by Alex Shtaerman
While some may contend, with good reason, that authentic Hip-Hop is in a state of decline, it must be dually noted that back in the Boogie Down Bronx the heartbeat of a now global culture continues to beat as it always has, indifferent to public opinion and seemingly unaware of the day’s prevailing wisdom. If true Hip-Hop is in a state of recession, would it really matter? For a culture that emerged from the slums and desolate hopelessness of a forgotten borough, do passing trends or rampant assertions make any difference? If you think about it, the whole notion is laughable. Right now at this very moment a group called the Juggaknots is making real Hip-Hop music, coming to you straight from the birthplace of Hip-Hop. The Bronx. The foundation. Collaborating with Slick Rick, Nine and Sadat X on their new album Use Your Confusion, the Juggs are no longer out for fame or platinum plaques; their goal is actually much more simple – to make quality Hip-Hop music with the type of integrity indicative of an era that, for many, has come and gone. But as fads continue to blow in the wind, those of us that know stand firm. We won’t ever budge. In 2007 we are the foundation and this is our music.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Clear Blue Skies was originally recorded over a decade ago; what’s the biggest difference in your outlook today as opposed to back then?
BREEZE BREWIN: I was tryin’ to get ass, run around, get into whatever. I think our DJ Boo said it best – look at “Sex Type Thang” from the first album to “Leon Phelps” [off the new album]. You can even throw in “Settle Down” from the Love Movement. Cats went from careless to somewhat careful. It’s just maturity. Niggas got families. I’m due to wild out though, I’m due to a little living, ‘cause surviving has definitely been main focus of late.
B-SLIM: Back then we were focused on making it big, making a whole lot of money, MTV cribs and shit. Now our outlook is more realistic, grinding hard trying to maximize the most out of every opportunity. The goal is still to be successful monetarily and critically, however our delusions of grandeur have been diluted a little.
RIOTSOUND.COM: At one point all three of you put your music careers on hold and took up jobs as school teachers in the Bronx. What were some of your motivations behind doing that and also, how would you describe the conditions under which our children are being taught? If you had to give New York City public schools a grade, what would it be?
QUEEN HERAWIN: My mother is an educator; she put me onto the profession one year when I was looking to make some money. I started out working with kids in the classroom as an aid. Later on, I took things more seriously and decided to take the necessary steps in order to teach. I’ve been doing that ever since, in conjunction with music. The last couple of years I’ve been trying to balance doing both, along with the other elements of everyday living.
In regards to the city schools, I personally think the situation is pretty bad to put it mildly. I think the whole system needs to be uprooted and started over and how realistic is that? I think the way to go now is looking at charter schools and private institutions like the school Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem NY. These schools are taking a different approach to education. There are so many issues in the city schools, not to say that there aren’t kids with success stories, but on a whole our kids are suffering for a number of reasons.
BREEZE BREWIN: The higher ups suck, they try to come up with these flavor of the minute schemes. They basically band-aids for slit throats. At the end of the day they really need to come off of some paper. Every one of these kids should have their own laptops where the homework could be done and communication could exist between themselves, their teachers, and the world at large. We complain and complain about falling off to other cultures but we really ain’t tryin’ to ante up.
The people who work with these kids are straight troopers though, for the most part. We still teaching. I hope shit jumps off because I teach a couple of blocks from where I live, in the heart of the neighborhood that we came up in. It’s beautiful. I would love to find a way to keep involved with the school. If shit jumps off, I’ma run with this Hip-Hop shit. But I know where and how to spend my money if it gets to that point. If it don’t get to that point, I’m good in the hood, teaching.
B-SLIM: I would give NYC schools a “C”. There are some teachers that just come for the check while there are others that really have the children’s best interest in mind. We want to prepare them for the future. They’re more equipped than what they give themselves credit for. I hear kids say all the time “we’re stupid”. I feel it’s just the negative mentality that some teachers give off to students.
Overall the system is designed to fail. Recently I heard a rumor that really disturbed me; jails are now using test scores from as early as 3rd grade to determine how many jails are going to be built in the future. It’s fucked up, just makes us want to do more because these kids are myself, Breeze and Herawin. Same kids, same neighborhood, just more critical circumstances that children are faced with today.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Being from the Bronx, the birthplace of Hip-Hop, do you feel any additional responsibility as far as maintaining a high level of integrity in your music? What does it mean for you to follow in Hip-Hop’s Bronx lineage, is there something extra special about that?
B-SLIM: I believe it’s a rich history in Hip-Hop, to me there is nothing like the Bronx, whether you reside in the infamous South Bronx side that KRS One put on the map back in the days, or the Northeast where we’re from and where artists like Slick Rick reside. The Bronx was always rich in great Hip-Hop tradition. Growing up in the Bronx in the early eighties was like growing up in Egypt during the making of the pyramids. Everyone was a part of it; the clothes, style, originality, block and park parties, getting electricity from the street light, the ingenuity, searching for cardboard, break dancing battles and graffiti. It was a myriad of music and culture that dominated the music scene with artists like Ultramagnetic, Mantronix, and Just-Ice. It was a great time for music, we were very fortunate to grow up where we did and when we did to meet the people who would eventually shape our lives and musical tastes.
QUEEN HERAWIN: It’s definitely nice to have that connection with where we’re from and where Hip-Hop originated from. It just worked out that way. Our music is about quality. Whose to say what things would be like if we didn’t grow up there. Everything is connected.
BREEZE BREWIN: It’s natural I guess. You see these shows with these rural towns, Friday Night Lights type shit, where you walk and then you play football. To a lesser extent, that’s how it was for us. That being said, we definitely don’t mind putting the BX out there, especially if it looks like we putting it in the right light. I do feel somewhat obligated to the BX and to myself as a Bronx resident. I still want this music to transcend to some level of universality. But the origins, the birthplace, which happens to be my birthplace, should be represented.
RIOTSOUND.COM: What was the best thing about recording Use Your Confusion? How long did it take for the new album to come together?
BREEZE BREWIN: The album took about three years in total to complete. The best thing about doing it was having the joints take on their own separate personalities. You set it, then you live with it, then you know.
QUEEN HERAWIN: The best thing about the album for me was seeing it come together and manifest into what it is now. I’m proud of our work. I think its good material.
B-SLIM: It came together organically. We’re always recording, working out our ideas. Our studio [Bronx Bully] affords us time and space to do what we want recording wise. We recorded the whole album in BX Bully, however a lot of it was mixed in different places.
RIOTSOUND.COM: How did the collaborations with Slick Rick and Nine come about?
B-SLIM: Well Rick, I’ve been trying to get at for a long time. To me it doesn’t make sense to have such a valuable resource available right in your own backyard – I figured if we approached him the right way with the right plan hopefully things would work out. Fortunately for us, it did. The “Vows” joint on the album is crazy. Lots of people say it’s the best they have heard Rick in a long time, that’s a matter of opinion. I think that cat is always top notch.
Nine’s story is a little different; myself and Nine go way back. Growing up I used to hang out with his cousins and they always used to say – you and our cousin need to get up. They knew we were doing music and obviously he was doing it, but it never went down until one day I was at Jesse West’s house playing video games. I came through and beat West, which is something that is rarely done. West busts niggas asses on the regular at whatever it is, chess, beats, video games. He’s a monster, peace out to Beans and Apples, a new group he’s messing with. From that we started to get up to play games and he found out I made beats so we started recording songs together. Eventually we recorded quite a few joints and a lot of those recordings you’ll hear on my compilation album. Nine is like a brother from another mother, so having him rep on the album was a no-brainer, he’s like extended family. We got mad love for the Jeep Cherokee bobble head doll king, “steady bouncing in jeeps”.
RIOTSOUND.COM: The Juggaknots are composed to two brothers, B-Slim and Breeze Brewin, and also your sister, Queen Herawin. When did all three of you realize that you would be making music together? Queen Herawin was added to the group later on; was that decision spontaneous or something that was thought out and planned over time?
BREEZE BREWIN: It was all pretty natural. We ain’t never force it. No Joe Jackson in our house. We all from the Bronx, we all loved this culture. It started chronologically with Slim leading us as an older brother should. We came into it in our own time. When cats wanted to get down, the door was open.
B-SLIM: Herawin has always been down from day one. We just felt as older siblings and experiencing the business first hand a little earlier in the game, we felt let’s keep her grounded and have her finish school, being that myself and Breeze both dropped out to pursue music. In retrospect we felt that might not have been the best decision so we hope she would learn from our mistakes, because when the music slowed down initially it was hard to put food on the table and take care of [our] very young families. We always knew that we would come together to form this family musical union.
RIOTSOUND.COM: In your view, what’s the hardest thing about being original in today’s climate? Years ago if you weren’t original you got no respect. Today it seems like if you don’t sound like somebody else many DJs and radio stations won’t even play your record.
QUEEN HERAWIN: It’s hard for us to be anything but original. I mean, we are who we are. We don’t try to force ourselves to sound like anyone else, even though we have been influenced by others, we have our own sound. I think originality, although risky within this business, is what makes you stand out. Either people are going to like it or not, but that’s the chance you take. That’s part of being an artist. True artists are original in their style, regardless of what they do.
BREEZE BREWIN: There ain’t nothing new under the sun. I know I ain’t never trying to sound like the next man. That’s just Hip-Hop integrity. But like Herawin said, we all influenced. However, even in your influence you’re exhibiting your style through your own honest innate aesthetic. You gotta be true to that. Keep that in line and there ain’t much second guessing. I definitely think the compromise of the group cultivated originality. For example, the title joint [“Use Your Confusion”]. I ain’t really see myself coming up with a track like that, but when Slim flipped it, I could automatically see the potential in it. It pushed me outside of my norm but for cool results.
B-SLIM: for us it’s about making the best music possible, the best way we know how. Maybe it’s because the radio isn’t our first choice when it comes to selecting music or listening to music. Both myself and Brewin have extensive record collections, so we stay in the older eras learning from that time, admiring the artists and their musical offerings.
RIOTSOUND.COM: What are your plans for the future and how often do you plan on releasing new music from here forward?
B-SLIM: The lineup for next year plans to be a very active year for the Juggs collectively. Individually, I myself am dropping a compilation comprised of artists that have recorded in our studio, a combination of works from a plethora of artists that have come thru the gates. Also a Brewin solo album, and a Herawin solo album, we also plan to release another Juggaknots album some time in ’08 or ‘09.
BREEZE BREWIN: I definitely see more music from the unit in different forms; group, solo, colab, whatever. I definitely want to be more productive. I hope the game affords that time for us. If the dough’s low, things might be a bit slow. But slow motion better than no motion. We’ll see.
QUEEN HERAWIN: Solo joint is the goal and more music.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You got the album, Use Your Confusion, in stores now, what else should the fans be looking out for as far as the Juggaknots go?
BREEZE BREWIN: Comin’ to your town if you got that green invite paper.
B-SLIM: Look out for videos from the Use Your Confusion project as well as a show DVD available early next year.
For more news and info on the Juggaknots stay tuned to www.AmalgamDigital.com and www.MySpace.com/JuggsMusic