Issue 59 (2004)
Remember when Prince changed his name to those two squiggly lines and everybody was like what the hell is going on? Well, that’s what happened to Tek and Steele…. Okay maybe that’s not EXACTLY how it went down but work with me on this one. In 1995 we saw the second wave of troops emerge from the Boot Camp Clique as Smif -N- Wessun became synonymous with Bucktown, Tim boots stomping and ganja toking. Their debut, Dah Shinin, is heralded as a hiphop classic that takes you on a trip to the gritty Brooklyn streets introducing the likes of O.G.C. and Heltah Skeltah along the way. Fast forward a couple years later and the group gets a new deal, a new label, and a crisp new lawsuit courtesy of everyone’s favorite gun company over a little trademark infringement. They drop the name to avoid a suit, resurfacing under the moniker of Cocoa Brovaz, only to be met with more problems. Some fans thought Cocoa Brovaz was a different group, while others just didn’t vibe with the new name. Even though the music was still strong, something was missing. Within that name was the essence of the group and it was stripped away. Couple that with a lackluster marketing campaign and some bad press and you have a formidable crew forced into the background. Now after a two year bid on the Rawkus shelves they return, to restore their name and solidify the legacy of Smif N Wessun.
“For the record because we ain’t signed to no label right now we running with [Smif –N- Wessun],” Steele declares proudly. “When the album comes out we’ll go with Smif N Wess. We’re gonna retire Cocoa Brovaz. That’s one of the major things that had people fucked up. We already had that name because we were the niggas who supplied Black Moon with the weed. So we rocked with that but in our hearts we were never really comfortable with it.”
While Tek and Steele have put out several singles over the last few years, most notably the Mario Brothers sampled “Super Brooklyn,” much of their time was spent recording over thirty tracks for their unreleased Rawkus album ‘Still Shinin.’ Before the former underground label went under for real, they were trying to convince Smif N Wessun to do pop songs and collabs with Jah Rule in an effort to gain more radio play. Needless to say the crew didn’t agree with the direction the Rawkus was trying to take them and the album ended up getting put on the backburner.
“At the time they wanted everything to sound the same as what they had on their roster which was Pharaoh Monche, Talib and Mos Def,” explains Tek. “We can fit into any group but that’s not the [audience] we were catering our music to.”
“I think they wanted something commercial they could take to the radio,” adds Steele. “They spent a lot of bread on the acts before us and [tried] to use us to get that bread back because they were losing the radio spins. They were trying to watch what everyone else was doing.”
Finally free from the label after it’s collapse Smif N Wessun are now on some real Unsigned Hype shit dropping mixtapes to make paper while simultaneously building a buzz. They remain without a deal but not because of lack of interest. Plenty of companies have come knocking but the group plans to play the independent scene until the best offer comes along. “I don’t think we’re comfortable as a group to say this is the album I want to put out at this day and time,” admits Tek. “[Besides] everywhere you look it seems like indie is the way to go anyway. Why jump at the first deal offered when we know what we’re worth and they know what we’re worth but they want to play the cat and mouse game and throw peanuts to a nigga.”
Instead of signing another shady contract, they’ll continue to put the music out themselves. Their newest mix, “Still Shinin… The Mix CD,” is compiled from a good handful of clips from the unreleased Rawkus album along with some unheard original songs and freestyles mixed by DJ Revolution. “He’s a hiphop purist,” states Steele referring to Revolution. “When he hears us it’s an honor and it was an honor for us to hear that. We reached out and commissioned him and he laced it for us. It’s dope cuz it’s a mix CD but its not rhyming over beats produced by somebody else like most of these cats is doing. It’s our original shit that we’re leaking out there and we’re grabbing our balls because if Rawkus wanted to they could try and come do a bunch of shit.”
“Still Shinin” would have been the third and most revealing album from the Bucktown duo to date. Through tracks like “Family Portrait,” where Tek and Steele reminisce on their upbringing, lost family members and gang activity, you begin to see a more personal side of the group members and understand what made them into the men they are today. The album, in addition to the follow up solo projects, introduces you to the individuals, digging deeper into the differences between Tek and Steele. There is no breakup in sight but both want to show off what they each bring to the table. Steele has already dropped his solo mix CD entitled “Amerikkka’s Nightmare” which blends comedy and movie clips, homegrown production and numerous verses touching on the struggles of America’s impoverished citizens.
“I have a small studio where I practice and make beats,” begins Steele. “I did that shit in thirty days. I knew what the struggle was so the conversation came natural. It originally started as me just practicing and doing something for djs but I started to like what I was coming up with. Then I started digging even further and coming up with finding different skits. It was just a different aspect of my creativity. It is another side you haven’t seen. It’s a position I play. I’m known for being the preacher / revolutionary / good reverend. When you hear Tek’s CD he is gonna have different concepts. You’ll get to go into his world and go on a tour of where he’s been at and how he spends his days. Then you’re gonna be able to know the individuals a little bit more. So when you get the Smif N Wessun shit you’ll get to appreciate how they come together.”
Tek’s LP, tentatively titled “El Amin the Don,” will more than likely explore his family, life in the hood. The disc will also touch on the former golden gloves recent conversion to Islam. A move he felt was necessary that will become apparent in his music. “Right now I’m just a messenger for Allah, it would only be the truth of the light that I put that into my music,” reveals Tek. “I got brothers that are five per centers and my mom is a Christian minister so it was always a conflict. It was just about taking it upon myself to say this is what I believe in and this is how I think I should live my life. It’s been in the back of my mind for the longest period of time. It was just about taking it seriously and applying it to your life. Just the days I walk there’s people telling me they see a difference in me.”
The album is practically completed but no release date has been set. Although he has been given plenty of encouragement the former golden gloves amateur doesn’t see his solo as a priority “I’ve been hearing that [I should do a solo] for so long I’ve never been pressed to it,” says Tek. “I didn’t come out as a solo artist. I came out with my PNC (partner in crime) so that was my main focus. There’s a solo on the way but I’m not really pressed to do that. My family and my PNC come first before anything. As far as doing something of a dolo move that’ll basically be to generate more income and show certain differences. My solo album is not a major factor to me its just something I’d like to get off my chest.”
Aside from the solo projects the two are back working on the next Smif N Wessun project. “We’re in the studio as we speak,” confirms Steele. “We working on a nice closed circuit. We’re used to working with each other not A&R’s that don’t really know us. We’re mature enough to work with each other to make the vision come true. Right now we got about five new joints we did that we’re analyzing. After we get about ten we sit back and listen to it and see which direction we’re going. We’re taking our time right now. There’s no time limit on it. We’re just trying to get the momentum.”
In order to get the momentum they lost built back up they have a few more projects on the way. Tek’s CD will be available soon with a Smif N Wessun greatest hits mixtape set to follow. In addition, they are taking a page out of Pac’s book by shooting a short film instead of a video. A book of lyrics is also planned to coincide with other businesses they have developed giving them a solid foundation after they hang up the mic.
“In a couple of years I’m not trying to be rolling around on stage acting up,” vows Steele. “I’m trying to take it to another level and deal with a couple more zeros, fall back and take responsibility where we need it.”
One of the ways they will accomplish this is through Steele’s company, Bucktown USA, which is responsible for putting out the Still Shinin mix cd. Bucktown USA is a cinematography company / recording house that seeks to develop promising talent on the music side and contribute a creative avenue on the film side. Born out of an urge to give back and expand on their talents Bucktown USA is aiming to become a prominent force for Bootcamp and for the community as a whole.
“I want to be that bridge to put new cats on as well as coach some of the cats. We want to be a stronghold for Duckdown and for Bootcamp. I wasn’t saying I was gonna have a record company, it was more like a training camp. I was teaching artists how to make their own beats and engineer their own sessions and we grew like that. Cats who wanted lessons came through and we formed a unity on that front. With the cinematography, it was just a friend of mine and we just clicked. We shot a video and directed a DVD and it just showed me another side of creating through film.”
Bucktown USA is responsible for directing the newest Duckdown DVD “Behind the Moon” and the company has been contracted by notable writer Kevin Powell to produce and direct a documentary called “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight.” Powell will be hosting forums and workshops on the state of black men in America in thirteen cities across the country and Bucktown USA will be there to film it all. The company also has its own show on public access television called Bucktown TV where they interview up and coming artists from Brooklyn as well as activists and entrepreneurs from the community.
“What’s important is that all the shit that we’ve done and set forth don’t go vain,” expresses Steele. “Not only do we perform on stage we go to schools and speak to the kids or we might take a trip to a prison. We went to Riker’s island to speak to the youth and perform for free. We’ve been performing free in our neighborhood. That’s what we fortify. What I’m gonna do through Bucktown USA is document everything we do. Rhyming brought us closer to who we truly are. We’re activists for the hood. It’s important for me to let it be known that what we do is way more than fucking rap.”
Pick up Still Shinin the mix cd in stores now. For more info on Bucktown USA log onto www.bucktownusa.com