Willie Isz: Something Else
It helps, too, that Jarel is a loyal disciple of the soulful yet adventurous Dungeon Family sound that Khujo helped pioneer. Georgiavania takes that eclecticism and expands it into a full on schizophrenia. Its a record that stretches the Hip Hop parameters to included everything from rugged trap music to droney electronics and Tiny Tim theatrics. As such, this is the only interview you will ever read where Scottish alt rockers the Cocteau Twins are name-dropped in the same breath as Houston gangster rap icon Z-Ro.
DX: So what exactly is a "Willie Isz"? What does the name mean?
Khujo Goodie: "Willie" is a generational name. You go down south, you gon' always find somebody that's got the name Willie. Whether it's somebody's uncle or it's somebody's daddy or cousin or brother you can always come down south and find you a Willie. And uh... tell 'em about the "Isz," shawty.
Jneiro Jarel: One more thing about the "Willie," me and Khujo's pops are [both] named Willie, so we come from the bloodline. And they both from Georgia, so there you have it. But the "Isz." Basically I always was a big fan of The Maxx, which was a comic and a cartoon on MTV Oddities way back in the day. On that show there's two sides [to the world], you've got Pangea and the dark side that The Maxx comes from. And these little creatures on there were The Iszs. There were the good Iszs and the bad Iszs. If you know Khujo's music, always back to "Call Of The Wild" when he did that with OutKast [click to read] back in '94, he always been growling. He always had that "Yeaah!" That monstrous approach. So it's kind of like the Black Iszs. [We're] mixing that fantasy world with reality. That's what Georgiavania is.
DX: How do you feel about this comparison to The Maxx, Khujo?
Khujo Goodie: I can definitely feel that, man. When Jneiro put me up on it, I went straight to YouTube and seen what he was talking about and I can feel that vibe with it. There's this guy who's just running in between worlds. It's almost what's going on right now. We all in between worlds right now. I can get with that creative vibe right there, it kinda turned on my vibe juices.
DX: So where did that Rap style come from? Because honestly your flow, that growl, it's like nothing else on the planet.
Khujo Goodie: Wow... where does my Rap style come from...
Jniero Jarel: [cuts him off] It come from God!! I think it come from God. I just think you a messenger, man.
Khujo Goodie: I don't know. Of course it came from Atlanta, Georgia. It was born and raised in the bowels of Northwest Atlanta. I used to just like to write. I still got raps at my mama's house and she hasn't even thrown them away, just in a file cabinet. It's like Ol' Dirty Bastard. He was him. The whole Wu-Tang [Clan] [click to read] made him who he was. The people around me made me who I am. They allowed me to be who I am and harness my craft and just get real rugged and raw with it. It's just Goodie Mob Lumberjack type style that I have, where I can just chop up different types of things and just put 'em together like a deck of cards or some pancakes. Put 'em on top of each other, put you some syrup and some butter on there. You'll be eating real good. I don't know, man. It's just something I came up with from writing and hearing myself. The first time I heard myself it kinda scared me a little bit because it didn't sound like me. It sounded like a whole different person. It's like you look in the mirror and you like, "That ain't me." But it is you. So once I got used to hearing myself I got a little bit confident and a little bit better with it.
DX: That was always one of the strengths of the Dungeon Family too. Everybody in the crew had a very unique style.
Jniero Jarel: I always thought of them as the dirty south version of Wu-Tang. You had the crazy cats, you had the more lyrical cats, you got the thugged out cats. That's what I liked about Dungeon too. Just to add my little two cents in. When it came to Cee-Lo [click to read], his voice was different, he'd sing. Then with Khujo, the way he rhyme is just so... I mean, take it back to '94. You listen to them now and its the same dude. He was an old man then! He had all that knowledge, you just had to take him serious. He'd just been through a lot and could tell you a lot. It's like he had an old soul but it was still youthful. Me being from the south also, I was born in New York but I was raised in the south, raised in Atlanta and Houston, Texas. Man, I related to them so much being the type of dude that I was, being in the south, but it was like nobody in the south representing that real Hip Hop. Really, to me. But when they came through, they lyrics were on point. The words that they chose was straight up from the south. They didn't try to sound like New York, didn't sound like the west coast, they were using straight dirty south slang. You hear me saying "Dirty South" [click to read], that's because they were the ones who put that on the map! They trendsetters man.
DX: The album sounds like a conversation between two people who come from very distinct musical backgrounds. Were you guys putting each other up on a lot of music while recording this?
Khujo Goodie: Aw man, JJ was putting me up on all type of people. I can dig that wizardry that he got, man. It's like he never stops learning in this business and I love to run into people like that, who can just turn me on to new and far out things. He put me on this cat, J Dilla, it inspires me as far as all the work that cat did right there. And what's that girls name you turned me on to, JJ?
Jniero Jarel: Which one... shoot... uhhh... Stacy Epps? I put you up on so much I'm trying to remember. You talking about ol' girl that we've been touring with? Santigold?
Khujo Goodie: Yeah Santigold... and what's the other girl? "D-York"? "D-Jork"?
Jniero Jarel: Oh, Bjork, yeah. See the whole deal is I already knew can go there musically. Just from him being down with Goodie Mob and him being down with the whole OutKast and Dungeon Fam, they're some of the most innovative emcees and producers from the south. So I know that when I got with Khujo, it'd be perfect. He can just take it there musically on some beats that are foreign to what he's probably used to. You listen to a lot of early Goodie Mob, his flow is real abstract dirty. That's what I really love about him, he's real creative. He's thought provoking. I knew his mind was next level, so it just made sense for me to expose him to [new music]. You know, it ain't like Bjork hasn't been around, but some people don't know who she is. So I put my folks on to that type of music.
DX: How did you guys connect in the first place?
Khujo Goodie: We hooked up in Georgiavania, man. [Both Laugh] He had a track called "OPR8R" that he wanted me to jump on. So he shot the song to me and I vibed to the song for a couple of weeks, I ain't gonna even lie. I was just kinda blown away a little bit because it was like this shit kinda remind me of some Organized Noize [click to read] shit. I sent the song to him, he said it was dope. Next thing you know, he sent me some more tracks. I mashed them tracks. I was like, "Hold up, we might be on to something." And then the record label thought it'd be a good idea for us to put a couple more hits together. And once we kept sending all that stuff through cyberspace we came up with this Willie Isz project. And it felt like a Dungeon Family album to me. It felt like I was rapping with my two homeboys from OutKast, man. The way the production is and the way that JJ come off in the rhymes, it kinda remind me of my little brothers, OutKast. So it wasn't foreign to me, it felt like home.
DX: Was it an adjustment to be trading files through the internet instead of just hopping into the studio together?
Khujo Goodie: No, not really. We in the 21st century, it's different type [of] techniques right now. It was actually quicker. We saved a lot of gas money. It pushed me to the next boundary where it can be done. There's no reason to say that it can't be done. I don't care where you are, you can put down some real creative shit. And now that I listen to the record more and more this sounds just like an intro. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
DX: You have more stuff planned?
Jniero Jarel: Oh yeah. This ain't no fast food. The way we work together is just so seamless. It's just natural, it just flow right. It ain't like we trying hard to do it like this. We just doing what we do. We got a lot of songs that ain't on the record too. This is definitely the intro. Willie Isz coming, now Willie's here. We letting them know, already, from the gate, don't expect the usual. Expect your mind to elevate.
DX: Where do you think this record fits in with Hip Hop today?
Khujo Goodie: I think it fits in. I got this song called "In The Red" and it's about how the world is in the red, as far as in debt. So the record is relating as far as lyrics and musically. It fits right into the middle. You got an acid and you got a base and it fits right there in the middle. It won't burn you as much but it'll still give you that little sting that you need. It's a raise the bar type record. I'm not saying it's the greatest record in the world, because we most definitely got some improving to do. I don't know if you're gonna get a record with this type of energy for a while. Like I said, expect the unexpected. Expect the record to be jamming if you a hip hop head and you don't like music where every song sound the same. You've got people on the radio right now where they're whole album sounds the same, but they getting 3,000 spins all on the radio. If you know about Jneiro Jarel, you know about Khujo Goodie this record gonna fit right into your collection. People gotta realize that we're not just some new kids on the block. Jneiro got three or four solo records out there right now, I got three or four solo records out there in the industry. So we've had time to have our senses exercising. We know what people might like and what people might not like and what the girls gonna like.
[Jniero Jarel Laughs]
DX: Jneiro, how much of an influence was Goodie and Organized Noize on your production?
Jniero Jarel: Very huge, just in general. My whole thing was Dungeon Family, Native Tongues, Wu-Tang Clan. That's the Hip Hop side of me, the biggest influences on me. I started off rhyming way back but I was always inspired by beats. So it only made sense for me to be into Organized Noize, because their beats were crazy. It wasn't just that they made Hip Hop beats, they made beats that was musical. And their bass sounds was always off the chain. Basslines and guitar, it was just a soulful feeling with some hard beats to it. I was into that. Anybody that knows my music knows it's real melodic. I've always been into melodic sounds. Future sounds, but it's melodic. So with Organized Noize, they was on that tip, especially on ATLliens and Stankonia [click to read]. Listen to that production, that ain't usual. They ain't scared. So I'm definitely holding the torch for them folk. This record, for me, is an homage to the Dungeon Family. The whole Dungeon Family. Organized Noize, OutKast, Goodie Mob, all the way back to P.A., Parental Advisory. I've been down with that whole thing since the CB4 Soundtrack. I've been listening to ATL Hip Hop, man.
DX: What's the current status of the Dungeon Family?
Khujo Goodie: We making beats, man. Everybody's getting their best material written to put back into these streets right now. That's what the status of the Dungeon Family is right now. Everybody is grinding, trying to get their little independent situations on. I was just in the studio with Organized Noize for the past two months, working on some new Goodie stuff, so it's all good. You know how it is with time and with growth. People move on to different things and then come back. And once they come back they share their experiences and they share a little bit more knowledge and we get right back to it.
DX: With everybody in Goodie going off in so many different directions was it difficult recreating that original vibe?
Khujo Goodie: You think that before you go in. But once you go in and you hear the music, you get the vibe again, you hear the ideas and the creative juices in you get going and it's all good. The music jogs the memory. We already know what people want to hear from us and we already know what's going on on the radio. We just put that stuff together and we crank it out.
DX: What present day Hip Hop artists are you guys checking for?
Jniero Jarel: Uh... for me... uhm... I'm probably sleeping on somebody I'm not thinking of right now, but I ain't gonna lie, I've mostly been listening to crew. I haven't really been out there checking for nothing right now. I don't know, 'Jo, answer that. I can't think of nobody right now other than Willie Isz. [Laughs]
Khujo Goodie: They coming out. I ain't got the records yet, but I want to see what that Eminem popping for, that [The Last Kiss] [click to read] by Jadakiss [click to read]. I want to check them boys out. It's a lot of people down here in the south that's about to break that glass ceiling. You got Gucci Mane [click to read], OJ Da Juiceman, Swagg Team, it's so many people lined up to come out and express themselves and represent their hood. It's gotta be something real unique about you and real different about you that's gonna make people close their eyes and visualize who you are. I just think right now the south is back on the uprise. I picked up Scarface's [click to read] new album [Emeritus] [click to read]. I love that record, that thing jamming. They got mixtapes down here that I've been checking for. I've just been really digging and keeping my ears and eyes peeled on the radio and the video screen to see what's cracking so I can just stay on deck with 'em. I like that Soulja Boy [click to read], ["Turn My Swag On"] [click to listen], that's banging down here.
Jniero Jarel: I haven't even heard that, man. I'm so disconnected. Now I need 'Jo to put me on something. I don't even listen to radio. I don't even listen to nothing outside of what I do, but I'm definitely open to it. I just need somebody to direct me.
DX: Jo do you hear a lot of Goodie influence in, say, a Gucci Mane?
Khujo Goodie: Well our thing dropped back in the mid-'90s. While we was out it was people down here getting cultivated. They were listening to your OutKast's and your Goodie Mob's and your Geto Boys and your UGK's [click to read]. Now they're getting that chance to bust through and get their shine on. To get that video on and get that radio on. I run into emcees down here and they say, "Man, Goodie Mob y'all the reason why we doing this." And I most definitely see it in there, they don't have to tell me. I know it when I hear it. But when they do come through and holler it just make it even better. We from the same cornfield, but people are just now getting ready to pop.
DX: I think part of the reason the south has been so successful is because the south wears those early influences on their sleeves. It seems like New Yorkers are more caught in the moment with their influences.
Jniero Jarel: Hip Hop has been [in New York] for so long that we was kinda spoiled with it when it came out. We was the only ones doing it in the early '80s and late '70s. For Atlanta and the west coast, when they got on, it was more of a special thing. We kept hearing New York. It was jamming, Run-DMC, Whodini and all that. Jamming. But they didn't have nobody that represented them. So once they got somebody that represented how they talk and how they do things. N.W.A. [click to read] changed the game for people out in the west. Ice-T, King T, I remember all that stuff too. And that's why young cats on the west coast, they gonna talk about Ice Cube [click to read] and they gonna talk about Dr. Dre, Eazy-E. Or Texas, you talk about old school Texas Hip Hop, you gonna talk about the Geto Boys, DJ Screw. Or Street Military, I used to go to high school with them cats. You know who else I know real well? Z-Ro. We used to freestyle all the time. These are people I grew up with, Big Pokey. I mean I know a lot of New Yorkers that give love to the Dungeon Family though. It's just different for cats in New York because they can only relate to the feeling of it, but they can't relate to the red clay. You can't appreciate it as much if you ain't really live it.
DX: Well it seems like the Dungeon crossed over to northerners a lot easier than some of the other southern acts. What do you think it was that made that the case?
Khujo Goodie: It was the record label. LaFace. L.A. Reid, he was a drummer, he knew about music. They came down and the next thing you know he set up LaFace. They had money to put us out there. We was some brand new artists from the south and they had to break us. [OutKast] started out on a Christmas sampler. So we were able to to at least get on a sampler where somebody else can hear us. And then when they dropped the single we were able to have a video, to be on MTV. L.A. Reid had the connections, the money to get our stuff played on the radio. Plus the music was good and plus these were some dudes from a whole nother side of the world that you hadn't never heard about. They talk funny and they know what the hell they talking about. Once we opened the gate to that, it was cool. LaFace was that major record label that artists needed for exposure to get out there. We got a chance to go across seas and sell this stuff.
DX: Now who were some of the local Atlanta artists that you came up on, Khujo?
Khujo Goodie: Oh boy. There was this one group, the hardest gangster group in Georgia. [The Hard Boys'] A-Town Hard Heads. What got me so sold on them is their record cover. Half of their faces was looking like the Terminator. It was kinda metal and then the other side of their face was flesh and in the background they had a big explosion. It just looked like them boys been through war.
Jniero Jarel: [Laughs] I'm looking at the cover right now!
Khujo Goodie: It just looked like they're going through hell just to get their shit heard. Then you had groups like Success-N-Effect, they came out with a song [sings] "roll it up my nigga, roll it up."
Jniero Jarel: Aww yeah! That's Atlanta?!
Khujo Goodie: Yeah man, they came out Atlanta. Then you got Raheem The Dream, who came out with "Elimintator," Mojo, a group called Damage, Kilo Ali with "Cocaine." But we just had drug money, that's as far as our money would go. We didn't have no big major push. We didn't have no money to get up there in New York or California. Boys down here in the south was last on the totem pole. Even with recognition. I remember they booed us in New York when OutKast got [the "Best New Rap Group" Source Award]. So we done came a long way.
DX: So how would you prepare listeners for this Willie Isz record?
Khujo Goodie: I don't know, run this, J.
Jniero Jarel: I feel like what they will get is the best of both worlds. If you like that classic Goodie vibe, that classic OutKast vibe, the spirit is in the music. "In The Red," which Khujo brought up earlier, I did that track just thinking about growing up in Atlanta. That's kind of like my soundtrack for childhood in Atlanta. Organized Noize is the soundtrack to Atlanta for me and the vibe of that song is some of that classic Dungeon vibe. But also songs like "Violet Heart Box," that's the kind of stuff you'd expect from your boy Jneiro Jarel. It's the fusion of that Dungeon / Viberian sound. We got Punk Rock vibes on there, Shoegaze Rock. It's a whole lot of genres. The foundation is Hip Hop but we tapping into all genres. If all you listen to is Rock, you gonna find a song on there that you might like. If all you listen to is Soul music, you might find something on there that you might like. Nowadays nobody only listen to one genre no more, so it's a perfect time for this record.
DX: Yeah I saw you had that Shoegaze mixtape up on your myspace. That seems like the last genre of music I'd expect Hip Hop to be drawing on.
Jniero Jarel: That's what's so live about it! On the real, when I was living in New York I used to roll with Apollo Heights, TV On The Radio. These are people I knew before TV On The Radio started jumping off. And we used to build because we was in the same neighborhoods, so me being an open minded type person I'm checking for anything that's good. So me being roommates with Apollo Heights, which is a rock band that used to be signed to Mercury Records, I was meeting all these people. I was meeting Cocteau Twins, I'm meeting Tricky, I'm meeting all these people that's in the alternative world. I was blessed. Now these same people respect what I do. I just did a TV On The Radio Willie Isz remix that came out on Interscope a few weeks ago. I'm about to do a Maxwell remix. I'm just getting put on stuff that's outside of Hip Hop. Hip Hop is the foundation, but it just bleeds into so many other vibes. It's just universal music and that's what Willie Isz is all about.