I.B. Fokuz and Collasoul Structure are two emcees from the group Jyroscope. The Chicago emcees joined up with producer Montana Macks for a release that details the ups and downs of everyday life. “Happy Medium” is the state that most people strive to attain in life, it’s also the title of Jyroscope and Montana Macks collaborative release.
Happy Medium is produced, mixed, and mastered by Montana Macks. Cuts on the album come courtesy of Jyroscope’s very own 7uDJ Seanile. The 5-track EP is available exclusively on Bandcamp.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke with I.B. and Collasoul of Jyroscope about working with Montana Macks, how the group became more business minded, and their new EP, Happy Medium.
TRHH: How did you guys end up working with Montana Macks for this project?
I.B. Fokuz: It kind of sparked organically. Rob had a couple of tracks Montana Macks had just sent to him like, “Yo, here are some beats to check out.” He had them for some years. As we started getting back into the creative juices coming off of the Mute EP he was like, “Check these beats out and let me know what gravitates to you.” He started to write a chorus to “War Going On.” The funny part about it is “War Going On” and “Take it Easy” were the first two tracks that we wrote to, which were actually both ends of the spectrum.
Collasoul Structure: The first and the last song.
I.B. Fokuz: As we wrote those two we came over to his crib. No title was put into place at that time. We were like, “Yo, check out these two tracks that we’ve got. Let’s see if we can turn this into something. He hit us with some more tracks. We loved the tracks. The name didn’t come into fruition yet at this point, it was more of how are we going to fill in the gaps of going from a dark place to the other end of the spectrum of smelling the flowers and having peace of mind. That sort of became the blueprint to Happy Medium and Happy Medium started to build from there.
Collasoul Structure: If you’re searching for a happy medium you’re looking for an okay middle ground between one extreme to another for the most part. For us, I can speak for me and I.B here, us being husbands and fathers for a decent amount of time, every day is some kind of hurdle and obstacle course. We’ve been trying to find some kind of middle ground between being frustrated, angry, upset, and behind happy, being around our families, and being able to create. What is the middle space? This decent, peaceful, solace spot for us? So, that’s where the name of the project came from.
I.B. Fokuz: Just to add on to that a little bit, that’s really what gave the songs validity. Because we started to find out, okay this bridge that we’re gap-ing, what are the stepping stones to this? How do we dive in depth to those emotions? We really were painting it like a movie in our heads. We started out with this dark cloud, what is the very next thing that you go through? You’ve got to still wake up and work. That’s why “Work” came next. You’re working, working, working, and working and now it’s auto-pilot.
Collasoul Structure: You’re not even thinking about it, you’re just doing it at that point.
TRHH: The single “Take it Easy” is so laid back, it made me wonder did you have the concept for the song or did it come from the beat?
Collasoul Structure: I want to say I might have wrote the chorus first. When you hear it, it kind of sounds like a calm, celebratory song. Like, we’re popping champagne, but we’re chillin’ outside. We might be on the beach or could be in the crib chillin’ on my couch. It literally sounds like, “Okay. After that long day I’m going to go in the fridge, grab a beer, and take my shoes off.” The take it easy part in some parts of the chorus literally if I get so upset in a day I will repeat the words “take it easy, bring it down” and it does work for me. It sounds crazy, but those exact words scale me down from a very high point of anger and frustration.
I.B. Fokuz: Similar to “War Going On” when he let me hear the chorus for “Take it Easy” I immediately knew the vision of where he was going with it. It just felt right. It didn’t feel rushed or like it was out of pocket. He was in the right space with the right mentality. I think it was also something that we’ve been searching for, too. This project in totality is really a fifteen-minute window into our lives. It’s purely authentic. It’s no dressing up like we’re artists and we do this, and do something else on the other hand. You literally have a fifteen-minute window into our everyday lives of not only how we were feeling as artists, but as men, husbands, and fathers dealing with the everyday struggle. Take it Easy was definitely special, but again, if you put it into context, none of the middle part was even written yet. Take it Easy was literally embracing it at the moment like, “This is what this means to take it easy right now to us.”
TRHH: The song “Frozen in Time” speaks on being stagnant in life. How were you able to get to the point where you realized that being stuck is all in your mind?
Collasoul Structure: Essentially everything does start there with whatever you do. Sometimes we get stuck in our heads and are like, “I can’t do this. I can’t figure this out.” Well kick back, give yourself a moment, or just release it from your mind for one second at least.
I.B. Fokuz: I think the “Frozen in Time” concept has such a back story to it, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight that first. It will make you appreciate it a lot more. How this project was put together so organically it made it that much more special. “Frozen in Time” was actually the last song we wrote. It was actually written on the cusp of the pandemic. All of the other songs were written before the pandemic. The way that this song came about, we actually wrote the rest of the project and we were ready to release it. The mindset was we released an EP in 2019. We didn’t want 2020 to go by without releasing another project, so, we wanted to rush it to get something else out here so we could work on the next project.
So, Montana Macks was like, “Yo, I think it’s important to add another song.” We fought him on it like, “Nah bro, we already got the concept.” Literally in our mindset at that time was War Going On, Work, Auto-Pilot, Take it Easy, done. He pushed us like, “If you listen to the beat and don’t like it was can move forward, but just listen to it.” We’re like, “Aight, bet.” Rob instantly heard it and called me like, “Check the Gmail right now.” I remember it like yesterday. I was on my way to a family get together with the fam. I started the track when I was a block away. I started zoning out to the track and I told my wife to take the children to the house so I could zone out to the beat. I called Rob back like, “This might be the one” and Rob was like, “I’m already writing right now.”
The thing that I think was special for us was it was an opportunity to bridge the gap just between Auto-Pilot and Take it Easy because Auto-Pilot was that space after work you’re on auto-pilot, but then originally, we had it like you’re in a zone, then all of a sudden, you’re smelling the flowers and taking it easy. Frozen in Time gave us an opportunity to snap out of this auto-pilot day dream and we’re now, starting to gain perspective and wisdom and seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It helped tell the story a lot better. I thought it would be important to point out because that’s what kind of push from the chorus, lyrics, and what we were talking about, gave us the moment of, “I’m not there yet but, I’m starting to understand what I’m going through. I’m starting to learn what I’m going through.” That gave us the opportunity to take it easy.
TRHH: I.B., you reference your faith sometimes in your rhymes; how has Islam shaped the way you approach music?
I.B. Fokuz: It’s definitely shaped a lot ever since I dove into my religion. As a Moorish-American Moslem it’s definitely shaped my whole perspective of the world, how I view myself, my family, and how I view my impact and the energy I have amongst people. It’s put me in a position to dive deeper and more in depth than what I’ve ever done before when I was younger. When we were rhyming when we were younger we were always truth seekers. If you’re into Hip-Hop for Hip-Hop you’re looking for substance all the time. You’re always looking to question things and challenge things and challenge things. I think this perspective has really helped me tap into myself internally to where instead of just gaining wisdom you understand its power and the impact that it can have on others.
So, I think it made me more introspective. It made me a little more aware of how I can use different elements in a way that I probably didn’t use them before. So, I definitely try to be more of the message that I bring as opposed to being preachy. Everybody has the right to believe what they believe in. Just like music is a universal language, it’s a universal perspective that we can all chime into that is a spiritual aspect that we’re trying to define within ourselves. That kind of bond connected with me and Rob as well. Even though he doesn’t walk down that same lane we have these conversations and build on these different thought perspectives of the world. That’s made me a better writer. So, I see the ins and outs of things instead of taking it face value and taking it as that.
TRHH: It’s been ten years since y’all came out, right?
I.B. Fokuz: Ragtime was September 2011, but we really were out here on the scene in ’06. We were out here grinding, doing shows, open mics, finally getting to shows and doing stuff with Tomorrow Kings. At that time, we literally had no merch. Ragtime came out in 2011, but we were performing that all in ’06 and ’07. People would come to our show and say, “Y’all killed it. Y’all got some merch?” Nah. “Y’all got a website?” Nah.
Collasoul Structure: It was all handshakes and daps.
I.B. Fokuz: We had a Myspace page. We just started the game late when it came to actual merch.
TRHH: So, what made you leap from just doing the songs to actually selling the songs?
Collasoul Structure: We figured out that we needed to give people more to take with them than just a handshake. We need to give them something to go home and study, if you will. Something to remember us by, listen to, and when you come to the next show you might even know the words, maybe a verse, or a chorus. It’s just a better way to further communicate with folks than just performing and rapping after. They can go home and listen to and read it like a book. I think that’s very important, too.
I.B. Fokuz: I think also too, we were young man. We were young to the game, so, we were more big on just getting props from people. We wanted to get an open mic and crush it. People saying, “Y’all the best we ever seen” was enough for us at the time. But then we started looking around, we’ll rock a show, kill it, and then we’ll see people at their merch table and they’re making money. We’re looking like, “Dang, we could have made a killing tonight!” I think it was just an aspect of ignorance of not knowing the business and not knowing how to truly promote ourselves. It probably would have been better if we had a manager at that time, and we still don’t have a manager at this time, we just learned the game over time to do it ourselves. At that time, we were just very green. We just had to learn on the spot. Nowadays it’s like, “Hold up, y’all didn’t think merch was important?” At that time, we just wanted to rock and prove that we were dope.
Collasoul Structure: Getting respect from our peers was so important at the time. We didn’t even think about it.
TRHH: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the music business?
I.B. Fokuz: Dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s. Get in on your ASCAP. I was working in a studio and I learned a lot just working in a studio. I was doing jingles for a while and I’d see people come in, do their vocals, and hand them a W-2. They’d sign the W-2 and get me to go in there and do it, give me the W-2, and then I’d get paid. I started to see ins and outs. I told Rob, “I’ve seen them do this, so every time we do this we need to make sure we have our paperwork right. That’s when you start learning about ASCAP, royalties, and just promotion wise. I’m working at an advertising company, so, I’m seeing how they strategize and promote things. So, I’m like, “We need to make sure our album cover stand out like this” or “If we’re doing the House record we need to connect with some DJ’s.” That’s how we connected with Black Madonna, who goes by Blessed Madonna today. We connected with DJ Simba Selecta, who we plan to do a project with soon. We started to realize we have to connect those networks and really build with the people that’s necessary to support those projects.
Collasoul Structure: That’s the perfect segue. Literally relationships. Nurturing relationships. I can’t look back and go, “If we had done this and that we would have been at this point” but if we had known how important nurturing relationships were back then we could be in a different spot right now. It’s so important that when you meet people you really lock in with them and share that energy. Share your resources and help each other out as much as you can, because you never know what it will look like ten years down the line. Between that and the merch thing. Always make sure you have physical merch. We all sell music that is online, but having physical packaging is the most important thing right now. Vinyl sales are sky high, through the roof. People are popping off hoodies, shirts, beer glasses, shout out to the homies that are doing that right now. It really is a quote unquote “seller’s market” right now, for sure.
I.B. Fokuz: And licensing opportunities too. That’s something that we had to get hip to as well. We did one track that was featured in an All-American McDonald’s commercial for the Super Bowl. That brought some extra dough in our pockets. That inspired me to start making all original beats. When you go back to the Mute EP, all of that’s original. I know that it’s kind of a different story with this one, but that’s kind of been a major thing for us like, how can we really take full advantage of this project and not let it be in its own world, but it can take flight into a movie or a commercial? I think our business mindset has opened up broader of what are possibilities are when we’re building something, versus just being so caught up in the box of just the package that we’re putting out.
TRHH: I saw EPMD speaking after this thing during the celebration of the anniversary of Hip-Hop and I was thinking, man, 30 years ago they broke up. They’re back together and it made me think about how so many groups in Hip-Hop split up, beef, sue each other, it’s always something. What’s kept you guys together for fifteen years now?
Collasoul Structure: First of all, we went to high school together. I’ve known I.B. Fokuz since 2001. This is my guy. I was there when his first kid was born. When his first daughter was born.
I.B. Fokuz: Let me make that clear for a second. Usually it’s the wife’s friends that are there for your child. Usually your guys don’t show up. This guy, and our boy Gilead7 were the only two people that showed up for my first daughter being born, and they stayed overnight.
Collasoul Structure: That’s my man. I’ll do anything for him. This is forever. Until we pass on.
I.B. Fokuz: Even when it comes to business and when I produce, anything we do is 50/50. There is never an argument or a debate about “I did this and you did that.” If I did 75% of it, it’s 50/50. If I did 95% of it, it’s 50/50 and vice versa. That’s just how we roll. So, we don’t get caught up in none of that, man. The core of what we bring is always a perfect reflection of who we are as men and brothers. We bring that to Tomorrow Kings and to everywhere we go. It’s kind of in our name, Jyroscope, everywhere we go we balance our environment. We make everything adapt to us. It’s love, man, forever.
Collasoul Structure: This is actually the perfect time to say shout out to DJ Seanile. That’s our guy. It is three of us, but at the moment it’s just us two speaking right now [laughs].
TRHH: Who is the Happy Medium EP made for?
I.B. Fokuz: It’s made for you, man. We were talking to Weekend at Gabe’s and he said it perfectly just as a fan of the album. He said, “There aren’t a lot of projects that speak to people my age that are like 30 or 40.” He said he feels like sometimes he has to adapt to the younger generation approach. I don’t even think this can even be capped as young or old. It’s a mature project. If you’ve got children, you can relate to us taking our children to daycare. If you’re married or have a significant other, you can think about just having a family. It doesn’t pigeonhole itself. This is for the modern man. This is for the modern family. No matter if you’re a DJ, a reporter, or a janitor, this is about that. This is for the struggle. This is for the people that truly know what their lives are in an authentic way, but they’ve seen themselves be in those dark places and have to reach that light at a certain point. It’s an up and down roller coaster, so Happy Medium is a fifteen-minute spot into what we do, but it’s going to happen all over again. You don’t stay happy forever. You can’t stay in a dark place forever either. It’s a never-ending thing. This is for everybody, man.
Purchase: Jyroscope & Montana Macks – Happy Medium