New Years Reflections From Crooked I, Phonte, Saigon, Talib Kweli, Fashawn, Brother Ali, The Grouch & Eligh and J-Zone

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New Years Reflections From Crooked I, Phonte, Saigon, Talib Kweli, Fashawn, Brother Ali, The Grouch & Eligh and J-Zone

HipHopDX's Andres Vasquez asked several key Rap figures from 2011 about the lessons learned, changes made and projects to a new year, including members of Black Star, Slaughterhouse and Living Legends.

Every year at around this time, it’s a tradition of many to sit back and reflect. People analyze their year, their successes, their struggles, their accomplishments and everything in between. Why? Most people do this to prepare for a new year, to get ready for personal and professional improvements and to reach new goals or milestones. It’s crucial for many to look back before moving forward. Understanding this, HipHopDX decided to track down several emcees to discuss the year that was and preview the year that will be.

Crooked I, Phonte, Saigon, J-Zone, Fashawn, Brother Ali, The Grouch, Eligh and Talib Kweli took time out to speak about all of this. They discussed their challenges and triumphs of 2011, both personally and professionally. They also candidly shared their greatest lessons of the year, courageous enough to be as personal in interviews as they are in their rhymes. Now, while looking back is helpful and insightful, looking forward is also vital. So, each emcee took time to preview the year that is to come, sharing what fans can expect from 2012.

Crooked I New Years Resolution

HipHopDX: Describe this last year for yourself (both professionally and personally). What thoughts stand out most for you?

Crooked I: This past year has been a great year for me. Obviously, securing the Shady [Records] deal was monstrous. The movement Slaughterhouse had and my C.O.B. movement growing legs, it has been a year to set up things, lining ducks up in a row to knock them down in 2012. Getting my websites together, making sure my manufacturers are in line for my merchandise and apparel and putting together a killer Slaughterhouse album to try to reshape Hip Hop next year, it’s all been wonderful, man. It’s been a blessing.

DX: What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned this year? What helped teach you that those lessons?

Crooked I: The greatest lesson I learned this year is to never give up.  That’s a lesson I learn constantly but this year especially, I learned you have to keep going, no matter what. Everybody’s story is not going to be the same in this industry. Some people are going to have overnight success and for some people, it may take 10 years. You know what I’m saying? You’ve just gotta always strive and work hard. I think a lot of my theories when it comes to Hip Hop and music business as a whole, some of them were proved right when I’d get a chance to sit down with Eminem and talk to him one-on-one on certain things. He let me know what I’m saying is on the right path. So, that confirmation from somebody who’s been to the mountaintop, it just feels good. You’ve also gotta constantly learn. I would say that to any emcee, any rapper, any producer, any graf artist, any fashion designer, anybody part of this Hip Hop culture. It’s a constant learning experience every day.

DX: How do you use the lessons from this year to prepare you for the next one and what can we all expect from you in 2012?

Crooked I: You take that right into 2012 with momentum and take it into 2012 with a vengeance, really. We can really do some damage in 2012. When I say “we,” I mean all of our movements. Slaughterhouse will drop an album in the first quarter of 2012, smother the game, go on the road, kill as many stages as we can, come back home and then drop individual projects and support each other and kill the game. Then, go hit them stages individually and then put on the people in our crew that are coming out next from our crews individually. Royce [Da 5'9] has Kid Vishis, I got Horseshoe G.A.N.G., Sauce, Cognac, the whole C.O.B. and I know Joell [Ortiz] and Joe [Budden] got people they’re working with. So, 2012 could really be the year of a Slaughter movement, from January to December.

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Talib Kweli New Years Resolution

HipHopDX: Describe this last year for yourself (both professionally and personally). What thoughts stand out most for you? What has it all felt like for you?

Talib Kweli: This last year, professionally, has been very, very liberating. I put out two independent projects, Gutter Rainbows and the Idle Warship album [Habits of Heart]. They both came out on our own labels with Idle Warship coming out on Blacksmith [Music] and Gutter Rainbows coming out on Javotti Media. It was just real liberating for me.

DX: What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned this year? What helped teach you those lessons?

Talib Kweli: The greatest lesson for me was just that what I do has to be put out with quality of sound. It has to be about quality. It sounds cliché but what people are drawn to is not how something is sold to them. They’re drawn to how well it’s put together and how much heart and passion is put into it. I feel like I’ve always done that creatively, but I feel like this year, because I’ve been able to make more decisions independently business wise, I’ve been able to get closer to the quality of sound that I need to have. Personally, I learned that you have to be true to yourself, that you cannot give anybody anything, even if you think you’re doing good by them, you’re not doing good by them if you’re not being true to yourself.

DX: How do you use the lessons from this year to prepare you for the next one and what can we all expect from you in 2012? What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

Talib Kweli: Singular, laser focus. You know, I have a lot of different projects going on and it requires a lot of focus, from Black Star to Idle Warship to my solo album. I just want to get it all in row and get a singular focus. It’s hard. It’s not easy. These moments are what separate the people who want it from the people who don’t. There are people who say they want to do what they love for a living. People say they want to be artists. People say they want to do this. But, then, there are people who actually do it. The people who actually do it, they never complain. They just do it. It’s just in them. It’s innate. That’s what separates the men from the boys. I’m competitive. When I feel like it’s time to chill, I look at somebody that’s my peer and see what they’re doing. Whether it’s a Lupe Fiasco who’s flying to Malaysia or it’s Immortal Technique at Occupy Wall Street or Diddy jumping from club to club, I look at my peers and see what people are doing. Then, I’m like, “I can get busy right now.”

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Phonte New Years Resolution

HipHopDX: Describe this last year for yourself (both professionally and personally). What thoughts stand out most for you? What has it all felt like for you?

Phonte: If I was asked to describe this last year, I would say fast changes [laughing], swift changes. For me, personally, I’ve had a lot of personal and professional changes. Reuniting with 9th Wonder was just a big move. It proved to be very, very positive and a real happy thing for both of us. That was really big. And then, really doing it on my own as a solo artist for the first time. It’s always weird. As long as you’ve been in the game, when you step out on your own, you’re really starting over. Me and Evidence, we talk and he was somebody I really looked to in a lot of ways for guidance. I saw how he was able to reinvent himself, rebrand himself as a solo artist after coming off the success of Dilated Peoples. We were just talking and he said, “Look, just because people know your records doesn’t mean they know you.” It’s like U2 is the biggest band in the world but if the drummer walked into my house right now, I wouldn’t know that nigga. [Laughs] But I know The Joshua Tree, you know? Just because people know your records doesn’t mean they know you. So, it was just so weird to me when me and 9th did our first run of shows and we were at B.B. King’s and I looked up and my name was on the marquee. That was something that I had never seen before in my 10 years of performing and recording. It was a very surreal moment, like, “Man, that’s my name up there.” That’s something I’d never done. It was always Little Brother or Foreign Exchange but to see my name up there, you just realize it’s a new chapter.

DX: What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned this year? What helped teach you those lessons?

Phonte: Aw, man. What is the biggest lesson I learned? I guess, man…[Pauses] Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just that whatever you do in life, you have to want things for yourself in order for them to truly be successful. You have to really want things for yourself. What I mean by that is, when you ask people why they rap, why they sing or why they do whatever, they give you a cliché answer. “Well, I’m doing it for my family.” “I’m doing it for this.” “I’m doing it for that.” Whatever. They’ll put a million reasons to why they do it. But the thing about it is if you don’t want something for yourself, ultimately, it’s not going to last. That goes for career, it can go for marriage, family, and your job. If it’s not something you truly want for you, it’s not going to matter. It’s the same thing people will say in a marriage context. People say, “Well, you know, we’re staying in it for the kids and we’re building a family together” and yada, yada and all this shit. Nigga, if you don’t want to be married for you, it’s not going to last. [Laughs] That’s just how it is with everything in life, with things you set out to accomplish. You truly have to want them for yourself. It’s a very selfish thing but that’s the only thing that’s going to sustain you. You can put whatever else in front of it that you want, in terms of family or “I’m doing this for my hood” or whatever, but when you going through them tough times, nigga, your hood ain’t gon’ be there [laughs]. It’s just goin’ be you going through that shit. So, if you want something, you have to just truly want it. Any goal in life, you truly have to just want it for yourself and not for any other reason. That’s the only true way to be successful.

DX: What helped teach you that lesson?

Phonte: Man, man…I think it was just a lot of stuff professionally and working on my record, Charity Starts at Home. There were times when I was working on that album where I was just like - I think I tweeted this one day - where I was like, “I want to punt this album off of a fucking bridge.” I was just so frustrated but ultimately it was just something I had wanted to do. I know a lot of fans had been wanting to hear a Phonte solo album but I didn’t want to hear a Phonte solo album, so I never did one. It was just something I never had interest in, I didn’t have the desire or passion to do it. But, this year, I was finally like, “I think it’s time for me to hear myself and find myself as a solo artist and see where it goes.” So, working on that album taught me that I had to want it for myself. The album got done because I wanted to hear a finished Phonte album, not because anyone else wanted to hear it.

DX: How do you use the lessons from this year to prepare you for the next one and what can we all expect from you in 2012? What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

Phonte: For 2012, I just think 2012, honestly, for me is going to be a year of recuperation. When I say rest, I still gotta work so it’s not like I’m going to just be around the house eatin’ fuckin’ Pop Tarts and shit. But, you still working, touring and always working on new ideas or whatever but I think 2012 is the first year where I’m not really…Like, every year before, I’m like, “Okay, we’re gonna have the album done by this date. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do that.” I think this is the first year in awhile where I’m just gonna take it as it comes and just take time to relax, enjoy my kids and just put more time into myself on a personal level. One thing that happens in your career is that you get so involved in your professional life that your personal life takes a dive. Then, you look up and realize, “Fuck, I have no fuckin’ life. [Laughs] I have no life outside of this.” That can just be very depressing. I don’t do really anything, so in 2012, I’ll still be making music, still be touring, still be out-I gotta make a living so I’ll be out-but 2012 will be the year I got to find a hobby or some shit. I got to get a personal life. That’s my year. [Laughs] Nigga, I got to start playing video games. I gotta shoot pool. Nigga, I might start kayaking or some shit. I don’t know, nigga. I gotta do something. Nigga, I might fuckin’ start knitting, nigga. I might start crocheting. I might make hats. You never know. I don’t know, but I got to do something other than music because when you pull yourself so much into something and don’t take time to handle your personal life, the people around you ultimately suffer.

DX: You have a line on “The Good Fight” that reminds me of what you’re saying. [“My single friends say ‘Te’, your family’s beautiful.’ I'm like, ‘If y’all niggas only knew what it cost me.’”]

Phonte: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was definitely a line that was kind of crazy. It was crazy in the sense that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, I guess. It’s rough, man. Me and my wife, we decided to divorce this year, so that was a big change. So, 2011 was a big…2011 was a mothafucker.  

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Saigon New Years Resolution

HipHopDX: Describe this last year for yourself, both professionally and personally. What thoughts stand out most for you? What has it all felt like for you?

Saigon: 2011 was a good and bad year for me. I finally got a chance to release my debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told, which was met to critical acclaim so that was a good. In my personal life, I had a lot of ups and downs with family and having a slew of negative people in my life that it’s easier said then done to get rid of. So, you know how that can be. But overall, I would have to say the good outweighed the bad. I had a new daughter, so I’m def happy about that.

DX: What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned this year? What helped teach you that lesson/those lessons?

Saigon: My greatest lesson I learned this year was you should be married before you have a child with a person. Even though marriage doesn’t guarantee you'll be together, it makes it easier in court when the mother is giving you the Don Trip ["Letter To My Son" ] treatment. What helped me learn that lesson is I am going through the same exact thing that he explains in that song. That’s my favorite song right now. We as men get a lot of flack when were run from our responsibilities as fathers but nobody comes down on women when they don’t allow the father to be in their life.

DX: How do you use the lessons from this year to prepare you for the next? What do you hope to accomplish in the new year?

Saigon: 2012 will by far be my most productive year as far as my output of music. I think times have changed and you have to put out more music to compete. A song becomes "old" in like a week in this microwave music era so you have to keep putting music out, I guess. I usually put out one project a year but I have to step that up a lot. I have Warning Shots 3 with Just Blaze dropping in January and I won’t take my foot off their necks from there. Personally, I’m just trying to spend more time with my little girls and try to raise them to be better than their mothers.

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J-Zone New Years Resolution

HipHopDX: Describe this last year for yourself, both professionally and personally. What thoughts stand out most for you? What has it all felt like for you?

J-Zone: Professionally, 2011 felt like 1999. I made my first album [Music For Tu Madre] in 1999 and published my first book [Root For The Villain] in 2011, so a lot of the experiences of being a first time recording artist and first time author were similar. Both projects were made with the intent of making them and no more; there was no sales pressure or specific goals. I released both of them myself and did everything the hard way and with minimal help, but both were more successful than I expected. Everything down to both the album and the audiobook being hand-dubbed cassette tapes.

Personally, 2011 was therapeutic because when you write a book, everything spills out. How people take what you write is another story, but art (whether music or writing) has always been about venting and having fun to me. Seeing folks like ?uestlove, [Slug], RJD2, Jon Shecter, and W.W. Norton Publishers tweet about it and to see it get love in the prestigious media outlets it did felt great because I wrote it for myself and a small audience. There was a time I never thought I'd find creative juice again, so to find it and see people appreciate the book was real.

DX: What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned this year? What helped teach you that lesson/those lessons?

J-Zone: Sometimes you have to enjoy things for what they are instead of being bitter about not getting where you think you should be. Of course you want to maximize potential for your work, but self-publishing a book with a very small, niche audience, I couldn't expect it to be a New York Times best seller. I did it for a certain audience and that audience enjoyed it, as well as many others I didn't expect to enjoy it, so I'm happy. In the past, I would feel bitter if I didn't get love in XXL magazine knowing I had a ton of albums under my belt and paid dues for over a decade and a rapper with one mixtape got an article, but I've learned that shit just works that way sometimes. If you approach art your own way and don't compromise for the general public or do what's current, regardless of how dope you may think your shit is, there's a good chance you won't blow up. Things ain't always fair, they just are what they are and you make the best of it. My expectations for my music were too high, so I approached the book more realistically and in turn, the results were a lot better.

DX: How do you use the lessons from this year to prepare you for the next?

J-Zone: I learned that when you approach shit with the sole intent of getting enjoyment out of it before anything else, the results can never be that bad. No matter what I do next, it will be first and foremost something dope and fun and not just to blow up or get some quick cash. When you enjoy what you do, the money and status come later. Even if they don't, at least you enjoyed the ride and it wasn't all for nothing. I'm trying not to lose sight of that by worrying about where I believe I deserve to be; that was a mistake I made with the music shit. That ain't reality.

DX: What can we expect from you in 2012? What do you hope to accomplish in the new year (both personally and professionally)?

J-Zone: Can't say for sure, but I'll be working on something. I bought myself a drum set, so if I don't start a new book or make a bunch of new beats, I'll at least learn to play some paradiddles on this muthafucka.

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Fashawn New Years Resolution

HipHopDX: Describe this last year for yourself (both professionally and personally). What thoughts stand out most for you? What has it all felt like for you?

Fashawn: It’s been fucking crazy, man. I’ve been back to Paris again, which was cool. Got tatted up out there, came back with a few chains and shit. That was cool. Just the fact that I was touring by myself this time this time and, um…touring with Rakim! I got to tour with Rakim! What the fuck? That’s like the coolest shit. I got to build with the God, Rakim, every night, tearing down Germany, France and all that shit. That was real big for me. I got my first headlining tour, The Higher Learning Tour, which stretched across a lot of America, which was really dope. Went to Canada, so shout out to [them]. Yeah, man. In the midst of that, just working really hard on music and not knowing how people are going to feel about it. Having that feeling again, it’s exciting. It’s a lot of work and a lot of playing too, but it’s been positive nonetheless.

DX: What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned this year? What helped teach you that lesson/those lessons?

Fashawn: Really to not take what we got here for granted and how impactful my words could be. I really learned that this year. I never experienced it like I did this year. Seeing little kids come up to me and spitting me some of my dirtiest rhymes? It’s amusing but, it’s like, damn, I can’t believe I wrote some shit like that. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t know it would have this kind of affect on the youth or on people. I’ve learned to just not take this for granted. A lot of people would die to be in my shoes, have a show headlining so I learned to not take it for granted and to treat it right. I say that to myself frequently, man. When I catch writer’s block, I guess, when the words don’t want to come out and I feel stuck or lost. Like, I might be in Lithuania by myself, away form everything I know and it’s just the most bugged out shit ever. I can’t even dwell into it that deep but hearing the music every night, the stage is like my home. Every time I perform these records, I feel like I’m right where I was when I recorded them, no matter how big or intimidating the crowd.  

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Brother Ali New Years Resolution

HipHopDX: Describe this last year for yourself (both professionally and personally). What thoughts stand out most for you? What has it all felt like for you?

Brother Ali: Well, this has been a real unique year for me because every year since 2002, I’ve been on tour constantly. In 2002, I did four months out of the year and in 2003 it went up to 6. Then, it’s gone into eight and nine. Then, 2010 was one of the roughest years ever. I was on the road for 10 months, which was way too much. It really puts a strain on my marriage, my family and me. Along with that, my father died and my friend Eyedea died, both while I was on tour. I had to fly home to bury each of them. It was too much. I took my workaholic-ness to the extreme in 2010. It really broke me down, man, broke my heart. But, I ended that year by going on Hajj, by going on my pilgrimage to Mecca. It just made me reevaluate things and get reoriented to say, “What’s the best of who I really am? What’s the best version of myself I could be?” And, so I stayed home all of 2011. The only tour that I did was the European Rhymesayers Tour. I just did that because it was the whole label and I just couldn’t miss that. So, I stayed home which means that no money was coming in. So, I had a broke year, broke like before I was rapping. I’m turning down show offers. I just wanted to be home. I just wanted to remember, “Who am I, really?” When you’re on the road and in front of people all the time like that, you start to be the person that they want you to be. At least, that’s the way I felt. I felt like I was dangerously close to just being a caricature of myself. So I said, “Okay, let me go back to where I’m from and be with my family and sleep in my bed and read my books and be around my community again.” So, I stayed home all year and I made a couple things, some really huge things too.

I did a big event in my hood, where I’m from, in a mosque, where we had a really big day of service where 800 families came through and we had free medical services, free food, free health screenings, massages, free haircuts, free clothes, free school supplies. Hundreds of people came through. Then, we set up the stage, a big festival stage, a big festival sound set, in the middle of the street in the hood and had a concert, a free concert. Me, Slug, Freeway, P.O.S., Dessa, Toki Wright, all performed for free. We had about a thousand people show up for that. Now, to get my fans that are from the suburbs to come to the hood, got people to come to a party at a mosque, got a mosque to throw a Hip Hop show, fed a lot of people, a lot of people volunteered and it was just really special, man. That was one of the highlights of my career, man, one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of.

Then, Freeway ended up staying at the crib for a week, ended up staying with me and my family and we started working on an album. Also, during the course of that year, I went up to Seattle a bunch of times, and me and Jake One made 50 songs. So, I have new music to last me for a real long time, between all the stuff that me and Jake did and the stuff me and Free are starting to do. I’ve got plenty of music.

Oh, and just recently…I’m a real big follower of Dr. Cornel West. I really love and admire him so much. I’ve always wanted him to be a part of the music that I’m doing. I wanted to show it to him and I didn’t know if he knew who I was. Through a couple of mutual friends, I reached out to him, tried really hard and I just got to his assistants. He has two assistants, one when he’s on the road and one when he’s at Princeton. The one at Princeton said, “Send me an e-mail.” I thought that was just like, “Yeah.” She told me he gets hundreds of requests like this all the time and he’s just busy. So, I poured my heart out in this email and figured I’d give it one last shot. And the next morning, he called me. He said, “Yeah, I know about you. Me and Lupe Fiasco were just talking about you. I know about ‘Uncle Sam Goddamn’ . I know about all the stuff that you’re doing. I would love to be on your album and I would love to hear what you’re doing and I would love to support you, and introduce you to people. But, I’m extremely busy.” I said, “Doc, I’ll go wherever you are. Wherever you are, I’m on the next plane if you could give me a half hour.” He said, “Can you be in Princeton tomorrow?” So, I stayed up all night, found a flight, flew out to Jersey and went to Princeton. We ended up hanging out from 2 in the afternoon until 10-11 at night. I played him a lot of my stuff, recorded some of the conversation, he recorded some stuff for me. Yeah, we just hung out and it was really beautiful, man, really, really great. To be putting the finishing touches on this album and to be able to show it to him, it just really gave me this…He’s one of the people that when you’re around him, whatever’s great about you, he finds it right away and he spotlights it and makes you feel like a million bucks.

Those were the things that happened for me this year that were the biggest. The Day of Dignity, that was the concert I threw in the hood, the Rhymesayers European tour and hanging out with Cornel West. Those are the highlights of the year. Looking forward to 2012, my album with Jake One is so close to being done, very, very close to being done. Then, going on tour again, I feel like I have a lot of new energy. I felt like for a while, it was hard for me to reset and start a new chapter because I was running so constantly. To be able to come home and reevaluate things, I feel like I got new energy, new thoughts, new things to say and new ways to say it, new music. You know, I got this Jake One production and it’s unique and it’s a little bit of a shift from what we were doing with Ant. With Ant, we were going so much in the direction of live musicians-we still have some of that with Jake-but we were going so heavy in that direction, that to get back to Jake and to grow on texture and music, it just felt really good. I feel reenergized, rejuvenated. I feel like I’m starting over, new.

DX: It sounds like you’re rejuvenated.

Brother Ali: Yeah, I did the song with Immortal Technique and got a lot of love, that “Civil War” song with Chuck [D] and Immortal Technique. I would say that’s kind of a nice preview of what’s to come. The album that I’m making, I’ve been speaking to a lot of kids, working with kid sand trying to work more in the community and I got rejuvenated and a renewed love for my religion from going to Mecca and so the album I made is really…People call it political, I think it’s just social. It’s really that. That’s what it is. There’s some personal stuff there too but the focus is on being social and what the possibilities are. It’s interesting. I made this album before the Occupy movement kicked off but it’s so fitting. I wrote all of these songs last summer. I actually got an apartment in Seattle and just stayed in Seattle, hung out with Jake and wrote the whole album in probably like a month. It was right before all of that popped off and it’s such a beautiful thing to see. It’s a really a great time for this album I’m about to put out. Between the uprising around the world, all through North Africa, the Arab world, in Europe, in Greece, people are in the streets all over the place. We’ve got this thing in Minnesota now, where we’re taking some of the kids from Occupy Minnesota and going to the hood where African American families have been targeted by these subprime mortgages, these fucked up mortgage deals, because they know Black folks don’t have a history of home ownership. Because of housing discrimination and stuff, Black folks weren’t allowed to buy homes. So much of buying homes ahs to do with your family history. So much of buying homes has to do with family history. Home ownership is a family generational kind of thing. It’s kind of like college. If your parents owned a home, chances are you’re going to own a home. If your parents didn’t, chances are you won’t. With Black families coming out slavery and going through Jim Crow and all that stuff, they weren’t allowed to buy houses so these banks targeted Black families in particular because they knew that they could give them fucked up mortgages and that they didn’t have the kind of generational understanding of how home ownership works. So, so many black families have poured their money. These banks were kind of pimping the government that was helping these families buy homes. These banks were kind of pimping that system and these Black families were kind of left to dry, the victims of it. So, we’re taking the kids from Occupy Minnesota and camping out in these houses that they’re supposed to be foreclosing. They’re saying, “You take these houses over our dead bodies. You’re going to have to come arrest us, tase us, beat us, and then you’ll be on the news. Is that what you really want?” So, the police are leaving these houses alone. They don’t want to be on the news bashing our heads in. These are the kinds of things that I feel so excited about. We haven’t seen this much energy in the streets in a really long time. In our generation, we haven’t seen this, maybe not since Rodney King and the uprising there.

DX: What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned this year? What helped teach you that lesson/those lessons?

Brother Ali: I think overall, it’s a sense that this is a calling that I have. So much of my music has been personal and some of it has been social or political and what I realize more than anything is that no matter how many times you tell the truth, the truth is fresh. The truth never gets old. So, this may echo things that I’ve said before but they’re so much deeper now. I believe the life that I had, the childhood I had, the young adulthood that I had, the career that I have, the fans that I have, the struggles that I had, the triumphs that I’ve had, all of this stuff has been made to deeply engrain into my soul a love for oppressed people, a love for poor people, a love for justice, a deep passion for freedom, justice, equality and dignity. Then, also, it’s given me a voice and platform and a group of people that support what I do. They know that I am what I say I am. They know that I don’t do anything for attention. They know that I don’t do anything to exploit or use any of this stuff. They know that I’m genuine and serious and that my integrity is in tact. So, these two things together, my love for the dispossessed and silenced people and then also the support I’ve been able to build up, those two things have really highlighted for me that I have a calling. This is a calling for me. This is what I was born to do, to make this music but also speak truth, to speak my truth and do it in a way that’s courageous and loving at the same time. I’m not here to damn anybody or push anybody. I’m very inclusive. I’m speaking to the people that listen to me and inviting the people that don’t. That got very deep in me.

Then, you know, there’s a battle kind of going on in the Muslim world with Muslim rappers. They’re a small group but they’re very vocal and most of them don’t come from our culture. They’re not fans of our culture. They don’t appreciate the fact that we make this music and they’re trying to convince us that there’s something un-Islamic or wrong about it. They’ve convinced some of us and that’s unfortunate. There are rappers that are Muslim that they’ve bombarded so much that they’ve got these brothers thinking that there’s something wrong with them being Black and something wrong with them speaking their truth and expressing themselves culturally. That’s unfortunate but I don’t believe in that shit. Me being in Mecca, that was one of the main things in my heart while I was there. I said, “If something is wrong with what we’re doing, then let me know that. But, if it’s not, make me go harder than I’ve ever gone before and make every single thing that I do the best thing that I’ve ever done.” So, I came away with supreme focus, not feeling the criticism of anybody that wants to criticize anything and ready to be bold, be lovingly bold.

DX: What can we expect from you in 2012? What do you hope to accomplish in the new year (both personally and professionally)?

Brother Ali: Personally, on a personal side, I hope to just balance things better. In 2010, I was gone for a whole year and that’s not good. In 2011, I was home for the whole year and that’s not good either. I’m telling you, man, when I’m home, I get broke, like anybody else. Rhymesayers will never let me go under, so I’m blessed in that way. So, neither one of those is good. I want to have more of a balance, something that’s more sustainable. You know, still being active, still touring but not doing it in a way that it’s going to kill me or destroy my family or ostracize me from real life. Also, I want to have time at home but I don’t want to go on a sabbatical for a year like I did this year. That’s the personal side. On a professional side, I want to be very focused and very bold, like I said. I want to have a little more, um, I want to have a higher output and put more music out than I normally do. I want to work on a lot of projects that I’ve always wanted to do. Me and Free have always wanted to make an album so the fact that we started working has been great. Also, once I release this [solo] album, me and Jake are gonna have another 30 songs that are good. Some of them are great, you know? So, I don’t know if we’ll put something else out too but we’ve got a lot more music in the vault, just ready to go. I want to make more videos than I normally do. I want to be more active and just invite more people to be a part of what we’re doing.

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The Grouch & Eligh New Years Resolution

HipHopDX: Describe this last year for yourself (both professionally and personally). What thoughts stand out most for you? What has it all felt like for you?

Eligh: Oh, wow, dude. Well, 2011 was quite a year for me, man. A lot of musical ups and personal…I wouldn’t say downs but transformation. I came into this year doing a tour and started working with Amp [Live] on this Therapy At 3 album. What’s crazy is after that album was done, mixed and printed, ready to go, all the stuff I wrote about on that album, I literally started going through the shit. To make a long story short, I dealt with some terrible anxiety problems. For two months straight, I couldn’t even drive my car. I couldn’t go to the store. I’d never had these problems in my life. All this shit I was going through, I wrote about. So, through this tour, every day I’ve gotten better every day. I’m 95% better than where I was. No matter what else is going on in my life, I’m so grateful to be this much better. This year has been crazy and important for me. This album has been so well received, this tour has been awesome and the shit I’ve gone through has opened my eyes to life in a whole different way. I stopped smoking cigarettes and I took six years clean from everything else in October. I stopped drinking caffeine, too. My last two things were cigarettes and caffeine and I dropped them both so this was a very good year for me.

The Grouch: I started off the year with focusing on Heroes in the City of a Healing Nation with Zion I and we had a great run with that. Then, I went back to Maui [Hawaii], where I live and tried to just family life it up for as long as I could. I was knowing that I had to come back out in December for this tour. So, I had to think of something great and since I was working with Zion I already, we wanted to get one more push on that. Eligh was having his new album with Amp Live. Plus, whenever I’m with Zion I, people are like, “You should bring Eligh next time” and when I’m with Eligh, they’re like, “Where’s Zion I?” So, the Z&G&E just came to me so I was like, “Let’s push this.” Eligh and Amp’s record makes this fresh and then we got Evidence, man so I was super juiced. I was like, “Who’s gonna be the opener? Who’s record do I like in Hip Hop right now?” It’s Evidence. I never spent too much time with him but this was a perfect opportunity. I met him a dozen times over the years and we’d see each other in passing but I feel real good about selecting him. We had a great time on tour.

DX: What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned this year? What helped teach you that lesson/those lessons?

Eligh: My greatest lesson honestly, and I’m not a religious person, I am a spiritual person, I believe in God, whatever that may be, but my greatest lesson was that I am always protected. I really have nothing to fear if I let God in to take full control of my body and my spirit and my mind. I’m always protected, I’m always good and I have nothing to fear. Really, it’s been about conquering fear this year for me. Also, that I don’t need anything in my body to enhance me or help me get through. If I’m tired or whatever, all I need is God. What taught me is that anxiety. It’s paralyzing, dude. I can’t describe how terrible a feeling it is, to be so anxious that you can’t eat, don’t want to leave the house. It’s like you’re in jail in your body and it’s really a psychological thing after awhile. To let go and know that God has my back, so to speak, to walk through that fear? That’s what brought me to this. Then, getting on this tour and enjoying myself so much on stage…That’s what brought it to me.

The Grouch: I learned to just value people. The music is fun and it’s great and it generates livelihood and it’s what I loved as a kid but to love the people that are around me. The older I get the more I appreciate everyone, from the fans to the family, to the friends, the artists around me, the crew around me, it’s the most important thing to me. I don’t like to be on the road with people who are sketchy or who don’t have their stuff together. I like solid, good-hearted, well-rounded people and I’ve just been blessed to be around great people this year. I have so much appreciation for folks. It’s the state of the world that taught me that. There’s so much violence and negativity that gets pumped to us all the time. I go placed and see great people everywhere I go and I’m like, “Why isn’t this being reported on? Why isn’t this being talked about? Why aren’t people pushing love at all? Even stuff a lot of magazines write about, they want to write about gritty ass rappers and the ones that have fucked up problems and all that kind of stuff. I’m like, “Man, there’s a whole bunch of regular nice people out there.” There’s that and then there’s this Occupy movement that just happened. People are tired of getting fucked with. You know? I’ve always been more of a blue-collar style rapper so I identify with the folks, with the movement.

DX: What can we expect from you in 2012? What do you hope to accomplish in the new year (both personally and professionally)?

Eligh: Musically, I have this urge to heal people through music somehow, mostly by expressing what I’ve gone through. So, I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff to talk about now, especially anxiety because so many people have chronic anxiety permanently for their whoel lives. I really have empathy for those people now. But, it’s also to have faith and always keep that connection, meditation, yoga, taking care of myself, the way I eat and being a lot healthier and maintaining a state of serenity, you know what I’m saying? Also, I want to continue to heal, better myself, get stronger and I have a lot of music to make. I’m filled up with it. My main thing is to keep on the path that I’m on and hopefully I could help a few people along the way.

The Grouch: Man, 2012 is a serious year. I just want to be vibrating on the highest level I could possibly be. First and foremost, I’m trying to get my family there and then spread whatever knowledge I have to continue to uplift people in any possible way that I can to get everybody ready for these intense times. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2012 and I don’t think it’s the end of the world, but I think it’s a good marking point for, “Shit’s kind of crazy, this is where I want to be. I want to be aware, awake, thinking smart and mankind the right decisions and I want the people around me to be right there as well. That’s what I’m pushing for.

Purchase Music by The Grouch & Eligh

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