In this week's issue of the Miami New Times, for my Suicide Blonde column I spoke with JWL B and Shunda K of the Tampa-based electro-rap group Yo Majesty. Click here to read my explanation of why they're one of the most punk rock things out there right now.
But of course, the interviews ran longer than there was space for in the newspaper, and there was lots of fascinating stuff left over. Lots. I spoke to JWL and Shunda separately, as JWL had returned home to Tampa to sort out some things, and Shunda is finishing the tour by herself (well, with a DJ, and lots of help from pals Rosetta Stoned).
After the jump, the full Q&A's with both.
Also, check out this video for their song "Club Action," filmed guerrilla-style on the streets of Miami Beach in spring of 2006.
Yo Majesty, with Rosetta Stoned and Mauikai. Friday, May 23. Studio A, 60 NE 11th St., Miami. Show starts at 7 p.m.; tickets cost $12 in advance, $15 at the door. All ages. 305-358-7625; www.studioamiami.com.
INTERVIEW WITH SHUNDA K.
New Times: How's the tour going so far?
Shunda K.: Well, you know, we’ve been maintaining. It’s exhausting. The people are having a wonderful, wonderful time. I’m actually finishing up the tour by myself. I’m putting on a show, you hear me? It’s gonna be some real shit that’s going down!
What kind of real shit? Are you going to have anyone else on stage with you?
It’s gonna be like a production. Rosetta Stoned is gonna be with me. I may have a vocalist coming with me -- his name is Voice, he’s doing R&B and killing it! He performed with me last night. I’m gonna have my dancers keep it moving! I've got three with me, a male and two females. They’re gonna k-k-kill it!
How'd you hook up with Rosetta Stoned for this tour?
We met Rosetta Stoned when we had our first U.S. tour last year. They’re from Washington [D.C.]. We just vibed with 'em that night, smoked a little weed, and just kept it going. And then they put a dent in SXSW. That’s what’s up.
When you started Yo Majesty, were you setting out to create a straight-ahead hip-hop group? Or what was your idea?
I wouldn’t say hip-hop…. More so like when I first created it, I was a solo artist -- this was back in 1998, I was 18 years old. With the name, it was like a name that nobody can't imitate, duplicate, whatever. Then I wanted it to be something to represent the Lord. It’s real serious now, but back then I was raised in the church and shit like that. God was very important in my life. I met Shon, who is no longer with the group, in 2000, and then we became Ya Majesty. Then we met Jewel a year later in 2001, then we all three came under the Yo Majesty.
It wasn’t really hip-hop, we was really like - even working with HardFeelingsUK, even when we first started working with them in '03, [producer David Alexander's] music was always different. We were like, Man, that shit is not what's up! We argued with him -- we was not feeling those tracks. Like, Man, we need some hip-hop shit!
I guess the reason why I’m saying that is I just made up in my mind three weeks ago, I’m not gonna be scared of music. I don’t consider myself a hip-hop artist. I just did a track with Peaches called "Raspberry Cocaine." I’m just jumping off shit, and keeping the Yo Majesty movement going.
And now I don’t know what the future for JWL holds, if she’s gonna be a part of this, honestly. So what I’m doing right now, presently, is using [Yo Majesty] as a forum to promote other artists that I’ve been working with since shit’s been jumping. Where it’s like me, doing collaborations and shit.
What really inspired me this year is the Roots had invited us to come out to the red carpet, and they couldn’t afford for us to come. So I still went, and I was gonna perform, but they had 30 other acts with them, straight up. It was just awesome! And these were talented people, and they kept the show going. It really inspired me. I had a desire to use Yo Majesty as the same kind of platform. So now I got that opportunity.
What took you so long to come perform in Miami?
It took so long for Miami to have Yo Majesty come. We actually shot our video [for "Club Action"] in Miami. We had went down to Miami on the strip for like, spring break. Niggas was hating and shit! We had a rag top, and a big-ass speaker on the back. So like, it could only get so loud, because we nigger-rigged it and shit. Our producer is a brother, like a soul brother, so he rigged that shit up some kind of way. People that had boom in their car, other artists, niggas were hating and were coming and trying to drown us out! It was fun, we probably was out there for like three hours just riding up and down the strip, giving people a show the whole night. And then we did the "Hustle Mode" video there in the back of some barbershop plaza with some sick-ass graffiti.
But as for why it took so long to perform, maybe it's a booking agent thing or something. Florida don’t really show us love, not even our city. Orlando held us down from the beginning. But I’ve talked to people over the months, telling me, I’m gonna get you all here, and they don’t.
Did you play much in Tampa when you started out?
We used to do a lot of shows in Tampa. When I was just Ya Majesty, myself, I was developing myself and getting my style down and all that. By the time I had met Shon, we had met this guy that owned this studio and record label called Shock the World. So we signed with a producer and they was having us perform every Thursday at this club that's closed now called Club Atlantis, and they used to film us every night.
We ended up meeting JWL, and then we put together this whole Yo Majesty package. They had did a big-ass photo shoot. We must have not read the contact – we signed some bullshit, you hear me! We said, The devil is a liar! We said, Oh hell no, we are not moving forward with shit! We said they had to release us.
So we just stopped doing naything as far as performing or dealing with them. So we started looking into competitions so we could make money. We won, we knew we were going to win. So we got the money, and were getting all the photo shoots done, getting acquainted with producers in the area and shit, going to the studios and stuff like that.
And then we kind of all dispersed in '03, and I had a revelation. I said, I can’t be gay no more, I don’t wanna go hell. So I broke up with my girl.. I had a girlfriend, we was fucking around, my girlfriend was acting like she was gonna kill herself, so I stopped fucking around with her. Even though I was like, This is my wife. I had started studying Islam, and Farrakhan, and he was saying how homosexuality is an abomination before God. And I was trying to be a Muslim! So my ass was like, Fuck this shit! One day I was like, We can’t be together no more.
Then maybe six months later, I went to a church service, and this guy was there from out of town…. This whole time I’m studying Islam, preparing myself for a husband, and eating to live, and all these different principles they have and shit. And then this guy, we started talking, and he was doing a revival the following week. I guess at this point, it wasn’t about a religion for me, it was about God, and the knowledge of who I am, what is the truth in this world now.
So me and him started kicking it or whatever, and we got married on September 11, 2003. I’m with this nigga for two years, we’re traveling different worlds, preaching. We moved to North Carolina, man. And he was a school teacher, and when the summer time came, he had no work. I told him he had to go do some day labor or something, I’m doing doubles every day. Now in the Bible that I read, the man is supposed to be the provider, in essence. I'm not asking you to take care of me, but you should help me. I told him that I was the man. I’m holding this shit down, it’s me!
So we ended up splitting up in '05, and I got a girlfriend, and got back with Yo Majesty, and ended up getting back in touch with David [Alexander], and we ended up creating. So that’s how we have the new Yo Majesty. And now it's even newer because I’m by myself.
So are you by yourself as Yo Majesty now permanently?
The team doesn’t know what the future is. They’re telling me I may have to find a replacement. I don’t want a replacement! I can keep this name moving. I’ve been the one managing this shit and handling all the administration. When I tell you running this shit, it’s been me, even onstage. All the way around it’s been me. I gotta keep it real. So tonight, my label I’m doing a show in New York. This is where the office is for Domino. They're gonna see how I hold it down.
Yo Majesty is a forum where people can get real love, and release all that bullshit, dancing they asses off for like 45 minutes to an hour. And then they’re empowered by the time the show is done. They come up to us crying, saying, This shit has changed my life.. After "Club Action" and "Kryptonite Pussy!"
"Kryptonite Pussy" changed their lives?
Seriously! They're like, I feel so free, you have changed my life. You see this gay woman, and I’m black – I’m the minority of the minority! They see me holding it down with boldness, character, and integrity, not being afraid! Just being me! They’re inspired.
How has it been playing for these more rock type of audiences?
With the type of music that it is, now I see more black people coming to shows. But before mainly it was just white people, which is fine. It's just how we were in the beginning. We wasn’t open to these tracks that you're hearing now. That may be the case for the rest of the black community; they just gotta get used to it. If they just took time and sat down listening to what we’re saying and shit like that. We do have some straight hip-hop tracks that we did with Basement Jaxx.
That's funny, because it's not like Basement Jaxx really come to mind when you think of hip-hop.
It’s off the chain! They reinvented hip-hop, man! Hip-hop is wack. It is, man! But what I’m doing -- man, I gotta send you some shit!
What other producers have you enjoyed working with recently?
I’m not a name-brand person. I’m not sitting here trying to blow nobody up. I appreciate being able to work with people. I want people to respect each other. I’m about bringing people together. I’m not like, Oh, you need to kiss his ass. Nah. You just bring what you got to the table, and let’s put this shit together and make it happen. Everybody can eat off of this, ain't nobody got to be greedy. I don’t even roll with niggas like that.
Do you think with your previous negative experience with those so-called industry people in Tampa, they thought they could take advantage because you all were females?
Hell yeah! We didn’t have a lick of knowledge of the industry, we just trusted these guys… And the word of God says put your trust in no man, just love each other. My grandfather, who just passed last week, said, Shunda, it don’t cost you nothing to be nice. I’m on some love shit, but at the same time, I ain't no pussy-ass nigga, I’m gonna stand my ground. And I'm gonna make it happen in the name of Jesus.
You mentioned you wanted Yo Majesty to be a forum to showcase other artists. What are some of the people you're trying to bring up?
Well, I have an artist management company called GMEQCA. I've got an artist called Black Todd…. You should check the web site.
And then I’m setting up a tour in the month of August the state of Texas, and it’s gonna be called the Real Love Tour. So I got a lot of different ways I can take it. I also wanted to see about bringing my pastor for the whole month, and letting him set up a tent and run a revival, and then have the DJ go on right after him and I'd do my thing.
Really? Does your pastor have any objections to your lyrics or anything?
Can’t nobody condemn me for anything, because ain't nobody perfect, and who’s to say there’s anything wrong with kryptonite pussy? There ain't nothing wrong with it. My pastor knows what I do. He’s gay, and he has a relationship with the Lord. That’s what keeps me moving, having a man of God in my life.
I asked my lady to marry me a couple weeks ago, so we’re engaged, and we’re getting counseling. So I’m connected to my Lord, I’m becoming more and more comfortable, because of course this is new. Who the hell else is talking about kryptonite pussy, and asking you to get saved?
But I know God is real, and I know he’s the one who is elevating me and bringing me to new territory. I’ve been doing it for seven years and now it’s happening. You can't tell me it's just by my own mind. It's by the power of God that all of this is happening for Yo Majesty. As long as I keep Him at the foundation and keep it real with Him, He’s gonna keep it real with me.
I’ve been looking at the Earth, driving on all these days… And I’m like man, God is so awesome! I’ve never seen the sky so beautiful, and I'm like Lord, all this for me? hell yeah! I’m gonna enjoy myself before I return to the dirt!
I’ve got a new project where we use all Outkast instrumentals. We call it
They don’t even question my sexuality any more, because they know it’s God. God is showing then better than I can tell them that I’m okay, you ain't gotta sit here and make me feel like shit and all that because you were raised [to think] this way. This is the Age of Aquarius, and extreme knowledge and wisdom are coming upon us.
This is my vision, this is my shit, I take full responsibility. I’m not gonna put nothing off on nobody. Whoever falls off, that’s fine. I gotta keep it moving, and no hard feelings.
INTERVIEW WITH JWL B.
New Times: I read that you got your start as a gospel singer. How did you get your start in that?
JWL B:I was raised in the church, it was Pentecostal. And my grandmother was a pstor. So I was raised by a pastor, and she pastored at four churches. I sang at church and played the piano and organ, and I was choir director a couple of years, but I basically was a singer.
My grandmother created a gospel group because she was taking care of my cousin; there were six girls, and three boys, and my sister was one of the six. So she made this gospel group named after her last name, the Gooding Girls. My grandmother made us practice every weekend before we was allowed to play. And that’s how I really started taking singing seriously. I was like eight years old, but I started singing when I was four years old when I was in the church.
How did you meet Shunda and Shon B. [a one-time member of Yo Majesty] and decide to join the group?
A mutual friend of ours told LaShaunda [Shunda K.] about me, and they saw me at a local gay club, and those two girls approached me and asked me would I be in their group. And I laughed – I said, Oh, I don’t do anything but gospel. And they laughed at me: You’re gay, and you do gospel?
But I said, And you’re gay, and you're asking me to be in your group? Because I was only working with quartet gospel groups. This mutual friend, FF kept saying Jewel, meet these girls. Finally, I met these girls two weeks later. I heard LaShaunda spit; I was like, Okay, whatever. This is different, I’m different, so let’s try one song out.
And we did one song together. I always wanted to venture out into other music, but never had the opportunity for someone to make a group. I did it for a hobby. I did this one song, “Success,” and thenwe did another song, “Don’t Test Me." I said, Well I like this, so that’s how I ended up being in Yo Majesty.
Did you have any reservations about joining a group with such sexual lyrics, considering your church background?
It was kind of like a liberty thing for me, because I was controlled in the church from the way I dressed, from what I said, from how I walked and talked, my whole demeanor and being. It was like Hey, I’m branching out, I’m becoming a woman, I’m doing what I want to do. I’m being real with myself. I didn’t have anybody behind my back telling me what to say. I felt like I could be true to myself. That’s why we wrote these lyrics.
What other kinds of music were you listening to before you joined the group?
I was listening to rock and roll secretly, because I wasn't allowed – I was into this music secretly. Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N Roses. I was listening to Three Doors Down, I was listening to these types of people. Alanis Morrissette -- I was into her very deep. I would always like this type of music.
How'd you manage to listen to it if you weren't allowed?
Headphones, headphones! My grandmother would always be praying and pastoring, and on missionary and revivals, and at those times, I’d play this music in these headphones. These lyrics would move me.
I was also in love with Tina Turner, I knew she was not in my decade, and when Erykah Badu started rhyming I started being into her. Bilal, I was into him very deep. And Prince, ever since I heard him as a little girl. My mother would let me listen to Prince, and Marvin Gaye, and the Isley Brothers.
I’m being the realest now, because I was always into rock and roll. The lacing of the [Yo Majesty] tracks comes from the soulful part of me being in church. The lyrics come from me being free and saying whatever I want to say.
Were you surprised when your music started taking off with more rock audiences? And were you into any hip-hop at all?
We didn’t get into the rock stuff until David Alexander [of HardFeelingsUK, Yo Majesty's initial beatmakers] took our music to London. That’s how we got into the rock stuff. I was the only one familiar with rock bands.
And hip-hop was always just hip-hop. The straight hip-hop, it wasn’t really moving me. I was not really into hip-hop. I was into gospel. So the hip-hop part, I was like ehhh. I left that up to LaShaunda. And then two years ago I started rapping.
Was it hard for you to start that all of a sudden?
At first, they wanted me to rap all this stuff and I said no. It was very difficult for me. But my style is soulful, rock and roll, hip-hop. I wasn’t [unaware of] hip-hop, I just wasn’t into it. I just mixed hip-hop into my style and my background. So that’s how you come up with JWL B.
Are there any female rappers you are into?
Not at all. Well, one female rapper that I really like, because she just didn’t talk about sucking dick and tricking and selling her pussy for money, was Eve. Eve talked about more than that and I liked her. And I still do like Eve.
How have traditional hip-hop audiences reacted to you all?
At first, they’re stunned. But then they have to respect it, because they hear the hip-hop. The alternative world, they hear punkrock, so they respect that. So our audience is a different audience than the normal audience.
What was your reaction when you started noticing the makeup of the crowds?
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SHOW ME HOW
I can’t speak for anybody else, but I was happy, because I got to do rock and roll without being on punishment or somebody telling me I was going to hell! I had people cheering me on and saying, Wow, that’s good!
And a lot of people don’t know but my father is in the rock and roll hall of fame. Dr. Soul is my father. He was friends with James Brown and a lot of other people. So I have that rock and roll in my background. I went to London and I heard a guy play my father's records!
How is Tampa reacting to you all now?
Tampa’s still not showing us love. They never really accepted us because we were different. Tampa has their own sound, and I was just too radical for them. It’s hard for my city to accept diversity.