to connect on the very basics. There is a lot of negative energy because they think they might come up with something better. Thing is: This mentality always breaks somebody down because somebody else wants to feel superior.

Has that changed over the years?

It has always been like this, but as humanity starts to wake up, it’s almost like we are biological AI. Of course, we are aware, but as we figure out the process, there are a lot of problems to get to this higher intellect.

What do you mean by that?

Let’s put it this way, to meet somebody in Chicago, it’s always like: How much do you make? What can you do for me?


Very competitive so to speak.

Yeah, I’m a giving and nurturing person. Maybe it’s because with other guys they never had it before, but the women I meet try to take advantage of me. They might not even do it consciously. They are just used to the negative vibration men had given them before. When a caring person like me comes along, they get the chance to take advantage of somebody. And they try. Have you ever seen Pretty in Pink?


Remember this nice and caring character Duckie? I am Duckie! I know all these women and I hear about them having orgies and threeways and all that shit chasing the bad boy or girl while I just sit here drinking my orange juice while being heartbroken or entertained by audacity, it helps with the creative juices for future projects.

So, you’re the good guy?

That’s just how it is. And it’s always complicated, especially if it gets more serious. Therefore, you have to listen to the universe sometimes. You know, I have rules: Don’t bring me no diseases and don’t bring me no bullshit!

That is very easy.

See, that’s why I work and stay home to avoid extra stress.

With all the work you do, there is no time for relationships anyway, isn’t it?

I am bringing myself to work to avoid being lonely. As far as I can tell, most women like me for sex. That’s the story of my life. When it comes down to relationship-relationships … Well … I was in a situation off & on for ten years, only because I had been given an enlightened perspective and hope from that interaction about getting a place together and traveling growing wiser with each other. All of a sudden she said to me: „I don’t want to do this anymore.“


Yeah, she set the tone and lied to me.

“Music is my therapy from all that bullshit.”

Seems like you had a lot of bad luck in that regard.

I would not call it bad luck. I am aloof and try to give everybody a chance. That’s how you make yourself vulnerable. Some people take advantage of that. To be honest, though: This is the reason I make so much music. Music is my therapy from all that bullshit.

So, if you release a lot of stuff like for all these years, that’s because you’re trying to process something?

Let me tell you this story: I met some jazz musicians back in the 90s. They were older guys, like 60 or 70 years of life experience. So, we were at this bar and they were telling me: „Welcome to the club.“ I didn’t understand, but they said: „You’re one of those who create and give back to earth.“ Thing is: They also told me that I could not have both — a loving relationship and a creative career. I didn’t believe it back then, but here I am: a 51-year-old guy realizing that they were right! 

You’re giving your life to creativity.

You know what they told me as well? That women would not allow you to have a greater love over them.

You mean over music, right?

Yeah, your art becomes the other woman. If you put too much attention into it, there’s no way it can work with somebody else.

So, you chose music over …

It’s not like I choose it. The universe has always had me in that lane. I have never done music to get booty or fame, I have been doing this because it is a higher calling.

Is there a spiritual element to your creative process?

Making music is my gift, yeah. I need to do this.

That explains the persistence of your creative output. I honestly stopped counting how much music you put out over the last couple of years.

I tried a lot of other things in life, but I always got bored. Music is the one thing that keeps me going even if it’s hard from time to time. When you hear the drama and trauma of all the other people in the scene or the world, it can drown you out. That’s why my tagline is „SOMUCHNOISE2BEHEARD“. I have used it since 2010, you know why? Because people spend a lot more time running their mouths than being productive.

We all like to from time to time, don’t we?

You know, I see that there’s a new generation and it’s their turn to make the world better. I am still learning as I go with pronouns and gender identity and Social movements, I really try. But when I see certain things, I’m like: Do I need to comprise my being now and  jump on the bandwagon to get a gig? A lot of dudes told me they openly say that they were feminists to get gigs. That’s so full of shit. Why would you speak for women when you are a man? You can’t identify because that’s not your struggle — you don’t know their pain and suffering. 

You can only talk for yourself, you mean?

Totally! I know baptists and hardcore bible Christians or normies who only queerbait or false flag gender equality as a propaganda campaign to get more gigs. Probably they got a PR team behind them because people fall for the snake oil.

You’ve never done that, you stayed true to yourself.

That’s why I can  only speak for myself, but I find it wrong to actively speak for other identities that I am not. I also rejected the whole afrofuturism thing.

Why did you?

It’s weird as hell because people would basically say that what you do is not for mainstream society and therefore not easily accepted. They just put a black term in front of the word future and say we are part of this other construct. But we are equal on all levels. When I said this, I was the glitch in the matrix. I believe that’s the reason they don’t invite me to panels anymore. 

They don’t invite you anymore because you spoke up?

You shouldn’t have to say afro house or black techno either. You just say techno or house it’s known by the culture who created that genre! When it comes to the people who help to evolve the music to the next level, why do they—the Industry—all of a sudden want to put „afro“ in front of it? 


To make a profit off of it?

You know what? Asians build the technology, black folks make the sound and gear hot and Europeans put the cash and resources in it to take it to the next level.

That’s what? The evolving circle of electronic music?

I talked to Adonis, my mentor, who was part of house music from the beginning. There is a big thing that people are not acknowledging. No disrespect to Francis Warren or The Warehouse, but house music didn’t come from there; the word house for events or gatherings has been around since the late 60’s. It was disco, R’n’B Dance classics or rare groove that was played there.

The reason house music really came about was because Chicago has always been a segregated city. You could not go to some places unless you knew somebody from a different class or culture who was like a gatekeeper for this world. For example, Sammy Davis Jr. could never navigate where he did if he wasn’t friends with Frank Sinatra. 

In Chicago, white people would come to a black party because they navigated with them — and it was cool. When I was coming up, the majority of the scene was not considered gay or didn’t identify as; it was one people, one culture, one family. It was about unity.

There were gay clubs or events, not in black & gay spaces, though. They played Hi-NRG music, even goth tunes, industrial and other popular music. Most of the non-black gay venues never supported house or techno until Madonna pushed it around 1990 and the culture got watered down.

Therefore, I find it weird when people say that house music started in the Queer or Black gay community. It wasn’t the case because that was all disco. You have to realize: In the early 80s, the majority of music was electronic. There were synths and keyboards everywhere. For black folks, disco wasn’t a term, though. That was that Bee Gees John Travolta shit. 

For us it was funk, boogie, Jazz Dance, Soul, R’n’B dance, Roller skate music! So, it fucks me up when people argue about who came up with house in the first place.

I can’t understand why people want to own the narrative.

Yeah, sure. Some created the propaganda that they created the global phenomenon which it has become. I say: If you had control and created it, how did you lose it?

“We have to clean the history of the past in order to come together in the future.”

That’s a good point.

They all started it, but nobody could answer how they lost it to the wrong people who disrespect them to this day. That’s where you start to rebuild, though. We have to clean the history of the past in order to come together in the future. 


Because all the bad seeds that were planted in the past have sprouted now and the trees have blossomed with rotten fruit.

“House music is the black counter culture.”

Can you tell me more about that?

We had our own style, energy and businesses. That was equity ownership in House culture. Nowadays, not so much with the local culture because of misinformation or misdirection.

We went through a lot to get to partys back then. You had to leave your house by a certain time to avoid getting robbed, shot or even harassed by the police. It was literally like the movie Warriors. So, these underground partys were our safe space. 

To be honest, though, I couldn’t get into the clubs for some time because I was too young. What would really sink in with me was DJs that played electronic music sets on the radio — on channels like WKKC, WBMX, WNUR — but also at sock hops, hotel ballroom events or block partys.

Do you have a memory associated with that?

It started with Ron Hardy for me. I don’t want to talk ill about the other person who takes the title, but Mr. Warren [Frankie Knuckles, Anm.] couldn’t stand the shit artistically that Hardy was doing. He saw it as some unpolished shit because Hardy would slam cassettes and records, reverse tunes, play on edited loop for 12 minutes, destroying the eq. People don’t realize that slamming is a form of DJ culture from the very beginning. It’s a forgotten art form, but one that brought in a lot of energy. I can’t get into too much detail here, but many gangs with different affiliations would come together at the same party and there was a truce for that period of time. So, you could go into a certain area and there was no violence because you came to party where people went to The Fort where house music was played. That was the power and energy of House mixing and music!


That is a very different narrative to what is out there — for example in books like „Assembling A Black Counter Culture“ from DeForrest Brown Jr.

I respect him, but: House music is the black counter culture. We never had to say it, we were just it — House Heads. I can’t tell you about his story, but I come from an era, where we weren’t accepted in a lot of places. We didn’t cry about it, though. We created our own community and built our own thing. When I see this generation of black artists saying that we need to make techno black again or House is a Black music, I try to be open and learn. Thing is: They direct it to the wrong people. I find it very Dave-Chapell-ish to see Black people giving lectures about the black counter culture movements to European people.

Instead of selling books or giving lectures on trauma porn and the struggle to European people who might care, we should get some grant writers or investors and build projects or spaces and events and festivals within our own community. Black folks need to hear that techno needs to be black again or about the historical and economic significance of House culture. If you went to the Popeyes by my place and said let’s make this black again they look at you like: „What the fuck you on about?” Therefore, we should go to black colleges and do a tour. In this process, you would not only support black artists but build a whole community from the bottom up.

In other words: People who have a platform or presence like me should take a different approach and do the groundwork that our counterparts did with their resources back in the day. 

“where I come from, it is considered a sellout to talk about the black struggle in front of a thousand white people”

That explains why you bristled against the afrofuturist panels where you find 100 intellectual white people listening to a few black people.

Yeah, we’re not even in the crowd! That’s what I brought up in one of those panels. I asked them: Who do you promote to? I see all these black people when I walk through your town, but where are they in this room? At this point, we were just talking to highly educated white people who already knew about the dichotomy in this culture. I don’t know about other people, but where I come from, it is considered a sellout to talk about the black struggle in front of a thousand white people and not have the same equal amount of your own in the same space.

Why would you consider that a sellout?

Because the people who should hear about that struggle and history are not in the room!

I get what you mean: You speak of preaching to the already converted. 

It’s only self-centered and not about the community at all, yeah! It looks weird to have a generation of young kids of color screaming: „We’re not represented!“ when the techno and house were created to have our own thing in the first place. 

At some point this place got lost, you said before.

Yes, nobody asks how we lost control of our music. The thing is: We can’t get it back unless we learn about the history and how we lost it. Part of the reason why I started my own label is structured in this. I was getting mad because I kept getting rejected from people that I thought didn’t respect me.

I approached many heads from Carl Cox, Dj Diz, Green Velvet and even Richie Hawtin at Smart Bar in Chicago once. I wanted to give him one of my demos. He looked at me and said: „Why don’t you put it out yourself?“ He wasn’t dissing me, he gave me advice. So, In 1994, I started making cassette tapes and sold them at rave partys. When I wanted to press my first record, I was on the phone ringing up electronic music magazines in the UK. You have to understand that back in the 90s, they were giving away pressing & distribution deals in the magazines  Eventually, someone heard me — I had my first record out in 96. People would still consider me unprofessional, though, because I didn’t have the correct mastering and that stuff, but I was fine. I used to stand outside the record shops and sold my shit. 

You were selling your records outside record shops?

Yeah, the guys from the shop would come out and tell me that I can’t do that. I did it anyway because I was on a hustle-mind and needed the money. The bottom line is: Every time you face resistance, you can find a way around it.

You told me that you also sold your records at rave partys. I once read that you made a little fortune selling your stuff by telling the people that your music sounded like Carl Craig and Richie Hawtin.

This is some Machiavellian shit, but I stand by it: We were at these raves and the kids were all high as a kite. As soon as the party was over and all of them were coming out to drive home, we told them: „Richie was great, huh? Guess what, we got music just like their shit!“ I would sell 300 tapes in one night!

That’s the hustle-mind you talked about! You sold your stuff, but you never sold yourself.

I know how the industry works and how fucked up it is. I am not pointing fingers here, I just want to grow a different branch where everybody can come together without all the ego stuff. You are not born into this world to be somebody else’s bitch. You can control your own destiny. Not necessarily by speaking, but by being pro-active about it and getting the work done. A lot of people never get to this point. They talk and talk and ruin themselves. Think about it: When people go to war, they don’t tell their enemy all their tactics. 

You mentioned the ego …

Yeah, the ego doesn’t allow people to be patient nowadays. Back in the day, you could pop in a VHS and watch shit for six hours. Today, people’s attention span is down to 15 seconds, everybody wants to have all of it now. That’s not how things work. You have to stay the course. Maybe the first years are just research and development. But after some time, your persistence will pay off.

You have been doing this for over 30 years, you should know.

I like how people say that I put out too much music now, but as said before: It is therapy to me. At the same time it’s training, too. There might come the day when some Sony executive finds out about my music and pedigree and offers me a deal to produce younger people or run a house label. That might cut me a big check for my expertise. In the end it’s all Mathematics.

Many thanks for the interview!

Hieroglyphic Being is performing in Vienna on 31/03/23 at FLEX. Find full information here.

Hieroglyphic Being