Anti-thug.com Interview: BROTHER J OF X-CLAN
Exclusive Brother J audio interview available on website.
Anti-thug.com: A lot of people nowadays who listen to hip hop in the 21st century may not know who the X-Clan are and the impact that they made on the conscious hip hop movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, what can you tell me about the X-clan and what they represent?
Brother J: X-Clan is a Brooklyn based team who rose in the era of revolution, the early 90s were probably close to what the early 60s were, I'm sure we weren't dealing with as higher level as oppression as they were, but for our generation it was the closest that we've come to that. Police brutality was at a high, senseless death as far as youth is concerned. Just so much outlandish racial behavior and we were the one group to address these things through music and still remain rhythmic enough to be entertainers, so we rode the thin line to where a lot of people who build on positive things have missed the clubs, have missed the dance floor. We captured both elements and we captured the street as well.
Anti-thug.com: Why the name X-Clan?
Brother J: It wasn't a Malcolm X thing necessarily, X-Clan represents a crossroads of four individuals who came together for a purpose and when you come together at a crossroads in life and you fulfill your necessity or purpose then you go back to fulfill you elements in life and that's basically what we did at the time.
Anti-thug.com: In 1997 you joined the Dark Sun Riders, who were they and why did the X-Clan part ways?Brother J: Well in 1994 I formed an organization called the Dark Sun Riders, 1997 is when the music peaked, because people underground were looking for wisdom. They were getting tired of the overrun-I can’t say gangsta vibe- because red black and green is the original gangsta. When you think of black nationalists we were the ones who used to understood the streets on many levels. WE had to use the streets as survival, but we learned to serve and give back to the streets when we got older. I would say that DSR was a continuance of the Clan, as I explained about the crossroads you come together; you serve your purpose and go back on your road to fulfill what your destiny is.
With DSR I wanted to keep teamwork alive. I didn't want to come out as a solo artist, Im known as a verbalist, I'm known as a lyrcist, I could easily come out with a solo project. I feel that's very egotistical and I wanted to be remember as one who tries to bring a gathering so people could understand that if you hang with somebody then it should be somebody that you can recognize within 10 or 20 years, it should be like a your kids playing with their kids type of thing. The Dark Sun Riders represents a family.
Anti-thug.com: As political activists who use the tools of media to voice an expression, what type of message do you think that your audience needs to hear? And why?
Brother J: Well the media was never really our friend in the beginning, a lot of these magazines that are out right now are really young and they didn't really understand what was happening, we had a lot of support from the underground…underground magazines, a lot who are not out right now. But when people say political activist, when you are speaking against politics controlling the people, the media is never your true tool. You want to find people who can become media assasins, like Harry Allen a good friend of mine who was a part of Public Enemy as a media assassin, these are the kind of people that you want to have in your camp so when they do try to slander you and blackball your sound and misinterpret your sound, you have someone that can basically say, "That's not what's happening, let me give you the real deal!"
Groups today don't give a care about that at all. They just hire a publicist and whatever is said; you know if the slander brings them more sales they roll with it, but as a black nationalist you really want the media on your side to let them know what your doing to assist people. You're not just trying to just say, Black Black Black and not care care about any race. All races come from us. We are the indigenous people and since we are that you have to start from where the original juice is to teach other. All I want to do is say "Lets build an example of civilization so people can learn from us again." If we don't show that then we never prove who we are. If we continue to show the barbaric side or the angry side of who we are then they will always judge us as that.
Anti-thug.com: Excellent point. Now when it comes to categorizations, its quite often that the X-Clan is mentioned with the likes of a Public Enemy, KRS1, Poor Righteous Teachers, and some may even say Dead Prez. I also read a Rolling Stone article that one of the members, Paradise the Architect, went so far as to say that the X-Clan gave birth to the neo-conscious hip-hop movement, specifically Brooklyn natives Mos Def and Talib Kweli of Blackstarr. Who are some of your influences in Hip-hop and how do you feel about its current evolution?
Brother J: Well I'm always honored to be mentioned with the likes of Public Enemy and KRS, these brothers were already in the game. When I used to go to Latin Quarters and sit in the booth, I was a guest of Paradise the Architect, he was one of the original founders of LQ, LQ was one of the original grounds of hip hop. Where all of the originators got their first start. Public Enemy, KRS, UltraMagnetic, Kool Mo Dee, Melly Mel, Red Alert was the DJ of the night. So many groups got their start there. Basically is was the nucleus of what New York was talking about as far as where you go to find out where what was coming next.
When I saw those brothers first perform, it was always looking at the lyrical side of what they were doing. I joined Blackwatch years later by meeting Professor X, I showed them exactly what I had in store. I had developed my lyrics to where they were talking about different issues going on in the street. I was a young traveler. The train was my iron horse as I rode through the city and picked up jewels. Ultramagnetic gave me the opportunity in their house and from there we got a deal with Island Records and the rest was history. Rakim was signed there, Abu and a lot of other cats left the label due to politics, but we helped the label blow up. Currently I just moved out to Cali to find out the next wave of consciousness on this side. New York is overwhelmed with too many artists right now. There is no room for power moves unless you're trying to compete with the Roc-a-Fellas and the Bad Boys and so on. Right now their history is too deep rooted, Ja Rule has more history than us right now for a younger head than what we have done for an entire era. The education has to continue to build.
Anti-thug.com: It's interesting that you brought that point up with regards to historical hip-hop in the 80s and 90s as compared to contemporary hip-hop. One of the most recent things in media is the KRS1 beef between him and Nelly. I've read essays to where KRS speaks on Nelly's respect for hip-hop or his embracement of hip-hop because he perputates the commerciality of it. How do feel about the definition of true hip hop and how do you feel specifically about KRS1 going up against someone with the likes of Nelly?
Brother J: I don't see someone with the likes of Nelly's caliber going up against a person like KRS1. KRS1 was and is the greatest showmen in hip-hop. I think what KRS's point is that we can no longer continue to let the commercial situation sell more units than the intelligent artist. We don't get this headroom. You know its not like I'm intelligent, buy my record over Nelly's. When you have that many people coming your way, you have to start adjusting your words a little better. Because the youth have no more options to buy records anymore. When your records come out saying "take off all your clothes, yippee kiyay, throw your Moet, or whatever.." I know what I hear and I know it reflects to. There is a time and place for everything; the consumer is the controller of what happens and what not. I think KRS's situation of boycotting this brother's music should've been directed at the audience more so than Nelly. I think the message should've gone to the consumer, because Nelly can't buy his own records, man. He's selling 7 million records coming off the head because he's fresh out of a place that really didn't have anybody. When's the last time you heard of somebody come out of St. Louis. They controlled their area so people supported.
So we should be happy that we can get areas to support black music, but I think that KRS was pointing out that we should have quality control over what we support. If you're one minded and you're talking about one dimensional things then the kids are going to be one-dimensional and I don't want to have thug mentality always on the platter. You have to know what the evolution of that is. These artists that come out now are going to keep glorifying the bling-bling…because who has the diamonds. We don't have any diamond shops that we sell. We don't have the Jaguar companies, the Mercedes companies, so you have to think about who has that. We don't have any Courvoisier plant. You're not supporting me when you do that. (These commercial rappers) gotta do that to get that out there. People are so caught up in the labels, that when you see it on the videos you want that real brand. As black folks we gotta lot of ego, its our fault this industry is like this.
Anti-thug.com: We touched briefly about mainstream vs underground. Do you think that since hip hop has become mainstream that there needs to be a balance between "Shake your booty, bitch better have my money" music as compared with "Black people unite, black people get free" music, or is there a balance?
Brother J: The commercial feeds off the underground. Half the cats that come to any city will go to the grimiest club to find somebody rhyming on the mic that's not singing some sing-a-long kinda song. They want to hear some raw rhyming and scratching and so on. And they will take that back into their commercial and win with that. Janet Jackson has done it, Mariah Carey has done it. A lot of these top performers have been influenced from the underground. So it's a food cycle, but the underground gets is anger. We have to say to ourselves, "well damn, their getting influenced from me. I have to heighten my game, I have to heighten my platforms. We have to get in more magazines and more labels that are stronger." Underground people don't respect each other, but if we take our demo to Dreamworks or somebody we're going to make sure that demo is super polished. We don't respect each other. So the line of where the music is supposed to be is thin, the booty shaking music is from people like Afrika Bambatta, "boom boom skerrch" it's the same thing everytime. Bambatta's conscious, where is bambatta from? Underground. It's a cycle, they eat off us but they don't give it back. The line will be drawn naturally tho, trust me. Because the people who sing devil rock and roll do not associate themselves with the Aerosmiths and Metallicas, so there is a line drawn. The people have to take initiative in order for that line to be drawn.
Anti-thug.com: It has become apparent the vehicle of hip-hop is primarily used for that of commercialization and to sell a product. When you look at the music, the clothing, the language and even the exploitation of women, do you think that artist is primarily in control over his or her voice? If they are not, who is?
Brother J: When you sign your contract, there are certain rights that you sign away. So how your product is pushed to the masses sometimes is not in your hands. If someone wants to come to you and say, "Man busta this would fit well around a Mountain Dew commercial, I think you need to start angling your crowd to skateboarding, motocross riding type of cats in order to boost your audience because you are Rahh rahhh and rowdy". This is you're A&R or your record staff to do your marketing. See they are paid to do marketing of your music and how your image comes off to people.
Anti-thug.com: So would you in effect say that an A&R or a marketer is what determines the future of hip-hop culture?
Brother J: Yes, because its no about the culture its about these units to these labels, if you're about culture, then don't sign to a major. Sign to an independent and believe in your music. You gotta have a goal in this game.
Anti-thug.com: You say goal, now some people’s goals are primarily for monetary gain. They want to be a commodity because they want to sell, they want money for themselves, they want wealth for themselves. "I gotta getz minez, you getz yourz" That's a mentality that's not only plagued hip hop, but also a mentality that's plagued African Americans in general, because we don't cultivate for ourselves. We're not a family driven as we were when we were "indigenous" as you say. So let’s talk about that goal. Do you think that goal should be more educational and empowering rather than greed oriented and consummate?
Brother J: Aight, check this out. It’s not greedy to want for yourself, but the mistake is this: You’re giving a recording budget you’re giving a budget to record. Not to pay your bills, not to eat, not to take care of you family, no to spend on cars. You’re given that budget to make the best album that you can possibly make. So instead of you pushing your stuff on the streets you've got a label going, here's a loan and if you go ahead and get this loan paid by selling units then you'll have some more money on top. What’s the first thing a cat do? Quit their job, take $50k for themselves, record for $30k, mix for $20k, spread it out to the rest of the crew… and what happens? The record doesn't sell. The label might sell some to bootleg, you end up in debt. They cut you off… Now if you had a goal you can say, "Im'a take a little bit of this, keep my self, pay half my loan if I have financial aid, go become an engineer, buy some equipment, get me a computer so I can make $50 an hour".. A goal. No one has a goal. Everyone is just spending.
Anti-thug.com: Is hip-hop dead?
Brother J: No. not to me, there is a rhythm that you don't disturb. One day you wake up and you just write the best rhyme you wrote in your life. That's rhythm that can’t be imitated. That's the difference between rap and hip-hop. Rap is a improviser "Gimme 4 bars and I'll fill in the gap." Hip hop is that vibe of knowing what kind of rhythm fits there; it may be a vibe or hook, a song a movement of you body… It’s like Zen you can't explain the formulas but if it's in you it just flows.
Anti-thug.com: As informed individuals who not only want to make a change in hip-hop but in society in general, what solutions can you suggest that we as a people can focus on to make a positive difference?
Brother J: I think you go back to first question about the Nelly vs. KRS1… I think there needs to be a boycott by the consumer. Quality control by the people who change this industry. It has nothing to do with the artist. The labels obey what the people want. If you want adult entertainment then there will be 5 more Lil' Kims. That's why Dead Prez didn't make it, you turn on your BET and you tell me who is mad. Everyone's smiling, drunk, dancing with fine women and aint mad about a damn thing. Everyone with a message is angry. Why? Because they are way back in the game and they gotta struggle. You have to enjoy the struggle. You gotta say I’m a warrior man, if it wasn't hard then it wouldn't be worth it. When the people start thinking like that and the artist starts to think like that, then shit will change brother. Trust me with that.
courtesy of http://www.anti-thug.com
Anti-thug.com is an independent media organization that attempts to expose the detrimental effects of the “media-thug” and how the roles and representation of minorities, specifically African-Americans, have been plagued by media stereotypes.
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