[ Waaaaaaaaay at the bottom of this post, there’s a free download of a new Mojoe track called “Strange Revival” featuring Bavu Blakes produced by Symbolyc One (S1). But between this very spot on your screen and that track is my long story that dates from us meeting in 2003 up to us shooting the “Strange Revival” video the other day. ]
“They say a kingdom divided will fall…”
Back in 2003, in the wake of a massive three-year weekly Austin, Texas, live freestyle event the Reelaktz crew set up and
allowed to be ran into the ground called Hip Hop Humpday… a San Antonio club promoter called me to set up a new weekly duo gig. By duo I mean D-Madness and I, the most dynamic musician and emcee from that Humpday set. This new opportunity would require D-Madness and me to drive an hour south, and back again, every week for the life of the gig.
Promoter Guy had heard of us through the Humpday, but that was over and I was doing duo sets with D almost exclusively at this point. He was fine with our explanation, and the fact that two performers would cost him much less than 10 or more would. But there was one stipulation – the promoter wanted us to yay-or-nay a new San Antonio duo called Mojoe. He said if we liked them and approved, then they’d get the gig and vice-versa.
We went down to S.A. a week or so later and checked out their tunes at the promoter’s house. The production was ehh, but we all agreed that the songwriting and the style were strong, catchy and very compatible with us. From there, we agreed to join forces at this swanky lounge in Northwest San Antonio. If I remember correctly the venue was off of Huebner or Eckert and Babcock and is currently called the Sky Lounge.
From that first gig in San Antonio, we developed a growing kinship – and by ‘we’, I mean Mojoe, D-Madness, myself … and the list goes on. For the past seven years, we’ve experienced ups, downs, births, deaths, marriages, divorces and of course great performances and recordings while learning a lot about art, music and manhood from one another.
If you walked in the Soul Cookout circa 2003 you’d see Mojoe on stage working out the tunes that would become their debut album, “Classic.Ghetto.Soul”. Originally from New Orleans, Easy was already an established poet in the local scene who reminded people of Andre Benjamin. Tre was the oh-so-familiar heavy soul in the group, who put you in the mind of an Al Green or Bobby Womack. There was an authentic old school soul vibe in the spot, down to the way the crowd favorites eventually became the singles on the album.
While Mojoe would play their set, D and I would relax, love their material and hate their drummer’s lack of a pocket. It was obvious from day one that they were a few personnel changes away from going super HOARDE! Tre would hop off stage with a pensive look on his face, and ask me “what do you think we really need to work on?” The only logical reply was “keep doing exactly what you’re doing and get a better band!”
When they were finished, D and I would basically freak out on stage. I’d start the set performing album cuts over a minidisc or CD, and then D would come in playing bass, drums and ASR-10. From there it was half my freestyle session and half D’s R&B love zone with a free-for-all-everybody-come-jump-on-the-mic finale to close the night. We were just having fun, working on our chops and trying to figure out where to take our music careers.
Most importantly we would go on to champion a movement for soulful live hip hop bands in the Texas scene, which was perhaps a little bit against the woodgrain. My Create & Hustle album got picked up for distribution and was getting some nice
random press. And, if I remember correctly, right after Mojoe’s “Classic.Ghetto.Soul.” album dropped, we got fired and never heard from Mojoe or Promoter Guy again.
It was too late to lose touch, though. We had a classic collab called “The Blues” on their album and we were very much a part of each other’s careers at this point. So I let the situation breathe for a while, then popped up at a Mojoe show at Kingston Tycoon Flats months later and made sure everything was still cool. Not long after that we built an alliance between Mojoe, D-Madness, Money Waters and I, which was made official at the Vibe on 6th Street during South by Southwest 2005.
I only have a few memories of that South by Southwest show. Mojoe had signed with a Houston-based management company and “Classic.Ghetto.Soul” posters were covering the whole block. We all had live bands, of course. I was passing out samplers of Blazing Saddles, my upcoming mixtape with DJ Baby G. Money performed Play the Role with me, and the b-boys were on stage dancing. And it was packed.
By South by Southwest 2006, it was all about Mojoe. They had just signed with Matthew Knowles’ Music World label, and some combination of their buzz and his fame had Cedar Street jumping like it was THE place to be. It’s very rare that you see a South By Southwest venue full of excited black folks. D-Madness was the opening act, and I did a few songs in his set along with Willette Wallace. Our set was the best thing cooking until the headlining set.
Everything came together for Mojoe that night. The band was finally dope enough to sell their material! D-Madness was on bass now, Andrae on sax, Carter Arrington on guitar, etc. The main catalyst for the band was Derrick aka Funky Genius on drums. He, like John Dees the keys player, brought that young church boy spark that can take a band from 0 to 60 in one short rehearsal. One of the most talented people in Texas history, DaShade Moonbeam, was in the crowd cosigning. And when we did “The Blues” it was like there were angels cosigning from just above the stage.
Needless to say, Music World signed Mojoe and quickly remixed, mastered and released “Classic.Ghetto.Soul.” complete with my liner notes. Then they put them on the road in a van for a long time, and that’s about all they did. Everyone around these parts waited for them to blow, but that day never came. It was kind of similar to when PPT broke up, in that it took some wind out of all the affiliated groups who were sure this was going to open a door for us.
In 2007 when Easy Lee was heavily featured on my “Woodgrain Collection” mix CD with Rapid Ric, Mojoe was back in the lab working on their sophomore album “Dirty Genes”. I’d hooked them up with Symbolyc One (S1) of Strange Fruit Project, the go-to guy for stepping your sound up. They recorded in far away spots like Nashville, but eventually came back to their headquarters in Austin, Texas, with producer Roger Blevins of Mingo Fishtrap.
“Dirty Genes” was released to very little fanfare, straight to iTunes. The video for the title track quietly debuted on Billboard.com, and I just discovered a second video for “My Favorite Cut” yesterday. Excuse my bias, but this is one of my favorite 2009 album releases. What it lacks in conceptual consistency – which is a strength of “Classic.Ghetto.Soul” – it makes up for with production quality and straight-ahead bangers. It is more of the “Carter 3”/”Blueprint 3” digital-era song collection than “The Cool” or Nas’ “Untitled”.
“Strange Revival” is the type of beat that artists like me envy. In fact, the last time I was at S1’s Liquid Soul Lab I committed the cardinal sin of asking him for a beat like it. Anyway, my man M.O.S. of Crew 54 who heads up Dookie Vizion Productions and Films fell in love with this joint, out of all the nice cuts on “Dirty Genes”. Even though he didn’t know Mojoe personally, he worked up a treatment in no time. A few months ago, Mojoe opened for Mayer Hawthorne in Austin and the rest is historical.
Tre and Easy got in town the night before the shoot, also the eve of my wife defending her dissertation proposal for her phD. The day of the video shoot was so perfect. Everything ran on schedule, and was done in less than 12 hours despite plenty of location changes.
It should be noted that M.O.S. shot and edited this whole thing solo. It blows my mind how he saw the vision to make this happen, although he more or less came in on the tail end of what’s been seven years in the making. Then again, so did a lot of the “extras” in the video who happen to be great artists doubling as avid supporters.
While we were shooting my takes, I had an overwhelming feeling that my verse had been written not so much for the song or album, but for that exact moment on East 11th Street. How strange is that?