If you can imagine the art of poetry mixed with the art of freestyle rhyme the result might sound a little bit like New York City’s Majestik Originality. After honing his skills in both scenes for the better part of the past decade, Majestik Originality recently released his debut album, Just Listen. Just Listen is intentionally on the shorter side at just ten tracks, but Majestik Originality explains “I’ve been in the poetry scene for the past eight years, gettin lost in that sauce, and I didn’t want to come out with an album with a whole bunch of music, hitting people all at once. Ten songs makes the album 40 minutes and if you’re really feeling it you’ll be like damn, I wish there was more.”

RapReviews wanted to know more, so we caught up with Majestik Originality to find out more about his music, his history, and the name altering effect Mijente and BlackPlanet had on him. He also discussed the open mic scene in NYC, and a chance encounter he had with Immortal Technique at one way back in 2001.

Adam Bernard: Since you’re a new name for a lot of readers at RapReviews, why don’t you start by telling everyone a few of the things you think your friends say about you behind your back, or maybe that you hope they say about you behind your back?

Majestik Originality: {*laughs*} Wow, things they say about me behind my back? Obviously everything can’t always be all good, but the good would be Maj is loyal to people that’s cool with him. I’m just as much a fan as I am an artist. I’m always giving somebody props if I’m feeling their movement and feelin their music. I’m always jokin. I’m coming out of left field at least 90% of the time. On the bad tip, I’m not gonna front, I’m an emotional dude and I let my emotions get the best of me sometimes. That’s probably the only bad thing. One thing they’ll always say behind my back, or even in front of me, is that I live in the cypher. I love freestyling. Whether it’s after a poetry event, or a hip-hop event, I’m always down to spit. Cats be tired and I’m that dude that’s like “c’mon,” especially if you’re feeling the energy, I don’t want to quit. That’s what I’m ASSUMING they would say. {*laughs*}

AB: You hail from NYC, but what part of NYC are you from, and what do you think shaped you growing up?

MO: As a child, being that my mom left my dad when I was about eight, we moved around throughout a couple of the boroughs, so I never really say I’m from a certain borough because I’ve lived in Queens, I’ve lived in Brooklyn, which I live in now again, I’ve lived in Manhattan, and I visited The Bronx when I used to stay with my pops. That’s really what shaped me. Being in an area such as the Upper East Side, where my mom had a rent controlled apartment, and being around people of a higher financial class than I was, it was almost like the movie The Outsiders, where you had the Greasers and the Soashes. Growing up in that kind of environment and seeing how, monetarily, how we’re different in this class system, and growing up outside of that area and visiting other parts of the city and seeing how people are in the hood, and what people think is hood… basically everything around has really influenced who I am. I can step anywhere and I’m gonna make it my home if I have to.

AB: When did you first start penning rhymes in a marble notebook, and what inspired you to do it?

MO: We’re talkin about eighth grade. I grew up listening to DJ Red Alert, 98.7 KISS FM. I remember when before Hot97 was Hot97 it was Hot103 and it was house music and disco and stuff like that. When it went over to Hot97, in the beginning, they played a lot of freestyle and stuff like that. KISS FM was my outlet for hip-hop. I grew up listening to Slick Rick, KRS-One, Rakim, all the greats, pretty much. Listening to them, it just felt like poetry. I loved music in general before I branched into listening to rap. I used to listen to doo wop and heavy metal and stuff like that, so music’s always been an influence, but when it came to hip-hop it was just a culture that I felt was speaking to me because of my upbringing, being from a dysfunctional family and being exposed to different ranges of emotional values in life. Hip-hop was basically my key. When it came to the eighth grade and being with friends and seeing cats try to rhyme, I was like maybe I could try that. That was the first time I wrote, but I didn’t really pick it up until probably two or three years later after that.

AB: How did you land on the name Majestik Originality?

MO: Majestik actually came from an old friend of mine who’s no longer my friend, but that’s a different story. I still give him respect for this. Him and his cousin, back in I believe it was 95-96, we used to chill and he was going by a name and his cousin was going by a name. The first day I met his cousin he was like “what do you go by?” I was never the type to give myself a name, so I was like “I don’t have one.” He was like “you should call yourself Majestik.” I asked why, and he said because it means big. I was like “I’ll think about it.” That night I went home and when I looked it up in the dictionary I learned that it meant something of grand stature. When people describe the Colorado Rockies or going to the Eiffel Tower or Niagara Falls, “this is so majestic. This scene is so majestic.” Once I read that definition I was like yo, this is dope, this is how I would want people to see me. It was around 2003-2004 that I added the last name Originality. That’s because starting in 2000-2001, with the whole Mijente and BlackPlanet websites, online social communities were starting and that was my introduction to realizing that other people in the world also called themselves Majestik {*laughs*}. At this point I’d already had it for like six years. I’m like, I’m not gonna change my name, but what can I do with it? Let me make it a full name. The Originality part I added myself because every time I asked one of my friends “what would you say is my style,” or “what would you say I remind you of,” nobody has ever really pinpointed any certain direct influence. I’ve heard “you remind me of Prodigy,” or Pun, or KRS, and nowadays cats, depending on content, will say Immortal Technique, even though I’m nowhere near Immortal Technique. Because of that I was like OK, obviously whatever style I have is mine and is original, and I love freestyling and always coming off the top, so I was like it’s original, so why not, Originality.

AB: Nice. You recently released a full length album titled Just Listen. Isn’t that what people are supposed to do with ALL albums?

MO: {*laughs*} Very true. My manager (Johnel De Los Santos) and I, we sat down and we were putting together the project and I didn’t really have a title for it. We were coming up with ideas and it hit me. I thought of a skit that we didn’t do for the album where my manager was going to play a shady character like “maybe you should do a sex tape to get yourself known,” and in the end I end up saying “I want people to just listen.” I was like you know what, that should be the name of the album because that’s what I want people to do, just listen to the lyrics. I never set out to do an album that’s catchy or dance-y, so that’s all I want. The one thing about me is I care about what I write, I care about what I say, because I want to be able to say things that somebody can walk away with and say “he felt where I was coming from,” or “it was good to hear somebody talking about this,” because why – they just listened to the album. So it was pretty clear to me to name it that.

AB: You just touched on this a bit, but musically, what do people get when they just listen to Just Listen?

MO: I definitely wanted to have that vibe of 90s hip-hop, cuz that’s what I came up with in my mid to late teens and it’s just the flow that I have. That’s who I am and I wanted to take it there. I wanted it to have somewhat of a nostalgic feel, but yet still sound kind of fresh. That’s what I want people to get out of it, takin it back. He’s not talkin about killin people. He’s not talkin about how much money he’s got. He’s not degrading women in his words. Wow, I think I’ve only counted maybe six curses the whole album. That’s really what I want people to come away with from it. The music serves more as a background. I’m into movies a lot, so to me the music felt like the ambience, like when you’re watching an action flick, or a drama, and they have that music in the background that just makes the scene hit you and you’re like “oh I get it.” That’s really what I want people to get from the album, so when you listen to a track like “Should I?,” which is a fictional tale about a girl and a guy, girl meets boy, boy ends up getting girl, but by the end of the first verse the boy is dead, the music goes into how the story’s tellin out.

AB: Finally, being an independent artist you end up at a lot of open mics and on bills with a ton of other artists. What has been the weirdest, or most amazing, encounter you’ve had with a fellow emcee?

MO: That’s tough. An amazing encounter, I would have to go back to 2001. The reason is because it was a different time. Nowadays you go into any open mic in the city and everybody in the audience wants to do what you’re doing. The thing that sucks about that is that instead of really honestly giving you props if you did well, or showing you that love, or showing you that respect, it’s more like clap clap yeah yeah, get the hell off so I can get on already. Back in 2001 I used to chill with Jendog The Lonewolf, my boy Bazil, DJ Black Pearl, that’s when I really started spittin out here in Brooklyn and doing shows, we used to do this thing on North 6th Street, we used to call it Iron Lung Mondays. Back at that time I was just freestyling, I never wrote, so every week I was off the top for like three hours. I remember one night it was the first time Immortal Technique and Poison Pen came in. That, to me, was amazing because I had not heard anyone like Immortal Technique up to that point. Usually a lot of the rhymes you hear were chill – your peoples talking about corruption, talking about community, you got cats talkin about what they slangin – and then here comes Tech and he’s just spittin some straight making you think the illuminati’s happenin, political figures in your life, type shit. That just blew my mind and as an emcee it made me become fan. I was like wow, this is what cats can really do when they go to these shows, they can grab everybody in there, even fellow emcees, and have them be like “oh shit, did you hear what this dude just said?” So to me that pops up in my head as one of the most amazing moments I’ve had being in a place with other artists.