In the early 90’s I frequented Nuyorican Poets Cafe and was a student of 89.9 and the whole Stretch and Bob movement. Yes, to me, it was a movement. It was NY’s finest days and much of it had to do with the sense of community that existed back then among artists. A whole network spawned and was unified on making good music, collaborating and keeping it “real”. At the time, the term keeping it real was commonly used. At some point, a trend started “debunking” the term stating people who were keeping it real didn’t need to say they were keeping it real. Wow. Hip Hop got Bhuddism. I digress. We have all heard the praises about Hip Hops “golden era”. I am not going to go there, but there are some who have stayed the course and others who have fallen off the map. John Robinson, formerly known as Lil Sci, is one such man. Him and ID Four Winds (Scienz of Life), producer and mcee, have continued to grow as musicians, humans and teachers. I have witnessed this music evolve into a colorful blend of melody and wisdom yet it has always kept a kind of boom bap that I favor. Lyrically, JR says something in every word that is meaningful and it’s obvious in his tone and word selection that we are dealing with a veteran . He is one of those kinds of people I could spend days with discussing the inner workings of living a creative life in a world that doesn’t always seem to reward the truly gifted as much as it rewards the popular and well connected. Many of you in the know, respect this man not just for his extensive catalog, but also for his spirit. I had a chance to speak with JR about his two new albums and his life. This is where it went.
TONE: Tell me the story behind the name John Robinson. Rumor has it there is something dope about how it came about.
JR: John Robinson is my given name. I will say that MF DOOM is the complete inspiration behind me using my Govâ€™t name in music. During my time living in Atlanta I really got cool wit DOOM and we built a lot. I can remember when he told me it bugs him out that every time I call his crib the caller ID would say â€œJohn Robinsonâ€. He later told me he found some dialogue about a man name John Robinson and he wanted to sample it and chop it up to do a project while creating a story with the dialogue he found. Of course I accepted and the rest is history. Sometimes I wonder if we never had that convo would I have ever came to using my given name on the MIC Device? I doubt it.
TONE: Since we’re on the topic of Doom. Tell me a little about the history of “Who Is The Man?”.
JR: What the people must overstand is the album itself has been finished for 4 years and just getting to see the light of day now. I walked out of ZAC Recording Studio with DOOM in ATL in July 2004 with the record fully mixed and completed. Originally Shaman Work was supposed to release the record, then soon after it switched to DOOM releasing it on his METAL FACE Records label. Due to the intense schedule and then combined with a long hiatus the record never saw the light of day. Finally with a decision made to let the record be released so that the people (the fans) can hear it if nothing else I wanted people to get the chance to hear the music. I released the record in japan with Ultra-Vybe and in Europe with Project Moon Circle. For a minute myself and Sucio Smash were thinking of ways we can work together within the realms of music and I decided maybe it would be dope if Highwater Music released the U.S. version of this record. I truly respect Sucio’s vision and can see that Highwater Music is one of the movements that is taking the community approach to the music that the NY Hip Hop scene is missing. Highwater is taking it back to the days when people actually worked together as a collective.
JR: Who is this man? Has many meanings the obvious is introducing John Robinson on a more personable level. This album is very audio biographical in which I share a lot about my life and times throughout the record in song. For example when I say in the song Shrink Rap “Ever since the 5th grade been on this Hip Hop Craze peace to Jamal Thomas, he’s one of the reason’s I started this”. Jamal Thomas is a real 5th grade class mate of mind who’s parents came in to show and tell one day and talked to the class about them being world re known R&B singers as a husband and wife duo (think Ashford & Simpson). Ever since I was so inspired and Jamal could tell that so he offered to show me what his parents taught him about song structure and counting bars etc. So this part of the craft I learned early on and it was truly a blessing.
JR: Who is this man? also deals with introducing the fact that there is nothing new about John Robinson doing this music. This is why I included my full discography in the CD insert. Just to let those who have no clue much more about my history and catalog that stretches all over the world for over a decade.
TONE: Back in the 90’s, NYC was the place to be for musicians of all kinds. Who brought you to the Lower East Side back then and what did you hope to find?
JR: I along with my crew were HUGE fans of the Stretch and Bobbito radio show and I remember Bobbito speaking of an open mic that he hosted in LES at the Nuyorican Poets CafÃ©. I had to check it out by this time I was living in NJ and I need to be heard by the ears of the ILLEST City on the planet.
TONE: Your catalog is long and goes back over a decade. In that time you’ve collab’d with some highly respected artists. You’re another one of those dudes. Niche following. Fresh collabs, but commercial visibility isn’t in the picture. Is that okay with you? Are you happy where you are now with the music?
JR: I never did music to be famous. If the fame was something that came because of it I would have welcomed it but my intentions were never to be famous. I consider myself blessed in the fact that I have been able to inspire people all over the planet with my music man. I have been able to travel places and perform in front of people who appreciate so much of what I do without even understanding the language. I mean I have had people in other countries tell me that they learned a great deal of English listening to music from artists like myself. That is fulfilling. I feel I will be a legend in my own right once it is all said and done. I work extremely hard to assure that a brilliant legacy is left behind for the younger to feed of.
TONE: In all these years you’ve said alot with your words. Do you have a mission now when you write? Where is the energy coming from to keep moving forward?
JR: There is always a method to the madness. Substance is key in anything I am writing, it is important that I give the listener something to think about, no matter what the subject matter is. I always feel like a higher source channels through me at times when I write. I constantly wonder how I will ever write something on the level of or even higher than anything classic I write. Lately younger people have been my most direct level of inspiration as I always keep them in mind while writing and creating music. The children are the future.
TONE: Agreed. You have two new albums. Talk to me about why you named one of them “I Am Not For Sale”.
JR: You canâ€™t buy my soul! I do this music on my own termsâ€¦No outside corporate entity is dictating how I create my vibrations that I share with the world. I will not compromise my integrity for a check. Now if the check was cut with me being allowed to do what I do then I would consider that an outside investor in my dreams. Other than that it is not a good look. What most people donâ€™t understand is like 70% or more of these artists in all genreâ€™s signed to major labels, they will never own their music again. I Am Not For Sale also deals with the fact that I am not going to shows and sticking my CD in the face of everyone there to enjoy themselves and have a good time. I am not a salesman I am a writer and a visionary who happens to have the gift of emceeing. I will allow people who attend my shows to learn more about me and how I am and if that is something that interest you then you can find my music and support when the time is right.
TONE: If the album DOOM produced was released on time, how do you think that would have changed your life?
JR: At the time â€œWho is this man?â€ was finished it would have released right at the time the Mad Villain album was in full effect and right before the Danger DOOM album. This was clearly DOOMâ€™s prime era and during this time I was touring with DOOM etc. I feel if the record came out then I would have had more opportunity to expose it on a much more grand scale. Most of all I would have had DOOMâ€™s support in terms of touring for the record etc. The record coming out now was simply a decision made to let the people hear it and test the waters on whether or not another record should be done. This was a true test of timeless music. I think it worked. The bottom line is â€œthere are no mistakesâ€. All happens the way it is supposed to. This is how I feel about life on a whole.
TONE: What was it like working with Doom on this album?
JR: DOOM is brilliant. I have learned so much working with him. From actual writing techniques all the way down to distinct vocabulary word choice and even delivery moods. DOOM is very much a scientist with his craft. Every single thing he does is thought out 5 to 10 steps ahead, so working with him, you have to be extremely patient and be in the know that there is a extreme method to his madness for sure. DOOM helped me in separating the styles between John Robinson and Lil Sci, yes there is a difference in texture between the two. I look forward to the next one.
TONE: I Am Not For Sale is deep with talent. What were you thinking bringing all these artists to this album? I mean, Fly Lo, Jneiro, Hadar, J Rawls, Renee Neufville, and IG Culture. To those in the know, this is heavyweight.
JR: Yes this was definitely a planned formula. The core of this sound was based around the musical vibes of Jneiro Jarel, Flying Lotus and IG Culture. They all encompassed futuristic soulful, funked out jazz soundscapes that I was very much seeking at this time. I wanted to do a record that felt familiar while at the same time it sounded like nothing I have ever done before. Along with the core group, I added J Rawls as we have a full length album together that people will hear later this spring. Then I added K Dubble and R.Thentic who most people were probably unfamiliar with but I couldnâ€™t deny the greatness they brought to the project. Far from last I added both Carlos Nino and the Build An Ark Ensemble along with Renee Neufville to further define my love for Jazz music. Long story SHORT I was aiming to make a CLASSIC.
TONE: Both The Leak Edition Vol.2 and I Am Not For Sale are on iTunes as non DRM albums (iTunes Plus), why is that and what’s your feeling on DRM and how does it impact you from a business perspective?
JR: Ok, for all the readers out there who have no clueâ€¦DRM is (digital rights management) and has been and is being used by content provider companies such as Sony, Apple, Microsoft and the BBC. This is the very reason why music from iTunes or the like canâ€™t easily be shared. DRM is in full effect meaning you could only really transfer the music to a device provided by one of these entities such as an iPod, Zune or another form of mp3 player. This keeps the consumer locked in to a product. Now with the gradual change to DRM free music, when you buy it, it is yours and you can do what u like with it. From a business perspective I am hoping this encourages a lot more people to buy digital music from iTunes because to be totally honest with you, the digital music revolution is helping to put things back into the artist hands and is the the most direct way of support outside of physically buying the product from the artist themselves.
TONE: I’m sure you know about the genre “Adult Contemporary Rap”. Besides the fact that it is a genre, which is another discussion all together, how do you feel about a genre that boxes up artists in such a way?
JR: It is definitely censorship and unfair especially to artist like myself. There are so many forms of Hip Hop music and this is what makes the music so powerful. You can blend Hip Hop with any genre of music and it will still in some way, fashion, shape or form become Hip Hop. You have Hip Hop soul, Hip Hop Jazz, Hardcore Hip Hop, Smooth Hip Hop, Hip Hop Poetry and the list goes on. Stop limiting the greatness! We canâ€™t be stopped itâ€™s evident by now.
TONE: You make it clear that you wont forget the era in Hip Hop you came from. The Golden Era. I relate to your music because it reminds me of that time but yet it has evolved so well. In fact, it’s one of the more mature examples of how 90’s cats can do it. Throughout the whole time, I’ve always felt you were on the melodic tip. Even if it was choppy sounding like some older Scienz stuff, it still had a warmth to it. Is this something you are conscious of and why do u prefer this vibe?
JR: Yes this is indeed intentional. I have and always had an old soul. I am that cat today riding around in the car listening to Stevie, Anita or even Sade. I even cool out to Jazz often. The music I make will always be influenced by such artists no matter what I do. I grew up listening to a lot of soulful melodic music so it usually comes out in whatever I do, whether I meant to do it at that moment or not. I am not afraid to say if I could sing the way that I would want to hear it, I would definitely be singing. If I could play horn the way that I love to hear it, Wow! So instead with my rhymes I sing and play Jazz. With the voiceâ€¦The First instrument.
JR: The biggest lesson I learned is never give up. The moment u give up, is the same moment you lose. I have learned that success is truly the test of times and can only truly be measured by oneâ€™s self. There are many levels of success so donâ€™t denounce the smaller levels just because your goal is to reach higher heights. Embrace every moment during your journey because they are all priceless. They can never be taken away from you, it is all a part of the story of your life. Celebrate it. Creating Music has made me a more patient person. I can easily say this because of the way I am no able to reflect on life, decisions I make and most of all how important it is for me to spend time with family. Wow I guess this is called â€œGetting Grownâ€ lol!
JR: The negative side of this would be the fact that you lose solid relationships during your journey and it is real. It comes with the territory and is all a part of the game. The sad part is most of these lost connects are due to third party business dealings that are out of your control, it sucks! Also the fact that sometimes during creative periods you close yourself up in order to tap into the full levels of your creative side. I am still aiming to completely understand why this happens to most artists? The bad part about it is that it has negative effects on the people that are most close to you because they feel like you donâ€™t love them or are depressed etc. when u are simply just being an artist.
TONE: We spoke a bit about how you feel regarding helping out newer cats trying to start a career in music. Speak on that a bit. Where did that come from and why?
JR: This is so important man! I truly feel that if you have a gift or information or even resources you must share them. Maximize the true power of what you obtain, sometimes without getting publicized credit for it too. The only true confirmation you really need is the fact that you know you helped someone grow and take their life to the next level. The children/youth are the future and must be shown the proper way in order to uphold the integrity of what ever it is we are dealing with. Whether it is music, raising a family or becoming a politician. All of these gems need to be passed down to give the upcoming the power, strength and insight to take things even further than we were able to. Life does not grow if your children donâ€™t reach higher levels than you were able to, and more than just financially. I feel it is my duty to begin to teach younger people my insight and share my gifts and talents to help inspire greatness to come. This is my true next levels in music. You will see.
TONE: Do you have creative rut’s and if so, what do you do to get out?
JR: â€œI Donâ€™t get writers Block, I block other writersâ€ LoL. This is a quote from Richmond, VAâ€™s finest Mad Skillz or now known as Skillz. When I heard him say this years ago on his debut album it never left me. It is one of the defenses I use. Another is a quote from Common â€œSome days I take the bus home, just to touch homeâ€ I would literally some days get on a bus or train with some headphones and zone out to music and just BE. It works every time yo!
TONE: If you could be anything other then you are today, what would that be?
JR: Itâ€™s hard to say. I love who I am that much and give thanks for every blessing that I ever obtained and will come in tune with later.
JR: At this time I donâ€™t have an answer for this one but when I get one if I ever do I will let ya know. TONE, give thanks for this Bro! Straight up mental calisthenics. Big ups to Format Magazine, Shaman Work Recordings, Highwater Music,
TO LISTEN TO SOME OF JR’S NEW MUSIC AND ALL THAT, VISIT HIS MYSPACE PAGE.