Harked from the 1990’s “Golden Era” of hip hop, the legendary X-Clan performed last Friday night at Velvet Jones. After taking a 14-year break from producing music, X-Clan is back, revitalizing and reuniting hip hop with their new album, Return from Mecca. When “Grand Verbalizer” Brother J sat down to talk to me before the X-Clan concert, I was a bit intimidated. What would a revolutionary from the conscious hip hop movement to think of some small white girl whose knowledge of hip hop was, unfortunately, limited to TRL? I had no reason for my fears. Brother J enlightened me with his knowledge of what true hip hop was all about.
After two successful albums, To the East, Blackwards (1990), followed by Xodus (1992), why did you stop producing music for over a decade?
I took a hiatus after Xodus because the golden era of hip hop had basically come to an end. The hip hop audience has started to like a more aggressive vibe, you know, we wanted to steer X-Clan more toward solution and peace. We didn’t want to have to look like we were the ones starting the trouble. So I wanted to just regroup, basically re-present X-Clan you know, and just ride out whatever hip hop is going through at the time. It didn’t look like labels wanted to invest in conscious groups anymore. And though we always kept a different standard and we always kept people moving and learning, we would be “blacked out” so to speak, so it just felt like a time to take a break and study what was going on with music.
What was the “golden era” of hip hop and how is music different today?
The golden era was when hip hop was one, it was when you could listen to NWA, and have MC Hammer and Slick Rick in your CD deck and it wasn’t like okay, I’m gonna get my gangster vibe now, or, I’m gonna go on my rap story vibe now. It was all good music, just different artists with different themes. Now there’s just so many people putting out music, everybody has a subculture where there’s prejudice on other music. In the spirit of transformation, and reformation, X-Clan was forced to regroup after the deaths of two of its founding members: Sugar Shaft, who died from complications related to AIDS, and Professor X, who passed due to complications from spinal meningitis in 2006.
How was it producing an X-Clan album without Sugar Shaft and Professor X?
It hurts to lose my companions and my brothers, creative-wise it just lets me know I have to step up harder. I don’t have those ears around me anymore, you know, their input and contribution that I learned to trust. When I make a rhythm I can bring it to my brothers and trust that people will enjoy it because their spirit understands what the people need. So I can never replace that, but I have people around that give me that amount of energy now, so I always feel that spiritual energy is recycled and the second generation of X- Clan lends me energy like the first generation of X-Clan and I don’t separate the two. I know where I come from, but when it comes to the old elements of X-Clan and the new elements of X-Clan, it’s all one vibe to me, its all wisdom to me. It is a tradition of wisdom I chose to continue in my life and part of my career. DJ Fat Jack is the newest member to join the clan and is one of L.A.’s most influential underground producers. Fat Jack has produced some of the upcoming artists from “Project Blowed,” a workshop in L.A. where young hip hop artists can hone their skill and voice their music. Fat Jack… joining X-clan is an honorable thing because he represents a producer that could have went to Dre status, but gave his talent to the underground because he believed in the raw elements of hip hop and he wanted to keep it alive.
Just yesterday Chuck D, the headman of Public Enemy, spoke at UCSB. How was it touring with Public Enemy last winter?
We did a western tour [with Public Enemy] and it was just an honor to see the whole crew back together doing it live. Beyond some people coming in just for Flav, because of VH1 and so on. We heard them singing Chuck D’s lyrics at the top of their lungs which let us know hip hop was still respected.
Is there hope for hip hop?
Of course, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think so. I wanted X-Clan to provide an album that says, “Wow,” there is another level of artistry that we can deal with, have a good time and learn at the same time. People who love hip hop have to study hip hop, it’s just like how I remind people about culture. You have to study your culture to find out where you come from, no matter what color you are, no matter where you come from to understand who you are in present day. That’s knowledge of self. So with hip hop, you just can’t come into it listening to what’s on the radio. … You gotta dig a little deeper.