A Conversation with Brother J of X Clan

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Photo courtesy of Brother J

Photo courtesy of Brother J

During a time when Hip-Hop was overtly afrocentric one of the premier pro-black acts out of New York was X Clan. Comprised of Professor X the Overseer, Sugar Shaft, Paradise the Architect, and the Grand Verbalizer Funkin’ Lesson Brother J, X Clan combined funk samples with Professor X’s trademark spoken word delivery and Brother J’s effortless flow to create one of the most original groups in rap history.

The group released two albums in the early 90s, To the East, Blackwards (1990), and Xodus (1992) before disbanding. In 1995 DJ Sugar Shaft passed away from complications of AIDS. Professor X passed away in 2006 from spinal meningitis. Paradise the Architect relocated to Pittsburgh and continues his activism in and out of the music business.

After the passing of Professor X, Brother J resurrected the X Clan with all new members. The group signed to Suburban Noize Records and released two albums, Return from Mecca (2007) and Mainstream Outlawz (2009). The Clan is currently in the lab working on the groups’ fifth album slated for release in mid-2014.

The Real Hip-Hop had the pleasure of speaking with Brother J about the past, present, and future of X Clan.

TRHH: Going back to the first album, To the East, Blackwards, what was your mindset while you were making that album and did you have any idea it would be classic?

Brother J: No, not at all. At that time I was about 17-18. I joined the movement at about 16-years old. I was still in high school. By the time I got to make my album I had been on point doing security for different social leaders like Dick Gregory, Dr. Sebi, Sonny Carson, you name it. We were security for elite people learning different things and that was feeding my lyrics. Days that we would go out and defend the streets if a youth was killed or an elder was attacked by the police or whatever we were into, I’d take parts of that and put it in the lyrics. What people heard on that album was sincerity more than anything because I was really for letting people know what was happening. When we moved around people would tell us their stories of what was going on in their town. The content continues to grow from there. Eventually it became a classic because a lot of artists don’t have the courage to speak about what’s happening. They don’t know how to implement funkin’ lessons to a degree. So that’s what the album was an example of. It’s like a blueprint for conscious artists to find the path.

TRHH: You went to high school with Q-Tip, right?

Brother J: Yeah, brother Q-Tip and Brother Ali [Shaheed Muhammad]. Also Jungle Brothers Brother Afrika, and Brother Mike, those were my good brothers. That’s who I actually started with when I started rhyming. There was another dude named Mighty Matt that y’all never heard of – he never got off the ground. The Jungle had more leverage ‘cause their uncle was Red Alert. They had an in-door and once they let Quest through Q-Tip’s nasal style won at that time. It was a heavy time for people with the nasal style so he rode a little further than what Jungle did. It was all good. You would come to our talent shows and I had two DJ’s, Q-Tip and them had the beat box kid Jarobi, Ali, and Phife. I remember them way back when. Jungle Brothers’ first DJ was named Brooklyn B and Mike’s cousin came in and replaced him, Sammy B. That was good times, man [laughs].

TRHH: How different was your style then? Was this before the Blackwatch Movement?

Brother J: Yeah. Even in high school, man I was never really on no raunchy, wild out stuff. I wasn’t trying to be no fly dude. I’m from Brooklyn so I’m not on no prima donna business anyway just on a borough tip. My hardness and confidence toward the mic was groomed in the block party so the talent show really wasn’t nothing. I’d go in there like how Kool Moe Dee did on Graffiti Rock [laughs]. I really didn’t care. My thing was to dig into the beat. I didn’t care who the premier dude was or what the hoopla was, you would gravitate toward what I’m kicking. That’s how we handled the talent shows. It was really just fun at the time. It was some serious grooming. Our talent shows were like the Apollo at Murry Bergtraum.

TRHH: ‘Fire & Earth’ from the second album Xodus is such a great song. My father loved that song. He passed away five years ago…

Brother J: My condolences, my condolences.

TRHH: Thank you. I played that song on the way to his burial because he loved that song so much. Talk about ‘Fire & Earth‘ and how that song came together because you said some heavy stuff in there, man.

Brother J: Wow. That’s deep. It was several things going on. One, I was tired of people comparing PX to Flavor Flav. It’s two different missions. PX was a father of a movement as a young head. He was older than me, but as far as elders who had established organizations I had a different respect for him than just a hype man. He wasn’t a hype man for me. You never seen him “yeah boying” behind my verses or any of that kind of stuff. People were so busy trying to match us to P.E. in every way that I was like, “PX, you’re going to have to spit on one.” He’s a Leo and I’m a Capricorn so we made Fire & Earth. I was working with him to put some verses down and it was a lot of stuff on my mind. MTV had banned us because we had ‘Fire’ and other things but they had BBD “Smack it up, flip it, rub it down”. It was the same problems back then that people are having now. Nothing has changed my brother. They were playing all of that stuff but I can’t say “nigga”? They tried to correct my verse before the video came out but where I come from it’s language. It’s not offensive to anyone. I wasn’t trying to say it to keep up with N.W.A. or any of those groups that were young then. It was different for me to speak it. I was learning different things about the word itself. They were trying to tell me to erase it so I wrote more “nigga” in the verse than the one line I had. I started off the song with it just to be arrogant. If y’all will ban us for saying that I’ll stop saying “nigga” when you stop showing ass and titties and shit on the videos. It was early then when they were starting to do this with the stripper type girls on the video. This was early 90s when it started to peek its head out. We had to spin it backwards because it was considered a curse so I had to lay off my BS. I was young and arrogant but I was trying to make a point that that market was growing then and I saw its head peek out of the ground. I said if y’all allowing them to do that I should be able to speak my lingo, especially if I’m trying to put a positive swing on it.

To look back it was a small battle to fight. I could have fought for a better terminology I’m sure, but I was trying to make a point that you can’t change how we communicate with each other. This is entertainment. Now you see every record everybody is saying “nigga” all the time. Even Justin Bieber is saying “nigga” now [laughs]. And cats don’t really mess with them. On TV they’ll spin it backwards or whatever but it’s so much lingo now that white kids is kicking “nigga” now. If they let me define it and send it to where it is it would have been a defense on that. Don’t talk the way we talk. I don’t go around Mexican hoods talking about, “Hey ese, what’s up?” That’s not my language. So I said let black people communicate on their own and if we get tired of the word and move on and find something else, let us find that in our time. Don’t tell me how to talk. A lot of things were going on. The Jeffrey Dahmer thing was going on, Mayor Dinkins doing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and they celebrate him on that but when he did an African-American thing they don’t have as much press on him for that. I was just seeing little different things that I could point out in my verses to let folks know we don’t mess with the swine, we running Tarzan out the jungle – the concrete jungle. These kinds of things were sprinkled in that song. It was a little B.B. King sample that we rocked on that with the jungle drums. We laid it out my lord. It was a fun record to have PX start his lyrical transformation a little bit.

TRHH: Correct me if I’m wrong, but when he was talking about “humanists” he was talking about KRS-One, right?

Brother J: I don’t have a problem with KRS like that. I just had a problem in philosophies because he had so much influence over people and to make it like “let’s hold hands, forget about whatever, and be Hip-Hop” I think that’s a better platform to teach where the core racism comes from. You have people who come to the table and really front on what a humanist value is supposed to be about. We’re supposed to come to the table as a unified force. I don’t have to have a humanist label to be that. My thing was let everybody come from their specific culture and represent. If you’re a white person, be proud, you shouldn’t be acting like me and I shouldn’t be acting like you. I thought it was a great time to teach that before you go into a humanist platform. By the time you get to a humanist platform it should be an organization formed – real serious things instead of titles being flashed around. My elders admired KRS and he put out a video talking about the flavor of ice cream comes, I forgot what song that was…

TRHH: You Must Learn.

Brother J: Yes, yes, yes! I was so pit bull for the movement and so pro-black meaning “let’s get our stuff together first” because I don’t like coming to the humanist table or any table for that matter with dirty hands and dirty robes. We gotta clean up in our hoods and while we have this influence let’s focus on ours before we get a stereotype that we don’t deserve. When we say “pro-black” that’s what that means. Let’s get clean for the table, let’s wash our hands and not only that, let’s change garb. Let’s sit with the culture. We’re so busy worrying about who is holding hands and who is being sincere and who is not as far as other cultures we’re not focusing on our own. That’s where that was coming from. It was too complex to explain to a young Hip-Hop nation. They wanted to see someone combat against KRS’ flip flop at the time. One day it was “Edutainment” and one day you’re “smoking izm” and it’s like, Yo, man, if you’re going to be the teacher, be the teacher. He was like how Ice Cube was in the West, one day you’re Muslim and then you’re back to Player’s Club.

People were trying to have people step to them where they didn’t have the heart enough to say, “Yo man, we buy your records. Stop flipping so much and have one focus.” They didn’t have enough heart to say that, but we had enough heart to say that my lord. Come to the table, let’s build. I didn’t throw it out and say no names so he didn’t have to take offense. People read through it. It could have been a silent delivery, comfortably. It was meant to say anybody thinking like that, check yourself. It wasn’t directed at KRS like that. I admire KRS. He’s one of the greatest showmen in the game. I rarely see people throw down like he does consistently from day one. I don’t want no issues with that. I’m in admiration but I’m not a groupie. If I see something that needs to be spoken I have a microphone myself. I’m going to say to my brother, “I’m your keeper. Don’t let these white folks get in your head and twist things backwards. Don’t lose perspective.” Don’t be a emcee when there is so much more message inside your situation. Don’t become Benetton before you understand red, black, and green. That’s all I was coming from my lord. I didn’t feel that was insulting on no level.

TRHH: I want to say for the record that I wasn’t implying that there was beef or anything. I just wanted to know more about it because I know you rocked with KRS years later on ‘Speak the Truth’.

Brother J: Yes sir. And that was to let them know that we don’t have no issues. We sat down as men before the record to clear whatever. If you have a philosophy and I have my different walk of life I’m not going to step on your toes on any level. As long as we have a common denominator that we’re trying to elevate people, I’m good [laughs].

TRHH: I saw you perform with KRS in 1990. I was 14-years old…

Brother J: [Laughs] That must have been in the Midwest?

TRHH: Chicago at the Arie Crown Theater. Poor Righteous Teachers was there and D-Nice.

Brother J: Yeah, I remember that [laughs]. And K-Solo. That’s crazy. K-Solo got robbed that night. They ran up on his bus.

TRHH: What?

Brother J: Yeah, I tell cats man you gotta watch these females. It just was an awkward time. People was all on that jewelry, trying to run up on cats, and setting people up. The Midwest is a dirty bowl sometimes, man [laughs]. You gotta be on point.

TRHH: Very dirty.

Brother J: Real deal.

TRHH: Why did the initial incarnation of X Clan break up and how did the Dark Sun Riders form?

Brother J: X Clan had to take a hiatus because the movement was growing so fast that we had issues on how to reorganize it. When you got a lot of people you can think “power” but if you don’t have organization it’s weak. You’re weakening people. We’ll start contributing to the beast if a person comes to the movement and doesn’t get the conditioning that they seek to complete themselves it could become a joke. I thought that people were getting so much into the music they were forgetting that X Clan was the group and Blackwatch was the movement. They’d say, “I’m with the X Clan movement,” and that means you’re not paying attention. X Clan was not presented as a movement for you to join and you’re trying to get a crown and one of the pieces on that neck – it ain’t that. It’s not something that you sign up, send your letter in, and all of a sudden you’re down. If you’re in the understanding of what it requires to understand liberation then the Blackwatch movement accepts you. Come to our events, come to our meetings, come to our cyphers. We didn’t have internet then so as popular as we were in the country there was no way to really organize. That broke the group up. We’re not paying attention to what really made us and that was a problem. So I said I’d rather take a break from all this music until we can get an understanding about what we’re really doing here because people really believe in us. It was insane then. It was new then. We’re having a conversation twenty some odd years later but at its peak it was crazy, man.

You don’t wanna get caught up because any time entertainment is intertwined in your situation you gotta check your ranks at all times. That beast can make you greedy and Gollum-like. My thing was let’s take a break. We never stopped touring from the time we started. We got families, babies was being made at the time and we’re not even getting to see that. It was time for me to take a break so I did a little production project to keep things afloat so Island Records gave me a Dark Sun Riders project. I wanted to plant the seed to see what the real cypher is. I wanted to reform the X Clan and offer it to Hip-Hop as a council. I don’t need my council to rap. When we come to your town if we stay more than 2-3 days we can hold classes in several areas and give y’all a bomb ass show before we leave. I don’t know too many groups offering positive cypher like that. I wanted to create a trend because if there are other groups I wanted them to see that people here will welcome you. Let’s try to start our own chitlin circuit. Dark Sun was the planting of the seed. It was us stepping into digital sound. I had to start letting go of sampling. I’m a DJ, homie. I love analog sounds, I love sampling, and mixing and the collage but that music would sound like mud now up against the new sound as far as the boost and frequency that technology provides. It’s a different beast now. I had to let that go in ’94 when I started to see the transformation starting. I’m not waiting ‘till 2000 to do that. So Dark Sun was my time in the lab learning engineering and learning how to respect production even more. I was sharing my time and then cleaning up my lyrics totally where I didn’t want cursing in my music anymore. As much vocabulary and science that I study I think I can find much more to build on that just these germane phrases to entertain who? If I’m trying to raise the hood how am I spitting at them awkward? So I started to check that in myself. I shared with them the conditioning. That’s what Dark Sun Riders was.

It was a refreshment house. It was time for all of us to sit down at the table as even cypher. I had elders in that circle; I had new jacks in that circle that were conditioning lyrically just to see if everybody can get along. Some elders don’t like the generation beneath them – they don’t like them at all. Dark Sun was me doing some things at that time with the elders and the young heads and giving off a little lesson from a different frequency. I didn’t want to have ‘Funkin’ Lesson and ‘Heed the Word’ type joints. I wanted to try some new things. I wanted to try from the hands of my circle and see where it could go – fail or success. It worked out. I paved some good paths for us. On the underground years later to see people approach me with that product is a respect. That was during the time that Shaft passed, man. That was a heavy thing to even get to finish that product. It was heartbreaking to lose the person that was with me from the beginning of the conversation — from high school, homie. That was my DJ back then. Through all of my success to Dark Sun. He never got to see the later years of the Clan and combining both coasts together. I know his spirit is with me. I still have an eye for the tracks. I still hear my brother saying, “Yo, that’s wack, don’t mess with that,” or “Yo, that’s dope, put your ear to that.” I still hear him over my shoulder. It’s all blessed.

TRHH: Keeping with Sugar Shaft and also Professor X, talk about what they brought to the group and how did their passing affect you personally.

Brother J: You start a band off if you got a bass player or keyboard cat you adjust to their flows, especially being with them for ten years. PX was a manger for us when we started. He was always that guidance. He taught us the ins and outs of the game – the good and bad. He got us security jobs before we was rapping to go get a little twos and fews as young boys up in clubs we wasn’t supposed to be at. But the movement allowed us to be on point and learn behind the curtain of this rap. I never had groupie time and that was why my music stayed so focused. All that groupie thing was killed when I was 16. I done seen Salt-N-Pepa, I done seen Kane, I done seen Eric B. & Rakim behind the curtain. I didn’t have to stand out in the crowd and jump up in the air with everybody. I’m back stage securing them cats and making sure nobody don’t come and take them jewels or any of that. Our edge was different, that’s what PX was. Shaft was “something’s missing, let me find something in my crate” to fix it up a little bit and fill in the gap. He was that. That final gloss on the project to say, “Now it’s ready to go,” I trusted him like that.

Those brothers are dearly missed, man. It took me years to find people that I trust like that in the game that can help me with production now. My production style now is totally different. It’s another level of professional and it’s because I had those years with those brothers to know what the quality has to be at, whether it’s sampled or digital. Those brothers really were the hammer behind me, and Architect, Paradise too. He was a great influence. He was the first person to bring me to Latin Quarters and bring me to the turntables and let me see how the big dogs do it. So I can see what kind of rhythms people really dance to and don’t. I can see cats performing and what I would do in my show and what I didn’t wanna do. He was the dude that opened up Fantasy Island. If anybody has been to Latin Quarters, that was like a Fantasy Island for Hip-Hop, homie. All boroughs was up in that bad boy, son [laughs]. It was good times with them brothers, always. Their spirit rides with this. We don’t move on to the new cypher forgetting about where we came from. But I can’t let something sit and say, “If it’s not the four brothers then it’s nothing.” Nah man, I brought X Clan to Blackwatch. When we were doing security I said, “Yo man, our crew is going to be named X Clan and we ain’t gonna be hollering about none of that stupidity. I’m gonna take my spoken word and block party skills and take that somewhere else.” That’s what it was, and that’s what it is.

Part 2 of A Conversation with Brother J of X Clan

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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