"I walk around town with the pound strapped down/on my side/no frotin' just incase I gotta smoke something/around here headz don't act their age/you might be another dead bwoy pon page."
Can anyone that calls himself, or herself, a true Hip-Hop fan remember those classic lines? It might be a little difficult for the younger generation of Hip-Hoppers to recollect them, because they're too busy doing the "Superman Dance," along with other gimmicky stuff. But to the Hip-Hop fans that range from their late 20's to early 30's, they'll remember those lines from "Bucktown" by Smif -N- Wessun.
Now some people may look at that track record, and say things like; "they only have four records in 14 years?" But in Tek and Steele's defense, they've always kept their names in circulation.
Whether it was joining forces with the whole entire Boot Camp Clik for projects like; The Chosen Few, Casualties Of War, and The Last Stand. To collaborating on compilations such as the Rawkus Record series. Or just working with artists like; Tupac, M.O.P., Mobb Deep, Talib Kweli and Aaliyah; they were always front and center.
One of the hardest things to do in Hip-Hop is to keep up with the times. Many have tried, and a lot more have failed. It's a sad fact, but a lot of Hip-Hop performers have a shelf life that's shorter than your average housefly. Staying consistent in this ever-changing genre for over a decade is probably the equivalent to a thirty-year movie career.
To the people that grew up listening to their signature s ound, it didn't matter if they were Tek and Steele, Smif -N- Wessun, or The Cocoa Brovaz because they were always going to give you that true gritty feel of New York Hip-Hop in its purest form. How does that old saying go again? Oh yeah, "No matter how much things change, they stay the same." In the case of these two Brooklyn MC's, it's reassuring to know that is indeed a true statement.
How did you guys first come together as a group?
Steele: Well um.... We met in high school. And for us, the late 80's and early 90's was just really explosive; and just going through what we were going through. As far as being teens growing up, and just getting into trouble and things like that, we was already f**king with each other. That was my homeboy, and that's where the whole PNC (Partners -N- Crime) concept came from. Then it came to a point where [we] got exposed to the Hip-Hop game, and then just decided that we wanted to get into it.
We were in school one day, and we thought up a name. And we thought Smif -N- Wessun might be good name for us, because we're really close like that. So we just ran with that.
So what can people expect to hear from your new album?
Steele: Well I feel like this album is the second coming, man. Because in a perfect world, I think this album should summarize the growth of Tek and Steele as artists. In a perfect world, [we] would have put this album out right after Dah Shinin'.
This is just a continuation, and an elevation of what we're dealing with. When you listen to it, you're going to hear mature music, and conscious lyrics. And when I say conscious lyrics, I don't mean preacher-type lyrics telling you what to do. But you're going to hear something, which in this day and time, might be useful to your circumference.
Did you guys try anything different this time around? Or did you keep your formula the same?
Steele: Yeah man. We actually went back to the source of what [we] think is Smif -N- Wessun. We know that we came into the game as new artists; in a time when it was needed. So when we came into the game, we introduced you to us. We felt like it was time to give the people Smif -N- Wessun. As opposed to just trying to make hot songs that can get radio play, dope songs that would make video cuts, and what features we can get on the album.
So we're trying to give, you what we initially gave you. Which is a Smif -N- Wessun, album and that's exactly why we titled the album; The Album. We did that because for one; [we] accept [our] position, and what it is. Because in this day and time, cats be getting lazy when its time to put out projects. Like they may continue to put out compilations with massive features, several different producers, and they don't go that extra mile to give you them. Like a lot of rappers get over when all they have to do is spit a quick 16 on a verse. But now what happens when you have to create a song?
Steele: Well unfortunately the radio is a direct outlet to the people. In my experience, and what people don't know; is when we first came out; it wasn't easy for us to get on the radio. There was a lot of groundwork, and a lot of building relationships. There were times before when we had a direct relationship with video shows and the radio through the program directors.
Then it started to formulate into something else, where the program directors were becoming untouchable, and started becoming celebrities in their own right. So when they started to become popular, they wanted to start dealing with the popular trends.
So now you start to see a whole lot of nepotism, and fake sh*t sometimes. It disturbs me, because a lot of these cats that be on the radio and video shows know us. But it's just not popular to play [our] form of music. And a lot of entertainers unfortunately fall into that category, where they don't get that exposure to the immediate public. And it definitely hurts our sales, and our pockets. But a lot of times, we forget about outlets like the Internet. The Internet always has an immediate impact of having people see your sh*t.
Do you think lyricism is a lost art form in Hip-Hop?
Steele: Well I think Hip-Hop has modernized into something that's becoming more like the movies. Where it doesn't really have to be pure, it just has to be entertaining. Of course when [we] started it was definitely entertaining, but it was pure entertainment. It was pure in the sense that it came from our life, and it came from us having nothing.
A lot times when artists come into the game, they tell you how they're rich already. And Hip-Hop is a voice for the voiceless. So if you're rich, then you already need pick another profession. Because a lot of people that started into this industry, were people that had nothing. Hip-Hop has become a big political scale. So when you have all these cats talking about shallow events in their life, that kind of deludes the power that Hip-Hop holds.
A lot of times lyricism is jeopardized, but just remember that because you don hear it on the mainstream level; doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. So big-up to the Internet, because it helps you to find sh*t that you can't hear on the radio.
So how do you guys still stay motivated to do music after all these years?
Steele: I think for the both of us, we're really conscious of the current events. We still have a great love for what we do; and we have a great respect for those who have been following us for all these years. Its like; when you're in the game, you just want to play harder for your fans. So if I play harder for my fans, I know they'll appreciate everything that I've done for them, and they'll be with me forever. And everything we did in Hip-Hop is off a timeline.
Like I grew up on Public Enemy, Kool G. Rap, LL Cool J, and Biz Markie. Plus we love the ‘hood, we love the streets, and all the people that come from the ‘hood. We love to commune with people like us. So one way talk to a person from Africa without traveling is to do it on a song.
Some artists find group work a little hectic. What are your opinions on it?
Steele: It's stressful, but it's not to say that being a solo artist won't be stressful too. A lot of times my partner saved my ass. Sometimes I might have a hot-ass beat, but I might not know where to go with it. Then my partner might come up with a dope concept, and then I might be able to walk right through it. That's why it's more of a conscious level, where you have to know how to play your position. And know how to accept the other individual's position.
Like we been together way before we started rapping, and we know what its like to have nothing. But we've seen what's it like when we're together.
Have you two ever thought about doing solo projects?
Steele: Yeah we discussed that. I think doing a solo project will be easy. But it's hard to make a marriage between two individuals that are so different, like night and day. It challenges you to be more creative in a sense. I think that when you see us together, you get Smif -N- Wessun. But when you hear us apart, you get Tek and Steele. Just to back a little bit, that's why we changed our name to Cocoa Brovaz after Smif -N- Wessun.
Because we didn't want to give the people Tek and Steele just yet, we wanted to lead up to that. And we when finally gave you Tek and Steele, we wanted to let you know we are; Tek and Steele. We own this name, and no record company can say that they own us.
So after this project, when people have gotten their fill of this; I think you'll definitely see some solo projects. Like Tek and me are always working on solo projects. I have a street album that out right now called Hostile Takeover, and Tek is working on an album called UGP(Underground Prince).
Steele: Well I mean Hip-Hop is one big competition. That's why I meant what I said, that we're up on current events. Like if you think you're too old, too much of a veteran, or just too seasonal to put in that work in the field; then you might lose your touch.
So we keep in-tune with the streets, and we give respect where respect is due. But we also have to adhere to the fact that we are cats that have been around for a while; so we just try to utilize that the best way we can. We have little brothers, nephews, and nieces. So we communicate with them, and find out what they like. You just have to pay attention to what's going on.
Does it bother you when some people just label you as underground artists?
Steele: Or like we only do gun raps and talk about weed and sh*t?
Yeah that kind of stuff also
Steele: Yeah it bothers me sometimes. Because that kind of dilutes our contributions. But it's cool, because a mention is better than no mention. If you go to a lot artists that are popular right now; 9 times out of 10 they heard Smif -N- Wessun, and 9 times out of 10 they heard Dah Shinin'. If you ask some who are some of their favorite artists, 9 times out of 10 they'll say us or someone else in The Boot Camp Clik.
What's up Tek, I heard you were stuck in traffic.
Tek: Ah man it sucked!
So do you guys bump heads a lot when creating music?
Tek: Yeah we bump heads a lot. It wouldn't be a team, or a good creative process if everyone were just a "yes man." Its not like we're ever close to throwing blows, but we'll be like; "nah, I don't think that goes good here, or that doesn't go good there." So there are definitely times where we challenge each other. But it only makes us better in that way.
So how have you managed to stay together for so long when a lot of groups break up?
Tek: Man it's nothing, we have the gift and the curse. We're just blessed, and we're humble. We don't look for nothing to come our way, we just do what we do; and don't expect anything. We just keep it moving. We just stay strong, and we don't look for no sympathy from nobody. That's just how we do it.
So in your own opinion, what bothers you about modern day Hip-Hop?
Tek: I'm not really bothered about what's going on right now. But the only thing I would say is; give all music a chance. Give the people a chance to decide, instead of some radio programmer who's not even influenced by Hip-Hop. They just got the job because they know a couple of things about the music. Like I remember when DJ's used to break the records on their own. So I'm not really bothered, because everything gets its own chance to shine. So that's just how I look at it.
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