Hip Hop Fridays: Vibes of the Pro Black: A Conversation With Brother J. of X-Clan by Andy J. Solages Part I (May 27 - May 30)
Let me tell you, May 2005 has been a great time to be part of the Black Electorate staff as well as a lovely time to be a regular viewer. A few weeks ago a friend sent me the full version of a new X-Clan single that included two songs, “Blackwards Row” and “The One.” Anyone who knows me knows that Brother J. from X-Clan is my favorite Hip Hop artist, with Wise Intelligent from Poor Righteous Teachers following so closely that their positions in my Hip Hop pantheon appear nearly indistinguishable. I had already been bumping the preview snippets of the two songs for several months, but the full versions have remained in my regular rotation as if they were brand new to me. So while I am on a high from just receiving “The One” and “Blackwards Row,” Cedric calls me the same day and let’s me know that he is doing an interview with Wise Intelligent. New X-Clan songs and an interview with Wise Intelligent; how could the day get any better? Well later on that day, I happen to make contact with Brother J. and he agrees to do an interview with Black Electorate with me serving as the interviewer. Don’t you viewers feel loved? Earlier this month, BEC blessed us with Cedric’s interview of the Talented Timothy Taylor, Wise Intelligent, and today we are publishing part 1 of an interview with the legendary Brother J. of X-Clan.
Andy: First of all this is an honor and a pleasure. As I told you before, you’ve been my favorite artist period since I was a little kid, so I am very pleased to be able to conduct this interview. It’s amazing how everything came together.
Bro J.: That’s peace man. Thank you for the respect.
Andy: No doubt. Now, you’ve been doing this forever, but I’m going to ask since when. How long have you been practicing this art? How did you get your start as a professional?
Bro J.: I joined the Blackwatch movement when I was 16 years old, and we dropped our first record in 89, 90. I was still in my teenage years when we dropped To The East Blackwards, which was my first professional debut. Otherwise I had just been doing block parties and deejaying and stuff like that, but I had never grabbed the mic until, you know, a couple of years before that.
The Blackwatch had allowed me, at the time, to blend what I was learning in my house. My father had always taught me in the ways of order: to respect family and to respect people. When you have a good foundation like that you can learn anything else in the world.
Bro J.: So when it came over to Blackwatch, Sugar Shaft had introduced me to Architect. Architect introduced us to Lumumba Carson, who is Professor X. We clicked from there. We did a demo at Ultramagnetics’ crib. They were looking for a messenger. Someone that was proud to be, and not someone who was doing it for a fad. At the time Hip Hop was very faddish…you had to have the flat top or polka dots or something. We were coming with the straight knowledge. We were kids from around the way. We were talking street knowledge. When you walk the streets of New York City you have to decide between bragging on yourself, talking about your chain or talking about what the street was about.
Andy: For those who aren’t familiar with your history could you tell us who were the members of the original X-Clan and describe the roles that each member played in the group?
Bro J.: Sugar Shaft, now deceased, my brother, peace to him. Sugar Shaft was the DJ. We called him the Rythem Provider. Each position that we had, we redefined it into our world because although we wanted to continue in the tradition of Hip Hop we wanted to add something new: some new lingo. So Sugar Shaft would be a DJ, which is a Rythem Provider.
Paradise the Architect Tractitioner, he was a producer as well as someone who was giving us guidance as far as what this record game was about. He was originally a manager of the Latin Quarters club, one of the biggest Hip Hop clubs in Hip Hop history. This is where a lot of cats got their foundation in New York, in Times Square. Architect was more of a producer.
Professor X, originally a manager, was a spokesman for the Blackwatch movement. He wasn’t the leader of the X-Clan. He was a spokesman for it. He is the son of Sonny Carson. Respect to him also, he (Sonny Carson) passed a few years ago. Master Sonny was a very powerful figure in my life, and in everyone’s life who was involved in the movement. So learning from them, we got to learn from elders that were around Malcolm when he was living. We got to be around a lot of these Black Nationalist leaders that are here now, in their younger stages, so it was an honor to serve with them. So those three brothers with myself, as the Grand Verbalizer, which would be basically an MC, but as I said I paid my dues and I wanted to come out with a different title that expressed what we were talking about, with our content, and what we are building on. So those are the original four members.
Andy: You mentioned Blackwatch. For those who might not know, could you tell us what Blackwatch was and describe its relationship to X-Clan?
Bro J.; Certainly. Blackwatch Movement was a Black Nationalist Movement that blended with the Hip Hop Generation. It was founded by Lumumba Carson, Professor X, before I was there. Years before I came, it was in affect. The goal of Blackwatch was to take those kids that were bored of the same old approach of Black Nationalism. You know usually when you have a forum for Black Nationalist people to get together, speak about issues or rally, someone is standing in front at podium just pointing a finger at what’s wrong and everybody saying “yay” or “nay.” But Lumumba’s goal was to add some flavor to that. It’s just like having young kids in church nowadays. You look at a Church now it’s upbeat, with Kirk Franklin and stuff. They kind of added the Hip Hop twist and it’s attracting young kids to come back to the church. So we wanted to get people to stand up for their rights a little closer, and although we say Black Nationalism, it’s basically aimed at improving the Black environment. We’re not meant to be a prejudiced circle; it’s just that we want to improve our environment. Because if we’re not crackheads, we’re dope dealers. You know, the whole stereotype of the Black existence was so backwards. So we’re not playing “Amos and Andy” on the screen. We wanted to improve that by showing some indigenous knowledge with music. So while you were at the club dancing to a record, like our first record, “Heed The Word of The Brother,” you wouldn’t know that we’re building on sciences from United States Sciences to Egyptian Sciences. And you’re jamming and sweating and calling the club “man, that record was hot” and there is no difference. That was rare. Usually when a positive record comes on everything stops and everybody get tight in the ass and doesn’t know what to do. We were trying to break that. With me bringing the music, and the movement being based around youth in Hip Hop, it was a great marriage for us to come together.
Andy: You mentioned that the X-Clan served as Messengers, so who were some of the other Blackwatch messengers?
Bro J.: As we evolved, Queen Mother Rage was one of the messengers, you had Isis (Lin Que), you had YZ, Just Ice, who was down with us for a little while, Beta Ray, even Das Efx was down with us at one time.
Andy: Really? I didn’t know about Just Ice or Das Efx being in Blackwatch.
Bro J.: Yeah. We have footage with them from when they were paying dues as flag bearers on the stage. We had a lot of cats that weren’t in the light that were down with our circle. The movement was so vast that it wasn’t just based on vocal messengers on the mic. We had a lot of people that were powerful speakers that weren’t in the limelight. Some are still leading circles to this day and training and such. It was a very universal cipher; it was a shame that it had to come to a close.
Andy: Never heard that before. Interesting.
Bro J. Yeah. A lot of folks have passed through our door, brother. Because it was something to where it was an alternative for what everybody were going through. If they weren’t uptown to get involved with Zulu Nation or if they weren’t doing the Nation of Islam or the Black Panther Movement or anything, Blackwatch seemed very fresh and attractive. We had the limelight and it was raw Black Nationalism. We weren’t watering down our science. We weren’t changing up or playing like we were pop stars. We were as raw as we spoke. We walked the talk so to speak. So that was something that some youth appreciated. But when you get the good you sometimes get the bad and when the bad apples are involved with a situation….As with every movement it taints from the inside. But as I always tell people, the Blackwatch ended because the era changed. People evolve and if you’re not going to evolve with the people in your movement then you are eventually going to filter out. From Black Panthers, to Black Stone Rangers, and even the NAACP, the power of Black Movements, nowadays, is so thin because people are not really doing their homework on what the purpose of these circles are. And it is so easy to be ignorant. So it’s like I would rather be drunk, go to the club, and then go to church on Sunday and then say “I’m sorry” rather than live 365 days of the year fighting for what’s real. Instead of being a slave, standing up for myself, standing up for the next generation, so if not my kids, at least someone else’s kids…but that kind of pride died out. I wish that the people that were involved with the movement kept that up. It shouldn’t have had to be about us or Professor X or anybody carrying it on, it should have been in the hearts of every man, woman, and child to continue with that influence, to pass the baton. But unfortunately we’re not tradition people anymore. We’re don’t pass the word on as our Ancestors did. It used to be that we could pass sciences on by word of mouth, brother. Nowadays you can say “blue” and two years later it’s purple. (laughter) It’s a shame, but it’s real.
Andy: Could you tell us about some of the milestones in the career of the original X-Clan?
Bro J.: I think one of the great milestones was when we did the Times Square Video premiere of “Close The Crackhouse.” (from the Professor X, solo offering Puss N’ Boots)
Andy: Ah…I remember that.
Bro J.: That was a powerful time. I’ll also say when we did the Joe Louis Arena with Public Enemy. And when Heavy D’s boy (Trouble T-Roy memorialized in the song “T.R.O.Y.” –They Reminisce Over You by Pete Rock & CL Smooth) passed away, he fell of a ledge in Indiana, and we took their place on the tour. It was an honorable thing to do music in memorial for him, so to speak. We embrace Hip Hop and when it was coming together, as a family, to mourn, it was an honor to do music with regard to his life, with respect, while everyone was in a together mode. Not to say that his passing was an opportunity for us, but it was an honor to perform when everybody was coming together, as a unit, as a family. It’s a shame that we only come together in death like when Easy E passes, Sugar Shaft passes, or Jam Master Jay or someone, everybody is all of a sudden family. When Tupac goes, when Biggie goes everybody is all together.
It lasts for like six months and then we’re back to the foolishness. So I do embrace the times when we come together as one unit. It is a powerful thing. There is no beef, there are no quarrels. That was a pivotal time to feel what it was like to be unified, to feel what our music was really about.
Other times, I would say, for X-Clan it has been so many different things. We have done demonstrations, like for Yusuf Hawkins, where we brought thousands of people to march in order without destroying. When Yusuf Hawkins got messed up in Bensonhurst, that could have easily been like Watts. It could have been a very powerful thing where neighborhoods were destroyed and on fire. Our team, along with others like the December 12th Movement, we helped maintain order. That was a pivotal time to let people see that we’re not just “video babies.” We left the video site, actually, from Bambatta’s “Free South Africa” video, which we were filming, to go to that rally. Where other artists were like “man I got to get on and get my shine” we left and did what we are put here to do. We’re soldiers first. So you know times like that, showing cats what we’re really about are monumental for us as well. So those are just a few picks from the barrel.
Andy: You are the only member of the original X-Clan who is physically present for the current project, so can you tell us a little about the evolution and restructuring of X-Clan as a group, as well as describe your Dark Sun Riders organization for our viewers?
Bro J.: Certainly. Dark Sun Riders was founded in 1994 after I had separated from X-Clan. One of the main reasons I separated from X-Clan, which a lot of people really didn’t catch, was that with time changing we had to evolve the group. We couldn’t continue to do the same sampling, with the same type of message, we had to find a way to bring about a different chemistry. And when you get into evolving, you have to have everybody agreeing on the evolution or there is going to be a creative difficulty. I didn’t want to have a creative difficulty with my Brothers because we had such a good run. I would rather take a hiatus and come up with something different to just keep it in the stream rather than debate and be held up in contracts and be going through all sorts of difficulties like Eric B and Rakim did or EPMD and them did. I didn’t want to go through any of that. So I created Dark Sun and I created an alternate personality for myself (the Vibal Magus) within that group so that I could continue the message in a different way. The Dark Sun Riders project, Seeds of Evolution, was meant strictly for thinkers. It was not meant to jumble the waves or be the number one video or anything. It was meant to say, “take a little bit of this, and play with it, until I figure out how I want to bring the X-Clan about again.” If I want to do a reunion, if I want to do a whole new cipher, the Creator would have to show me what to do. It wasn’t my call from the beginning. It was the Creator’s call because the original X-Clan was me and Sugar Shaft, and we invited Architect and Lumumba, Professor X to join us. It wasn’t all four of us at the beginning. The audience got to witness it after the blow up, but originally it was just me and Sugar Shaft coming out of High School and that was the name of our group. So doing this new team, after Dark Sun Riders… now Dark Sun Riders is a house of chambers, each one of the members is responsible for each chamber of learning, you have producers, you have martial arts masters…my grand master of the martial arts is in my team, Master Sheikh. If they go on the website they’ll see the brother with the spear. Now he is Master China, my master instructor. Master China has been involved in the circle for a long time; he was in Blackwatch. Master China is actually the cousin of Lumumba Carson, Professor X. So half of the Dark Sun Team has paid dues in Blackwatch. Ultraman was part of Blackwatch. Master Sheikh was part of Blackwatch. You will meet Solomon Grundy this year on the new projects coming out. The other two brothers, Mr Rips and Croe are, you would say, Padawans if you will…
Andy: (laughter) Okay. (editor’s note: Andy is faking the funk here as at the time of this interview he had not seen the Star Wars movies. He is good with context clues and the word sounded funny.)
Bro J.: In the student stage. Still coming up as the youngest of the riders. They are the only brothers who are not masters of chambers, but everyone else is actually older than me and I am honored that they have joined this circle to bring their expertise. I wanted Dark Sun to be an example for everyone that’s a little older to say that if you have anybody in your environment that is not adding on a masterful vibe for you to learn from you are wasting your time. You have to surround yourself with people that are doing positive things in order for you to say elevated. Otherwise you will always find yourself babysitting and not looking at the real essence of life. You’re not keeping your eyes on the prize, so to speak. So Dark Sun Riders was a living example and it was a little taste of what I wanted to do with X-Clan. So when it comes to X-Clan, you’ll notice that I took the Dark Sun’s Council and created a new circle. I call them the Millennium Cipher, because in order to address the issues of the new millennium, you have to think like the new millennium. You can’t think like the 1960’s and you can’t think like the early 90’s. I can’t think like that with music. I’ve had to evolve my sound totally. So when you hear songs like “The One,” there are no samples, the message is updated, and people are bumping that now in the streets. It will become a thing where each one of the songs that we have, will start to get people back into having a good time where they don’t have to turn down the radio from the curses and the messed up language and so on.
Bro J. and Andy: (laughter)
Bro J.: And that’s just an example of the chamber that I master. When I came out I was a youth, but as I got older, it’s like how do I show that my sword is still sharp in this game? How do I show a young man or young woman how to write? How do we make it so more sisters can get involved? I would like to see two or three Lauryn Hills come out within the next couple of years, rather than one appear once, win a couple of grammys and then it disappears (you’re being drafted sister). We need those kind of lyricists happening. Those kind of influences, for sisters, to come out. That’s the kind of influence in which each member of X-Clan comes. So as they go to the website, and you see the bios, you see brothers that teach music, you see brothers that have been in production for fifteen, twenty years. Brothers that understand the game from when it was born and how it has evolved. Brothers who understand how to make production, to where you capture the ear, and you don’t have to sell yourself short to sampling and getting sued. A lot of independent artists, right now, are getting sued because they don’t know how to create music. They’re not being original. We have to be aware of the lessons as well. I can’t come out and just teach them Malcolm and Martin. We have to learn this game. Quincy Jones is a part of history; we have to be as original as he was. They are learning Ray Charles now; he had to fight a lot of temptation to keep his creativity alive. That’s Black History. So this circle is structured the same way. It’s the same thing about martial arts. We always look to Bruce Lee about martial arts, but that started in our land. They learned from us. So if I don’t walk with masters of the art, then I’m doing a disservice to anyone that comes into our cipher that says “well what’s the move J? How do we get this going?” Find someone in your neighborhood or community that can get you involved with training. Someone that can help you get involved with healthy living, healthy eating. Someone that can help you build on healthy expression. If it’s not music, poetry. If it’s not poetry, perhaps getting up somewhere and speaking about justice. Do something to get the anger off of you. Don’t be an angry slave in this game. Be a successful and happy free man or free woman. That’s what our cipher represents. It represents freedom.
Andy: So I take it this is why, from the original X-Clan, to Dark Sun Riders, to X-Clan Millennium Cipher, you have always chosen to appear within a group, so you can maintain that.
Bro J.: I’m glad you made that point. I have had many offers to come out solo. I had offers to come out solo when I did the original Clan. But I’ve always wanted to be seen in a group vibe. It’s too easy to feed into the ego, brother. That can really take you to the dark side, man. I don’t want to get into a solo act. What would be the difference if I was a solo act? In the original X-Clan, I was the one rhyming on every song; what’s the difference? So even now, instead of me doing a solo project I would rather host a project that would introduce the next levels of the underground. You know, during my hiatus, brother, I’ve gathered up so many people for a movement that I call the verbal jihad. What we are trying to do, no, what we are doing moreso, is we’re gathering up all of the urban legends: all of the people that have influenced a lot of these commercial acts that are out, nowadays. Don’t think that they don’t go out to these underground spots and look at who is really the s____t, nowadays. My whole thing is that those artists need to come to the forefront.
Andy: I have always appreciated the tone of your music. Dignified, confident, it exudes power. Within the songs, there is an awareness of obstacles that we face as Black People, but at the same time, the bounce of the tracks along with your delivery and content, presents an attitude that seems to say whatever is being thrown at me, this is still my reality to shape and I will enjoy existence. You’ve touched on this before, with all the obstacles and evil we have to face, where did this attitude come from? Was it a conscious decision to manifest this sort of attitude in your brand of “conscious music?”
Bro J.: Well, the one thing that I say to producers that deal with me, or even what I say to myself when I’m producing my own music, is that I like to keep a block party vibration around what I’m doing. Because, I learned all of my music, and all of the Hip Hop in me was learned through block parties. I’m from Flatbush, Brooklyn, man. And as a youth, I might not have been able to go to an adult party to get down with the older heads, because of a lot of parties were getting shot up. But when you had a block party it was secure, and it let you really hear the music that you weren’t hearing in those after hour or spots or the dangerous basements of Brooklyn…you know until I got older to enjoy it. So as a youth, I have to say where did I get that vibe from? So as you pay dues, in the streets, and earn the right to deejay a block party, you think about all the music that was around you at that time. So a lot of the songs on X-Clan’s first album, To The East Blackwards, and X-Clan’s second album, Xodus, were music that I played. Remember that we were children of breaks, man. We were playing break records…”Love was the Message” if you look at the content of the music that I was choosing, that was Black music. That’s something you go into a community center and young and old would be dancing to it. I kept that music around me because that’s where I gained my confidence from. That’s where I gained my strength and my love of Hip Hop. That’s why they felt us so much, brother. It wasn’t so much about the knowledge that we were kicking, that was an element of it, but it was just the fact like, “man this kid sounds like he’s the most confident mf in the world.” They thought I was thirty years old. Man, I was a teenager. I came out of high school and jumped on the tour bus literally. But I have always been a natural at the craft of making the crowd move. I sampled songs that made the crowd move. And my best friend was a master DJ. Sugar Shaft was a master DJ. We grew up raw like that. Me and him used to roll around with a shopping cart, homie, and go to different community centers and battle cats for their equipment. That’s how we got our first equipment! So you think about all of things that we learned by going place to place. You got to be able to really please the crowd to wax somebody and take their equipment. You have to be doing something right for the crowd to love you. And that’s what Architect saw and that’s what Professor X saw in us as a group. And we had a little bit of Black Nationalism sprinkled on us. I never had Black Nationalism in my vein until I met Blackwatch. I’ve always known order, I’ve always studied the sciences. My family was very deep into studying, you know, from being Moors, and being Masonic…they can’t teach me their in house lessons but they can always lead me to a positive way of learning. So I had a very deep foundation when I was building. And good manners, just having good manners. Being raised between a city and the south, brother, you have to have manners or you get whupped. So being a gentleman opens doors for you. So I put all of those elements into my music. So when people hear me, I’m speaking clearly, like “understand me.” If I was speaking like a barbarian, like a lot of cats do nowadays, a lot of older people would not have bought our music, because we would have sounded like any other derelict. That’s what you are hearing in that early music, that early vibe. You have a good perception, brother. I’m glad to hear this, because I feel like somebody got it. I get a lot of comments from around the world, on the music, and things of that nature, but to talk to someone in the media, coming at me with the questions that you are bringing…that’s intelligent, brother. I hope a lot of the media that I am getting ready to face is really thinking like this. This is an inspiration.
Andy: Thank you, brother. Well, we’re happy to help (laughter). We definitely want to amplify your voice. I think you’ve mentioned this before, but you’re using live instruments for this project?
Bro J.: A lot of live instruments. We have full bands. I do shows out here with some of the live bands. Sometimes I take a break from the turntables, man. I do live band shows all over California, and I’m trying, no, I’m actually going to bring it to the east coast. To New York, and to Atlanta….The Roots and Parliament have inspired me to do on that level. Parliament first, Roots second. Parliament was part of what caused people to gravitate towards us in the first place. They always had their own, their own bass sounds, their own vibes, their own lingo. That’s an inspiration. Switching over from the turntables to the live band, it continues to prepare you as a performer. It makes you sharper. It makes you looser. It makes your performances on your album sharper. I would advise every Hip Hop artist to acquire that edge. If you look at Jay-Z, and Mos Def now, a lot of cats are going to that live band. It’s more work, but it seasons you in a different kind of way. It really really seasons you.
Andy: You have to tell us about the new album. I read that it was going to be titled “The Trinity” , but I understand you have changed the title. So what was the reason for the change and what does the new title signify?
Bro J.: Well…I named it “The Trinity” because it was the third X-Clan project. The Trinity was representing the music, the mission, and the cipher. I felt like the title, “Return from Mecca” better described more of what was really going down. One for me to return to the music, and for people to say, where have you been what have you been doing and so on, let there be no mistake that I have made peace with myself. And for Malcolm X to be a powerful influence in my life, and for so many Ancestors that have went to Mecca to refresh their spirits, Malcolm was not the only one, a lot of Ancestors have went to Mecca to refresh their vibrations. My whole thing with that, is that I wanted to bring that to the audience, that I didn’t have to, say, go to prison to come to terms with myself. For every cat that’s out here now and hollering “thug” and all that other stuff, my thing is to say catch on to this album before you get caught up. Don’t be hearing these vibes in prison, saying “coulda, woulda, shoulda.” Catch on to this music now, and really realize that your degrees have been cut short. You didn’t learn how to become from thugs to soldiers. I want this to be the voice for them to catch on to the fact that there is a stronger side to the street that they are missing. You don’t remember what the Black Panthers meant to a community at one time. You don’t remember what a lot of these grassroots organizations meant to the communities at one time. Y’all are just living off the hustle of it. Y’all are just living off of the power and the fear of it. You are not living off of the gratitude of seeing every house in the neighborhood painted and fly. You know, the darkest hood looking like Beverly Hills because we take care of our own. We’re not living that side of street knowledge. I want to offer that. I’m here to serve my people. I’m not going to go all of these years and say “I’m not a leader. I’m just an entertainer.” A lot of cats do that. Cats have a lot of influence, but they say “I’m just a regular joe. I’m just doing mine.” They don’t want that finger pointed at them, when they something off. When you are a leader it’s not for you to be perfect, but people trust your vibration, and you have to have more discipline than the average man. People shouldn’t be afraid of that, brother.
Andy: Just to switch gears a bit, let’s talk about your lyrics. Your choice of words, and the order you give your words, has always been very distinct from your peers in any era. So I want to know… you know Jay-Z says he writes his lyrics on air…what is your writing process like? How do you go about giving your rhythmic lyrics form?
Bro J.: Well one thing, is that you have to be at peace to write like this. You can’t be in a stressful mode. Because, one thing, as a skillful artist, you can write a rhyme to be clever and amaze everybody, but then as a person of content, you have to sacrifice some of that. Instead of doing something that makes people go “ooh” you have to write a rhyme that makes me people go “hmmm.” You have somebody like Canibus who will go out and wow the crowd and make them go “oooh.” But then you’ll have someone like Chuck D, who will make you go “hmmm. That’s deep. I didn’t think about that.” My job is to blend both worlds. Because the attention span of today’s consumer is so thin, (laughter) that you have to hit them with the “oooh” right quick, so by the time they are in motion to open their mouths it turns into a “hmmm…I got to go look that up when I get home from the club.” or “When I turn this radio off, I have a little homework for myself.” You don’t need to me to tell you, “sons of Noah” if you can’t go to the streets and apply that. But it is something for me to tell you the history of a people that have been raped and then put out there as the lower part of the totem, when we are the foundation of the planet. There is something in it for me to tell a youth that because then they’ll know in their minds not to get played. You know when you go out to say, “man, there is a great people right now just getting played.” If there is anything I can do to make sure that my race does not getting played, and if I can make sure to do something that can help them, I’m going to be the best I can be right now in doing that. That’s true justice, brother. That’s where my lyrics stem from. So if my influence says to someone, beyond your Black or White issues, and your racial problems or whatever, just think about it on the level of humanity. You wouldn’t let anybody get whipped in front of you, and beat to death until the blood and the white meat start showing. You would say, “Hold up with that whip, man. You’re not going to do that in front of me, or we’re going to have to get together and beat your ass. That’s the kind of vibration that stops all of this nonsense. That’s where my lyrics stem from. Just common sense on that level; it’s not complex. The words may sometimes be extra, because I swim in uncommon knowledge sometimes, but do I try to balance it to where it’s not mentally offensive, to where it’s not a turnoff, to where it’s not just a bunch of words thrown at you. It makes sense. To where if you don’t catch it this year, as you continue to develop, and put culture in your life, then you say “oh sh_t.” A lot of people come up to me, brother, with to To The East Blackwards still figuring out things.
Andy: I believe it.
Bro J.: It wasn’t just the books I was reading, it was the people I was surrounding myself with. Again, another reason for having a powerful cipher.
Andy: Your response flowed right into the next question, which is kind of in the same vein. Within your lyrics, and inside your album covers, you have referenced and continue to reference elements from a wide variety of traditions including Buddhism, Islam, the Gods and Earths, Christianity, Judaism, Freemasonry, and African Traditional sources. I know I am not alone when I say that your music piqued my interest in learning about the Netjeru (Egyptian Gods) and the Orisa (Yoruba Gods) among other things. Why did you choose to incorporate this variety of references in your art? You even referenced Aslan the Lion from C.S. Lewis’s books, on the Dark Sun Riders album. You went all over the place.
Bro J.: (laughter)
Andy: (laughter) You’re still doing that on the new stuff.
Bro J.: (laughter) That’s real deal. Because, the people that wrote that book were influenced by the sciences. You think about the great Lion of Judah; you know, that’s Aslan to me.
Andy: Uh huh. Okay.
Bro J.: You know, the great conqueror is coming to kill the white witch. (laughter) As a kid that hit me in the head. When I got older I’m like, “oh sh_t.”
Bro J. and Andy: (laughter)
Bro J.: It’s like one connected to the two. It made sense to me. (laughter) I reference so many different sources of religious philosophies, because each one of my Elders represented one of those ciphers at one time. I have Elders that were Buddhist. I have Elders that were Masonic. I have Elders that were Hebrew. So, as I would go see them and sit with them, and build naturally, it was an influence, it was one to grow on. So I would take a jewel from each one of the tribes and I brought it to my music.
Bro J.: I go sit with my Godmother, in the Orisa, and she’ll build with me and do a reading and tells me about things that are coming: like my weathervane. All of these philosophies are one: it’s just that we’re divided. You know, some will say that if Nimrod hadn’t divided us, and so on and so forth, but you have to figure out “well okay, if Nimrod did it, fine, but who going to put it all back together?” If my music can assist, to be a glue, at least, or an element of the glue, I’m not trying to be the hero, but I’d like to be a little element of the glue to help people understand how to bring it together.
Andy: Interesting. So you don’t practice or live within a specific religion or spiritual tradition? Or is it like you said, “my religion is reality” in “Ways of The Scales” (from To The East Blackwards)
Bro J.: (laughter) That said it right there. I have to stay on that neutral line. If I veered off it would really confuse the listener. As Malcolm said your religion is your personal business, know what I’m saying? One thing you can do as a leader is influence people to come your way. Like when Chuck D leaned towards to the Muslim sect, everyone was ready to go to the Nation of Islam. It can confuse as to what you really want to keep people focused on . I choose to keep it my personal business. It’s just that you contribute what you can, but you don’t want to influence people to go down a route that’s not theirs. It’s such a thin line between being respected for speaking and becoming a cult. A lot of artists don’t realize that when you sell 14 million records, you have the power to create a cult. People follow what you wear, people follow what you say. Imagine someone like Nelly could say “Hey, don’t vote”, “Don’t do this”, “Don’t Do that” and people would listen. It’s a very powerful thing to be in entertainment. If I’m underground or not, my name is legend in this game. My efforts are legend in this game. There are people that respect my move and may do homework if I say, “hey, consider this.” If I make a religious statement, “saying I’m a Muslim brother and the reason I’m a Muslim is because of A, B, and C.” a person may consider, “Wow, I want to become that sort of Muslim, because you come off very universal Brother J, and I would like to be that.” I have to continually say that to myself. It’s not like I can’t go sit with Muslim brothers; there are Muslim brothers in my circle. I can respect them, I can greet them, and I can go to pray in their Mosque, just like I can do with any other religion. But I don’t choose one, because for me to be a traveler, I understand that reality is the calling of the day. As a messenger, people have to consider that, man. In my opinion, man. (laughter).
Andy: I was thinking, when I was a kid, I memorized the Nguzo Saba from playing Xodus and you put them in a verse on that song “A.D.A.M.” That’s actually how I learned them. Besides myself, I know a number of Brothers and Sisters my age, a little older, and a little younger who had been turned on to Black Historical figures, cultural imagery, and dug into other subjects they were turned on to through your art and the work of other brothers like Public Enemy….
Bro J.: Yes sir. You know why I did that? Because I couldn’t remember the principles. And I said, “there has to be a way for me to remember the days.” Let me find a way to put it in a lyric. Because I’m sure there’s a lot of young cats feeling out of place, when it comes to those seven days, and wondering what day it is, they could just snap their fingers and sing and you’ll be in sync. That’s what I’m saying, if I was a Muslim cat, or if I was a, you know, a straight Hebrew, and I didn’t care about any other aspect of philosophy I wouldn’t have done that. You feel me? If I was a straight Buddhist, I wouldn’t have done that. But for me to keep reality in perspective, to say, “look man, I’m in the streets. I’m building with Black Nationalist elders from around the world. Grassroots movement.” So when it comes to those times of the year, a lot of these cats don’t deal with Christmas. So I have to respect the tradition, and be able to be on time with them, and say, “well, okay what do you practice?” Okay, Kwanzaa’s one of them. So if I practice Christmas with my family, and then I come to build with my other brothers and sisters that deal with Kwanzaa, I want to be on time with both sides of the coin. I don’t diss Santa Claus (laughter). I believed in Santa Claus, as a kid, man (laughter) a lot of cats did. I’m not going to sit here and play like I’m so Black, like “yo, I never believed in no White German.” (laughter) and all this. That wasn’t what I was concerned with, homie. I was concerned, about you know, with getting that Star Wars toy (laughter). That’s reality; religion as reality will make for a better flow of conversation rather than being one stiff individual. Not to say that any religion is stiff or anything, because I know that sh_t will come at me from one of ours, know what I’m saying. (laughter) We’re a very sensitive people. It’s just to say that a lot of the people that practice religion have to loosen up a little bit. They have to get in tune with what’s happening. Because when you constrain people in your sect, in your order, people sneak behind your order to do wild stuff. That’s what’s been happening. That’s why R.Kelly is bugged out. That’s why Michael Jackson is bugged out. Look at our people just tripping out nowadays, because they have to sneak behind a curtain to do the twist, rather than being free to express and really just venting off that weirdness in a different way. (laughter) They are trapped, and they get caught out there dwelling in the shadows.
Bro J. and Andy: (Laughter)
Andy: Regarding the name “X-Clan” I’ve wondered this, and I’ve talked this over with another brother, did the “X” have anything to do with “The Crossroads?” I also remember lines like “Elegba meet me at the road.” Did some of the ideas around the Orisa Elegba (Esu, Legba) come to inform the X-Clan’s ideas of “The Crossroads” and the “X” as you developed? Since Elegba is the Orisa associated with the crossroads and the point where we make our choices and thereby create whatever we will within the laws of cause and effect. What is “The Crossroads” as you and your teams have defined it?
Bro J.: Yes. X-Clan means so many different things, to many different people. But of course it means “the Crossroads” for all of us. This group was formed at a crossroads in our life, where we had many options. But there is truly one path to walk, which is the golden path the Creator chose for us. Elegba represents being mindful of guidance at the road for us. You know, the Orisa sciences is powerful in our Ancestral history. You see as the album was universal, we came across many different sciences on that project, To The East Blackwards I am referring to that. But Elegba is the guardian at the road, is that person at the road you sit with to build and ask for that guidance, or which way to make your strut so to speak. So it is definitely on point. The X represents resurrection. At that time frame where we came out there was a powerful part of Hip Hop messenger that was dying out. I mean sure it was rising in the mainstream, but it was a test against all of the pop music that was out. There were a lot of cats, Kid N’ Play, Kwame, and that R & B Hip Hop was starting to form itself. If we didn’t make our stance, all of the spoken word, that Sonny Carson, or the Last Poets, or Gil Scott Heron, all of those prominent speakers, all that knowledge would have died out. So we did bring a resurrection to that, you know, with artists like Chuck, and KRS-ONE, and Wise Intelligent and the list goes on for conscious artists that tried to represent the best way they could. So the X represents many many things to us. But it does represent brothers at the road. And it does represent our nation at the crossroad; it’s time for us to make serious decisions about where we need to go. And hopefully our group can create a peripheral view, as we used to say, you know a little higher ground from which to look at things from.
Andy: We talked about blending in spirituality…what you just said made me think of something you said, on “Blackwards Row,” “We’re Booker T. and Du Bois/ We’re frontline/with the voice of Shango.” So this is a reference to making a common sense synthesis of approaches that might seem in opposition…
Bro J.: Common sense and right reasoning is the whole gist of what’s happening, so I have to say “yes.” How can I express this….
Andy: Well…I’m thinking, Booker T., Du Bois, some people try and pit those sides of us that these figures represent against one another….
Bro J.: But you can’t. It’s the same thing that I say about Phyllis Wheatley, when people say that she is a sell out. I don’t think it was a case of her being a sell out. There are people that play the game and people that don’t. When you say the first Black poet that got a chance to do A, B, & C, you have to take the positive out of that somewhere. You just can’t say, “sell out “mother f___k_r.” So the same thing that I am saying with Booker T. and Du Bois; you have to note the power of both of them. You have to say, well one has one stand point and one had another. You have to know the positivity. Powerful intellects on both sides of the coin. One may be a little different in his views, but I’m about Black People. I have to come back here now to an industry of thugs. You think I can hate on everybody? I’ve got to respect Lil’ Jon, I have to respect Jay-Z, I have to respect all of these cats. Why? Because they found a way to crack the mold for us to make more money in this game. I can’t just say, “well Lil’ Jon, you’re wack.” No, I have to respect you, man, because like Rap-A-Lot Records, y’all took an independent to the next notch. You didn’t have to kiss somebody’s ass and remold your s____t; you created a new type of music. I don’t really give a care about your content. Where I turn on the radio and have to hear someone say, “wait until you see my d____k” or something. I don’t want to hear that when I’m on my way home, with my daughter in the car. I can’t enjoy the content, but I have to respect the move. Because that influences me to go independent. So instead of me coming out, and saying “I have to run up to Capitol and see if they’ll take me for a deal.” Or run up to Interscope. Or run up to this. I have had trials and tribulations through these labels, brother. So I have to say who inspires me. I’m inspired by Snoop Dogg. You return like that from the depths of hell…everybody was spitting on Snoop, brother. And when he went to Master P, everyone was booing his efforts, but now he is one of the most paid artists in the game. I have to figure out what y’all are doing, as my brothers, I have to find out what part of my blood can transmit that with what I do. I have to find that out. I can’t dis that, because I’ll miss a major lesson.
Andy: So you just take what is valuable and leave the rest…
Bro J.: Exactly, brother. That’s being real. As we said, reality religion (laughter). Black people have so many qualms about every thing, but the real. We’re over sensitive at the wrong time, always complaining and dissing on our own. I hate the fact that they diss on Michael Jackson. He created some of the best music ever. You never have to censor his music, bro. When was the last time you heard them beep out a Michael Jackson record, man?
Andy: Well…actually, I can think of one time when they did it with….
Bro J.: How can you diss an artist like that? If you turn on Usher you have to beep him, but you have every teeny bop girl listening and knowing every word on that record. And that’s not the best record to memorize, brother. And I don’t have anything against Usher, but I do have a problem with the language not being checked right. The program director really has to check himself, because the meaning and the intent of your words is deeper than saying “p___sy” or “d___k” on the radio. When you say, “I want a bad girl” and a girl is hollering for Usher and Usher is describing exactly what that bad girl, you don’t think that girl will mold herself to be what that bad girl is? But, I have to say what is the chemistry of what Usher is doing and how can I bring that over into the “conscious world.” Because it is entertaining. It’s like saying, “how can I enjoy a juicy hamburger and I am a vegetarian?” So I have to study, what are people tasting in this burger and I have to translate that taste into a vegetarian burger. That’s my goal with this label, and this music.
Bro J.: If I can create another Michael Jackson and have him come out build about things....Michael Jackson was very positive. He was singing “Liberian Girl”, singing “Thriller” singing music that is very entertaining, but not threatening, very comfortable, as a Black artist. And they dog him so much because he wanted to be a little kid. Every Black individual in this country should have stood up for that man. Y’all don’t stand up for R.Kelly unless he’s in the church somewhere hollering about “he can fly?” But y’all go and take Marion Barry over in D.C. smoking crack, and wilding out in the hotel, and give him a political position. Y’all can’t take R.Kelly and get him healed? Take his ass up and get him healed. How many healers do we know, brother? Spiritual leaders that can take that man and say, “Yo, man you have to be checked for a little bit. You’re wilding out, messing with these young girls, and pissing, exposing yourself like that. You’ve got a lot of influence in this game; we can’t allow that. We’re going to take you to Africa for a little while. And get your mind right. Get your mind cleansed.” We’re not taking responsibility for our own, man.
There is a time and place for everything. If they play an adult video at 12am, that is an adult time to be up. With lyrics and censorship, I get on the program director…. I can’t fault them but to a degree. You don’t play HBO Real Sex at 6pm, that’s 11 o’clock , or 12. You can’t change the parameters on that. Why are we having the lingo of “Real Sex” on when I’m coming through the traffic jam at 5 o’clock? At 3pm why am I watching somebody in a hot tub on a date with three men? That’s bugged out to me. Somebody has to be checked.
Andy:So it’s not about censorship, but just about having everything in the appropriate place?
Bro J.: That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m not trying to say “ban it.” I’m saying “check it.” Put it in the proper slot, homie. I don’t want a young kid walking up to me and enjoying what I enjoy as an adult. You got to earn that; that becomes a line crosser of respect, man.
Bro J.: That becomes a line crosser. If a kid can have access to all the amenities of being an adult, what kind of respect can they have for you? We respected our parents because we couldn’t listen to Richard Pryor while we were playing cards or whatever. These kids now are listening to whatever they want to listen to. Smoking herb, before they get to the classroom. I was terrified to smoke herb. I never smoked herb in high school, brother. I was like, “Oh my God, nigga, if I walk into class high, my Father will hang me in front of the school.”
Bro J. and Andy: (laughter)
Bro J.: I was scared, man. I was scared. You can’t say that nowadays. They broke our household, man. You touch a kid, nowadays, they get up on the phone and say, “oh my God, I’m being beaten. Come take my Parents away.” They got power like that. That’s ridiculous to me. Ain’t no naughty corner for Black children, man. Ain’t no, put on a dunce cap and turn your face to the corner.
End of Part 1
Andy J. Solages is Contributing Editor of Black Electorate.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click Here To Read Part 2.
Andy J. Solages
Friday, May 27, 2005