One of the most important political groups in the history of Hip-Hop, X-Clan has always taken a stand for building rather than destroying. With their latest album preparing to hit stores soon X-Clan’s own Brother J sat down with us at RapReviews for an in-depth conversation about reaching out to the youth, Generation X’s new-found responsibilities that have come with growing up, and why he feels Hip-Hop fans are being cheated right now.
Adam Bernard: X-Clan has gone through so much over the past few years, from breakups to make-ups to members passing away. Who, as of right now, is X-Clan?
Brother J: The new introduction of the X-Clan is called X-Clan Millennium Cypher and what I chose to do with this round is introduce the peers and the teachers that have given me wisdom to put this music forward and to just bring them forward in a group. Right now from the original group Architect Paradise is part of the counsel of X-Clan, and when I’m saying things like counsel and cipher I’m trying to get people adjusted to us as not being a music group in just that sense alone, this is a group of guidance and we’re trying to structure things to where I can let the group be able to display the wisdom on the internet, in the schools that we’re building, different things of that nature so hopefully people can embrace X-Clan, this second generation of X-Clan, as more of a guidance team than just a rap group.
AB: That leads right into my next question. X-Clan is a music group, but in what other ways are you going about reaching the youth with your message?
Bro. J: The first thing that we started to do was to get into the stream of doing performances, this is where most of the youth are gathering right now to absorb Hip-Hop. We’ve been blessed to do tours with Damien Marley, Jurassic 5, I’ve toured with Life Savas, I’ve done shows with Visionaries, Project Blowed. From underground to mainstream we’ve just kept ourselves in the eye of the youth so we don’t have to worry about how we’re going to attract them, or how they’re going to like the music, we let them see the performance, let them see the veteran and the guidance on stage and let them have a good time with it. That’s how we intend to really touch the youth in 2006.
“If we’re playing music that we can’t play at a picnic at a loud level without insulting someone we have to check ourselves.”
AB: With so much changing with the culture, what do you feel Hip-Hop’s place is in the world today?
Bro. J: I feel people’s place in Hip-Hop right now as far as Generation X, that’s who I’m really addressing and I’m using the X in X-Clan to really just say let it symbolize the responsibility that Generation X has to the current generations of today. We have abandoned Hip-Hop and let corporations take it like “man, I don’t want it anymore.” It’s like Indecent Proposal, it’s like Hip-Hop was taken through that. It’s like a guy in a suit came and said “hey man let me take your girl for a spin for a night, I’ll give you a million dollars.” And we’re the original culture of Hip-Hop and we’re saying damn I could use that million dollars, let me just go sell this dude my Hip-Hop for the day and see if it comes back right, and it didn’t come back right and it puts us in a position right now where we’re on the defense with what to do next and how to step forward and so on and we basically want to say to our audience that they should note the responsibility that they have. If we’re playing music that we can’t play at a picnic at a loud level without insulting someone we have to check ourselves. The original Hip-Hop, if I go put on some Melle Melle right now and play that there’s no cursing and I’ll probably have four or five fifty year olds singing every lyric, but if I put on 50’s album I can’t have my grandmother listen to that, I can’t have my seed listen to that. The nature of Hip-Hop was created from block parties and barbeques. You think about the first time you really experienced Hip-Hop it wasn’t radio, they were scared of it, you had to be moving around. It wasn’t through the internet, there was none. So we have to deal from when Hip-Hop was first created, how did you experience it, how did you feel it. When we get back into that then we kinda note what’s been missing, what has to be filled in, and what the consumer has to do as a responsibility to these youths. We can’t be getting older still acting like kids, we have to act like the adults because we are the first generation to be growing between the internet age and the without internet age so we have a responsibility to both sides of the coin to the eldership and to the youth and I’m addressing this to the Generation X age group, which would probably be between 25 and 37. That whole generation right there has a responsibility for guidance and if they don’t step up to it then the game will continue to be plastic and they can’t blame the corporations. The nature of a business is to basically say we put out what works, so if we continuously put out that negativity works like look 50’s in a $200 million mansion homey and got his own vitamin water drink, he must be doing something right, I gotta follow this dude, let me get buff, take my shirt off and holla bout bangin. If the audience was ready to accept his street knowledge rather than his street stories then 50 would be a better artist. I feel that.
“We fight for freedom of speech and don’t know how to use it.”
AB: What would you like to see some of Hip-Hop’s current stars do more of, or less of, either in their music or in their lives?
Bro. J: I’d really like to see the institutions and administration of Hip-Hop start to practice a better censorship. I really can’t blame the consumer too far because they’re only victim to what is being given to them. If I came home at three in the afternoon and I’ve got a big booty in front of me bouncing and taking off her clothes I’m not gonna turn the channel because I’m a youth and I’m curious. So I would like to see that same consumer with a whole week of seeing another side of Hip-Hop that they’ve never seen. This week it’s not gonna be Young Jeezy, it’s gonna be Pharaohe Monch. This week it’s not gonna be Nelly it’s gonna be Mos Def from his first days with Blackstar, or Common, whoever, I don’t care who it is and I’m not trying to make it like them against the other side because I remind cats when X-Clan first came out we toured with DJ Quick and we were in the same tape decks as NWA and nobody said “well this is my gangster side and this is my conscious side” it was just Hip-Hop. So I would like to see the current consumer away from those separations, or those brackets, and just let them listen to music of all options and let them make a choice and say “damn you know I feel like I’m being cheated every time a number one song comes out they tell me bounce like this or wear it like this, or go buy this, get rich or die trying, or whatever. No one’s allowing me to think.” We fight for freedom of speech and don’t know how to use it. The first chance we get to use it and the radio says OK you’ve got freedom of speech you can come on the radio Hip-Hop and do what you want to do, and what do we do with it, nothing. It does nothing for our households. Half of these kids out here that listen to Hip-Hop, or children that listen to Hip-Hop, are parents and the music doesn’t reflect something that you want to play in your house in front of your newborn or your growing child. So I would like the current Hip-Hop audience to have a detox for a minute, to say “what other versions of Hip-Hop are out there? Why don’t I know about Abstract Rude, or Queen Medusa, or any other group that’s going down? Why am I always with the same thing?” They know Bow Wow, they know Master P, they know whoever is being paid to play on the station, but that’s all they know. The knowledge is limited, man.
AB: So I’m guessing with “Return From Mecca” you’re looking to spread a little of that knowledge. Tell me about the album and what inspired you to create it.
Bro. J: “Return From Mecca”, the title of the album is defined as we turned from meditation, or refinement. One of the lessons of The Book Of Life was one of power and refinement, when a person reaches a point when they have power in their circumference there is a time in life where you have to mediate and refine that. You can’t practice giving the world anything, you can’t practice equality with your gifts or anything that you do, so in order for me to come back with this album I had to take for meditation. I came out to the desert in California to basically get away from the hustle and bustle of my hometown of New York, to meditate. I got a chance to learn family, I got a chance to learn deeper into my manhood and I want to share that and this album is basically part of the travel that I went through and the restructuring of the X-Clan. “Return From Mecca” reflects all those elements.
AB: What do you hope listeners get out of the album?
Bro. J: I hope the listeners get that they shouldn’t be afraid to write intelligent music. I think the fear when people write poetry and they think about taking wise thought into the mainstream they get funny because it doesn’t sound like the Christmas jingles that we’re hearing nowadays on the radio. I don’t think that listeners today are bold enough to take conscious lyrics, or intelligent lyrics, to the mainstream or even to the demo, to the office of the desk of the executive. So I hope that they can listen to this album and say “damn this is bangin and I haven’t heard lick my butt or suck it or stick it or whatever, I haven’t heard any of that. I’m hearing new content. I’m hearing things to research.” I just want to be an influential writer past what I’ve done in 89-90, I just want to bring it to a 2000 standpoint because people said it couldn’t be done.
AB: What was the recording process like without Professor X?
Bro. J: Well I’ve been recording without Professor for about ten years now. It wasn’t a question of writing without him, the thing that I really really miss from Professor X is his friendship and his guidance. When I was in the game I was 18, 19 year old dropping my first album, “East Blackwards”, I didn’t know anything. If it hadn’t been for the guidance of him and Architect, who walked the dog in the game, I wouldn’t have known how to tour, or how to record, or what the standard of a record label was. In those ways I salute and I do miss my brother but the lessons were passed on and I hope I know what I’m doing.
AB: I think you’re doing just fine. Last question. X-Clan is a classic group, but in today’s Hip-Hop world the focus seems to be more on the here today gone tomorrow stars of the moment. With that in mind how are you going to make sure your music gets into the right hands and gets heard?
Bro. J: The one thing is we had to find a good label to help us put the product out, a label that wasn’t going to treat it like a flash in the pan if we didn’t sell a million copies the first week. Working with Suburban Noize Records from last year, just from the beginning, I knew that this company would be able to put us out there and keep the longevity that we’ve had from 1989 alive. With them already having an in-house audience they’re now learning a new urban audience that they’ve never had to work with before. With my experience and my management team’s experience dealing with those levels it’s such a great marriage that I don’t have a fear about penetrating the attention deficit crowd that’s going on. The only reason the consumers are really being challenged with in one ear and out the other music is because there are so many artists out there that think they’re better than the next. If you think about the golden era we had a few groups that were icons and you couldn’t go and cut your hair like Kid N Play and do their steps and feel like you were better than them, you had to respect their career, you had to respect the movies that they did, you had to respect that everybody on your block was trying to be like them or dress like them. Groups came with themes, groups came with spirit, nowadays cats are just throwin it like yo I’m better than him, buy my CD. It’s competition, everything you see now is battle for your crown. But just because you beat a couple cats in battles doesn’t mean that you can handle the recording industry. All that to be said, the short attention span of the consumer is to be blamed for so many independent companies being given to everybody. You can build a label out your house if you have Pro-Tools, but it’s not that easy, we’re being bamboozled for everybody to think that they’re an American Idol and it’s not like that. I’m hoping that the quality choices that we’ve made for distribution, the quality choices that we’ve made for the artists that we’ve chosen to tour with are an influence for people to stick with us as quality product.