Photo courtesy of Suburban Noize
In part 2 of A Conversation with Brother J, the X Clan front-man discusses joining Suburban Noize Records, touring with acts like Public Enemy and Insane Clown Posse, and X Clan’s upcoming album, Magnegro.
TRHH: Did ‘Funkin’ Lesson’ and ‘Heed the Word of the Brother’ catch on in New York? Those songs had the funk like the West Coast was doing at that time.
Brother J: Surprisingly enough it did because George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic was such a worldwide sound we didn’t have issues like “that sounds West Coast” or anything like that. That was a party jam, homie. We used Birdsong’s drums from ‘Rapper Dapper Snapper’ so it had dance flavor. For cats who was break dancing and groove dancing they gravitated toward it. It was a bigger hit in the East Coast than we thought. ‘More Bounce to the Ounce’, you can play that anywhere and everybody will dance, I don’t care who you are. 45 King did that track for us at the time. He put it on a Hip-Hop level as well as the funk of More Bounce and Parliament. It was a unique signature and the way we approached it lyrically was different. We wasn’t rhyming like “cat in the hat and the rat” we wasn’t doing that. We was putting something different down. Those records were tremendous hits out here but in the West we trumped because we were rhyming on it and not sounding like whoever was popular and rhyming on funk at the time, whether it was Spice 1 or N.W.A., we wasn’t rhyming like them. It was more complex on funk. That was unheard of at the time. Cat’s wasn’t rhyming like that. Even De La when they rocked it, it was “My, Myself and I” it was different. It wasn’t spitting. It was a different pocket. I know I had a hell of a content to squeeze into 16 bars and 24 bars. I had to do it without being too wordy and still being on beat to deliver this message. It’s a different type of chemistry – truly funkin’ lesson.
TRHH: You touched on your writing style and your production style. Talk a little bit more in detail about that. What’s your writing process like and what equipment do you use when producing?
Brother J: I started from the turntables, man. That’s what I was pointing out from the beginning. I was so addicted to searching for breaks that cats didn’t have. It’s like the Indiana Jones of your Hip-Hop journey. Finding a break that nobody got and rockin’ it. It’s still that way to this day. Cats search for the best beat to have everybody talking. It’s different now. Now they’re doing it digitally but back then we were digging in the crates. There are things that you hear when you’re creative. Everybody can’t hear the bells. Everybody can’t hear those voices talking and those lyrics coming so it’s hard to describe a technique. It’s not like I put twenty words on a page and connect them and make them make sense – it’s not that. There’s a track playing and there’s forces around it that are saying things – a breakdown, a bridge, or whatever, you hear it and you activate.
Being a writer is a talented thing on any level. I admire any writer because you’re capturing these voices. It’s like capturing a license plate number, “What’s the tag on that thing?” and you’re writing it down but it’s a talent for you to capture, memorize that, and hold that moment — the same thing with lyrics. When that happens you know if you don’t write that down something will come and distract your focus and kill the ride, the delivery, and what you heard from the beginning which was a great idea. Your idea will be shot down if you don’t capture it right away. Freestylers have it but they say it at the spur of the moment and when they finish the jam they don’t remember any of that rhyme, homie – ever again. To be a writer is a serious talent that must be respected, because you’re able to capture and chisel to where it fits best. That’s why it’s no excuses. If you got time to chisel before it hits the radio and all of that, every time should be immaculate – every time.
I started on an 8 second sampler on my mixer with my turntables and stacking up cassette decks and having the loop on tape deck 1 and hitting the sample and cutting and mixing drums until I learned how to 8 track. You move up the lane from there. You learn how to use these machines and this technology – the timing of things, certain drum patterns don’t fit with others. As you grow older you master the notes and what drum sounds match with samples. Sometimes you got drums that don’t mix note wise with a track. You may think it sounds good, but really it’s disturbing in the area of composition so when you mix you’re gonna have problems. So you get older to learn that and these are things that I learned and implement in the Clan’s newer music. I work with the new George Clinton’s and new Sly Stone’s – young cats who have mastered funk all their life who come and work with me. Some cats are platinum, some cats are low key ghostwriters who have worked with some of the biggest artists in the game but they’re tired of contributing to foolishness. They wanna see somebody take their composition and be as legendary as East Blackwards is now thanks to the people. I can’t make it legendary. If the people don’t check for it, it just becomes an album on the wall. I’m glad to continue my library. I’m glad to still be working.
TRHH: You released two albums on the Suburban Noize label, Return from Mecca, and Mainstream Outlawz. How’d you wind up on that label because their roster had rap artists but they were extremely different from what you were doing?
Brother J: [Laughs] Well this was the thing; I was interested in signing to Rhymesayers Records at the time. I was impressed by their roster out of Minnesota and also Stones Throw Records. It was a lot of things going on. People were looking for distribution at the time so a lot of cats didn’t want to take it on because they didn’t want to stain X Clan’s history. It’s like if I can’t get big enough to do what I need to do marketing wise for you I don’t want to touch the project. So the people at Suburban Noize had like 21 different groups there. They had punk rock, suburban rap and stuff like that so I saw it as P.E. signing on to Def Jam at the time. Those groups were totally different than them. You had an egotistical LL Cool J and you had Brooklyn white boys in the Beastie Boys. It was so many different things going on at that label and RUSH Management that I felt like sometimes you gotta be the fly in the buttermilk to make a little shakeup.
Punk Rock music was originally a rebel’s music. I didn’t see it like I was joining a band of misfits hollering about marijuana laws. I saw it as the founder of your group and your label was the Corporate Avenger. If people do their homework on Kottonmouth Kings they’ll see a lot of rebellious people that made serious change. These cats were doing early internet before cats even knew what going online was. You gotta remember the children of what they consider servants of the beast and all that foolishness — they’re children of the system. Is somebody in your circle going to be human enough to say “that’s not right, I gotta warn people?” And even though it’s through punk rock they were doing what X Clan was doing for their people. Come to the table with who you are. If you say you’re punk rock’s X Clan and I’m saying I’m black people’s Corporate Avenger we can come to the table and build on how to get this freedom music out to the people. That’s what my deal was based on. Kottonmouth Kings had absorbed all of that freedom music of their people. They’re crazy, wild, and do their thing but that doesn’t have to affect my court. When y’all see me drinking 40’s and smacking girls on the ass then it’s a problem [laughs]. As long as I’m still Brother J it shouldn’t be no issues. You should be glad that somebody is signing me and giving me an opportunity.
I toured for five years with them, brother. I toured for five years with Damian Marley, ICP, that platform opened up so many doors for me that I dare somebody to say something. I was touring more than major cats and nobody was even hearing my product because urban marketing required so much money for my music to be put into the stream I finally saw the problem. These were the first two albums I put out outside of a major. I see how much money my deal really had to kick out to keep us in competition — rotation, video play, placement, all that cost money, bro. I was telling conscious cats, “Yo, ain’t nobody holding you down. If y’all got bread you can win.” If you got 5 groups everybody Voltron and push one through and go in. Stop coming out with everybody on a record and they all split up and do solo deals. No, everybody put that money on the best one here, the best spokesman, and push through. Spearhead your business.
These are things I was trying to teach from this platform. Tech N9ne taught me so much about merchandise. Kottonmouth Kings taught me so much about merchandise and these were in suburban markets I never knew existed. Tech N9ne would go and do 60 cities. Homie, I didn’t even know 60 cities existed for you to be touring through. What kind of 2-and-3 month’s ridiculousness is that? Crazy! Suburban Noize was a learning ground. I didn’t care what people were saying. They come on the site looking for me and expect it to be a bunch of black rappers and cats with kente cloth and Dead Prez’s and I said no, I took a different route but I still get the same respect. Those audiences respect us because we came with Hip-Hop culture. We didn’t come trying to rap. I know a lot of people that get booed in their circuit – top notch artists that can’t do a 30-city tour with ICP. We were the only conscious group ever to do 30 cities with ICP, homie. You know what kind of performances you have to keep to do 30 cities of Juggalos, man?
TRHH: I would think that that would be a scary crowd. What were the Juggalo crowds like?
Brother J: Man they was rockin’! You gotta think they ain’t never been around my way or in my hood to hear what we spittin’. You only hear that from the distance on a mixtape or something or if you’re in that side of the city that really dishes that out. You ain’t never heard nothing like this if you live in the back woods of Montana or wherever. You can’t angle up to say “boo” to that, especially if the people that you came here to see are giving us a straight pass like, “Yo, X Clan is the business. They influenced us!” These cats got online and hit their people virally. Some people use that internet properly, bro. These cats use it properly. Before they even go out they say “Our guests are on deck, X Clan. We sampled their song ‘Voodoo’ back in the days and that was one of our first gold projects.” These cats were going gold independently. They were sampling ‘Voodoo’ and I didn’t even know this. These cats were sampling my stuff from way back like this and they come and pick me up for this tour? All we had to do was rock from there to make the pass official. If we went on there and struck out then we’d be stupid.
So I can’t come in there trying to teach them something that is over their head. I just have to go in there, rock, and bang you because my music is the lesson plan. I don’t have to do more than what it is. Look how that works. I don’t have to switch up. You’re rocking to my music and the flow of my lyrics, but my message is already there. I don’t have to stop and say, “Do you know what the red, black, and green flag is?” I just keep rocking because all my lyrics and my content is straight out. Teaching is not threatening. Building is not racist. So we taught them a lot about Clan so now we have official fans in that arena. They thought we would have struck out and been one of those lists of cats that got booed. Shit I know white groups that got booed on those circuits. It’s not a black or white thing. They booed Bubba Sparxxx. They damn near tore his head off whoopin’ on him when he went to perform ‘Booty, Booty’ or whatever that was. One word off and those cats will come at you. It’s like fight club performing for Juggalos, homie. It’s a serious clique and they either respect you or they do not. They think as one.
I’m used to it because the movement was like that. Why you think X Clan wasn’t really touring with a lot of people? Our crowd was rough, beyond Apollo and all of that. From the elders to the young heads they don’t wanna hear none of that rapping and booty clapping and all of that. A lot of cats got booed off and kicked out of the building with our audience, bro. We were like a black sheep in this game but we love our people so you couldn’t X us out so to speak. We were saying what your parents were doing and y’all skipped past it and went to party and we kept that movement alive. We have cats that are artists saying, “My mom loves you! She told me to get your autograph.” That’s different. And the women love intelligence so they were coming to our shows so the brothers followed. That’s a science from Adam Clayton Powell Jr., he was attractive and the sisters came to the church and he was like, “This is the movement.” The brothers came and he got to build and look at the extraordinary things that went down – powerful. We had a little bit of all of our leaders, bro.
TRHH: I saw you perform on the Hip Hop Gods tour a couple of years ago. What was that experience like touring with Public Enemy and all of the other acts?
Brother J: We had already did like three tours with P.E. before Hip Hop Gods. A lot of people that were on that run hadn’t been out for a while. Usually I run my own little caravan because I run almost like a military regimen on the road. So for me to be able to take my daughter and my DJ with me and mingle with Monie Love, Awesome Dre, Dinco, and Wise and we’re all on the bus playing dominoes and building, it was a deep break. Usually I don’t do that. My brother Chuck has been my guidance in the independent game for a long time so I said, let me take a break. I’m always overdoing it and paying for my own thing and meeting everybody in the next town. I’m always like the Batman of the whole crew. I come in on my own terms. I love everybody but show it differently. Hip Hop Gods was a chance for my daughter to come on the road with me for her first time. Her mother, Queen Mother Rage of our movement, my daughter always wanted to be a combination of both of us. I said, “You gotta come behind the curtain of the game how I learned before you make a decision that you want to be in this thing or not.” For me to just stick her in the lab and force her to be a star child is wack when she can be on stage with me and just learn ad-libs. She didn’t have to do 20-30 minutes of lyrics. Support me for 13 cities. Flavor Flav was giving her advice on how to do movements on stage and be more supportive. She got it from the best in the game. That was a good experience for me to take my daughter because she was moving to California with me so I said, “Let’s go across the country.”
I went out and supported Chuck on this Hip Hop Gods movement because cats were trying to be prima donnas and overcharge him to perform. When Chuck was reaching out for invitations everyone was trying to charge him more than what he had to provide. I don’t care about rates and things of that nature. If I see something that’s strong, that’s going to lean over into history, and just to support my brother, I’m doing it. He was being nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; even if he didn’t get inducted I was honored to ride. I came out to salute him, homie. Just on a man to man level because that’s Hip-Hop music. He’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame so when I listen to Mick Jagger and Aerosmith and all of that his name comes up! That’s big, homie. Ain’t too many people going to receive that kind of an honor. It was honorable for me on that level, it was a learning ground for my daughter to learn aspects of the game, and it was a historic time for my DJ, Ultra to be amongst all of those legends because he was a DJ spinning these cats from day one. He’s older than me so Awesome Dre and Schoolly D and stuff like that, he remembers a time when they were hot. They were the Eazy-E’s of the East Coast and Midwest. Those cats had a lot of weight.
To ride with those OG’s and cats who had some of the best shows in the game like Leaders of the New School – just to have Dinco there, I don’t care about Buss and the rest of them not being there, just to have one of those elements that used to throw some of the most bomb shows in New York or wherever! They were the first people to start jumping up at shows before Kriss Kross and all of that foolishness. Those cats were rockin’, homie! I remember going to the Townhouse in Manhattan and the whole entire place was jumping out of control. That’s when they had the stripper dude in the crew and Milo and all those cats – Leaders was hard, man. We had a good time and it opened up the door for Hip Hop Gods to be something that sponsors jump to right away because they doubted us through the weather, the time of the year that we chose to come through and the quality of acts. Schoolly D versus having Immortal Technique or Dead Prez for a Chuck D run is deep unless you really appreciate Hip-Hop. You gotta realize are you respected from the roots or are you respected from the hype? People proved all of those promoters wrong we had a good solid crowd throughout that whole run.
TRHH: Tell me about the Underground Scrolls mixtapes.
Brother J: [Laughs] Underground Scrolls was a beginning for me to have conscious artists come join me because I hear so much ratchet mixtapes. I listen to everything, I don’t have no prejudice. I see Rick Ross’ style, I see Jadakiss, I see Drake, I see all these cats. My thing was there was no conscious mixtapes out here. I took some exclusives from my vault to kind of break open the brand and it really did better than I thought it would. A lot of cats were buying that stuff online. We had the MySpace up when we dropped the first one and we had so many downloads on that tape. We were selling them during the tour when we first went out with P.E. and Jurassic. I really didn’t have to put out Return from Mecca because Underground Scrolls was doing so well. It kept the brand alive. I put out one for the Hip Hop Gods. It was some leaks and stuff that I had from the studio. It was decently mixed enough to be a listening pleasure, but not to the standard of what we do. It was more like a leak tape because I wasn’t going to be able to put out the Magnegro album until the middle of this year. I thought we were going to launch something but we wanted to weigh our distribution options a little bit more because we’re launching a label brand and not just throwing out another album.
The Underground Scrolls has been like my calling card to let people get in sync with the new stuff. You don’t have to always go back to the 90s to refer to the Clan. It keeps the buzz up and spreads the word. I look forward to putting some of these artists that I have in mind to sign to this brand to put them on the future Underground Scrolls to keep it up. If I’m graced to do a show from that platform like a BET Basement kind of thing just for conscious artists I would be elated to do that. People have expressed interest in that. We’re just going to keep putting them out and keep scouting for conscious talent.
TRHH: Why do you think there is a lack of new conscious rap being promoted these days?
Brother J: Because the conscious artists don’t respect the game. They don’t respect the process. They think that cats like Ludacris put out records and it’s easy. It’s a very hard A&R process when you’re at that platform and level. You can’t do no wrong because as soon as you do somebody is trying to take your spot. I don’t think they realize the business behind that and the money that it takes. I told you that when that money is not there to give you ten spins on MTV, to hit all the nationwide video outlets, they want money, homie. It ain’t about liking your record and wanting to play your stuff. Very few people have that option. If you’re online of course it’s easy but when you’ve got a syndicated program, nah. Unless you got the buzz of the week or the record of the month or something they’re not really going to throw out no free biscuit for you. I don’t think they respect the game. The thing about the conscious movements is you gotta respect the money at some point in time. You don’t respect the money until you get threatened to get kicked out of your place. You can’t rebel against America so much that you forget about the paper. You can’t do that. You can’t be a bohemian cat and not really care about it. You gotta eat. You gotta have food, clothing, and shelter. You don’t worship the money but you make it part of your resource gathering when you’re moving around. You can’t subtract that.
That’s the reason that I think these artists are losing in that field. You can’t be overly creative. There is a rhythm that you must obey. If you’re trying to be played and popular in pop music you can’t give me a spoken word rendition over a trap beat. It’s not gonna work like that. You have to have personality and entertainment quality with your message or it’s not going to work. When you see an artist like Mos Def, it’s a perfect template. You took the entire renaissance man type thing from a young boy’s perspective but come on, man. You was Bill Cosby’s Robin, homie [laughs]. Your understanding of the game is different. You know exactly what they can have and what they don’t. Your rocked jazz breaks until the point that the entire genres daughters are following you! And you bustin’ to where the brothers have to respect so it’s a perfect balance. They should have rode that template all the way out. That’s what Common was for Chicago coming up. How many years did he suffer spitting so much and giving out so much until he said, I just need to give enough? He said let me stop so hard to bash certain things in the industry and let me go in. When he caught that he’s winning now. It opened up several other doors for him. It’s a template that you have to respect. You have to respect the bread. You can’t be mad at it but you’re still hustling for it. We’re so elitist in our minds that we have to think above the dollar, no, the dollar is part of the resource. It’s not part of what I need to survive but it’s part of the equation that makes things easier for me to do what I do — if it be protecting your family or yourself. If you live in a city where you gotta have berries to do transactions then get you a bag full of berries. If you live in America it takes paper, honor that and don’t play yourself in earning it. That’s it and you’re good.
TRHH: I interviewed Sean Price some years ago and he said you were in his top 5 emcees of all-time…
Brother J: [Laughs] I talked to brother Sean this year, I talked to Price.
TRHH: He’s my favorite interview, ever. He’s a unique guy [laughs].
Brother J: Yes he is. He’s a crazy dude, man [laughs].
TRHH: How does that feel when your peers give you that type of love?
Brother J: I like that because I’ve always liked Boot Camp from the gate. The Duck Down label is like the Stones Throw of the East to me. They don’t have the super platform that Stones Throw has now because they’re more of a vinyl type of collective worldwide, but as far as the heart of the Brooklyn style and the rawness, I love that, son. When Heltah Skeltah came the beats, the flow, everything was magnificent. We reciprocate the same respect. I didn’t even know Pharoahe Monch was close up on my styles as I’m on his because I’m a chemist. Those brothers got it and I like the way they rock their situation. I’m glad to see that the God’s can still admire each other, look back, and remember. The brother knew the new material so that was good that they still keep the ear. I don’t train people on a 1990 situation with me. I like them listening to Mainstream, Mecca, and Underground Scrolls side of things and checking for us on the internet when we go to the station. That’s how I check for artists. I wanna see you on your good day. I wanna see what this legend thing was about. Why was it legendary? Was it hype or was it real? I’m glad cats are doing their homework. I look forward to working with cats like that, it’s going to be fun, man.
TRHH: What’s the status of the next X Clan album?
Brother J: I’m in New York finishing it now. I got about 5 cuts left. The album is called Magnegro. I thought it was a proper time to make this elevation not only of my production house but of my style, period. I have to put on a different helmet for what’s going on right now so I thought Magnegro was a perfect title for this project. Everybody wanted me to do a solo album but I don’t need that. I put out the brand that people will say, “What? The X Clan?” and listen. I built that brand for so many years. I’ve been the only cat rhyming so a solo thing is redundant. What does a solo thing mean that I’m polishing my ego now that I’m coming out like this? I just named the album Magnegro and let them know that I’m digging in them from another place right now. I think they’ll be pleased at the funk and the content that we’re choosing to put on this platform. I get it, homie. I’ve done a lot of tours and community issues and I see how all of that has to come to a point and be delivered. The single ‘Keep It Humpin’‘ is out now. I look forward to dropping this project. It looks like we’re going to be looking at a late summer, maybe fall release, and that’s what it is.