Cover Story: Do the Watusi

Hip Hop collective Watusi Tribe's cipher keeps movin'

Matt Borgerding

Black F.I.S.T.: Watusi Tribe drops First Installment of Soulful Tones Nov. 29.

Lately it seems as though the five-member, conscious Hip Hop collective known as the Watusi Tribe is Cincinnati's best-kept secret. Despite their tireless weekly performances (locally and in other cities), their countless hours of community outreach and their long-awaited CD slated to drop in late November, locals still act like they don't know (or care) who they are.

For those in the know, Rakwaun "Roc" Bivins, president and ceo of Ra2Taktic Records, wants to make sure we don't get it twisted.

Yes, yes y'all. The Watusi Tribe is the most visible act on his Atlanta-based label, and, yes, the crew has a stage show that already has the industry buzzing throughout the Midwest. And, yes, the Tribe is determinedly positive in their approach to Hip Hop music in an industry defined by street credibility and materialism.

But what Roc really wants true Hip Hop heads to overstand is that the Watusi Tribe is a part of a larger burgeoning cultural movement designed to elevate the minds of fans and rescue us from the grip of ignorance that has a stronghold on the industry.

Set to release F.I.S.T.: First Installment of Soulful Tones on Nov. 29, the Tribe is the first line of defense in the battle for the salvation of true Hip Hop music and culture. That the group would sign to a label called Ra2Taktic (as in Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun deity), is of little surprise to those enlightened Hip Hop fans anxiously awaiting the long anticipated release of their CD.

Nearly a year ago, I met with several members of Watusi Tribe.

After being greeted at the door by a short-haired cat named Ma'at (inspired by the African concept of truth, balance, harmony, etc.), our conversation centered around the usual — future plans for the group, their perspectives on industry politics and some discussion around the African-centered symbols (ankhs, cowrie shells and the like) that contribute to their mystique.

I walked away from the interview genuinely impressed. They had a new fan.

Then I saw them perform.

Watching the Watusi Tribe live is like watching a gathering of the best Hip Hop artists from every conceivable lyrical category gathered on a single stage. Their high-octane performance immediately erases any pre-conceived notions that they're going to wax philosophical during their entire set.

There is a little of that, but they don't overdo it. Lyricist/producer Vibe One's straightforward delivery compliments X-Man's baritone, shaman-like metaphysics.

Check Vibe One's flow: "We're not the one to take your chain/we're the one to take your brain /go for a ride on the Wa train / destination: change..." and its natural dovetail to X-Man's: "A true shadow bearer, ankh wearer, funk bearer/ancient mystic magic right now in this era."

Lyricists Moses 7, Doc Ill and Citoak are able to morph seamlessly between East Coast-influenced rhyme patterns and rapid fire, Southern-style Rap. Completing the cipher are accompanying members Eloh, Swing and the mellifluous DuWaup, the group's sole/soul feminine element.

So how is it that even these conscious Hip Hop elder statesmen can't break the curse of the 'Nati?

"We've got to travel to gain exposure," Vibe One admits. "We almost always find love from somewhere else. For some reason, we've got to go to other cities to make a name."

Certainly Cincinnati is not a Hip Hop cultural Mecca akin to New York or Atlanta, a reality label president Bivins is determined to change.

"I am baffled by the fact that Cincinnati has no leverage in the (music) industry," he says. "I've seen more talent here in the last several months than I have in Atlanta for four years. With the Watusi Tribe, we're trying to prove that there's talent in this city. People can no longer ignore this."

The group is counting on the new CD to solidify their position as leaders and innovators in the art of Hip Hop.

Watusi members admit the staunchly revolutionary tone of 1998's Tha Cleansing might have been heavy-handed for some. But understand they had to get a few things off their chests. Now they remain undaunted by the stigma attached to positive Hip Hop acts.

F.I.S.T. will operate on two levels: The outer layer will satisfy the need for fluid production and head-nodding hooks, while the inner core will meet the needs of those looking for the intelligent lyrics that set the Tribe apart from 99 percent of the industry.

But make no mistake — their goal is to get people to dance. The message, Vibe explains, will sink in when listeners are ready to accept it.

The last time I saw the Watusi Tribe perform, there was a level of energy so intense that peopled crowded the stage bouncing and swaying to the group's unrelentingly catchy hooks and lyrics.

X-Man reminded us several times that it was not the Tribe per se but the spirit of the ancestors raising the crowd out of their seats. Either way, true heads were feeling it.

Cincinnati can "love it or hate it," but the Watusi Tribe's time has come. ©

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