Archive for January, 2006

John Forte

January 2, 2006

In 1992 Hip Hop went mainstream. Run DMC broke down the walls on MTV, Hammer and Vanilla Ice had already gone platinum, but in ’92, Cypress Hill, Onyx, Das EFX, and ATCQ all sold a million records. Real hip-hop was everywhere and I found myself going to music seminars at hotels because the business seemed wide open. My best friends were Juju and Rubix, both dancers who were older then me. They got me into clubs and put me on to the latest records and trends. Juju had the limited edition DeLa vinyl and was the first one with Hi Tec boots while Rubix put me on the Polo Indian heads and Guess jumpers. We lived in a two-fare zone, so we knew public transportation like the back of our hands. Back then, the trains were free, well at least to us because we never paid. We would catch the 2 to Franklin and then the 4 Express into Manhattan, and the kids from Flatbush would bump heads with the rest of Brooklyn on that platform. One day Rubix said we had to wait for his man Forte from Brownsville. John Forte met us at Franklin Ave. wearing a French Style tam and faded jeans all in them. I thought my crew looked Bohemian until I met him. We got along because we were all Brooklyn kids who knew the city had to be bigger than our borough while our friends from school were selling drugs; hanging at Kings Plaza and going to basement parties in East Flatbush, we were rapping in Washington Square, hanging in front of Unique and partying at the Sound Factory and the Muse, Forte seemed to have everything going for him. He knew where the parties and industry events were and he had the gift of gab to talk all of us in. We used to go to Alyasha’s (alpha numeric) crib and make demos. Alyasha was working a new company called Phat Farm. Forte was managed by Jessica Rosenbaum, a party promoter who also managed DJ’s. It seemed like Forte always had the right people around him. He made people feel comfortable and he was excellent at forming relationships. He taught me how to write a song. I used to just rap and have wild long verses. Forte said I needed a hook, and that I should write about what’s relevant to me. He also learned how to make beats and always presented himself as a complete artist at a time when most of us just wanted to rhyme.

In 1993, Forte and I both graduated from prestigious east coast boarding schools and became roommates at NYU, right in the middle of our Greenwich Village hangouts. He put out a little record with Funkmaster Flex who was managed by Jessica, and I started handing out flyers for her parties. In college our friendship became strained. Everyone in our crew knew Forte could be opportunistic. He was focused and ambitious and his dedication to his vision sometimes came off as selfish. He never meant to, and his intentions were always honorable, but as he got more involved in the music business, he became harder to relate to. He also dropped out of school but would still show up to the dorm room unannounced at all hours of the morning. These things led to a falling out between us that lasted almost a year. We got over it though and started chilling again in early 95. Forte was starting to get really good on the beats and I had just met Mood and Hi-Tek, so it was a great time musically for me.

That year Forte started a studio down the street from the bookstore I was working at, Nkiru. He used to come hang with us when he wasn’t working and he would always rent the Education of Sonny Carson and the Spook Who Sat By the Door. Nkiru was the only place in Brooklyn you could rent these films at, The Fugees released Blunted On Reality and while no one paid them any mind, John Forte did. He became cool with them, especially Lauryn, and started working on music for the Score. That album dropped, made history, and I was real proud of my man for contributing to it. Then, as the Fugee machine went into full gear I started seeing Forte less and less. He signed a deal with Columbia and put out a pretty dope album that the fans didn’t get to even check even check for. Every time I did see him was in passing at a party, and although he was having a good time on the surface, it seemed like he wasn’t happy. He confirmed this for me in London at a Wyclef show. He told me onstage that he wasn’t happy and said we would build later. We never did, I think we went to an after party instead.

In 1997, John Forte was out of his deal. The record never did well but he was doing his thing as a DJ for parties downtown for the fashionistas and the socialites. If there was an extra hip event in NYC, I saw him there. During his time working with the Fugees, John had become an accomplished musician, and was employing his new skills in making relationships. His hip-hop record didn’t do what it was supposed to, but he found other ways of getting respect. Around this time I was busy trying to start a family and we would always talk about him coming over to meet my son, which he never did. He probably was busy trying to get his own life together, but because of our issues in the past, I took it personally. It is not good to have regrets, I have few, but this is one. I couldn’t see past my own hurt to put myself in his shoes. All I knew was, my best friends meeting my son was important, and I felt like he stood me up. I was probably being just as selfish as I had a lot more on his plate then I understood, I just decided not to fuck with him.

In 1999 I heard on Hot97 that Forte was arrested in the airport for possession of a large amount of cocaine. I just knew it had to be Rappin 4-Tay from the Bay, cuz my man Forte don’t do shit like that. As the day went on, I learned they were talking about John, and I was shocked. Could this be true? What had Forte really been going thru? I was confused, hurt and saddened at the amount of time they were talking about giving him. At that moment I realized that the petty emotional shit I was going thru was not real – my real friend was going through some real drama.

Forte’s demeanor became a lot more somber, but he was never fazed creatively. He quickly put together a beautiful album that I still play and went in to do his time and work on himself as a man. I miss my homeboy, and I wish I worked harder at being there when he probably needed some real friends around. I tried to write to him last year so I can go see him, but I didn’t hear anything back. I understand that he’s close to Carly Simon and her son Ben, so I am going to try to go through them when I finish writing this. I have learned a lot from John Forte, starting with how to love what I do and make it a career. He is in jail, but I am still learning about myself thru him.

Visionaries

January 2, 2006

I’m on the Breedlove Odyssey tour with Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, and Jean Grae, and it feels so good. I’m having Lyricist Lounge déja vu every night. I am proud to be a part of a community of hard working artists. We are competitive, so every night the show becomes a more powerful animal. K’Naan and Amir Sulaman are the lesser known artists on the tour, but they too add fuel to this raging creative fire. Everyone in this crew is an individual. In a lot of rap crews, the way one artist raps, dresses and carries himself is passed down like second hand clothes to others. This makes the people only marginally interested and the marquee artist has to carry the label 4th quarter. I would never rap or dress like Mos, Pharoahe, Common, Rik and definitely not Jean! We are all visionaries and it comes across in personal style. While this is positive, the downside is that it makes it harder to work together. When your vision is strong and clear, you don’t want someone else’s vision to cloud yours. You respect other artists, but you spend a lot of time creating your own space for your “vision”. Egos go hand and hand with vision. Notice that we are all solo, except for Rik, but he handles the MC responsibilities for his group solely. These other crews have developed resources by falling back, wearing the uniform, being company men or soldiers for one cause. In my crew, there are six causes, 8 managers, 5 imprints, 12 different kinds of merch, etc. I believe we would be stronger if there was a more united front. Touring is hard sometimes because with two acts, somebody gotta take a loss and no one wants to. We all work hard and we all want to be paid what we’re worth, not what someones idea of our worth is. Because we are visionaries, no one has to wait. If Mos couldn’t afford to bring me on tour, I could book my own tour very easily. In these other crews, if the marquee artist ain’t gigging, nobody is working. How do we capitalize on the fact that we have these grandiose visions that no one wants to compromise? I think it starts with the artists, and then the management and record company will follow suit. Maybe it’s because I started in the groups but I am excited about forming relationships with artists. We should organize to become more efficient. The talent pool I’m swimming in is deeper than what anybody in this business is dealing with. We are the artistic standard whether that translates into dollars or not. Because accolades do not mean money in hand, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels and become cultural snobs, getting mad at niggas getting paid off Laffy Taffy. We must integrate our hustle. The Roots have a great tour hustle and have created Motive and Okayplayer to continue to develop artists and relationships with the fans. They have done a great job. Spitkicker has been a little harder because there is not as much focus. I’m praying that with my Blacksmith situation we can connect these entities even better. I am literally the bridge right now. I am an independent underground artist with Spitkicker and Okayplayer. If I don’t take my responsibility seriously, who will? The art is there. The art is so good, that even when we move in a haphazard fashion, the fans find the music and cherish it. We don’t do a good job of marketing ourselves, and the labels we’ve been signed to have been so caught up in chasing radio hits that to figure out how to creatively market an artist who may not have one becomes work they are not willing to do. I mean, who wants to work harder, especially is there’s a formula ready? I’ve always been worried that paying too much attention to business will take away from the creative side, but I have no choice now. I am also so comfortable in my creative skin that I will not allow anything to take away from it. Handling business properly is the only way to be creative for me now. Well at least for me to be creative and make something available commercially. I’ll be the same MC culturally and socially. My vision of manhood is getting bigger tho.

Visionary Blog 1

January 2, 2006

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