Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I guess it's just a thought, though my mind is kinda name is Justin, baby.


We were sitting backstage at the Masquerade, a decades-old
Goth leaning club we’d played many times before, the latter
“we” being my band, She Wants Revenge, and the former,
Jarobi White and myself. Jarobi, once known as “The Mystic
Man” was a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest and an
old, dear friend from my hip-hop years in the early 90’s. For
those who only know me as the guy who sang, “Tear You
Apart” and “the Popsicle song”, a little backstory…

I released my first single, the QD3 produced “Season Of The
Vic” in 1991 at the age of 17 and was immediately signed by
Quincy Jones to his label, Qwest/Warner Bros. The song was a
laid-back, California, sun-kissed hip-hop hippie tale of people
taking your shit. I used my own name, dressed like Jim Morrison
and was in love with the Jungle Brothers and their fellow Native

The song got radio play, entered the urban charts, and was in
heavy rotation on Yo! MTV Raps. I hosted Pump It Up,
appeared on BET, would later perform on Soul Train and played
shows throughout LA and the bay while coming up along
fellow LA artists Wil-I-Am (then Will 1X), The Pharcyde, Cypress
Hill, Kev Hicks and Mannish, Freestyle Fellowship, Ras-Kas, The
Whooliganz, The Wascals, The Funkytown Pros, and House Of

The song was a bona-fide hit, and despite comparisons to Q-Tip
(a good friend at the time) was well received in most quarters.
Before I’d even graduated high school I was a semi-famous
rapper in one of the most creative and prolific moments in hip-hop.

But in 2010, I was fronting She Wants Revenge, a band I’d
started with another hip-hop kid from Los Angeles, Adam
Bravin, which is where we began the story, in Atlanta, at The

Jarobi was living there at the time, and had come to the show
to catch up and see Adam and myself play. Before the show
we talked story, laughed our asses off and it was like 1992 all
over again, only now we were pushing 40 and had kids of our
own. We discussed hip-hop, and he told me that he’d put
together a group of his own with Dres of Black Sheep fame.

Though still bubbling and undeveloped, I told him about the
urge I’d been having for the last year: the feeling I thought
would never return, the relationship I thought long-severed, yet
still I heard myself say it out loud with Jarobi as witness, “I’m
thinking about making a hip-hop album”. I went on to tell him
that for the first time in ages I was feeling pulled, compelled if
you will to do something.

The only caveat being I didn’t know what to talk about, and
since hip-hop is at it’s best a vehicle for an artist with something
he or she hasto say, a point of view given voice over beats,
and that if you had nothing to say, well…then better to not say
anything at all. (A point lost on some modern rappers, and
more importantly, the ever-growing audience that gobbles it

I told Jarobi I had the itch, but until I knew what I wanted to talk
about, that it was nothing more than that, the faintest of ideas,
an inkling of an idea. But for someone who had retired from
rapping after releasing only one album and a handful of UK
singles over the years, even considering it at all was a leap
forward and verging on shocking.

Fast forward to a bar in New York City, and Jarobi and I are
yelling at the top of our lungs at a group of younger hip-hop
kids we’re seated with, debating the “G.O.A.T.” or Greatest Of
All Time to the layman.

The debate spilled onto the street, and
soon we were in a dark Soho club while Adam 12 and Stretch
Armstrong played classic cut after classic cut and Jarobi and I
reminisced about “that night at Red Alert’s club when shit got
wild”, the uptown girls who’d bring us home-cooked soul food
and nickel bags of “machine gun funk”, and about a hundred
other stories from the glory days of hip-hop – reveling in our past
like two hippies telling the kids about Woodstock.

And rightly so, because from the late 80’s to the mid-90’sthis
was our Woodstock, but instead of The Who it was L.O.N.S,
while they had Jimi we had Chuck and Kris, and our Janis was
MC Lyte.

Back then when I went to NYC to meet with producers for my
first LP, Jarobi, whom I’d met when I drove Tribe to their first LA
show, was my guide and narrator, teaching me all about the
city, it’s people and it’s hip-hop past. He brought me into the
inner sanctum of the NYC hip-hop culture and introduced me
to everyone, from Brooklyn to the Bronx as his “cousin”.
I hung with Guru and Primo, De La, Black Sheep, The Flavor Unit,
Nice & Smooth, Busta Rhymes, The Bomb Squad, members of
BDP, Brand Nubian, Main Source, Chris Lighty, Red Alert,
Grandmaster Flash, and many, many others. Needless to say
my experience in hip-hop was first hand and with the people
who created the music and culture. I was an 18-year-old
member of The Universal Zulu Nation who’d travelled from
Laurel Canyon to find like-minded people to make an
unconventional hip-hop album.

But I digress. Back to the present. 2011.
Several tours, a few bolts of inspiration and some great
conversations with trusted confidants later and I found myself
at the end of a co-headline tour with Peter Murphy of Bauhaus.
It had been a great tour, culminating with Adam and myself
joining Peter and his band onstage to play a cover of Bauhaus’
“Dark Entries”, a dream on so many levels, both for us and the
fans in attendance.

Later that night after the final show as we prepared to head
home for the holidays I sat with a friend whom I’d known since I
was 11 years old. We were discussing our plans for the future.
It was loud in the bar so I leaned in close and half-smiling said to
her, “When I get home I’m going to start recording a mixtape”.
She smiled and went on to tell me how now was precisely the
right time and why it was a great idea. Her encouragement
was great, but saying it out loud was the important part. Now I
had to do it.

I went home, the holidays came and went, and on January 1st,
2012, I went into the studio and recorded the 1st rap song I’d
done in many years. Recently I’d been making some incredible
beats, so I knew I still had that, but the rhyming was the
unknown. Could I still do it?

Not that I was ever the greatest rapper, but despite not being
blessed with a God-given rhyming voice like Rakim or Jay-Z I’d
managed to turn my private school intellect and obsessive
fandom of all things hip-hop and pop-culture into a somewhat
groundbreaking hybrid of music….at least that’s what people
had been telling me for the last few decades.

The first song sounded good, and the second even better, but
by the third it was clear to me that not only did I still have it, but
that I was better than I’d EVER been, that my lyrics were
sharper, my wit drier, my flow hotter, and my voice
deeper….truly I had found my rap voice, both figuratively and
literally, and any doubts about subject matter flew out the
window when I found myself rapping about the only thing I
could – what it was to be me at 39 - Happily married but having
lived many heavy lives of love since I first called myself Teenage
Caligula. The narrator was more hardened, and even though
the lyrics of Drugstore Cowboy were at the time pure
imagination, the years that followed made them almost
prescient. The music and the rhyming was angrier, less
polished, more impactful, funnier, smarter, more developed,
and much, much more original.

The years of songwriting, performing live shows around the
world and working in rock & roll, indie-rock, pop and
electronica paid off, as the sound was as one friend and early
listener described, a mélange of everything I’d done before
and perhaps the most honest piece of music I’d ever created.
Here were the words of a father, a husband, a record
producer, and a sober motorcycle-riding singer and from an
internationally recognizable dark-rock band with an obsessive
devotion to the Los Angeles Lakers and a Gossip Girl addiction
to rival any tween from Malibu to the U.E.S. A life-long skater
with equal affection for Jay Electronica, The Band, Broadcast
and Jane’s Addiction whose Twitter bio still reads Universal Zulu

The lyrics were from my life, my experiences, my thoughts, fears,
feelings, rants, and freestyled flows come alive in the recording
studio, just myself at the mixing board with a drum machine
and a microphone, just as I had some 20 years before.
I came up with a concept, The Black Hesh Cult, and started
designing t-shirts and jackets, stickers and merch. It would be a
brand based on the two cultures which were of great
significance to me – the black biker set; motorcyclists from the
bay area and Los Angeles who rode as outlaws in a
predominantly white biker world, and the jean jacket wearing,
bongwater scented Heshers of the San Fernando Valley where I
grew up.

The intersection of those two things set against a hip-hop road movie
soundtrack started to shape a vision for not only the artwork for the
mixtape and the segues that would join the songs, but for the brand as well.

I made a shirt, and a song, and another song, and another….
Soon I got busy with producing other projects, mainly Nova
Rockafeller, which coincidentally was brought to me after
playing her manager, Jensen Karp some songs, and as Nova
and I continued to make music, the Black Hesh Cult Mixtape
sat in waiting.

Time passed, the NBA season progressed, lyrics about Andrew
Bynum turned to lyrics about Dwight Howard, songs were
discarded, beats changed, and new songs were born, and this
mixtape started to become a real album.
After having done all the tracks to date myself, I enlisted my old
friend Balthazar Getty to send some beats my way, and after
sorting through email after email of his tracks, I settled on 3
bangers which spoke to me and felt appropriate, the beats
which would become, “So” “.22”, & “Diary”.
I told Adam from She Wants Revenge what I was doing and
asked if he had any beats he wanted to send my way, and he
sent what was to become, “Up And Bounce”, one of my

I had a file of music set aside for segues to go between songs,
and after carefully selecting the music and dialogue that
would help move the narrative forward, I placed them
between songs with the precision of a surgeon. Everything was
important – the in’s, the out’s, the downbeats, each moment
contributing to the overall feel of the piece.
And when I listened back to the whole thing I was amazed to
find that I’d not made a mixtape, I’d made an album, an
album so close to Planet 9 that there was no question this was
it’s spiritual follow-up.

All in all with other projects popping up, both my own and as a
producer, it took me about a year to finish the mixtape, but if
you tally the time I spent actually in the studio making it, it’s
closer to two months of man hours….but it felt like a lost

It came so easy, from such a pure, unadulterated, imaginative
exploratory place that it was almost déjà vu, for it was exactly
the same feelings I’d had while making my first album so many
moons ago.

While sitting outside my friend’s guitar shop recently we began
talking about the work he’d been doing in hip-hop. I realized
I’d not told him what I’d been up to, so I said, “dude, I made a
mixtape!”. Being that he was around and involved when I
made my first LP, he was thrilled to hear this, but more
importantly he dropped a question - “When’s the 20th
anniversary of Planet 9?”.

The crazy thing is that before that moment it had never even
crossed my mind, and before I could do the math he said,
“dude, its next month”.

I couldn’t believe it. Had it really been 20 years? Forget the age
implications, I was simply blown away that I released an album
so long ago it could be considered “vintage”. This was a
milestone in my life; I’d just turned 40 and my 1st LP turned 20.
A few tweets from some hip-hop bloggers with a love of the
glory days, a dust-covered trip into my garage to dig through
the archives and it was decided; I would release the mixtape in
celebration of the 20th anniversary of my 1st album.
Fitting. Appropriate. Like it was by design.

I’d been waffling on whether or not to release this, as I had
some other things I was working on which I was eager to share
with the world, but in the end, documenting something that
meant so much to me and letting people hear it felt right. If
making it was so effortless and natural, why not let the kids hear
the old man do his thing.

I couldn’t be more proud of what I’ve created, both alone with
my thoughts in a darkened studio, as well as with the help of a
few close friends whom I’ve known since I was the teenager
who first experienced this music. It all makes sense.

Thank you to all who heard it along the way and voiced words
of encouragement, because even though I was going to and
had to do this regardless of what anyone thought or felt, it sure
was nice to hear the feedback and know that perhaps I wasn’t
crazy, and perhaps I’d not only found my voice and what to
say, but that it might speak to others as well.

In the weeks to come I will be releasing some rare b-sides and
instrumentals from the Planet 9 sessions, and down the line, an
accompanying essay, describing the making of the album and
the back story that led to it.

I’ve been archiving and going through the past, and there’s a
lot there.

In interviews across the country Adam and myself used to
always say, “We’re just two b-boys from the valley”, and after
20 years it was nice to know that some things never change.
I hope you enjoy,

Justin Warfield August, 21st, 2013

And now, The Black Hesh Cult Mixtape