Issue 54 (2003)
“I used to only like our music when I was high speed dubbing it because it sounded like more of a real delivery,” jokes Nick Fury, the younger of the two emcees that form the L.A. based crew, Lexicon. “I think it was the point when I could listen to it at regular speed that made me think maybe we got something.”
Nick Black (Nick Fury) and his older brother Gideon (Big Oak) have come a long way since those days of trying to perfect their flows. Growing up in the same household enabled them to build a bond so strong it is almost impossible to ignore. Whether you are hearing them on record or speaking to them in person, you can tell they have a natural chemistry. With that said they still have their disagreements like any normal pair of siblings, but when it’s all said and done they always seem to find a middle ground.
“We have a ton in common and we’re super close because we grew up real tight together, but we still have that older brother younger brother [type of relationship],” Nick insists. “We have a lot of differences like I’ll have crazy stupid, idiotic ideas and he is kinda like a grounding force saying no not a fucking prayer. Then sometimes I’ll provoke him to try something different and I’ll kinda bring that. We’re really different to the point where we have completely different ideas, but we are so close and in tuned with each other that we can build it to a healthy medium. [When] we write a track we’ll vibe off a beat and I’ll come to Oak and I’ll say I’m getting this from the beat, maybe we should do a song with this type of energy to it and then he’ll take that and come up with a hook. So we both throw in our shit so at the end it’s both of our creations.”
“I know that it’s working because [whether it’s] writing a song, recording a song or making an album we leave completely satisfied and happy with the final product and that has to say something,” adds Oak. “We argue and we don’t agree [sometimes], but there is always something that will click every time we write a song where either me or Nick will be like that’s it right there and then its smooth sailing after that.”
The Black brothers started working on their craft in the early 90’s in Santa Barbara where Oak and Nick were going to college and high school respectively. KCSB, the radio station at Oak’s school, was home to cats like Lootpack, Declaime, Oh No, and a host of other emcees which included Lexicon’s first affiliation, The Library Crew. With so many emcees in the area, Santa Barbara was a competitive hiphop hotbed. The scene bred competition and with a lot of freestyling and battling going on it was a perfect forum for up and coming emcees to display their skills.
“I remember back in the day it felt like it became serious when we’d write stuff or make shitty little tapes it was always about we gotta impress them,” remembers Big Oak. “I remember feeling this pressure all the time that we have to come with the dopest verse ever. I think it was [also] that feeling that we need to perform. After we accomplished that mission it helped us become more and more serious [about hiphop as a career].”
In ‘97, The Library released a five song EP, but it was evident that not everyone in the crew had the same hunger. The Nick and Oak saw hiphop as their future and wanted to pursue music full time. It was that mission and drive and a shift in their musical focus that led them to distance themselves from their former crew.
“After we grew up a little bit and felt more comfortable allowing our musical influences come out in our music we kinda disassociated from [The Library and] a lot of the underground,” Nick admits. “I want the whole world to hear our music. We want to have hooks and we don’t want 80 bar verses talking about how lyrical we are. I think by default feeling more comfortably with who we were we kinda disassociated from The Library and then from the next group we were hanging with.”
Once the Lexicon two branched out on their own, they got a chance to put out their first 12,” “Reference Materials b/w Two 12-Bars.” It was only a small taste of what was to come, but at the time they were happy enough just to have vinyl they could hang on the wall. In retrospect, it was a good experience, but they both insist that the release may have been premature and that they could have refined their style a little more before putting it out.
“I don’t remember if we thought it was amazing or just dope enough, but we could put it out,” Oak honestly states. “We were on this label in ‘98 and they had just put out LMNO. We were vibing on the same lines and it was like all right we can really do this and we were inspired. I think we only pressed up 500-600 copies, but it did cool we got some scattered college radio play. But we listen to it now and our deliveries have improved so much, our outlook has improved so much and the production we’re working with is so much better. So when we look back on it, it feels like one of those releases that was thrown into that glutton of releases when everyone felt they could put out a 12” in the late 90s. I’m glad we had it [though]. It definitely got our name out, but in general I feel people (us included) can have more quality control involved in their on music.”
The single garnered exposure for the group, leading to a 9-song EP (Antiquity) and their debut album, “It’s The L.” With each release, they grew further and further from what they consider the underground stereotypes, to the point now where they feel that most of their fan base is not from the independent scene.
“I don’t think the underground scene in LA as a whole doesn’t even love us that much,” Oak suggests. “You go to these underground shows and they stare at you with their mouths open and either their retarded or they have no interest in your music. Then by the end of the show they all come up to you saying that’s the dopest show I ever seen. It just baffles me.”
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum when they perform for fans of other genres, they get a much more animated response. At one point, they had a residency in the Viper Room, a rock club in La, where they played in front of packed crowds of fans who really connected with the music. One such fan liked them so much he wanted to get an L tattoo on his arm. Its kids like that Lexicon really appreciates. They can relate to them because rock also plays a big influence in their lives. It is something they try to incorporate into much of their music, none more evident than on the new album, “Youth is Yours.”
“So much hiphop is just I’m this dope and don’t front on me,” quips Nick. “With “Youth is Yours” we really tried to capture moods, experiences and little snippets of life like how rock does. A lot of rock music is just about one moment and people love it because they can relate to that moment. So we’ll write a song about the mood you get [in] when you’re driving home at night or not knowing if your in there with a girl, something that hopefully people can relate too and that comes from how much rock we listen to.”
The sounds they used this time around were faster and bouncier to fit the mood they were going for. The result is a livelier album than “It’s the L.” The content is a little more entertaining and even sounds like they had more fun recording it and that’s something they hope the listeners can pick up on. “When you stop caring about a lot of shit it’s a lot easier to just relax and let your shit go,” explains Fury. “The last one was our first record, we were younger and nervous and now we’ve toured a little bit and gained more confidence. The first one seemed really pressured, [but] this one seemed like it was easy.”
The tracks on “Youth is Yours” do a good job of conveying the different emotions and experiences that Nick and Oak wanted to touch on during the course of the album. For instance on “Party Party People” they link up with Dizzy Dustin from Ugly Duckling to recreate a fun night of drinking at a Hollywood bar, while “Brokenhearted” takes a completely different course all together exploring the problems in one of Nick’s previous relationships.
“I was in a very traumatic relationship that was about four years long,” starts Nick, recounting the story that led to the song. “It was pretty intense and ended pretty intense and took a lot out of me. I was driving around at like three in the morning and I had just got into a vicious fight with her. I was just done with her, I was listening to beats and smoking a blunt, and then the hook just fucking came to me. We called that beat the hit beat [because] we knew that song had this power to it and I was listening to it and I was like its gotta be about this shit. It was the hook and the bridge and kinda that frustration that you bend over backwards and it’s just never enough. So it was like why don’t we just fuck and don’t worry about relationships. I was so hyped I called Oak’s voice mail and started singing the shit all loud [into the phone]. Then the next day we met up, talked about it and came up with exactly what we wanted to do with it. [We] wrote it in a couple days and laid it down. It didn’t quite have it, and then we added the female vocals and did a few more tweaks until we were perfectly happy with it.”
While each song explores different moods, the album has a consistent theme throughout. The concept comes from a lesson learned from the experiences of their grandfather, Paul Barry. Paul was a singer in the 30s and 40s, touring with the likes of Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra and appearing in movies with Mae West. He ended his career prematurely to become a family man and had a tough time living with the decision to quit music. His inability to continue enjoying life in spite of his choices is what “Youth is Yours” is all about.
“We got the title Youth is Yours from this drawing my mom had given her father (a picture a Greek looking character that’s on the cover of the album),” begins Oak. “On it [she] wrote, “To Dad, Youth is Yours” because he had stopped way short of his potential to settle down and have a family. My mom used to always tell us he lived his life frustrated because he knew there was more that he could have done. So me and Nick have an opportunity to do what he didn’t and that title Youth Is Yours just kinda summarizes the whole album. The vibe in itself is that it doesn’t matter where you’re at, you’re always your happiest when you’re young and there are not a lot of complications in your life. And even when you do [have responsibilities] you can still feel young and do things that make you feel like you’re a part of the world.”
Pick up the new album “Youth is Yours” in stores now