Thursday, October 28, 2010

Interview: Bronze Nazareth & Kevlaar 7 Discuss New Wisemen Album Children of a Lesser God

For the last four years, there have been no contemporary musicians whose music I've enjoyed more than the newest and strongest branch of Wu-Tang's vast, evergrowing family tree, Bronze Nazareth and, more recently, his brother Kevlaar 7 along with their group The Wisemen. In 2006, Bronze's debut album The Great Migration left me permanently awestruck with its combination of melodic bombastic beats and cerebral-emotional, memorable rhymes and I was floored by the quality of his next release. In February 2007, Wisemen Approaching was released, an album on which Bronze introduced his own army of emcees to the world including his brother Kevlaar 7 who powerfully displayed his talents for production as well as pure lyrical slaughter. The rest of the cast is no different, these are emcees who approach writing a verse with the precision of a man building a miniature ship inside a bottle and deliver their words with the passion of a starving man singing for food.

Since then, they've put out a couple of mixtapes to try to satiate the hungry fans but it's been their next full-length album that we've all been waiting for. And, as of this past Tuesday, it's here. Their brand new sophomore LP Children of a Lesser God features a revamped team of Detroit emcees (Bronze & Kevlaar plus Phillie, Salute, Illah Dayz, and June Megalodon) rapping over beats that mix dulcet instruments with creative, cracking hip hop drums.

Bronze and Kevlaar (real names Justin and Kevin Cross) were gracious enough to bless A Building Roam with an interview discussing their new album, their group, and how they approach their art form. Enjoy.

I want to start off by saying congratulations on the release of your new album. It’s been a long time coming, over three years since the debut album Wisemen Approaching. Listening to Children of a Lesser God, it seems like you guys have really updated the sound while still maintaining the core of pure hip hop.

BRONZE: Thanks! Definitely feel like we had the people waiting but in this business there’s many politics that get in the way of real music and its outlet. We had a few obstacles and had to play a waiting game for a minute or we would have been to the rescue earlier. The whole squad is glad to be back on the verge, and we keep it updated because it’s all genuine, and real life. Authenticity never gets outdated.

KEVLAAR 7: Appreciate all the love and support always; we worked HARD on this joint. It was our aim to update the sound, but at the same time keep the sound of that pure hip hop in the mix. We will never lose that.
 
There’s a lot of live instruments on the album, at time it reminds me a little bit of Jay-Z’s “Unplugged” album with The Roots, how did you incorporate these into the creative process? Was that the plan from the start or was it added in later on?


KEVLAAR 7: Bronze brought Project Lionheart into the mix, and really we just asked them to compliment whatever beats we sent them with live instrumentation, with Bronze suggesting what instruments to incorporate into a beat and blend it with the actual sample. That was the plan from jump. The live shit helped bring a bigger sound overall…

BRONZE: Exactly. Big shouts to Caleb Cunningham and the very talented Project Lionheart. I call Caleb the live instruments director. I basically knew what I wanted to add to each of the beats, some of them already had a lot going on, such as “Panic In Vision Park” so we left those alone. The ones I knew would sound good with instrumentation, I could hear it, I knew what Lionheart could do, so I asked for horns on this one or a bassline on this one or whatever whatever. Unlike many session musicians, PJL knows how to execute exactly what I asked for, and keep it hip hop. It all fit perfectly!

Have you given consideration to doing a live performance of the album with a live band providing all the instrumentation?


KEVLAAR 7: That’s crazy that you say that because me and Bronze was just talking about the possibility of doing a tour with Project Lionheart, and doing purely live shows, Roots style. That shit would be CRAZY, I would LOVE to pull that off…

BRONZE: Yeah I actually was able to perform live with the whole Lionheart Band on two show dates in Seattle, it was beautiful! Myself and June Mega had a blast on stage there. To have a tour with the band would be glorious! We’ve talked about it, but like K said we’d really have to pull some strings to pull it off.

What is the meaning behind that awesome title, "Children of a Lesser God." I saw on Wikipedia that there was a movie with that title about a speech teacher at a school for deaf students which reminds me of the title for the upcoming Bronze solo "School for the Blindman."



KEVLAAR 7: Phillie and Bronze really came up with that title. It was going to be the title for the first album, but it didn’t fit for a debut album title. What it means is that throughout the trials of life, at some points when shit is so fucked up, a lot of things come into question…The Wisemen have all asked themselves if our God was lesser at one time or another…It’s a reality in a lot more people’s minds than people would like to think…

BRONZE: Every man who has had trouble, setbacks, and trials so severe sometimes that he might question the higher power, not lose faith but have questions. This is nothing to doubt God or anything but the intro says it all really where the speaker is like ‘I been here before, asking for God’s help, a lot of times, okay? And my situation is not getting any sunnier’ he then suggests that ‘maybe God isn’t carrying his end of the weight’… You can sometimes look at someone who is prospering, and wonder why you haven’t been blessed as much, you might feel like you have a lesser or weaker god. That speaks to us, we’ve all been there - I know I’ve wondered sometimes why God has not answered my prayers, a lot of people get there. So we represent for those people who have questions and go astray from their faith.

You’ve got the legendary Wu-Tang dartsmith Raekwon featured on “Thirsty Fish” and I know you guys just filmed a video for the song with him. What’s it like working with the Chef?


BRONZE: Yeah we ended up getting some footage of Rae to add to the video, so it should look pretty dope. He was nothing but gracious, and him and his people showed a lot of love to me, Kev and June Mega. Ever since my relationship with Raekwon developed, he has been the realest nigga! Much respect and appreciation towards him and his camp!

KEVLAAR 7: Word, hopefully everything goes how it should go for that video, but we also shot one for “Faith Doctrine” which will drop b4 “Thirsty fish”. We met up with Rae in Chicago and he showed nothing but love, blessings on the song. He said the beat was on some back-in-the-day hardcore Wu shit. Real Genuine brother, for real.

Might we see more collaborations with Rae in the near future?


KEVLAAR 7:  I would love to work with Rae more, no doubt. He’s a legend, and brings a lot of experience and wisdom to the table; so if you have a co-sign from Shallah Rae, you doing something RIGHT…I truly appreciate Bronze for making that happen, and allowing Rae to bless some of my production, he could have kept that in the vault for his own shit if he so desired.

BRONZE: Yeah Rae will end up on a few more beats of mine, I’m not gonna speak on exactly what - but it’s definitely more coming. He hit me today and told me the pre video for Thirsty Fish looks like crack, so I’ma continue to nurture our relationship and keep sending him this heat, and we gonna keep it right!

The first album, Wisemen Approaching, had a pretty dark sound overall. On this one it seems like you guys were having a little more fun (like the old men chattering on “Get U Shot” or the Richard Pryor samples). Is it because you’re more established now?

BRONZE: I can’t even say this was done purposely, it was really just the way we were feeling when those joints were made.  All of us were in a certain place when Wisemen Approaching was constructed. Fresh off the block, or still in the streets, escaping tragedy narrowly, Phillie and I had our first babies on the way at the same time (that birthed ‘up there beyond’). Those days we just happened to let it all out over super rough dark beats. This new album, was more like a sigh than a hostile reaction. Instead of ‘Founder of Pain’, we said this shit ‘makes me want a shot’ of liquor!. It is a bit lighter though I agree, perhaps it’s our expansion.

KEVLAAR 7: I wouldn’t say that us having more fun on this record really has anything to do with being more established, because nothing is “more established” except the Wisemen name, and our individual titles. We’re still going through the same trials and tribulations we were going through before Wisemen Approaching came out. But that’s life. Long story short, we wanted to show our range a little more with this album, and I also would say this album shows our growth as artists. True artists grow from project to project. I feel we still haven’t reached our pinnacle though.
 
Who is doing the talking on “Get U Shot”?


KEVLAAR 7: That’s JB and Cleveland just shooting the shit about the Wisemen crew! [Laughter] I knew that question would come eventually. That’s me and Break Bred FOOLIN’! Trying to get my Oscar nod, you feel me? LOL! We’re imitating old cats we been around or are related to…Old cats be HYSTERICAL yo…like Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence in Life…HILARIOUS…JB and Cleveland will be recurring characters in the future.
 
Tell me about Illah Dayz, his absence from the first album, and his big contribution to Children of a Lesser God.


KEVLAAR 7: Illah was absent from Wisemen Approaching album because of his unfortunate car accident where he was left paralyzed from the waist down…That brother has more strength than almost anyone I’ve ever had the privilege to know. The accident happened on a night after probably the first recording session for Wisemen Approaching. Illah’s contribution to Children of a Lesser God was huge, because he comes with such visual verses, and on top of that his style of word play…I’ve never heard word play like his. It’s ill, and ORIGINAL.

BRONZE: Yeah we actually recorded “Super Bowl Cipher” that night. That was the last time he was walking. The accident happened right around the corner from our spot on Ward Street in Detroit, maybe five minutes after the session ended. He was in the hospital, unconscious, laid up for quite awhile, so we had to keep rocking in his honor.  I feel horribly bad about it, and somewhat feel responsible for that because we shouldn’t have let him leave so late, it was like 5 AM. But I only live with the guilt, he lives with the chair. Soon though with stem cells we’ll rock live with him stalking the stage like he should be. He is the strongest brother I’ve met, maybe ever. He did a 4 or 5 year bid then a few years later, he gets hit in the car. It’s unbelievable the trials he’s been through and is able to keep his head up, where some of us would crumble.


One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Lucy,” the drums are so powerful, the tempo is fast, and the verses are amazing. I wonder, though, is it just bad relationships with women you’re talking about or is there a double-meaning to it?

BRONZE: My verse is really about a relationship yet with a twist.  I speak on all the sinful shit me and this woman have done, been through our negative routines, how we enjoyed the devilishness but at the very end the twist comes, I’m saying ‘yeah we did all this wild shit, but now we got kids, so it’s time to slow down and live right!’ So at the end I say ‘now we got seeds/ proceed to slow the leaves / Lucy straighten your bottle / the club closed at three!” Then the hook come and sums my verse up: love ain’t what it used to be!

KEVLAAR 7: On my verse I can tell you that it is about bad relationships with certain women in my life, and how my or our relationship with hip hop has been over the course of time, with all the ups and downs, and shit…

[Here's a snippet from "Lucy"]



I'm really impressed with the track from Big Rube where he's speaking poetry over a beautiful Bronze beat. I had never heard of Big Rube before, didn't know he was this good. What led to his great contribution to the album?

KEVLAAR 7: You never heard of Big Rube?! Wow! I have always been a HUGE Outkast/Goodie Mob/ Dungeon family fan ever since 1993 and Southernplayalistic…I first heard Big Rube on that album and he made an appearance on all of Outkasts and Goodie Mob albums, spitting CLASSIC poetry that would uplift and teach. He was also a member of the group Society of Soul, and yo, that album is CLASSIC too. What led to him getting on the album was, me being a big fan, I hit him on twitter; I said my piece, and asked if he had a contact so I could get at him. Rube hit me with his email contact and from there it was ON. Bronze and I sent him a few beats a piece to choose from, and he laid a BEAUTIFUL verse for us, much respect to Big Rube and the whole Dungeon family…

BRONZE: You’ve definitely heard of Big Rube bro! My favorite piece by him was on ATLiens just before 13th Floor, he is gifted with words and wisdom, so only right that he joined forces with the WISEMEN.

Okay, I remember that ATLiens track now. So, Kevlaar you've got a bigger contribution of beats to this album than the last and your beat batting average has been superb these last few years. What is your history as a producer? And what equipment do you guys make beats on, the ASR-10?

KEVLAAR 7: Thanks I appreciate the props on my production. I’ve worked VERY hard to perfect it since Bronze laid the blueprint out for me. I still haven’t perfected it, but I’m going to keep smashing the production out. I try to keep my batting average like my man Miguel Cabrera, WORD! Of course, my production history starts with The Wisemen, and Bronze Nazareth. Me and Bronze produced “Fragments” together on Think Differently. Then I did 4 tracks on Wisemen Approaching, our debut album. I’ve done joints on the Almighty album, I did a couple tracks on Cilvaringz “I” dvd, a joint for Inspectah Deck called “Get down wit me” off of his album Resident Patient; a couple of upcoming tracks for Cappadonna, and most recently me and Bronze did the joint “Medical Kush” off of the brother Hell Razah’s album Heaven Razah…as far as equipment I use Cool Edit Pro and Pro tools.

[Here's one of Kevlaar's instrumentals that was featured on the aforementioned Cilvaringz DVD. This is a personal classic.]


One thing we didn’t hear too much of on Wisemen Approaching or even The Great Migration is all the quotes and interludes from films or other sources. You guys used them to great effect on mixtapes in the past and now there are a few very good ones on this album (especially the intro). How do you choose these and what effect do you hope to achieve with them?

KEVLAAR 7: Basically we just look for movie clips or excerpts from speeches or what have you that would fit or enhance what the concept of a certain joint is, or the feeling we’re looking for… eloquent type shit.

BRONZE: I really use them to connect things. I might search for hours, for instance the clips on Faith Doctrine….about how he didn’t read it or witness it, he ‘lived it’. That’s us! We don’t portray ourselves falsely, you will not hear me say I’m a gangster or thug, but I will get by. I call myself a survivor, cause you can put me anywhere and I will survive. At the end of the song the speaker mentions something about, hard work and faith – so that’s our faith doctrine, it connected to the hook and we’re all rhyming about making it. I like to connect all elements, so it’s easily cohesive.


That opening exchange is so potent and perfectly leads into the album's cinematic opening track. Are you willing to divulge where that's from?

KEVLAAR 7:  Yeah, Bronze is a MASTER with placing the movie clips on a song or an album. All of the skits tie the album together too, there is a vision for everything on our projects.

BRONZE: I won’t say where it’s from but it’s an easy find….

Do you have a personal favorite track on the new album? Or at least a favorite beat or verse...

KEVLAAR 7: Wow…that’s hard for me…it may change, but my favorite track would be “Victorious Hoods” as of right now…my favorite beat is easy to me; “Panic in Vision Park”…and my favorite verse is Bronze’s clip on “Makes me want a shot”…CLASSIC.

BRONZE: Favorite track is probably Faith Doctrine, it came together so well, and I found the clips that fit our ‘righteous survival’ feel on that joint.  Favorite beat is tied between Faith Doctrine & Corn Liquor Thoughts….my favorite verse right now is…Phillie on Faith Doctrine or me on makes me Want a Shot…can’t really decide lol

When I’m listening to some of these songs I detect that there’s just an insane amount of thought and craftsmanship. For example, the verses often seem to have connecting threads to one another or identical patterns. Tell me about the creative process of a song. Who does the “directing”? How do you decide who will spit on a track and in what order?

KEVLAAR 7: I can say that every line is carefully written and thought over several times before its final. Lyrics can be subject to change all the way up until it’s time to mix the joint. With me there are a lot of abstract words or lines that I use, that may just describe how I am feeling emotionally at the time; a verbally descriptive picture of the colors in my mind, I guess…This is an art. Anyone of us can do some directing of a song at any given time because we are a team like that, and everyone has come with an idea or concept that we’ve incorporated into the album. It is usually the producer of the joint we’re recording that does most or all of the “directing” of a song. As far as who ends up on a final track it would be whoever was present during the crafting of the song, and who pens the illest verses…period…Or there have been times that a certain song we felt called for 1 of us specifically. But we’ve all been cut from a song at one time or another.

BRONZE: The process is an attempt to perfect the art we’ve placed on the song. Many times, a verse will get cut, if I feel like the verse didn’t do the beat justice, it’s gotta go! Or sometimes it might even be a nice verse but it may not fit the theme of the song. We’ll use that verse elsewhere. As far as directing, I do handle a lot of that, but it’s just that – direction. For instance, Lucy...I came with the beat and Illah pulled out this verse about his ex who he wrote that message to. The hook had the exact line he ended his verse with ‘Love ain’t what it used to be Lucy….’ He laid it, and then I asked everyone to write a verse about their “Lucy” and we laced it. Regarding lyrics, we will pick out each other’s weak lines and say ‘yo you can come better than that!’ As captain I may have to do that more than anyone else, but that’s my job to get everyone to display their best art, or we fail as a team. 

Bronze Nazareth and Kevlaar 7. You’ve both got interesting names and I know there’s a lot of meaning behind them. Tell me about the genesis of and the meaning behind your names.

BRONZE: My name is from, you know the Wu era where you might name yourself after a kung fu movie. Cilvaringz actually gave me the Nazareth additive, and they wanted me to call myself that. I added the Bronze to represent the extreme fight by the Monks in the movie The 18 Bronzemen. In it, they had to fight 18 Bronzemen to be able to leave the Shaolin temple and live normal. I adapted Nazareth to link it to the Prophet Jesus, who had his own fights and struggles, but also healed many.

KEVLAAR 7: My name is impenetrable.  It represents perseverance, determination and resolve through the journey of life…The 7 is the number of completion. God’s number. It was also my jersey number when I played football hahahahaaa…

I also find it interesting the connection between the “Nazareth” and the “7” with your actual last name, which is Cross.

KEVLAAR 7: That is kind of ill, huh? It just happened like that, but I would say that is a representation of the natural connections that continually occur within our art…

BRONZE: Sometimes things connect without attempting, this is one of them. Hopefully that means we will stay blessed!

Synchronicity. How did the Wisemen come together originally? Have you all known each other for a long time?

KEVLAAR 7: Back in 2002, shortly after Bronze showed me the ropes on production and shit, he hit me and said yo…We should form a new group called “The 7 Wisemen”. The 7 crew members hadn’t come to fruition by the time we were ready to record and release the first album, so we went ahead and dropped “Approaching” anyway. Bronze met Salute and Phillie and brought them into the fold and shit was ALWAYS brotherly so it was only right. I met Illah in passing, and we didn’t even know each other was into the music until my girl told his girl that I fuck with the rap shit, LOL! Before that we was always looking at each other like, “who the fuck is this nigga” type attitudes, LOL! June Mega and Bronze grew up together and me and him was always fam too, and he been with us since the “Unknown” days.

Yeah I remember hearing him on the Unknown album, is that him on "This Thing of Undying Love"? How did he get that name June Megaladon?


KEVLAAR 7: I would have to go back and listen, LOL! I don’t remember but Big June did have a couple of speaking parts on the Unknown album.

BRONZE: Yeah that’s him for sure!  Back then he was named Immortal….he also is on "Everything’s So Deep," speaking in the middle of the verses I believe. We been running together for years!


Tell me about “Black Day in July."

KEVLAAR 7:  Black day in July is the name of the label myself and Bronze have formed. It’s named after the 1967 riots that were caused by a police raid of a blind pig joint in Detroit (basically an illegal after hours bar). The shit went haywire and the army was called in and all that, mad arsons, snipers, and looting; people basically tore the city of Detroit apart. It really hasn’t recovered since then, so what we’re trying to do is at least mentally resurrect the city, and people going through struggle all over the world by touching them through the music.

BRONZE: Black Day had been coming together since 2003, when we built our first studio. It was just the name, and a dream for a while. After some success I was able to get it registered as a true business, and the dream began turning to a reality. We dropped a couple releases with other labels until we could build our name enough to get some looks by distribution companies. I had to endure a couple shitty deals in order to build that name, but a man who doesn’t sacrifice, earns nothing of value! Currently we are an official label with distribution, both digital and physical, and I’m proud to say we had five or six different suitors for distribution. You will most likely see our future projects come through several different pipelines, as we will go with whichever distributor is the best fit for each project.

Read Part 2 here.

6 comments:

  1. Real peace interview. Stay building!
    Peace, Sunez Allah

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  2. Gotta get this album.....this is real hip hop!

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  3. WISEMEN ‘CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD’ Support the real on itunes http://bit.ly/b5VeON or AMAZON.COM: http://tinyurl.com/23mz7d4

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  4. This is fantastic work on everybody's part! Building strong, indeed.

    I don't normally buy music, but I'll throw in on this.

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  5. Thanks for reading guys. And BC, you won't be disappointed. Trust me.

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  6. Da Dopest clik to come out of the 313 since Dilla,Black Milk and 'nem!!
    Not to forget they down with the WU!!

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