Bumpy Knuckles Revisits "When The Angels Sing," Honoring 9/11 In Music
Exclusive: O.G. Freddie Foxxx spoke with DX this anniversary weekend about one of Hip Hop's earliest memorials to the 9/11 attacks. The emcee explains how he buried his own feelings in that song.
Ten years ago today, the United States of America was victim to 9/11 Terrorist Attacks. On that day, the world seemed to stop to mourn, to pray, to fear and to love.
Hip Hop has honored that day through a number of lyrics, verses and songs. One of the first came from an emcee, who to the culture, embodied fortitude under fire: Bumpy Knuckles (a/k/a Freddie Foxxx). Known to many for his fiery lyrics, Bump's albums are mortared with introspection and intimate songwriting. On his third album, 2003's The Konexion, Bumpy spoke about 9/11, as well as other troubling headlines in the news on a hopeful album cut, "When The Angels Sing."
Just three hours before the decade anniversary of 9/11, Bumpy Knuckles spoke about the song with HipHopDX. The lifelong New Yorker revealed that on the weekend before the remembrance milestone, he visited the city of one of the attacks. "I took the train, 'cause I wanted to take the train," said Bumpy, who has subsequently made songs inspired by and referencing issues such as Hurricane Katrina and the War In Iraq.
Bumpy Knuckles explains why music is a journey, and sometimes that journey backwards helps us understand things about ourselves and each other that we cannot easily find. The 25-year veteran of releasing records also recalls a very significant performance of the song, and some heartfelt feedback from his fans.
Bumpy Knuckles Explains Reacting To 9/11 With "When The Angels Sing"
HipHopDX: I know that "When The Angels Sing" is about a lot of things, not just 9/11. However, when it released in 2003, it was the first time I'd heard anything like that. For starters, as an artist with a lengthy career, are you the type of artist that often makes his art based on what you see on the television or read in the newspaper?
Bumpy Knuckles: Definitely, it's implemented. But it has to be a feeling. If I'm lookin' at a situation that's goin' on in the current events, it still has to feel that it's time to say [something]. That's why you didn't hear "When The Angels Sing" right away, 'cause I had to kinda digest that. My memories of the situation. Where I was. What I was doin'. The things that happened to me the first two to three hours of [9/11], all of that stuff had to be digested and incorporated into what I was tryin' to say on the [Konexion] album as a whole.
To me, the reason that I didn't make the whole [song] about 9/11 is because to me, 9/11 was the straw that broke the camel's back for me to do the song. I just had a bunch of stuff built up in me already anyways - anthrax, they don't even talk about that stuff no more. They had everybody scared to go to the post office. I honestly believe that fear is a controlling thing. If you can't control your fears then your fears will control you. When we hear "threat" or "warning," those of us who know the government know that they use it as a fear tactic to keep us under some sort of control - that's the consensus in the streets. There's always some sort of conspiracy for the government to control the little people. So when I said all those things, it's, "Listen, grab your guns and defend your neighborhoods. Bloods and Crips and everybody get together." 'Cause if it has to go down, we don't want to be beefin' with each other over a brick of cocaine or a pound of weed or who says a better rhyme than the other person. That's what I was trying to get across to the listener.
DX: Nine years later, what do the fans tell you about that record?
Bumpy Knuckles: A few people have mentioned to me that they thought it was heavy. One cat said to me, one time, that he listens to it because I think he may have lost somebody in the [World Trade] Towers. He said that song gives him strength because it breaks down a feeling that he doesn't know how to verbally express. The Enron [trials] and all that stuff that was going on at the time, he said that it all seemed so crooked to him, and then for this tower to fall is like he's caught between feeling like nobody cares and [the loss of his brother]. There's firemen that got cancer from the [carcinogens in the debris] that can't get money, but they're spending money in promoting the anniversary. [He said] the song sparks that. I lot of people didn't hear it though, 'cause some people are looking for greatness in themselves to see it in others. I just like it's always relevant like "Happy Birthday To You." Since they want to celebrate the [10 year] anniversary, it only made my song even more relevant, even though I wish they wouldn't have celebrated the anniversary. It was more about givin' information to the people; I don't believe a lot of people heard it because they're brain-fucked by corporate America and they believe they've gotta hurry up and get a Bentley and try to get the girl with the biggest butt to get in they video. They ain't got time to listen to Bumpy Knuckles break down what he feels is a tragedy to us, as a people. "Fuck him, I wanna go get some pussy and smoke some weed."
DX: How do you look at the song today?
Bumpy Knuckles: Music has to take you somewhere. ["When The Angels Sing"] takes you back to a time when Chandra Levy was missing. We knew who the culprit was. Jonbenet Ramsey was missing. "Look deep into that family." I had to compare it. A lot of times when I say them "them" and "us," I don't mean Black and White. That's why I said, "To the White complexion / I'm glad to have you down with the Bumpy Knucks Konexion," because Hip Hop is a melting pot of all these nationalities, and because of the drums, we're connected. "Us" means the culture. The reality is, you've got people missing. You've got people drivin' they kids off a bridge into water and sayin', "Oh, a Black man did it." A chick runnin' through the park - a known newscaster, running through the park and says a Puerto Rican man raped her. You've got those things going on as well. I say these things so people don't forget. I put the [9/11] timeline in the song so we don't forget. Really [listen] to that timeline which things happen, so they'll have something to go back and reflect on. When they go back and reflect, they'll discover new things; the news [media] didn't break it down like that.
DX: Is that your voice, or recorded?
Bumpy Knuckles: That was something that I got. I was listening to a Gospel CD. It was a [popular] pastor, [Pastor G.E. Patterson], I think it is. He was breakin' down the timeline, and giving it a spiritual twist - I didn't [use] that part. But he was relating it, in a way that made a lot of sense. I thought the timeline was so relevant for people to hear.
DX: It's jarring.
Bumpy Knuckles: It really is. Then I put the music underneath it to give it the dynamic that it needed, to hit people in the chest. You need to feel it in your heart - if it scares you, if it relieves you, if it gives you knowledge. Whatever it makes you feel, it has to make you feel something. That song for me was a way for me to bury the emotion and let it go. Now when it I spit it [or hear it], I look at it as a body of work. It's not in me anymore, it's in the record. I only performed it on stage one time.
Bumpy Knuckles Explains Performing Sensitive Songs
DX: I was going to ask. What was that like?
Bumpy Knuckles: I was in Germany. I just wanted to close my show with that song. I don't know what made me do it, but I wanted to leave people with that. The audience was just standing there, staring at me. It was just a sea of people nodding their heads, arms folded - I almost thought they didn't like it. I like to be on stage by myself. I'm standin' on the stage, middle of the stage, I had just finished slam-dancin', and I was real tired. When I tell you I was tired, dude I was slam-dancin' for 10 minutes, rappin' one of my songs. I got back on stage and the song started. They had the smoke, it was dark...it was dope. I got it on video somewhere. DJ Ruckus was deejaying for me. When he played the record, I just laid on my back and spit that record on my back.
DX: You did the timeline?
Bumpy Knuckles: Yeah. I walked on the stage and the timeline played out.
That's underground Hip Hop shit, dog. That's the shit that I wanted to do since I was in sixth grade. I wanted to that right there - just take it to the backyard, turn on the beat, and rock. That's why I respect when artists get free on stage - taking their shoes off or whatever. You can't be on stage and not be free. When you spit a song like that, you have to put the same passion into it that you did when you recorded it. I was so tired. [Laughs]
DX: On "Lazy," you mentioned your pride as New Yorker. Certainly everybody feels differently and was a victim in some way. But as a New Yorker, how did 9/11 affect you differently?
Bumpy Knuckles: I was born here, been livin' here all my life. New York is like a separate planet. We never ever experienced that kind of thing. To hear a President say we're under-attack, it was an eye-opener. It made me not go into the city as much as I used to. All the tall buildings and stuff, it'll mess with you. I was in the city when they had the  blackout. I wish I would have been somewhere else; I was on that island of Manhattan. That shit was crazy, dude! When you say "New York," you don't think of Albany or Long Island, you think of New York City. Being a New Yorker, I represent that, always. The whole entire state of New York, [9/11] was an eye-opener. It was all very shocking, to see the images in The New York Times. To see people hoppin' outta that window because of that heat, that was crazy.
"When The Angels Sing" is available on The Konexion. Follow Bumpy Knuckles on Twitter (@BumpyKnuckles)