Cocoa Cure: The Cocoa Brovaz
From the ranks of the Hip Hop nation come two young soldiers with hearts and minds calibrated by the winds of change. The Cocoa Brovas, aka Smif-N-Wessun, have garnered their heavy-duty armor while fighting the many uphill struggles in their career. They met in grade school and bonded in brotherhood through their high school years. With a decade of industry experience under their belts, they are armed and ready for the new dawn of their victory in the game.
They recall their first memories of Hip Hop culture with melancholy and humor. "I never thought I was going to be into Hip Hop," says the amicable Steele. "When I was a little kid I used to draw. I used to stay up every night they had this radio show in New York Stretch Armstrong is like one of the sole survivors of that shit. The Awesome Two, Hank Love they used to rock every night and I was UP so I could come to school the next day and play the exclusive shit they played on the radio I made a set of headphones from speakers, cuz they aint have no headphones out that was loud enough plus I was broke so I really couldnt afford none of the expensive headphones."
Tek - steady but often silent describes their first encounters with music with a smile. "There was this kid named Chase who used to rock with us he was doin' somethin and he and Steele was rockin together. Then came Buckshot from Black Moon, then Smif-N-Wessun was born." Steele continues, "Everything we was doin and everything we was livin was similar. When we finally hooked up with Buck in 91 or 92 it was like family the way we was buildin with each other. We was already reppin Bucktown BK thats the heart right there."
Their first release as Smif-N-Wessun, Dah Shinin, is considered a Hip Hop classic by many fans, although they insist they never set out to make a classic it just happened. Their contract situation was classic as well but at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of success. The duo describes the time as a learning experience. "It was shaky and nervous. It was our first introduction to the game," says Tek. Steele agrees, "It was a nice lesson for us we were able to put out one of the Hip Hop classics - and work with one of the greatest producing crews, Da Beatminerz so that enabled us to come into the game and introduce Smif-N-Wessun and our styles and our conversation to the world and that was peace. Then for the second album to move on to another record label, that was another good experience for us it taught us how shady the game truly can be. Never take anything for face value its always about hard work and doin what you do thats why we titled that second album Rude Awakening. Then bein blessed to be able to come back again on another label and another negotiation as a debut when we had done other albums in between those albums."
The list of artists that the Cocoa Brovas have collaborated with over the years reads impressively Wu Tang, Havoc, Afu Ra, Cella Dwellas, Tupac, and recently Nikka Costa to name a few and the Brooklyn duo are frank about keeping an open mind in the projects they select. They had the opportunity on Rude Awakening to work with Eek A Mouse, and they both offer much praise of the reggae legends talent. "We had him in the CD player and we just heard some vibes and was like yo we wanna work with him the call went down then plane tickets," says Tek. Steele concurs, "We tracked him down basically. Thats the beautiful thing about Hip Hop you cant bring limitations on that. Im glad that the Hip Hop community was able to let us do something like that because Eek A Mouse is an ill artist. It probably went over a few peoples heads, but to the OGs of music and Hip Hop origin who like classical stuff that was really for them."
Steele admits that the name change to Cocoa Brovas, which was spurred by a lawsuit from the large gun company who did not approve of the Smif-N-Wessun moniker, was a definite challenge in their career. "Marketing-wise it set us back," he says. "Because of the packaging, people wanna go for the package if youre going to buy Johnson & Johnson baby powder youre gonna find it youre not going for the next best thing. We made a strong comeback on Rude Awakening - we were able to put out songs like "Black Trump" and "One On One" and reinvent ourselves in a sense."
To further damage the Rude Awakening project, a few bad write-ups seemed to jade the already poorly promoted project further. "Certain journalists can hurt an artist so much just bad mouthin them just wantin to see themselves so big they can be the one who cause peoples careers to go down the drain," says Tek. "Just a couple of weeks ago the website was flooded with people saying I never listened to the Rude Awakening album and now Im goin back to it yo, this is like one of the hottest albums that was put out that year, but automatically because of what they read or the first couple of songs they heard they said aw that aint Smif-N-Wessun."
Two record deals and several unfinished projects later, Tek and Steele had to watch as other artists raped their style and creative ideas. "We pioneered a lot of artists movements," says Steele. "Like we did a Spanish Harlem then you turn around and you got Puffy comin right up behind us and do a Spanish Harlem and put Hurricane G in the same joint and it blows up Oh WOW a new vibe!. You got us doin Black Trump or One On One I mean these are hot songs with hot videos and then you got cats thats tryin to come behind us and do it like its just been done and they just thought of these things last night. At the same time you got Cocoa Brovas sittin at the edge of the bridge like Yeah we watchin you cats come and go."
Alongside the groups difficult times have come some memorable encounters with people who have affected them greatly in their work. Their recollection of recording with Tupac during a time in Hip Hop that Tek describes as "the orange of the fire" is vivid and emotional. Steele quiets the room as he speaks of a time when one mans passion made such an impact on them. "It was more than just working with son. We spent seven days out there in his house and we sat and we talked about a lot of different things. We didnt get into beef, cuz it was in the middle of East-West beef. I mean he was so charged with havin us down there. We was sittin amongst each other, and I remember the most important thing him sayin was yo, I wanna bring this whole east west shit back we do this one nation album, we gonna do the first album over here, then the second album we want yall to do it on Duck Down. We was just buildin I mean it was just so electric in the room and we sittin in the room like we known each other for a while it wasnt no contracts, it wasnt no women in bikinis runnin around, it wasnt no music or a whole bunch of gang bangers or nothing like that it wasnt all the things you may [read] about in the magazines or see on TV. It was soldier to soldier comrade to comrade. We watched a video he just did, we smokin back, smokin mad week til we all passed the fuck out, then we get up sons just laid out. I mean this was in the middle of a war, and hes in the bed asleep. But we get up and its all love. Wed get up and have breakfast there wasnt no bitches runnin around in the pool we grab water guns and we start playin then at night time we was in the studio the Outlawz would come scoop us up. They welcomed us."
In keeping with the vibes of unity that they felt with Tupac, Steele makes it very clear that the Cocoa Brovas are advocates of growth and change in Hip Hop, but they still hold the culture and elements in high regard. "Hip Hop has created a lot of jobs for people and created a way for a lot of hopeless youths. In the Americas where you have so many different ethnic groups a lot of us are not from this muhfucka even a lot of white people are not even from here so what kinda culture does a young Polish kid have, or a young Jewish kid? The same thing goes for a young Black kid cuz most of us will claim the street life, and the same thing from a suburban cuz thats street also. Hip Hop has become this thing where so many people can come in and if you respect the rules and regulations of Hip Hop then [its okay] cuz you know, Hip Hop is a culture rap is just something we do within the culture. Theres dance and art, graffiti its a beautiful thing its a big melting pot. Thats why a lot of corporations want in on it. Thats why a lot of corporations want to stop it also."
He continues in a disapproving tone, "You see Hip Hop in a state of turmoil. The cats who get the most attention are the ones who got controversy. Its not even about the music anymore its about they livin or how many times they got arrested or who fightin who." Their admiration for their loyal fans is evident, and Tek expresses the duos acceptance of the affection regardless of who their fans are. "We dont discriminate," he states firmly. "As long as they showing that they appreciate the music cuz good music is good music no matter who makes it. As long as they enjoyin the music then its all good."
Realizing that their past situations did set them back, the Cocoa Brovas do their best to press on with the knowledge that they have made some timeless music in the process. "Sometimes it hurts," says Steele, "cuz sometimes people say its classic then you got other cats where it seems like a gold album is just handed down to them. We were never ones to have a lot of airplay. Even in New York, were straight underground cats but weve done songs with some of the best artists out there the artists that you love and weve got bills to pay and kids to feed the same way. In that respect it fucks with the psyche a little bit. But when you on the train or going to get your milk and bread and you see one of those little kids or that older dude working for Con Edison and he stops the truck and hes yellin yo I love yall man, yo son keep it up! just that right there makes you wanna go back in the house and write some hot shit and come back and just wanna keep goin harder. Just that one person who took some time out of his day or his life to say that and those people like that those are not the dickriders those are the men of respect and the women of respect and we appreciate that shit."
Knowing that even the loyalist of fans can be critical about who their favorite artists collaborate with - when it comes down to making a living in music, neither Tek or Steele see any fault in emcees collaborating with R&B or pop singers. "Sometimes its not even about makin money they might really like that group," says Steele. "Dont sit back and think that rappers only listen to rap music. [Cats] do be bumpin soft rock, cats do be listenin to classical rap music comes from different music and different cultural backgrounds. Hip Hop dont hate on nobody, so dont get into that extremist view that Hip Hop is not supposed to be this or that. We are the ancestors of creativity."
Tek and Steel, by any name they choose to call their army, are strong in their message of freedom and growth. As for their bottom line concerns, Steel states with fervor, "Babies. Life and death. We are preservers of life and anything that threatens life and the liberty of that were against it. We are for self-determination. If you got something on your mind, speak your mind. Dont come in here thinkin everythings gonna go your way thats where the soldier mentality comes from thats the militant way of thinking. Stand strong on your own two. Do what you gotta do to get through if youre for real then you know the deal, cuz our ancestors before us paved the way."
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