Mr. J, Res and Stro the 89th Key are not your average hip-hop group. When asked about any crazy stories from their world tours as The Procussions, the best they can come up with is Res tripping on a curb in Europe and twisting his ankle while his luggage fell around him. That’s not your average hip-hop tour story.
“We don’t really do the groupie thing, or mess with the drugs or get all drunk,” Mr. J explained. “We hang out, read books; we’re some pretty straight edge guys.”
These straight edge guys met while living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As part of rival hip-hop and b-boy groups the trio used to see each other around different shows, battles and other events in the Springs and Denver area. They finally came together in the late 90’s to form the Procussions, which started off as a larger crew and then was pared down to three. They opened for everyone from Tha Alkaholiks and The Pharcyde all around Colorado.
But because of the lack of support for local hip-hop in Denver and Colorado, The Procussions made the move to Los Angeles in 2001 and subsequently released their debut, As Iron Sharpens Iron, on their own label, Basementalism Records. The album harked back to the Golden Age of hip-hop and the early 90’s sound with horn loops, bluesy basslines, and boom bap beats. Lyrically the group covers everything from their love of hip-hop to one’s spiritual identity.
With their latest album, 5 Sparrows for 2 Cents, on Rawkus Records, the crew sticks with their signature sound but also brings in other influences from reggae, rock, and funk. Stro the 89th Key, a trained musician, produced most of the album and is on his way to the upper echelon of hip-hop’s top beatsmiths. The fellas are slick on the mic as well, bringing more meaning and purpose to their words instead of your run of the mill braggadocio type of rhymes. From the way we’re raising our children in “Little People”, to dealing with daily hardships in “The Storm” to the story of a lost soul on “American Fado,” The Procussions give the listener something to think about. But don’t get it twisted; the group can get the party started too with high energy cuts like “Fight Here”, “Shabach” and “Anybody”. This is an album you definitely don’t want to miss.
We caught up with Mr. J and Res (Stro was absent due to a family issue) and spoke about the new album, their situation with Rawkus Records and how their beliefs shape their life, music and careers.
The name 5 Sparrows for 2 Cents, how did you come with that name for the album?
Mr. J: We came up with the name of the album before we even did a song, and we set it as a standard. It was our staple and our standard to remember what was important. Five sparrows can be sold for two cents, yet not on of them falls without God knowing about it. It’s kind of like reminding ourselves of the importance and detail when it comes to purpose, focusing on everything that matters and how God sees everything that’s going on in your life. It was important for us for the album to focus on the important things in life, the importance of people and the human spirit and how sacred it is. It’s not just sparrows, it’s just not an item to be sold, it’s not ‘wow, we’re on Rawkus’, or cool and hip it’s really about really focusing on people and the little things that make us human and the little things that aren’t seen.
The video for ‘The Storm’ is real fresh, how did you come up with the concept?
Res: It was our man Hilton Carter that came up with it. Hilton went on tour with us and was a tour manager. The interesting thing is, he’s a film student, and he went on tour with us was to get new experiences. A film director is sort of like an emcee in a sense; they’re writing people’s stories and their personal experiences. So he went on tour with us just to witness some experiences. So during the tour, we saw some of his reels and they were completely amazing, this guy is super-talented. So we told him that we got to work together. So time moves on and we wanted to get community involved with this album and The Procussions. So the video is actually mostly funded by people who were just down for The Procussions and really wanted to support what we were doing. Hilton came in and said, you know what, I have a treatment, and he brought us the treatment.
So the video is basically us building something, there’s this crazy storm going on, causing all this havoc and mayhem, and we’re down in the basement trying to do something; trying to stand up, trying to make a difference, trying to be that difference that we want to see. So we’re trying to build this thing to stop this storm. So we take it up to the roof switch it on, it starts working, then all of the sudden it completely fails. The most important thing about it is, we see the failure and we go back downstairs and start again, just like in life. You build up something, you have so much passion for it, but when things don’t work out like you wanted it to, you have to start over again. So basically that’s the concept of the video. You’re always going to be in trouble, you’re always going to be in a fight but you got to keep on going.
How did you guys get your deal with Rawkus?
Mr. J: When we put out As Iron Sharpens Iron there was kind of small industry buzz here and there because we were on our own label and we were from Colorado and we had some how locked some international distribution, we did shows in Japan, we did a lot of things that a lot of groups weren’t able to do on their own. So there was an industry buzz that was around. We already had 5 Sparrows completely done, we had the video done, and everything was done. Some people had our album here and there and some other groups we were working with and it finally got around to Rawkus. Brian and Jarret (Rawkus owners) had called us and wanted to meet with us. They really took a lot more steps than any other label was willing to take to lock an artist down. Other labels sent interns or the man in front of the man in front of the man, who’s never heard the album or any of the songs but kind of wants to keep you around. We had some major label interest and some independent label interest and we had some indie labels that are great in the scene right now but didn’t want to put our album out for another two or three years. You know when you meet somebody you know when you feel like you’re connecting? A lot of these business relationships, we need to be able to connect because our music is important for us, you know, this is our careers. So we couldn’t connect with a lot of people.
Brian and Jarret understood where we were coming from, they heard all the songs, we had a big talk, we hashed it all out. We have creative control, we’re helping market the album and it’s more than just a group that Rawkus is getting, they’re also getting a marketing team. They can hire it out, they got the money to do that stuff, but they’re allowing us to control the element and image we want to put out. We just locked that down and been moving ever since. We don’t want to make everything about Rawkus, we want to make sure our career is our career. It doesn’t matter if we’re on Rawkus, or on Geffen or on Basementalism, we’re going to put the album out and push The Procussions as hard as we can. There is backlash towards Rawkus, everybody has their opinion and even magazines have their own angle to create drama but at the end of the day, no one is talking about music, but they’re talking about absolutely everything else. What’s important about to us is the group, forgetting about drama, we don’t even put that into account. We’re just like who’s going to put out the record, who believes in it, and we’ll just go from there.
But was Rawkus’ history in the music biz even a concern to you at all?
Mr. J: Yeah, it was a concern to us in a way where we wanted to know like, “Hey, how do you handle your business?” But if you look at the large scale of things, honestly, all labels are nasty. All labels, one way or another, are going to want to make money off of you. That’s good; I want a label that wants to make money because they need to have an interest in it. It’s too much to ask someone to do something for you purely and to share your vision 100 percent. It’s way too much to ask, people got lives, they got kids to feed, they got other things and if their only influence is to get money, then that’s fine, as long as they keep their hands out of music.
So we heard some of it, and we talked to artists too and heard what they had to say and when it came down to it, it came down to contracts, actual words that were being said and the fact that we have a really good lawyer on our hands. So we hashed all that stuff out at the very beginning and we take gamble with any label, and we felt that Rawkus was our best gamble.
You guys are pretty open about your Christian beliefs but don’t really force it on anyone. How has your faith helped you in your careers?
Mr. J: The idea that there is a reason to it, that there’s a purpose. It’s very important to know what you want out of music, it gives me a standard and it gives me an understanding of who I believe people to be, which is creations of God. We need to encourage each other to reach this place that we’re trying to reach which is whatever people say it is, heaven or a place without pain, and worrying and anxiety and all these things we experience before we even get the experience ourselves, all these external things that keep us from our potential as a person. And if you’re not reaching your potential as a person, you’re not reaching you’re potential as a family, as a community or even greater as a world. It’s so personal and up to every single individual, every individual matters. You got one person who can create a war; you got individuals whose personal beliefs can dictate how the world works.
You got George W. Bush who can do what he wants to do, you got Che Guevera who can do what he wanted to do and Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., you know you got good and bad. So it’s very important to be rooted in some core value of what we believe. And in my faith that’s what I’ve been able to come up with and be able to understand. And I feel blessed that I know what I believe, people need. It’s important, the sacredness of the human spirit, to honor that and keep that and the idea and concept of agape love. It’s unfortunate that because so much is going on with Christianity, the religion of it, and what George W. Bush is doing with it and it’s like how much are we going to talk about this element outside of its core? We’re never talking about the core issue. We can talk about George W. Bush and we can talk about Pro-Lifers and people burning down abortion clinics for days and we will never get to the core value that really has nothing to do with other people’s interpretation of it like the external things.
So what we do with our faith and our music is we try to get down to the core values and give people the opportunity to see them and try to understand them for themselves. Agape is what I think it comes down to, the idea of agape love, not a romantic love, not even a friendship love, something greater than that, something that goes beyond, where you love your enemies. Not because they’ve done something special for you, or because you feel bad for them, but because they’re important and God loves them. The reason that God loves them is because they’re his creation and we’re supposed to have that respect and that same love.
Also take a responsibility. A lot of Christians tell me I have a special responsibility because I’m in the limelight, and I think that’s baloney. And I’ll tell you why, everybody is in the limelight. There could be a kid who is his father’s biggest fan; his father is in the limelight. Everybody has that responsibility, whether I’m on stage or off stage, to present not myself but an idea that’s greater than me. So I will come across as a hypocrite sometimes because I’m talking about perfection here, I’m talking about ultimate love, unconditional love; you know things that I’m not able to fully attain. But it’s something I want to talk about, something I want to get out in the air.