| ZuKrewe, AS220’s Youth program’s hip hop performance troupe, is comprised of twenty to thirty young artists. We sat down with a couple of members for an interview, including Shannon Ross, Brandon Lee aka Diverse, Brandon Bassett aka Imphoe, Chrismel Nunez aka M.L.O, Evan Timbo, Douglas Mulvey aka D-Rex, and Jason Ruiz aka L-Nine, along with Anjel Newman, AS220 Youth’s Performance Coordinator. |
How long has ZuKrewe been around for?
Anjel: It’s been about three years now.
What was the idea behind its formation? How did you come up with the name?
M.L.O. We wanted to embody the Zulu nation identity and be a part of that. But it not only stands for that but also represents us in a “zoo”. We’re all different but we’re still in the same family, and together it’s like us coming out of the cage we’ve been stuck in for so long. It’s about making plans and staying motivated and dedicated at all times and focusing on what’s best for us as a group. It’s about being ourselves and forming our own ideas, as well as being all about the hip hop culture.
How long have you all been a part of ZuKrewe?
Shannon: I came to ZuKrewe when it first started three years ago. I’ve been doing music for years, but once I got to ZuKrewe it’s been all about that. We’re not likeother rappers out there, talking about clubs and drugs. We try to put a positive message out there that the youth will still listen to. When others try, it might sound corny, like, “Don’t do this, don’t do that”, but we say it in a way that make people want to hear us and not just pass it over.
Bassett: I’ve been here a short time in the actual crew, but I’ve been working with AS220 for a while. I started with rock music and kept writing, then I got more into hip hop. It was just on from there because I could actually perform.
D-Rex: I’ve been rapping for six years. I’ve been with AS220 for a little while now, but I come here and make beats. I’ve been making beats since last year and I’ve improved. I like to use samples because I make old school beats, like the 90s/early 2000s. I like to make lyrics about the good stuff and tell the people what’s interesting.
M.L.O. I’ve been around for like a year and a half. When I started I used to think that I didn’t fit in, that maybe this wasn’t the right thing to do and this wasn’t my place. But I found that this is a way of letting my feelings go. Anjel is like my sister, my mom; she’s become my best friend. ZuKrewe is my family.
Evan: I’m actually a returner. The first time I came I here I was thirteen but I wasn’t with Zu. I wanted to join but I felt I was too young and scared. Two years later, I’m fifteen and made up my mind to check it out, make music, and learn a lot of things. I started about three or four months ago.
Jason: I started four months ago. Before I came here, I was always writing. Writing and rapping for years. I was at Mount Pleasant and I ended up getting kicked out of class because I was writing lyrics. They told me about AS220, so I came here. And learned I could do something better with my music.
How does everybody get along in Zukrewe? What are some of the challenges you face in the studio?
M.L.O. Overall we get along pretty well, because we all know what we have to do. We don’t come in here to argue or to talk. It sounds kind of harsh, but we don’t come in here to be friends. We come in here to make our music. We all take our music to the heart. But besides that we all get along and have a good time banging it out. Sometimes it’s kind of hard because either somebody is slacking or something happens. But at the end of the day, we make sure to get our music done. There are situations where there are misunderstandings, or it’s too hot, too hectic. People get frustrated and we butt heads a little bit, but at the end of the day we end up happy again. We never stay mad at each other.
We want to show the world what’s truly happening on everyday lives, what’s going on in the reality of things. Because we can’t live in a lie forever.
How do you guys collaborate?
Evan: Zu is a team, so everything we do is a project. We have to work together and put ideas together. Everyday we put these ideas together on how to make Zu better and stronger.
Bassett: We collab on beats, with producers, and with other MCs. We jump on each others tracks and try to boost the vibe and add more of a collaborative feel.
What are some of the ideas you have to make Zu better?
Evan: We have been struggling to come up with a name for the record release. Since yesterday we have been trying to come up with a name, and everybody is sharing ideas.
M.L.O. I guess most of the time people come in here to think about yourself. But if you want to be a part of Zu, you gotta think about the fam. If I’m going to make this song, I have to think about how it will affect everybody: is it gonna be good enough for the album? And you can’t get mad if somebody says that they don’t want it on the album. We all have to agree. Coming up with a name doesn’t seem that hard, but our brains are hurting. We were sitting here for a nice half hour, brainstorming on a name that we still don’t have. We put a lot of effort into choosing a name, but we have to take our time.
Speaking of albums, how many has ZuKrewe put out?
Anjel: There are different albums from the Performance program, but that was before ZuKrewe had formed its own identity. We had something called Rhodeshow, which I was a part of when I was younger. Our first album was called Adolescence and it was all about the life of a teenager, and stuff that we go through, from trying to do homework to dealing with drama in the lunchroom to dealing with homelessness. Our second album was Growth Project 2.0. That was us coming into adulthood and trying to deal with pressures of getting a job, having kids, or dealing with some love life situations.
What about albums under the ZuKrewe name?
Anjel: There was Enter the Zu. Then we had For the Love of Liberty, which was a group of the Zu members who were from Liberia. They all had a similar experience from what was happening when the war was happening in the LIB, so they wrote a lot about that and West African culture in general, from the food to the dancing to the music. This is going to be the third album.
There’s actually a mixtape called Handle It and Defeat It. That came out right before ZuKrewe got its name. We are starting to upload them to Bandcamp but we were having some copyright issues because we wanted to upload all of our stuff to one area, even our mixtapes, which are not all original. So we are trying to find the right website that won’t bounce our stuff back.
What was performing Foo Fest last year like for you guys that did perform?
Anjel: Who was here last year? D-Rex?
D-Rex: Yeah, we were just going nuts. I was on stage, rocking with the mic, with the rest of the crew—like Anjel, Young Mike…who else was there? Young Swag.
Anjel: There was a lot of people.
D-Rex: Yeah, there was a lot of people, it’s tough for me to remember their names.
Anjel: It was crazy though, last year D-Rex and a bunch of other people, we rocked out and collaborated with the Boys and Girls club of Pawtucket. We ended up having a lot of MCs and they ended up having a lot of instrument players. And we took it together and made a cool set and it was a lot of fun. We toured the same show in Boston and the record release party and the 95.5 Fest at Fete.
Do you plan on collaborating with the Boys and Girls Club again? How do you plan on improving Foo Fest or what do you want to keep the same?
Anjel: Guys, give them an overview of what you think we’re gonna do this year on stage, ideas that have been floating around.
Jason: We’re gonna turn up.
Evan: Well we’re going to be drumming and dancing. More than just rapping this time.
M.L.O: We’re really trying to talk about the truth. Because a lot of times, we don’t hear the truth in music. You hear lies and fronts. Everybody wants to front on you and show you that they’re something that they’re not. And we don’t want to do that. We want to show the world what’s truly happening on everyday lives, what’s going on in the reality of things. Because we can’t live in a lie forever.
Brandon: It ain’t worth it.
Who inspires you guys? Other musicians?
Bassett: A lot of these rappers on this wall, I mean, everybody. I mean even Nirvana, Big Al.
M.L.O: J Cole!
Brandon: Tupac, Nas, Biggie, Big Al. KRS. Immortal Technique.
Bassett: Tyler, the Creator. He’s definitely somebody who gets me amped up. I’d say even Nirvana, Janis Joplin, and Jimmy Hendrix. I listen to jazz, country, all of that, everything. As far as inspirations, I take Amy Winehouse as a huge inspiration. Her music’s incredible.
What about your inspirations inspire you? Like, what about J. Cole inspires you?
M.L.O: I just love how he speaks the truth in his music. He’ll let you rock with it but at the same time you’re learning something different. And his flow is just very different. He makes you feel it.
Brandon: I like Jadakiss’s flow even though all his music is lies. I don’t have one inspiration. I just pick things that I like about certain people. I can’t say I have one inspiration.
M.L.O: Anjel inspires me!
Bassett: As far as how Amy Winehouse inspires me, or as far as Ray Charles inspires me: Amy Winehouse fought so hard for what she had. And where I come from, I can relate. The same with Ray Charles, Kurt Cobain, all of them. I just relate to their stories, I feel what they’re saying. The same goes with all these rappers; most of the time rap music is just somebody draining out that emotion and trying to put it on something else because they can’t deal with it. So if I’m writing something I’ll try to channel my energy into it. That’s what I like about their music, because they actually take it seriously. And you can feel their vibe. I respect that. That energy inspires me.
Brandon: Music’s an outlet for me. I go through a lot but I have more than way to express myself, mainly graffiti art, skateboarding, music. The reason I express myself in so many ways is because when I don’t have time for one I can do the other. I just jump around. I focus mainly on my music. I draw when I get a chance. I do photography, graphic design. But, I enjoy music the most because I don’t have to worry about getting hurt while having fun.
So how would you guys like to see the AS220 Youth improve? How would you guys like to see what’s going on here be better?
Shannon: More equipment.
Bassett: I’d say more equipment, that’s it for me.
Brandon: If we could switch all of these computers to Macs.
M.L.O: I feel like we should do something so we can step out of here for a little bit. Not only Performance, but everybody. Step out and look for people to come in. There are a lot of artists out there that do different things and sometimes two great things can make something better. But we don’t know anything about those places or those people, so I think we should just step out of the box a little bit more. To get a feel of other people’s art, and their way of expressing themselves. That way we could just make something much better and show other people different things.
How old are all of you guys?
Zukrewe: I’m 18, 18, 15, 14, 14, 21, 19.
M.L.O. A lot of people in ZuKrewe are on the older side.
D-Rex: I’m 19–but I’m still a kid!
I take a lot from this place, seriously. It’s a good vibe. It helps me out through my day.
What do you guys take away from ZuKrewe? What have you guys learned?
Bassett: It’s too much to explain. Well…not really. It’s not even too much to explain, just I feel like everybody takes something different.
M.L.O. ZuKrewe shows you a different life. Something you never knew about. Everyday is another experience. Everyday is something new, every day you have something fun to do. It’s just being able to express yourself. Everybody knows how you feel.
Brandon: It makes me feel like I’m a celebrity. I know I didn’t blow up or anything, but within the building, with the people who go on stage: we’re celebrities within AS220. It’s not like we’re snobby and get treated like we’re kings or anything. We all have respect for each other and people who are in different programs. What I have taken away personally from the time I’ve been here is performing. My first performance was here, and I got better and better. Being recorded, and just how things work in the studio. I learned how to make beats through D-Rex yesterday.
M.L.O: Learning how to be committed to something. It’s something that you need in life. Knowing how to be smart and committed and responsible – and not only for yourself but for a group of people.
Bassett: I take a lot from this place, seriously. It’s a good vibe. It helps me out through my day, because I’ll wake up in a shitty mood, come here, and leave mad happy.
Jason: No haters over here.
M.L.O: No hateration toleration!