X-Clan Returns From Mecca

 |  February 18, 2007
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By Quibian Salazar-Moreno

 

      It’s kind of weird watching the new X-Clan video, “Weapon X.” The last time we saw the Clan together was probably in 1992 or 1993 when they were out promoting their last album together, Xodus. To see what X-Clan looks like in 2007 is kind of surreal – they’re without the African gear, leather medallions and verb sticks, but rep with button-ups, Bluetooth headsets, and a couple of hot cars (there’s even a chain or two). The message of upliftment is still there, the protection of the red, black and green flag is in the background, and Brother J is still slick with the words. But it’s like watching someone who passed on awhile back, like Tupac or Bob Marley and coming back to life trying to fit within an iPod and Blackberry world.

      But Brother J and company fit in well and pick up where they left off: uplifting and teaching their people through song. The group’s new album, Return From Mecca, finds the Clan staying within their funk sound (minus all the heavy samples though), but also explore a lot of reggae, jazz, and even rock. Lyrically, Brother J hasn’t lost a step and still comes with the witty, intelligent and memorable one-liners (“My cup spilleth over, so I cleanse dirty niggas”). There are even guest appearances from folks like KRS-One, Chali 2na, Papa Roch, Damian Marley, RBX and a host of others.

     We caught up with Brother J at his crib in Los Angeles and got the latest on the X-Clan, the new album, the new philosophies and the history of one of the most memorable movements hip-hop in history.

 

 

What spurred the return of X-Clan?

 

      Initially, after doing the Dark Sun Riders project I wanted to take the restructuring of the group a lot more seriously. We were up against the Golden era, basically needing support for conscious artists, so labels came to question our ability to sell records in today’s market. After that production project I needed more time to sit and see how to bring X-Clan back. I didn’t want to do an EPMD style reunion or a Run-DMC style reunion. To me it looked opportunist for me to do that at that timeframe. What sparked the coming in 2006 from that point, I needed time to stack my library, I needed time to study, not only the consumer but what was going on with the people as the time was changing.

      You come into the year 2000, there was so much fear and the world was going to blow up and you got the internet giving information overload to the kids and the parents can’t associate. We’re a voice for the people; it’s not just about me coming out with a rhyme and a beat. So we had to continue to wait until the door opened to let this second generation of Clan breathe. All this to say we didn’t want to bring it back on some “Yo, we got fresh beats and fresh rhymes, come and deal with us.” We wanted to bring it back as it is right now, which is a voice for the people.

 

Did the return also have anything to do with the cultural aspect of hip-hop and the society we live in as well? Like a new X-Clan album was needed?

 

      Exactly, no one is addressing the key issues. We can all say “Eff Bush” and all those other things, but Bush is not sitting in our homes or dealing in our communities. We can’t just keep calling out one person. Let him do his job as the commander of the United States, we have to do our job as the people in the streets. And the little bit of freedom that we have, we have to make it manifest for us.

 

What’s the meaning behind the name, “Return from Mecca”?

 

      The title was inspired by Malcolm X for his travels from the United States to Mecca to basically refine himself as a messenger and as a speaker. Return From Mecca for me, after a such long hiatus from the game, was basically letting people know that I didn’t sit on the sidelines, just taking notes to come back with nothing, I took notes to come back with something serious. I came back as a weapon for all the people that are frustrated with the current state of music. And not for me to be J or that, it’s just a set of balance because everything is so one dimensional. Hip-hop is universal and we’re going to listen to it all if it be simple lyrics or complex lyrics, all we’re getting right now through the radio stations is one dimension. But we have to step up our production and step up what we’re saying as conscious artists. I want this album to be an example. Just how like Malcolm X came back from Mecca as a refined and more universal messenger, so do I. If we learn all this history then we have to learn how to use it in some time frame to be true and living people.

 

Listening to the new album, I didn’t hear much reference to white people in terms of cave men and polar bears like on To the East Blackwards. Did you just grow up or has your outlook on race changed ?

 

      It wasn’t necessarily a case of growing up or saying something wrong, I was speaking from a perspective of where I was learning from. I was learning that our culture was being compromised and we were being placed as cave men. But it was our indigenous race that we know was so great for building a lot of the Wonders of the World and we were never given credit for that. As a youth studying, that made me angry. And all of the people that were calling us primitive, evolving from an ape type of thing, were actually probably the pre-historic beings themselves. So whoever that maybe, whoever twisted up our history books, if they be white, black, green, whoever they are, I was pointing them out.

      Simply, about the thing with the polar bears, because this was an issue at one time, I think Eminem had brought it up in Rolling Stone Magazine. My thing about stating the polar bears and the gorillas, if I was a polar bear in the artic region, I have to play my position. I can’t play like a gorilla in the jungle and swinging vines. And neither can I be a gorilla playing post in the Artic. So if we understand who we are, we can play or positions accordingly. So it was basically for Black people to understand, stop trying to play white, and for white people to understand, stop trying to be Black and we’ll get along that much better as people if we understand out roots and who we are. We have more to build on if we understand our culture. But at face value, it looks like “He’s calling us polar bears”, but I’m calling myself a gorilla. No one says the other side of it, they just take the offensive side. Well, I’m just trying to come up with a metaphor and tell people how to play their position.

      We have role playing happening in hip-hop. All the sudden when you push your hat to the side, you’re acting Black. Why is it acting Black when you twist your hat to the side? And if I wear my hat to the front and pull it down like a trucker, then I look like a white boy. We have strange stereotypes in hip-hop. I wanted to end all of that. Ending it means to approach it, so in that song I tried to approach it as nice as I could.

 

You really don’t tackle the race issue at all on the new album, is that on purpose or are you just beyond that now?

 

      The thing is, I never really wanted race to be an issue. I wanted energy and spiritual upliftment to be the issue for X-Clan. It was twisted through the media that we were just all about white and Black. The time was very heavy with rioting and racial violence and stuff like that. So we’re coming out in African garbs with the sticks and the whole nine. And symbolic from where we come from it looks like pro-black is saying only-black. And that wasn’t the case. I was saying if you wants these hoods to be better, Black folks need conditioning. They don’t need any conditioning from the outside, they need conditioning from the inside. So I’m here to improve that so you can stop holding your pocketbook when someone Black walks by or always feeling that someone Black is going to be overly aggressive. Look at the TV, every Black character is an overly aggressive person. Very rare do we take on the role as the builder or the patient person of peace, so I just wanted that to change as much as I could possibly put out energy-wise.

      So in this album, my thing was, like I said about Malcolm, coming back from Mecca you have a more universal perspective of things. Everything I did on that album wasn’t right or wrong, I just addressed the moment and what was happening on the streets. And how me as a young messenger wanted to relay that anger on the streets, but there’s also a peace that exists. And if we can get past certain things we can get to the peace value. I don’t know how easy it’s going to be, because my ancestors have been trying for years to get to the peace, but it takes all sides. So on this album I’m trying to unite culture because hip-hop culture is so divided right now, it has so many subcultures, that a lot of the audience for X-Clan is scattered. If I don’t create a universal album to bring the magnet out and draw these people, I’m going to lose. If I come up with face value points and they continue to misconstrue, it’s always going to be, “X-Clan is one of them super-Black radical groups, very political,” that’s the only label they can come up with. I don’t speak about politics and stuff, brother, I speak about how the system affects the people. That’s the only label of controversy and political they can name when they hear my music, but I’m trying to get away from that.

 

X-Clan and KRS-One had differences back in the day and it was squashed later on. How important was it to have him on the new album?

 

      It was very important for, in my eyes, to have two spokesmen of movements to come together to speak about what’s on their minds. Before any illusionary beef or whatever the case the people have made us to come to, it was me saying to another leader, he being in charge of the Temple of Hip-Hop and myself coming from the movement of Blackwatch and the spokesman for the X-Clan Millennium Cipher, I thought it was a good thing for molders of men. When I say molders of men, we assist people to find their destiny in life. We don’t tell people what to do. So even as an emcee, we’re giving people an option of survival when we speak as men of knowledge. I thought that was stronger perspective than a beef. I never had beef with KRS-One, I admire KRS-One. We may have a difference of philosophy, about how we handle things. But I never had a beef with KRS-One. The media made it a beef and made it a bigger thing that it was. We could have just sat down and came to a term. He could have told me straight up and down like, “Hey, you might see me as trying to unite all races at one time, but I’m about the progression of Black people first, or the progression of the minority.”

      There are more people oppressed than just Black people, all culture has been oppressed. Even cultural white people have been oppressed brother! If you’re a thinking person or a patriot, a lot of your feelings have been hurt when your troops are being sent over to get slaughtered. A lot of feelings our hurt when our neighborhoods and our states here in the United States of America, haven’t been taken care of first. And we’re sending money to all kinds of other nations. So I’m relating to everyone who is in pain right now in oppression. We were talking about it back then, but ain’t nobody safe brother. There’s a lot of angry white people out there right now who are taking our side with this activism. It’s never been different. With X-Clan it was the same thing. When I say cultural people, I mean all races homie. You don’t need to have blond dreadlocks to be a cultural person, you can look as geeky as you wanna be, a computer nerd or whatever and believe in what is right. Freedom and equality has no color. Even back then with the X-Clan that was an issue, our appearance and our direct way of spinning it always put people in fear. If my drive does it, that means it’s penetrating, my point is penetrating and I don’t apologize for what’s real.

 

Compared to the first two X-Clan albums, you really didn’t change up your flow that much on the new album. Was there any pressure to try to do so and try fit in with hip-hop today?

 

      Nah, there’s no pressure. When you acknowledge a gift that you have, you don’t put it in competition with other things. I don’t come out here saying, “I want an album like Game” or “I want an album like Xzibit” or whatever. I want an album that fits my style and I tell cats that I rhyme to be timeless. I write to be timeless. When you hear an album from yesterday, 1990-91, and you hear this one now, it all makes sense because you can use it five years from now, 20 years from now, 100 years from now. It’s lessons of survival, it’s lessons of research, it’s lessons of upliftment and enlightenment. That’s what’s timeless, more so than the flow. I’ve changed up my flows in so many different ways now because I have new production; I’m not depending on a sample to carry me anymore. The maturity of this album is that now when I feel something, I can play it over, I can hum a tune today and go over to any of my producers labs and get it out of my dome and put it on wax immediately, or CD or whatever it is. That’s the difference between yesterday’s album and today’s piece.

 

Was there any hesitance or anxiety of creating this project without Professor X?

 

      Well, here’s the thing, the project was going with or without Professor X, and I don’t mean to say it in a rude way. It’s just that I think the original foundation of X-Clan was not clear to people. X-Clan came to the Blackwatch Movement years ago as myself and Sugar Shaft. We were managed by Professor X and our production was guided by Architect. Because when you come off the street, you have a raw talent and you don’t know how to write in bars, your music theory and your knowledge on how to structure and compose a song is very low. Most times, if you’ve haven’t been studying all your life, if you’re not a prodigal son like Prince or something and you’re just rhyming to compete and keep your name in the hood and become a legendary hero or whatever.

      But when we came to the house, X-Clan was only two members and it was going to be extended to all of our people in Brooklyn, similar to what have Wu-Tang would be. Several boroughs coming together as a clan. But we felt it would have been a better thing to have mature men involved, moreso than adolescents trying to find their way and growing in the game, we have people who have been here managing groups and managing clubs that are historical in hip-hop. Professor X and Architect have been that. By bringing them in the group, it instantly brought a another generation that doesn’t listen to hip-hop to our group. Because with mature music, it’s one thing, but when you have mature men who lived the era of that music with you it makes an adult say, “Wow, I know Lumumba Carson, that’s the son of Sonny Carson, I’m familiar with that one. What’s this group here?” Then they pick it up, “This is the kind of hip-hop I like, you got Roy Ayers and George Clinton.”

       They started seeing the music that we dealt with and the message we were talking about and we were hitting them like Curtis Mayfield or Isaac Hayes. It wasn’t like rap music, it wasn’t like “Aw man, somebody is competing with KRS-One or Public Enemy” it became a classic situation for us. I don’t think people got the history right because Blackwatch movement meant so much more to us than what the X-Clan meant to the mainstream. The name X-Clan was broadcast as part of the Blackwatch movement, which was much more powerful. All of that to say that the foundation of X-Clan was never made clear on what influenced us to be stronger. We came there with raw talent but we got our sword sharpened to be a definite weapon for freedom fighters and activists in hip-hop that didn’t feel like doing the latest dance or ego trippin’. They wanted to talk about some real raw activism. Now can we do this how can we get down how can we organize ourselves, they were looking to the Clan for that.