Underground Report: Common Market and Junclassic
After their self-titled debut (2005), Common Market rolled up its sleeves once again to offer a well put-together joint, Tobacco Road, which provides a breath of artistic creativity to an often bland world of todays Hip Hop. Such originality can be heard in spiritually-reflective joints like Winter Takes All or analytical slices like Nina Sing, where RA shows off his insight and lyrical capabilities. The album is a guaranteed blend of concept variations, beats and melodies, with Sabzi showcasing both production and deejaying skills all the while the listener is introduced to hooks that resemble recitation more than ordinary singing. HipHopDX catches up with the Bahai believers who are currently on tour, and discusses the concept behind the Tobacco Road, RAs Kentucky work ethic, and the story behind the co-sign of KRS-One.
HipHopDX: What up? You guys are on tour right now?
RA Scion: Yeah, were on the road. We played in Pocatello last night.
RA: Yeah, exactly. Thats my first time in Pocatello. But that shits hella fun to say; so all night we kept dropping Pocatello in the rhymes.
DX: How was the crowd?
RA: In terms of size, there was like 50 people in the crowd. It was a small show it was actually a barn. Sounds kind of funny, but they made the old barn into a wedding reception center...but the thing about it is, the crowd, it was mainly composed of young folks, high schoolish kids. Some of them were looking forward to the show since early summer, so thats what made it worth it.
DX: How long is the tour?
RA: This leg of the tour is about two and half, almost three weeks. I think it has about 15 days.
DX: For those that dont know, who is Common Market?
RA: Its one deejay and one emcee. I go by the name of RA Scion, I represent the voice of Common Market and deejay and producer is Sabzi also one half of the group Blue Scholars. And together Common Market and Blue Scholars have formed Massline Media, and thats our independent label. Common Market is a little more global in terms of ideas
DX: Where are you from?
RA: Im born and raised in Kentucky. Its like Pocatello, its not busy
DX: [Laughing] whats the scene in Seattle like?
RA: Its hard to summarize. Mainly because we dont have - the Hip Hop scene in Seattle doesnt have that national identity in a way that a lot of cities have: Chicago, Houston, Atlanta; being in Seattle, we kind of struggle with that identity its pretty hard to define. We got a lot of people going into different directions: the sound is different; areas of the city are different. In terms of its progress, its doing well; its growing; theres a lot of promised talent.
DX: Talk to us about Tobacco Road.
RA: The idea of Tobacco Road came from my Kentucky roots. Im born and raised around and working on tobacco roads in Kentucky, and for the most part the work ethic that I gained - working in the fields - is the same work ethic I apply to the music and the community here in Seattle.
DX: Will you expand upon that?
RA: Yeah, sure. Work ethic in the field is tough; its hard labor. And Ive done everything from setting the tobacco to cutting it, housing it. Being involved in the process taught me a lot about the value of real labor. Its one thing to plant the seed, and a lot of artists this is where the parallel is drawn - a lot of artists do a great job of planting seeds but they dont follow through: you gotta nurture the crop. Some artists like to plant the seed and then come around for the harvest. And if you dont nurture the crop, its not really in your heart. Thats what Im trying to apply in an abstract sense and in the literal sense.
DX: How did you and Sabzi meet?
RA: Were both Bahai, so we had the Bahai friends in common. I had moved to Seattle in 2001 and he was already making a name for himself as a deejay and producer, and people that I talked to suggested that we work together. And we met for the first time in 2002; he gave me a couple of beats for a solo project and it led to the Common Market thing.
DX: What are the principles of the Bahai faith for those who dont know?
RA: The faith itself is about 170 years old; it comes from Iran; its born out of the Islamic culture much the same way Christianity is born out of Judaic culture. So a lot of people have a misconception that the Bahai faith is a sect of Islam when it just ties into the Islamic culture. There are fundamental principles within the Bahai faith that are similar to Islam: humanity, religion, one God monotheistic religion. It became popular in the United States in the 1960s so a lot of people associated it with the hippie movement. But the faith is nothing without the practical application of those ideals: without service to the community and I mean hands on, being in the trenches servicing the community. And all of that idealism is just superstition. One thing we try to put into our music is the idea of, how were gonna serve the community.
DX: KRS-One co-signed Common Market. How did that happen?
RA: We actually sought out KRS [click to read] - obviously because hes an icon. When we were about to release our album in 2005, he was at a conference in L.A. and I sent my wife down to L.A. to attend the conference with the copy of the album. She put it in his hands, asked him to listen to it, just to see what he thought. So thats what we did, he listened to the album, he was feeling it, he said, Yeah, Ill put my endorsement on the album, so thats what he did. He put the sticker on the front of the album, he came out to the release party and that was really it. Thats the extent to my association with KRS. We had dinner with him at the house, and that was a defining moment for me; thats pretty much what I wanted to accomplish out of all of it and I hadnt talked to him since. So thats what it is.
Moving over to the East Coast, Jamaica, Queens particularly, HipHopDX finds Junclassic, a not-so-typical New York rapper battling for his piece of the pie. For one, Junclassic seems to not mind anything outside of his realm of existence: when some rappers struggle to ride the beat, Junclassic makes the beat struggle to gain get any sort of shine it can as his completely eccentric delivery takes center stage. And thats not all: from his flow to his subject matter, from the words he chooses to rhyme to the topics he chooses to pursue (MySpace, relationships, societal reflections) Junclassic seems to do it on his own time, at his own pace, creating his own rhyme to his chosen beat.
For those who are tired of repetitive flows and topics of this genre, Overqualified just may be your pick of the crop. HipHopDX sits down with Junclassic to discuss his academic background which led him to graduate school and the basis for the title of his album, his admiration of Shakespearean rhyme patterns, and MySpace Sensitivity, a track about the social networking community which brings out the best of us, and brings out the worst in is.
Junclassic: Hey Mina, how you doing?
HipHopDX: Well, thank you. How are you?
J: A little under the weather. Monday its 90 degrees, Tuesday its 65.
DX: Hate that; hang in there. Are you satisfied with the responses for Overqualified?
J: Thats a good question. Yeah, Im definitely happy that people are getting into it; all the feedback so far has been really positive - deejays, websitesso yeah Im definitely happy about that.
DX: I read the album review on Okayplayer; very interesting. The writer called you bizarre, insinuating on weird.\ Why do you think that is?
J: You read that? [Laughing] For what I feel, Im unconventional. From what Ive read, people say my style is unorthodox and so forth, and I guess my voice and I just sound different from most people. If anything, I embrace that. Id rather be weird than conventional. Im guessing its the voice, the flows, the concept and Im sure the beats have something to do with it. We went out on a limb with that project and it seems like the people are recognizing it
DX: Do you go in with the intent of I want to be different or is it something that just happens?
J: I would say its something that comes through, but being over the age of 30, Im from the school of Hip Hop where they said to be original, you know? No biting and all of that. So when I put it down I tend to stand out from others. But Ive been doing this for so long, its like you said, I think it just comes through cause that was my intent back in the day and now its natural cause Ive been doing it for so long.
DX: As you just mentioned, you do come from the old school. Do you think Hip Hops generation today is susceptible to your approach?
J: [Laughing] Thats a great question, Mina. I couldnt really tell you. It seems like so far, with the responses, people are digging what they hear. In terms of mass audiences I think that will get me pluses and itll get me minuses. Some people will be like, What the heck is this? and other people will be like, This is different and interesting, so its a little bit of both. When you start out, or start getting noticed, some people dont want to give that person the credit and other people do. Id say yes and no to answer your question.
DX: What is the most unusual aspect of your writing approach?
J: Its kind of like [William] Shakespeare and those forgot the term for itthose special poems where theyre A-B, A-B.
DX: First and third, second and forth. Youre a fan of such patterns?
J: Definitely. Being in elementary and all that, I would love how words end in rhyme and he [Shakespeare] would do syllable endings if I remember correctlyit just had an ill flow to it, it was syllabolic, multiple syllables. It wasnt cat in the hat, you know? I really dug that; I really loved the flow of it. When you read it out in class, it sounds hot, you know? I definitely appreciated it.
DX: You have favorites from Shakespeare?
J: Maybe Othello. Seeing different [film] versions of that [play] - and the whole story itself is just incredible. How his homeboy ended up betraying him
DX: What did you take in school?
J: Communications in undergrad and a fancy curricula called Media Ecology in grad school but thats basically communications theory; New York University.
DX: Does that knowledge help you today?
J: It has helped me - like when my parents introduce me: Oh, I graduated from NYU. Like I went straight from undergrad to grad school cause I was graduating in the undergrad around 9/11, so the economy was on its way down. So I thought maybe I should stay in school. I wrote a little essay to get it and they accepted it. And I said, Maybe Ill stay in, get a better degree and by the time I get out of school, the economy will be on the rebound. So I graduated in 2003 and found out that that was not the case due to the fact that I didnt get a job right out of undergrad a lot of people said youre overqualified and inexperienced. So that kind of played in the title of the albumI would say it helped me in the short term but not in the long term as of yet; still waiting to see.
DX: What brought about MySpace Sensitivity?
J: [Laughing] I would say basically just the frustration that we just have. The dudes we listen to for years and looked up to, to holla at these dudes and not hear nothing back and plus, its just a phenomenon: its really changed the way people look at themselves as rappers; the fact that its free and easily acceptable. I really just saw a big change in the underground once MySpace blew up. I definitely wanted to talk about it. I know its been overdone but I felt I had another interesting take on it.
I have a girlfriend that I love and basically when people hit up her page and then compliment her and whatever have you, that shit bothers me. And same with her: shell see comments on my page from women or whatever have you, so I think were all sensitive to it and everybodys trying to pose on MySpace like they fly, they superthug, supermodel, at the end we mad sensitive everybody.
DX: [Laughing] Well-put. Do you and your girl get into fights over the Top Eight?
J: Oh Definitely. Shes talking to old dude, snatch her off the Top Eight, people ask, Are you yall cool? A week later shes back. Weve had those situations. I take her off MySpace, next day I check her page, Im not in the top anymore and then we kiss and make up a few days later and then Im right back where I was. Its almost like a microcosm: how you dealing with that loved one and the world. If people pay attention to your MySpace, they can pretty much figure out whats going onWe posture and we front but in the end, we all have feelings and its not that hard to spark those feelings.
DX: Very true. How has being a member of a duo influenced you as a solo artist?
J: Wow. I would say I learned a lot from my partner, Monsta X [of Monsta Island Czars]. Hes a freestyling master, hes a performing masterhes just a showman, fiery and passionate. Plus hes a Leo and Im a Cancer, and I really feel inspired. Ive learned a lot from performing to freestyling to writing too he got amazing styles and flows and punch lines. Hes just a sick emcee, a very individual, original brother. And he got crazy swag, hes real confident and Ive learned to embrace that too. In this game its good to be humble but you gotta kind of know your place; you gotta know youre worth something too.
DX: Anything you want to add?
J: Thank you everybody for reading this. I thank you Mina and also HipHopDX for giving me the opportunity to speak to the people. Shout out again to my brother Monsta X, my niece and my nephew. Please check the MySpace too [click here].