"We have a responsibility to be teachers and we are behind on our homework."
— Grand Verbalizer Funkin' Lesson Brother J
To X-Clan founder/lyricist Brother J, there is no distinction between the music and the movement.
When we recently spoke via cell phone, every detour in our discussion about the group, their nationwide tour with Jurassic 5 and their forthcoming, full-length album, Return from Mecca, led to theories about the abysmal state of Hip Hop and the lack of intelligent, positive imagery in popular culture.
We were instantly vibing on the same plane of existence.
It's been about 14 years since X-Clan's last full-length release and 10 years since we heard Brother J drop his brand of lyrical alchemy on the 1996 Dark Sun Riders production project, Seeds of Evolution. J likens this time away from the studio to a spiritual journey of sorts, contributing not only to the forthcoming album's title, but also to the message he intends to bring back to the masses.
"The title represents going to a temple, mastering your craft and coming home," J says. "It's like in the Bible when the man went on a quest to talk to God. He came back and all his people were dancing around a golden calf. Homeboy's like, 'I've done all this homework, I've come back with this tablet and all these rhymes and ya'll dancing around this calf?' "
Tales of temples and golden calves should come as no surprise to old-school X-Clan fans.
Those familiar with J's lyrics about Isis, Osiris and, well, Pink Caddys, might recognize that much of the group's inspiration comes from the spiritual traditions of ancient Africa (specifically Egypt). While many were drawn to the X-Clan's dense, P Funk-heavy production, others found the references to African cosmology a fitting — sometimes puzzling — complement to the straightforward, political Rap popular during the early '90s.
"When it came to the science of what X-Clan was doing at the time, I went to study Egyptian sciences," J says. "I wanted to know, 'Where is this place called Egypt? Why were all the great teachers from around the world coming here to learn? Who were the people that established this place that never crumbles?' These are the things that I continue to study to this day."
X-Clan had always sought to use music as a forum to raise consciousness. Brother J and producer/deejay Sugar Shaft had already formed the group when they became involved with Paradise the Architect (originally X-Clan's promoter) and the late Lumumba Carson (aka Professor X), founder of the Brooklyn-based Blackwatch grassroots movement. Though the line separating X-Clan from Blackwatch would soon become blurred, for many, X-Clan's intense lyrics and trademark African robes, crowns and staffs began to eclipse the organization that served as the foundation for their music.
"Without the Blackwatch movement and Lumumba Carson, the music wouldn't have been as hard-hitting," J says. "People started to dress differently, to think differently about what they ate, how they conducted themselves. The Blackwatch movement became a home for those who understood Black Nationalism and Hip Hop."
For many fans, Carson's sudden death in March of this year created additional uncertainty about the possibility of a new X-Clan album. However, J continues to regard him as an inspiration for the group and their messages of self-knowledge and empowerment.
"We hadn't been traveling or performing together for years; it's not like it's a secret or anything," he says. "But when you have someone who created the original thought of Blackwatch get separated from the music of X-Clan, it's like having a leader die on the battlefield."
That battle rages on. It's been 15 years since high-top fades and Malcolm X hats were gradually replaced by sagging jeans and oversized tees. It's unclear how X-Clan's message might relate to the typical teen raised on Crunk, Hyphy and other iterations of what was once known simply as Hip Hop.
J suggests that our generation — those of us now in our mid 30s or early 40s — have a responsibility to bring our children back to the essence of true Hip Hop culture.
"People who are a part of Generation X have to take responsibility because the dumb-down started with us," he adds.
"A lot of (Gen X'ers) didn't just abandon Hip Hop — they're angry at Hip Hop. They're disturbed that someone can come along and take over the game that we worked so hard to build. Music composition is suffering, and if R&B is plastic, then Hip Hop is going to be plastic."
With Return from Mecca (due in stores Oct. 10) and the lead single "Weapon X," X-Clan intends to capture the attention of those old-heads who walked away from Hip Hop as well as younger soldiers who might someday grow weary of popular music's lack of substance. J suggests that the transition from Island Records (X-Clan's previous label) to independent Suburban Noize Records will play a pivotal role in completing this mission.
"It's as if I were still on Island," he says. "This is going to be a worldwide effort. I couldn't put the name and the brand of X-Clan into the hands of someone who wasn't going to give us that broadcast power. Last year we were blessed to do the Damian Marley tour and that was a great way to let people know that we're out and still treated with respect in the game."
With over 15 years in this "game," J points out that he's not quite ready to be relegated to the Hip Hop Old Timers' circuit. In fact, after an intense rant about the manner in which cable reality shows have portrayed some of our R&B and Hip Hop icons, Brother J stops mid-sentence, chuckles and concedes how passionate he becomes when discussing the state of Hip Hop culture.
"I'm sorry to get so amped," J says. "My fire just shows how much I love my people. I had to go to Mecca to meditate and get my mind correct. We can't be distracted. Our music is soldier music."
X-CLAN opens for Jurassic 5 Monday at Bogart's.