A Journey to the East, Blackwards
A discussion with the Grand Verbalizer of the X-Clan
As part of the Hip Hop Detoxx at Saviours’ Day 2008, many were treated to a performance by the legendary group X-Clan. Though many in the audience were not even born at the time, others in the audience know that X-Clan was a key component initiating a revolutionary era of hip hop when the music and lyrics were used as tools of entertainment, education and liberation, as opposed to promoting commercialism and materialism, while glorifying a culture of lewdness, violence and profanity. As the lead lyricist of the group, Grand Verbalizer Funkin’ Lesson Brother J talked with the Assistant Editor of The Final Call Ashahed M. Muhammad about his latest project “Return from Mecca” and aspects of hip hop culture’s past and current reality.
FC: What do you try to convey in the lyrical content you create?
Brother J: I try to convey that there is a better way to use the freedom of speech that all of our ancestors have fought for and died for. It is silly for us to fight for all of these civil rights and speech rights and things and then get up and act like buffoons. There are so many things that we can truly write about and songs that speak the truth.
FC: I notice when listening to CDs of hip hop groups or artists attempting to make a comeback, it seems like when they try to come out with something new, it sounds a little outdated, like the artist was in a time warp unsuccessfully trying to reconnect. How did you avoid that with your new offering?
Brother J: You know brother what you said is the reason why our initial sales were slow because X-Clan has been such a hero in Black homes and many people’s cultural homes for so long that people were scared to open up a new era to ask, ‘do you still have it? I would hate to hear you sound whack right now or outdated.’ The reason I did the tours first before the album came was to say if you come to my show and you are not happy then you know good and well not to pick up my product. So I paid those dues and a lot of the underground cats know that because I went through the underground as I did the first time around. It wasn’t the big arenas that were hiring us when we first came out. It was the small bars, it was the colleges, and it was the community radio stations supporting us. Mainstream radio didn’t pick-up on us until “Heed the Word” and “Raise the Flag” was banging the clubs down and hitting the streets hard.
FC: There was a time when “conscious” hip hop was the mainstream and if you weren’t coming with some kind of lyrical content that was uplifting the culture and strengthening the people with something for the mind, you might get booed off of the stage or ran out of the club for trying to bring some negativity, talk about the transformation.
Brother J: These types of judgments are taking the consciousness and making it corny where it’s like ‘he’s not performing at Puffy’s party’ or ‘he’s performing at such and such.’ I think that the level of what people are trying to state when they say conscious music is corny is that there is discipline involved in listening to it. There is a discipline involved in researching after you listen to it because it’s not a face value thing. It’s a conscious lyric that has so many different dimensions, you have to really sit down and digest. Also, a lot of conscious artist don’t check the music side of their situation. They feel like ‘hey if I am intelligent, my audience will buy it.’ You are wrong. There is a level of Blackness in us that has to connect to that drum homey and you can’t forget that! X-Clan has never had that problem.
FC: True. All sides of the equation were covered.
Brother J: You feel me? From the gate we produced music that Black folks were dancing to in their houses.
FC: Now, another point I want to deal with is, coming out of the gate from X-Clan you had Isis, you had Queen Mother Rage, Professor X came out with a solo piece, and just on the strength people were checking for it. Other groups have had a measure of success with group members going solo, or secondary crew artists, but it is usually not of the same quality. Why?
Brother J: If you look at the X-Clan there was a theme of Black Nationalism and freedom in the music so, when the next artist came out, and you are looking at a female fan who is the female perspective of Black Nationalism and freedom, don’t you want to hear what I have to say? But if I was a regular rapper to say ‘hey I’m dope, I’m MC Fresh and this is my home girl and a couple of cats from my neighborhood’ you look like everybody else. There is no theme involved. So the corporations tried to take it and say, ‘Ok we want to get this cookie sheet thing. We are going to have a Def Squad, we are going to have a Flip Mode.’ You know that if you throw twenty of them out there, three of them are bound to hit and we are going to get a couple of million dollars. That’s where it became whack.
FC: Thank you.
(For more group information, videos and tour dates visit http://www.xclanmusic.com)