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Smif ‘N’ Wessun

Hip Hop Icon Series

card_smifnwessunAfter an impressive appearance on Black Moon’s “Enta Da Stage,” Smif N Wessun came through with Tim boots stomping to deliver their own classic in “Dah Shinin’.” The duo of Tek and Steele delivered ill street tales and straight talk with songs like “Bucktown” and introduced the next wave of boot camp representatives on “Cession At Da Doghillee” Changing their name to avoid a lawsuit, Tek N Steele took the name Cocoa Brovaz for their second album and got lost up in the mix. As boot camp lost steam so did Coco B’s although they maintained a steady following with white label releases and contributions to compilations. Finally away from Rawkus, which shelved their would be third album, the Bucktown heads are back with a new mixtape and other projects in the works.

Halftime: I can’t believe it’s been practically ten years since “Dah Shinin” dropped. Looking back, did you guys think you’d even be in the game this long?

Tek: When you think back then that’s when we didn’t even know nothing about the game. We was just having fun doing what we was doing. We was still in high school running around still in adolescent stages. We didn’t even know nothing about the music business itself. If you listen to “Dah Shinin” you don’t hear no background vocals on that album. No doubles, no adlibs, nothing, its just straight music. We didn’t even know what we were doing. We were just experimenting, having fun with what we loved to do in the lunchroom and on the block on the corners and in the hallways of the projects. Nobody was really thinking longevity to be truthful with you. Niggas just wanted to have a video to be on TV or to hear themselves on the radio while they doing what they do with whoever so they can be like yea that’s me right there. Nothing like oh I’m gonna put an album out and be in the game ten or twelve years. It was just have fun with it and make some music.

Steele: What was dope too was we just watched Buckshot do his thing. We probably went to every studio session with Buck.

(Steele’s attention is diverted for a second)

Steele: Fuck tha police coming straight from the underground.
Tek: I thought I heard mad sirens. I was like is these niggas behind me or what?
Steele: It’s hell up in
Harlem folks.
Tek: Where you at up top?
Steele: I’m on 32nd and Malcolm X.
Tek: I just came from 45th fucking with cuzo and them.
Steele: It’s on an poppin son. I’m getting the fuck off this joint. A nigga just turned down a one way on Malcolm X.

Anyway, like I was saying we watched Buckshot and Five do they album and for us that was a good experience. We sat and watched it as students. We went through there to support him but and I think both of us wanted to get on the album but we never pressed him like let us get on let us get on. When he finally called us it was the right time and that’s when we did “Black Smif N Wessun.” When we did that, it was tense. Niggas was like we get to spit 16s now.

Tek: That was that time. That was it. It was official now.

How long were you guys rhyming together before you put out the album?

Tek: We had like a little musical group, M.O.S.T, even before we had Smif N Wessun. That was something my PNC was doing with my other brother Chase. I was just like security holding shit down. We all used to go to school with Craig G, niggas from Onyx, we used to always see the god Rakim up at the high school so it was like we was born into this shit. This was our culture that’s why we say hip hop is a way of life. It’s not just something you wake up and participate in. This is what you’re born into. Basically from birth we been into that. As far as us being PNC that’s a lifelong thing, there’s no alpha or omega to that.

Steele: I think I was rhyming in junior high but I wasn’t thinking about being no rapper.

I had heard different versions that ya’ll met as kids or at a brawl on 125th.

Steele: We lived across town from each other and one of our PNCs who did a skit on “Dah Shinin,” Cook the big ole pimp, that’s one of our older brothers that introduced us. We kinda always been around each other plus we was banging in high school so it was like a big family. Us being the type of men we were we just slid off from everybody and did our thing. We found out how close we were living and we were together everyday. Not only in school, after school we was on the streets.

Tek: Then it was bugged we found out our parents knew each other and everything. That’s why we named the album “Dah Shinin.” Not even knowing what each other was doing but just bumping up with each other like I knew this was gonna happen. Or he’ll come walking through one train of the car and I’d come walking through the next train and we’d all just meet up. We was always the littlest niggas out of the crew so we used to have to fuck niggas up daily. That was the fun part about it always being the underdog. Knocking a nigga’s teeth out, giving niggas stitches and shit, that was a fun thing.

What brought ya’ll together with Tupac?

Tek: Well you know the saying real recognize real. When Pac first came to NY, he was doing the club scene heavy. Niggas was doing they club thing but we didn’t put a face with the name. Then he happened to go through his lil bullshit and got locked up and niggas made a comment to him like ‘keep ya head up and stay strong thug life for life.’ Outlawz is PNC. When he touched ground, he hollered at the god and from there it was family.

What was the experience like working with him?

Tek: Ahh it was real. I think that broadened my work ethic as an emcee period. As an individual just being around him, I had the god stop smoking cigarettes on some personal shit. He was a Gemini like I’m a Gemini so we just clicked up right there. We in the studio and you doing like three or four songs whereas before that a nigga was going in there doing like one freestyle not even a whole song. You figure you’re wasting thousands of dollars to do nothing when you could be taking care of B.I. Niggas just really sat down and became focused right there and that just helped us better ourselves as an emcee and as a person.

What was the wildest incident you can recall being with Pac?

Tek: It’s a couple but the one that really stands out was when we was coming from a movie set. He was filming a joint and he’d tell niggas to come through. We just happened to pull into a gas station and it was like on some Menace II Society like I know this ain’t no setup type shit. It’s like everything just stopped and he was like ‘What the fuck? Ya’ll niggas know who I am right now? You know niggas out to kill me blahzay blah’ He was like get the fuck up outta here and it was just so ill. It was funny and real at the same time. Niggas laugh at the stupidest things that be serious but it be funny. That’s one occasion.

Steele: A lot of people don’t realize that with Pac it wasn’t all work. When we went out there as soon as we landed he had his film guy, this kid named Goldie, meet us at the airport. He was making a film at the time. His thing was instead of doing a video he was gonna do a collection of videos.

Tek: That’s why you see a glimpse of Smif n Wessun in everything that come out.

Steele: What was dope for me was how he received us. This is in the midst of so-called east coast and west coast beef and we east coast niggas straight from the belly of Brooklyn. We go to Cali and we get out there and they had the limousine pick us up but we ain’t into all that limo shit. We don’t know what the vibe is gonna be but as soon as we pull up to the studio the first person we see is Snoop. Buck and Snoop seen each other and it was like they was old cousins. Then as soon as that happen we see Pac come out the studio with that infamous bop he got. It was like he was coming to greet his long lost friends. From day one when he seen us it was like a friendship. Instead of staying at a hotel, we stayed at his crib with his aunt and his moms. The Outlawz took us around when Pac wasn’t around. If we wasn’t in the studio we was building. One part that was funny when we were out there Buckshot was like yo Pac where the shorties at? Go call some shorties or something. So Pac got on the phone and tried to call up some chicks but he couldn’t get no chicks.

Haha

Steele: He was like I can’t get no bitches fucking with ya’ll. We really were just sitting in the crib. The nigga had the old big ass laserdisc and we was like put that Scarface shit on and he was like nah I don’t know how to work that shit. He was such a person. From a distance, you would think that he’s this guy you can’t sit next to or talk to and be real with but it was totally the opposite. We really had a connection. Like my PNC was talking about when he came from the movie shoot we were just getting up in the morning. So normally we get up in the morning and we do our push ups, so we doing our reps and Buckshot’s brother Thor is cooking breakfast for an army, flapjacks, eggs and all kinds of crazy shit. Pac comes in the crib with his white tuxedo shirt and his white hush puppies on and he’s like ‘Yeah!’ He see niggas doing push ups and he gets crazy amped drops down and starts doing push ups with us. It was some real shit, even seeing him and Tek when Thor yell breakfast is ready. Them niggas run down the stairs like two mischievous kids, go in the kitchen and get they shit first and put hot sauce on they turkey bacon. They was eating the same. We was all eating together. That right there was wild because you’re in that and a lot of times when you’re going through some shit you don’t really understand the intensity of what you’re dealing with until after the fact. So watching Pac, Tek, and Buckshot getting the super soakers and having a water fight it wasn’t the video scene. There were no video hoes but there was a lot of weed in the studio though. You know how we like to keep it a lot of weed, a lot of Hennessey and Thug Passion going on except for the last day.

This last day might have been the wildest shit. Up until this day, everything was cool. Suge was calling Pac all day and all day Pac had a sullen ass vibe. Every time he would get on the phone with this dude, he would put his head down, talk low and when he get off the phone with him he was somewhere else. At that point, we couldn’t really speak to him because we didn’t know what was going on. He’s like this motherfucker Suge is having a party in Vegas. I think it was a party for Pac because his birthday was coming up soon. Suge was having a party for him in Vegas and Pac didn’t want to go. He knew he had to go. Long-short, he kept getting on the phone back and forth and finally Suge sent some tickets. So the whole time we quiet and we heading to the airport to go to Vegas. He gets his ticket and he’s on a different plane than us. It was him and two other people on one plane and it was like five of us on another plane. We in the airport and he’s looking at these tickets and he’s like I told this nigga! Then he was just like fuck it. He took them tickets and threw them shits on the floor, BONG!, and we broke out from the airport. After we broke out, we went to the studio cuz we was like let’s take this vibe and turn it around. So we went to the studio and that was the hardest song we did while we were out there. It was so uncomfortable. He had a vibe like he did something that he was gonna have to answer to later on. I felt like I wanted to stay out there with him because he just rode for me and my team real hard right there. Plane tickets is a lot of money and you got eight motherfuckers flying out and to be just like I’m not going that’s kinda gangsta. We were working on a song called “I Never Call You Bitch Again.” Buckshot was in there, he was taking long to do his verse, and Pac was like c’mon man it shouldn’t take you this long. He was crazy different. Other than that, the overall vibe was he was a brother we ain’t seen in a long time. A lot of people ask us when those songs are coming out and I think that was just a spiritual encounter for us to grow off of and pass it on to other comrades. That’s where Buck got his name B.D.I. Thug. Pac was the first to call him that.

Speaking of different names when I look back it sucks that you guys had to drop the name Smif n Wessun because forever that’s how I’m gonna remember you. I had heard you guys were trying to license the name, is there still a possibility for that?

Steele: For the record right now because we ain’t signed to no labels and shit like that we running with that name. We figure it’s like this, catch us if you can. The problem with it before was we were going through problems with Nervous. We were going up to the label about getting some bread and these motherfuckers showed us this transcript on how these niggas were gonna try and sue us. We knew at that time we was basically in that shit by ourselves. They wasn’t gonna help us fight. If they would have helped us fight, we probably wouldn’t have won it but we felt enemies coming from different sides. We already had the name Cocoa Brovas cuz we was the niggas who supplied Black Moon with the weed. We were just like fuck it, [and went with that] instead of going with Steele and Tek because we always said we not gonna sign to no label under those names because once we do that that’s giving them everything that we have. So we flipped it with the Cocoa Brovaz shit and rocked under that. I think really in our hearts we were never comfortable with that and that kinda messed us up with consumers. There was confusion, marketing had to be different, the whole approach was crazy. We took it out as far as we can take it and we realized we Smif n Wessun. That’s it. If they want to sue us, sue us. But right now we got a CD about to come out next week. We did like thirty songs when we was with Rawkus. Them motherfuckers was looking for singles, they were trying to make us do songs with Jah Rule.

Haha!

Steele: We was like yo ya’ll motherfuckers is crazy. For two years we have been trying to get off of that label because we found out them dudes really wasn’t the ones we need to be fucking with. The best guys we got on our team is us. These cats write the checks and all that but their state of mind is not really conducive to what we need to be doing. When we first came in the game, we were unaware of dealing with the ins and outs of the business so it allowed us to create freely from our hearts and our minds from the true experience we just finished going through. So now, when you see the next CD it will be Smif N Wessun, when the album come out you’ll see Smif N Wess. Politically we might drop the UN but we gonna do it both ways and fuck with they head. We not gonna allow them no chance to put they hands on us. We just gonna rock with it.

So the mix CD is gonna be all of the joints from the Rawkus project?

Tek: It’s not really all of them. It’s a nice handful, a couple of freestyles and a couple of lost songs niggas did that heads couldn’t get they hands on. It’s some shit up there.

Do you think if you guys were able to rock with the name that your second album would have been more successful than the first?

Tek: I think so. Just the name alone shied a lot of people away from buying the album. That confused consumers more than Smif N Wessun the name itself. They like who is Cocoa Brovaz? I’m not familiar with this. To this day when you find a lot of people who bought the Cocoa Brovaz album they like that’s a hot ass album. Not saying that because we did it but there’s some shit up on that album. But yea with the name Smif n Wessun it would have did much better than what it did.

(Tek’s attention is diverted for a second)

Voice in background: You like that?
Tek: That ain’t what I was looking for but I’ll fuck with it.
Voice: What you want to give me? That’s the only time I could find good man.
Tek: What happened to the round shit man?
Voice: Which one?
Tek: I wanted a big face round shit, something like this?
Tek: Hello?
Marcus: Yea we was just letting you do your thing. We thought you was buying weed or something.
Tek: Haha Nah, I’m buying a watch from my nigga I can hear ya’ll.

So what’s your passion other than hiphop?

Tek: It’s some of everything. I like driving fast cars, fucking around with pretty, big tittied women, being with my son, and being with my niggas. That’s it. It ain’t too much other than that. I don’t do much man.

Steele: We from the hood so you experience everything we played sports, did a little bit of graffiti. Me personally I just love everything about music. Being able to create music is another level of power. That’s a god given thing that you have to be able to cherish and nurture. The other thing is just watching life grow.

What artists out are you really feeling?

Steele: I’ve always been checking for who’s out. I never been one of them cat’s like I ain’t feeling him or him. I like cats that’s out. It’s a lot of different artists that’s doing they thing. Then you have the new ones that have one song and one video and the next thing you know they on the cover of XXL. That shit makes me tight or you see Biggie on the cover of XXL. It’s like what the fuck ya’ll don’t have nothing else to report on right now? Most of these publications are like when you watch cable and every other month they got a special on JFK. They keep your mind focusing on the unknown and the shit you can’t change. When you get the people in that zone they’ll never be aware of the accomplishments of right now. I’m fucking with Dead Prez hard right now. There’s a lot of cats doing they thing right now. I try to take everything and see how it affects me.

How did you run into Buck and all them cats and start building?

Tek: Well, me and Buckshot’s sister went to night school together. I never knew Buckshot was her brother but then Buck and Steele hooked up before that and since we was all running together we got introduced. They was doing they thing and we was doing our thing and he was like if I ever happen to get on I’ma make sure I got ya. We running around acting wild and we was like whoever do it first it’s they responsibility to put the next one on they back to bring them in. That’s how the groups O.G.C. and Heltah Skeltah came along because everything was a piggy back off of something. Once you do it I’m gonna set it up where you can come in and do what you do. We all met through the streets.

Steele: Once they heard us on the album, they was open to work with us anyway. What’s real is when we did the songs on the album bitch ass motherfucking Michael Weiss and Sam Weiss told Black Moon they couldn’t put the song on the album because we wasn’t signed. Mike Weiss he’s stupid. He ain’t know we coming from nothing, so we like what’s cracking sign us then. But at the same time we felt he was trying to put that muscle out so it’s like you don’t even know we want to be signed anyway. We know it ain’t a perfect situation but we ready to go through this. We in the streets, in courts and in jails it ain’t nowhere for us to go but up. Then when we did our album and we put O.G.C. on there Mike Weiss tried to do that shit again and it backfired on his ass. We like that shit ain’t going down patna. You ain’t signing these cats and you ain’t telling us we not putting it on the album, you crazy I’ll fuck you up and that’s how it went down. As you can see, none of them signed and shit was still on the album. First of all D-O-G is my brother, so it ain’t no way you can tell me I can’t feed my brother. I’m putting him on and I’m giving him some bread, and the same thing with the rest of my camp. The game we in is funky.

I remember watching Bucktown on RapCity and Video Music Box shit was so ill.

Steele: Look at the shit they show now. There’s no diversity. When’s the last time you seen a Talib Kweli video. You can’t even see a Dead Prez video. They got a video out called “Hell Yea” that nobody will play. What’s so real about hiphop is, just like the sixties, when people across the nation see the racism in rap for lack of a better term they start to react. They are like they not gonna show the video? Why not? And we have a wonderful thing now called the internet and you can go on the internet and hear about the video. That actually empowers the artist. RapCity, we grew up with Tigger and its nothing but love to this day but they have become so entrenched in the power structure that they can’t do nothing. They like the program director says this or I can’t play this but I got the next one or a whole bunch of other shit. The program director from BET, who is a cool cat, on the last Black Moon video he told Dru we can’t play your video. He’s like I love Black Moon, I grew up on this shit but he’s like we going into a different direction and said we trying to show different type of videos. He basically not taking the blame for not playing it and he not standing up like play this video. Now dudes is so comfortable with they job right now they look at us like ya’ll just need to make the right song…

<something is going on in the background>

Steele to person in background: That’s why I told you to bring the fucking camera we have to have that shit with us at all times.
Steele: Right now, I’m watching the police rough this nigga up. Police are slamming him up against some shit. While I’m standing on the corner they searching up mad niggas. They just threw dude in the car. It’s right on Martin Luther King.

As artists, we start to get compromised. Like with Rawkus the most underground label of this day talking about putting Smif N Wessun with Jah Rule.

We did an interview with Kool G. Rap and he was saying they was trying to get him to work out so he could take pictures with his shirt off and how he wasn’t sexy enough.

Tek: <laughing>

Like I told Buck when Bootcamp came out ya’ll brought the real shit. You can wear ya fatigues, your nappy hair, and your tims. It made people want to intentionally do that. A whole other revolution came out of that.

Steele: That’s right. It’s funny that you say that because at one point some of us in the Boot Camp started to look at that as a bad thing. As we started going to different places we started getting turned away. We wasn’t the flossy cats. We was always deep. In the beginning we did what we did and they had no choice but to respect us. The things we was coming with was how we were living. We were speaking for the poor people. We wasn’t on some fuck money we were trying to get bread but we was on some family. That’s what I appreciate about fans. The fans ain’t fans they’re family. They took the conversation just how it was supposed to be taken. Then it took us to another place because we felt the industry was trying to separate us from the people. Then it kinda got funky with everything when I think about Buckshot having to make a song like “I Got Ya Opin.” That was a remix was designed for him to get some type of love on the radio. It was crazy because we were getting little spurts of love but then we started getting familiar with DDS spins, Billboard magazine and charting here and there. Then we would start seeing how labels were treating us due to the charts. They wanted charts. We were charting in the beginning because the time was good for it but as we started going along we became those camouflage timberland boot guys. It almost made cats look at us like we the bummy cats out of the crew. I don’t know I think it got kinda funny for all of us in the Boot Camp. A lot of people ask what really happened but that was a little strange time for us because we felt what we were doing was right and we couldn’t understand why we got treated like crazy.

So how long you think you’ll guys stay in the game?

Steele: I think that we got a couple more years as far as recording artists. We gonna do this Smif N Wessun album and we gonna retire Cocoa Brovaz on this album. We have solo projects we want to work on. Every artist should try to expand what they do. Tek has some shit he’s been working on for the longest and I got a couple things I’m working on. I started a company and Tek started a company.

Tek: Our main focus is the Smif N Wessun joint but I got a little joint in the works called El-Amin the Don. El-Amin being my Muslim name since I converted and everything. El-Amin the Don, “I Am The Hood And The Hood Is Me.” Basically everything is gonna be what it is. There ain’t no surprises with what I’m gonna be talking about. It’s gonna be straight real talk to my people.

Steele: My company is called Bucktown USA and I’m doing cinematography. I got a partner who taught me a lot of cinematography. We got a show on public access right now called Bucktown TV. For the first thirteen shows we’re interviewing up and coming artists from Brooklyn, entrepreneurs, activists and just putting that through. We also produced and directed the new DVD for Black Moon called “Behind the Moon” that’s coming out in about two weeks. Also the Smif n Wessun CD we putting out is being done through Bucktown USA. We also deal with artists. Our responsibility expands and we just assume it. We try to help and give them a chance the same way Buckshot gave us a chance. We just gonna grow with the game. It’s nothing to let these young cats come on and get some shine. I’m gonna write. We also working on books. We putting together a book which is basically a book of lyrics. We didn’t come up with a title yet but we gonna put out a book of lyrics of “Dah Shinin,” “Rude Awakening,” and some of the other stuff we did. It’s a lot of different things we got going on but the companies are growing and expanding. Right now I’m working on a project with this book writer, Kevin Powell. He hired Bucktown USA to produce and direct his documentary. He’s doing a documentary on the state of black men in America. He’s going to thirteen different cities to do forums and the day after he has workshops where he has professional men and women speak to the brothers to get them to stand up on their good foot and get it cracking. It’s great that we meet up with these cats and create a bridge. The logo for Bucktown USA is the bridge. We want to be that bridge for someone who wants to get somewhere to that place they are trying to go. We do more of that then rhyming. Rhyming has brought us closer to who we truly are. We activists for the hood. So when we speak and rhyme it’s not like we just busting raps. We having a conversation with the people and we trying to instill in them to do a positive thing for ourselves. At the same time link up with your PNCs, know who your family is and click with them. That’s where the click click click in the night comes from. We have to watch ourselves on the block at night because that’s when the vultures come out.

Just like I told you a brother just got smashed up against the cars but what was so real was just as he’s getting smashed up there was a brother watching it go down as we was watching it and he asked what he do? And we was like nothing he was probably selling cigarettes or some shit. He was like the reason why I’m asking is because I’m a D.A. So through trials and tribulations we link up with people in our community who have power and from that we gotta create a bond. That’s what’s gonna keep us thriving in this industry. We riding for the hood. The rap game is funny because they are following the images they are given but the images are being dictated by the industry and the corporations that think if they put out a certain image kids will spend their dough. The image now is if you want to be a good rapper you have to have been shot at least once or been stabbed. You had to be locked up or go through some type of shit.

That’s what’s killing me with Shyne. Dude’s in jail and they give him his own label. How does that work?

Steele: That’s crazy. White America profits off of a black man’s destruction. If it bleeds it leads. People don’t want to hear about no good stories. They want to hear the dirt. They want to know who got beef with who or who screwing who or how much money son really got, or oh he got a pool etc. Pac had all that shit but it wasn’t no party. And when he died they took his crib and his furniture because all the furniture was leased. As soon as he died there were people in his pockets heavy. They was coming after his shit and it was said when he passed he didn’t have no bread. Imagine that.

The Bullets (stupid questions we ask anyway)

Say you got caught with some weed on you or cocoa or whatever, you doing ya thing who would you use for your representation Condoleezza Rice or Martha Stewart?

Tek: Condoleezza, that bitch was a thoroughbred on the stand. That’s my bitch right there. Condoleezza all the way baby. Fuck Martha she might get me community service. With Condoleezza I know I’m getting off clean.

Steele: I need a good liar. Condalinga could rep me.

Which one would you kiss?

Tek: I definitely have to go with the sister cuz white bitches don’t turn me on. I don’t give a fuck white bitches with asses and bodies I just can’t do the snowflake thing. I have to keep it genetically right.

Say you getting ready to go somewhere with your girl but you need a babysitter and the only people available are Prince and Rasheed Wallace. Which one would you pick to watch your kid?

Tek: <Laughing>

Steele: Rasheed, he could do the damn thing. He got toys and shit.

Tek: Damn, my nigga Rasheed! I gotta go with the god Rasheed. He gets temperamental like me at times. It would be just like daddy is home.

What’s the most memorable gift anyone has ever given you?

Tek: Oh gosh, I had some bomb ass head. But let’s see family is a beautiful thing so I’m gonna have to say the love from my family.

Steele: I got some dope shit. When we was out there with Pac we went to this Aids benefit party and there were nothing but movies stars there. At the end of the night they were giving out these Adida bags and they wouldn’t give us no bags. They seen Pac and they was like here’s a bag and I’m like I need a bag and they like get outta here we don’t know you. So Pac snatched the shit and gave it to me. It was a bunch of different shit in the bag, CDs, t-shirts etc. Pac had a t-shirt and a lighter and I’m like they didn’t give me no shirt and no lighter so he gave me his shit. I got a shirt and a lighter from Tupac that was dope. It’s between that and this cat, who knows a friend of mine, painted a portrait of me. That’s hanging on the wall.

Last question, who’s ass do you want to beat right now in the music business?

Tek: I got a shit list. My shit is too numerous to name.

Steele: I’m going after CEOs and after the CEOs I’m gonna line up all the DJs and smack the shit out of them.

Tek: That’s all I want to do is baby powder slap a couple motherfuckers. When you start hearing niggas talking about that nigga fucked me up you gonna know who their talking about. You probably heard some shit already like he snatched my chain. I didn’t want that nigga’s chain I just wanted to holla at him. I’m gonna fuck somebody up this summer.

Magazine:HalftimeOnline
Date: June 10, 2004