John Robinson has an extensive catalog of music that includes solo work, collaborative albums, and releases as part of the group Scienz Of Life. Robinson’s latest release finds him reaching over to the west coast to work with critically acclaimed artist Blu. Blu is most noted for his work on the mic, but for this release Blu is on the beats.
King JR is a 13-track release produced entirely by Blu. The album features guest appearances by Blu, Eloh Kush, and ScienZe.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to John Robinson about working with Blu, the disconnect between the older and new generation, and his new album, King JR.
TRHH: Why’d you choose the title “King JR” for this album?
John Robinson: ‘Cause I’m a King, I’m an emperor of all this nonsense. Blu titled the album and truth be told, I battled against that title a little bit. After finishing all the music, I realized that him putting that title in my head kind of gave me the strength to go down that lane in the intention of what I was doing. I literally chastised him and said “give me the best reason possible why we should name it that” and he said, “I got two. One, Since I met you nearly 20 years ago you’ve always had this calm demeanor, but you can turn your fire up when you want to. You have this leadership about you that I admire, so, King JR. Like Dr. King Jr., that’s the vibe I get. Also, bigger than that, these are the best beats that I’ve made so far and I’m giving them all to you like a king, so, let’s go.”
When he said that I was like, “Whoa, King JR, let’s go.” I preface that by saying my time living in Los Angeles from 03-to-07 I met a lot of what I would describe as young geniuses and he’s one of them. These are very creative cats that can see their vision more deep than you may know, and when they bring out these creative things that’s may sound outlandish, there is a method to their madness. Sometimes when you connect with folks like that just go with it, because it’s divine. This is one of those for me. A lot of things being delivered I didn’t question, I went with it.
TRHH: The production from Blu is a little eccentric; was it challenging for you to rhyme to his beats?
John Robinson: Nah, I think Blu’s production is very eccentric and that was what was intriguing to me. I’ve been making music for over twenty years and what these beats did to me is they took me back to my crew, Scienz Of Life, and our very first creation. We were just trying out things, experimenting, chopping up jazz elements and adding soulful elements, and creating this hodgepodge of sounds and vibrations. But it also took me back to some of my favorite 90s productions. One that I named is, rest in paradise, MF DOOM, KMD’s Mr. Hood album. It just gave me that eclectic, jazzy, soulful, but experimental vibe. It was a challenge, but I kept with the challenge and that’s what intrigued me the most. I’m not here necessarily for all my creations to sound the same. That’s kind of the point – to make them different.
TRHH: You have a song on the album called “Better Music” where you say “Look back to move forward, to make better music.” A lot of kids making music these days have no respect for the history of the art. How can looking back help someone to make better music?
John Robinson: I don’t think that they don’t have respect. I think that we failed in the continuum of the storytelling and the connection. And, a lot of times when you point to the scenarios where the younger generation is disrespectful, 9 times out of 10 it’s because the elders were disrespectful to them first and they’re just a different breed. They don’t conform or comply. This is a different generation. They’re not going to say “just because you’re older than me I’m going to bow my head if you’re wrong and saying something disrespectful. I’m going to speak up.” I commend that. I would say, too, looking back, that’s Sankofa, right? That’s saying the blueprints are there. To really look where we’re going we’ve got to look back. I feel we have to be patient with our younger generation. We’ve all been given gems that are too heavy to carry when we were young and we grew into them. We all know what that means if we’ve lived a certain amount of life. Just be patient with our younger generation and they’ll be fine. It depends on who we’re asking and how it’s being used, but that’s what that means.
There are blueprints, there’s ancestral power before you can even imagine, all the way down to our Hip-Hop pioneers who laid down a lot of this. Even before that, a lot of pioneers in soul music, jazz music, funk music, and of course, blues. It’s a heavy foundation for us to dig into, gain perspective, and gain that knowledge of your journey. A lot of times I feel the young people are not necessarily catching that part of it because there is a disconnection. We as a community and a culture have to realize that it’s not necessarily just us who is causing this disconnect and we can’t let outsiders cause confusion in our cypher. So, it’s very important to be aware and it’s very important to point more to the wins than the losses. I think we focus too much on what’s not going right than what is. It causes this narrative of nothing is right and nothing is changing and that’s not true. Things are changing.
Like they say “black folks don’t support each other.” Come on, man. There wouldn’t be this many black businesses thriving and developing every day if we didn’t support each other. Of course, we support each other – more than 20 years ago, more than 30 years ago, and it’s continuing to raise. I think we need to change our focus. That’s what King JR is now. It’s developed into more of a mindset. Be regal, and if you want to be regal focus on solutions and don’t be so deficit minded. Coming up I was always catching myself thinking and moving from a place of “lack” until I was raised up to realize that I don’t want to be deficit minded. I want to think abundantly and I want to think about what I want to see happen more than what I don’t want to see happen. For me, that’s helped a lot. I hope that people reading right now if it’s for you and you need to hear this, hold it, embrace it, and activate it.
TRHH: On the song “Dreamer” you spit a verse about Sam Cooke. What inspired you to write about Sam?
John Robinson: I was living in L.A. and I was driving down Figueroa with a good friend of mine and he said, “Oh wow, that’s the hotel that Sam Cooke got killed at.” I pulled over and drove into the parking lot. I sat there and thought about what I knew of Sam Cooke. What I knew at the time was that he was this business man who was doing these epic things in the music industry that no black men, or black people period, were doing at the time because we weren’t allowed. It was blasphemous to own your own masters, start your own label, or make these power moves. I understood the danger of the times he was doing these things in. But I also started to research his story and what actually happened.
I found that his family wrote a book that counters all that has been put out to the world. I remember reading different articles and hearing from different celebrities that were there and describing what he looked like in the casket. They basically mirrored it to Emmett Till. In the spirit that it was being told something else happened and we’re not being told. But also, I admired what he did for perspective for people like me just reading his story and learning about what he was doing in his time made me feel like so many years later it’s only right for me to carry that torch in some capacity. It empowered me to do better business, but more so to make better music.
TRHH: On the song “Martin & Malcolm” you say “Music is forever, it’s pretty evident/Support substance music, let’s keep it relevant.” Do you feel like music of substance is in danger of becoming extinct?
John Robinson: Never. Never. It’s always a balance. I feel that music of substance will never be extinct because the music of substance is the real storytelling. That’s like saying the message from the gurus of ancient times could never reach the twenty-first century because they didn’t have the technology to do it. This is energetic, this is ancestral, this travels on a destiny level. That’s how I see it. Even myself as a creator, my privilege is once you tap into a certain spiritual vibration as a creator you’re able to channel.
Anyone out there, if you’re a creator, not just in music, anything dynamic that has substance and integrity attached to it, I can almost guarantee you felt these times of “Wow, I did that? I made that? Where did that come from?” It’s divine. Not all of us are tapped into it, but I definitely am. I truly stand by that. Substance music will be relevant, but it’s definitely our duty, those who are intuitive, to keep it alive and well. We’ve seen the job that it does just for humanity. Music, culture, especially black culture. Blacks in America have channeled culture around the world to the point where it’s safe to say our culture is in ever crevice of the world damn near. We govern that, all of that. That energy will never die.
TRHH: You’ve been doing this for over 25 years, what would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the music business?
John Robinson: Great question because there is so many. The biggest lesson is bet on you. If you’re really about this life, bet on you. I tweeted that out randomly because I felt it. invest in self and trust your ideas. How many times do we have these ideas of things we’re gonna do and we let someone or something discourage them because they project their fears on us of what they’re afraid to do or what they think is impossible? Trust your ideas and move because it came to you for a reason.
Some people don’t attach themselves to the divine. This is not a mistake. People call it a coincidence, absolutely. Evidence and experience coincide in you to bring forth variety. So, yeah, it is a coincidence. It came together. Coincidences are not fake or magic or happenstance. That’s how I live. That’s probably the biggest one. Bet on you and trust your ideas. Stop letting people discourage you and move on what you know is great for you.
TRHH: Who is the King JR album made for?
John Robinson: The King JR album is made truly for me. The reason I say that, and some people may feel like it’s selfish, it’s made for me in a way that I’m at a stage where I want to do exactly that – I want to trust in my ideas. Blu came to me with this idea. I severely respect Blu’s creative lens and his creative output, his aesthetic and all he’s done. I met him really early. I met him before he even recorded a song and I heard him rap and it blew my mind just how good he was and how much he wanted to say so young. I knew he would be great. This record was a culmination of me saying “I know these beats are different. I know this soundscape won’t resonate with some people who have been following my career. I know some people won’t understand it, but I gotta get this out for me.” That’s something I’m realizing more than ever.
When I listen to my own verses, as much as people think I’m dropping gems, I’m teaching myself, too. This is for me, this is healing. I need to heal these vibrations and embrace them too, and that’s why I put them out there. It goes back into that channeled energy. There’s this ancestral voice that’s tapping in sometimes to get these sound vibrations out into the universe. That’s how I look at these creations. I’ll admit this is a selfish creation [laughs]. If people like it, great. If they don’t. I can’t change this one. I can only paint something different at a later time. I give thanks to Blu for even bringing forth the vision. With this release, I feel like Blu is going to go deeper into the production. This is definitely an album I’m very proud of. This is something that I feel it takes more than a few listens to unpack.
Some people listen to “Martin & Malcolm” and say, “He ain’t talking about Martin and Malcolm!” To me Martin & Malcolm means balance. Balance of life, business, all this other chaos, and society’s ills that surrounds us every day. It’s really this abstract art piece that I want you to take your time and unpack. There’s actually a song that I didn’t include on the digital version. It’s only on the cassette and it’s called “Dear John.” It’s very abstract and unique. It’s totally different from anything else on the record. I want people to hear it, unpack it, and they’ll realize why I didn’t put that on the album. They’ll realize it and say, “That’s why he didn’t put that on the album, he didn’t want to go to jail.”
Purchase: John Robinson – King JR