People often forget that before Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X became the revered leaders they are today, they were regular men from humble beginnings. Meaning that anyone with the drive and desire can pick up where they left off. Sadly, this is a concept that has slowly faded away over the years, especially in Hip-Hop music—a brand that resonated in the streets to speak for the people. Styliztik Jones and KB iMean, along with DJ Revolution, are on a mission to remind people that leaders are made, not born. Collectively known as Malcolm & Martin, their first order of business is to remind Hip-Hop fans that musical messages aren’t restricted to that obligatory “heal the world” track most albums seem to contain nowadays.
The Crew’s MZ sat down with KB, Slyliztik and DJ Revolution to discuss their new album Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, the motivations behind it and what they’re looking to get of being in the industry.
And a moment of silence for Malcolm Little a.k.a. Malcolm X a.k.a. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
Gone but never forgotten: May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965.
TSS: First off, congrats on the album dropping.
DJ Revolution: Thank you man.
TSS: Can I get you guys to introduce yourselves to everyone out there?
DJ Revolution: First off, DJ Revolution, L.A./Long Beach California.
KB iMean: It’s KB iMean, Malcolm & Martin reppin’ Queens, New York.
Styliztik Jones: I’m Styliztik Jones and I’m from Los Angeles, California.
TSS: Now how did you guys link up as a group? I see you’re all from different parts of the country.
KB iMean: I actually moved out here to L.A. and finished up my last few years of high school. That’s when I met Mr. Styliztik Jones as a kid coming up. But there was nothing really official as a group; we were just emcees who rolled around and were spittin’. We ended up getting a break, but I’ll let Styliztik take it from there.
Styliztik Jones: I met Rev at a taping of The Wake-Up Show; Tha Alkaholiks were up there for an interview. They were freestylin’ and I started freestylin’ with them. When I got out the booth, Rev showed interest in me and wanted to do some songs. Like KB said, we always rolled together, so during a lot of those sessions I’d take him with me. A friendship grew between us and we just decided on doing a project. At first we just wanted to do a mixtape with Rev, but he was like we should make it a whole album. A Malcolm & Martin album, it was pretty much history after that.
DJ Revolution: Lemme just add to that. They did want to do a mixtape called Malcolm & Martin, but I don’t think he expressed how strongly I suggested that we make this a project and an album. I felt it was too powerful of an idea and too powerful of a movement to sit as a mixtape. When there could be something else behind it; we could turn it into a message and turn it into a way to change the way people think about Hip-Hop. I kind of saw it the first time they mentioned it, I mean the style of music, because it isn’t an accident that it’s soulful and funky. It was discussed from the project’s beginning and I saw it in my mind as something more than a mixtape. So here we are with an album.
TSS: It seems like the mixtape is just something you do when you come out. But then nothing else becomes of it. So it’s a good thing you just went ahead with the album.
DJ Revolution: Let’s be honest: mixtapes are a dime a dozen. Especially since you can download them, nine out of ten mixtapes are forgettable. Maybe it has to do with the artist or maybe it has to do with the music, but I couldn’t stand to think that this was a forgettable project. That just didn’t cross my mind with these guys’ talent. It wasn’t an option.
TSS: So where did the name Malcolm & Martin come from? Is it just the name of the group or is it deeper than that?
KB iMean: I mean it’s the name of the group and just picking those two names, it comes from a place where we felt we had to pick names that are inspirational. People look at them as icons, but honestly, Malcolm and Martin are regular names. I got cousins named Malcolm and Martin. But the names hold so much weight behind them and we wanted to express to people that we’re just normal people like they were. They believed in something and they fought for it, so we didn’t try to disrespect them in anyway. We’re just bringing them more to the light and letting people know that there’s something out there greater for you.
TSS: Yeah, when you do that it kind and look at them as regular people then you can sort of think that we could do the same things they did?
KB iMean: Exactly. In the day that we have the first Black president, you can achieve whatever you want.
Styliztik Jones: There just has to be better standards you know? In Rap, the idols are all drug dealers and I think it got away from empowering the youth. It started making the rappers into things that are unattainable. Like the common kid from the street—although he may want to relate to that million dollar car, most of them will never own or let alone ride in one. So that’s something less attainable then to be a powerful and stand-up, respectable man. Those two names garner respect, opposed to the dude that has the big chain and et cetera. We can’t all be drug dealers.
TSS: Aight. Tell me a little bit about Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.
DJ Revolution: From my standpoint, it’s pretty much the culmination of our shared life experiences over the past five to six years. A lot of songs evolved, a lot of songs hit the floor never to come back and what you have in front of you are all Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. It’s real life. All of the things that KB and Styliz were just talking about: things that make you powerful, things that build character; both positive and negative. Your obstacles and just real life shit. The music behind it is inspired by that. When Malcolm & Martin were protesting and trying to change their communities, there was music motivating them. There was also music motivated by them. So there’s a lot of soul, it’s gritty, grimy, there’s hard drums, cutting, incredible lines and wordplay.
A lot of things have happened to us since we’ve started working on this. People have experienced major losses in their lives. We’ve had issues with each other, I’ve had a kid and all of those things played a part in making this album. And it sounds like it.
TSS: So is there any hidden meaning behind the title?
Styliztik Jones: The title is something that we can all say we believe in, because we aren’t afraid of life. But the title comes from a book written by Maya Angelou and illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat. I read it as a kid and one of my friends had it during the time KB and me were coming up with the whole Malcolm & Martin thing. The title Malcolm & Martin also came from something KB and me did on days when we were struggling to inspire each other. We’d call each other Malcolm or Martin, just joking and on a trip to San Diego, I found myself reading the book again. I was like this is a great name and it embodies us. It was kind of like a sign. The book just happened to be there, it fit and we ran with it.
TSS: Alright, I know the official lead single is “Movement Music” correct?
Malcolm & Martin: Correct
TSS: So what type of movement are you looking to start with your guys’ music?
DJ Revolution: Well, I’ll just say we’re not trying to start a movement. We’re just trying to continue the movement that was started by the people before us: Rappers, people from the ‘70s like James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and the list goes on and on. It goes back before that even; it goes back to the Blues. Intelligent music made by true musicians and artists. So we’re not really starting it, just keeping it going.
KB iMean: Yeah, I think we’re just a resurrection of music that started a long time ago. Music goes through evolution and we’re in a period that we felt we needed to evolve from. It’s time for a re-emergence of the music our fathers and grandfathers were taught. This is movement music: we’re not the only thing moving music, but we’re part of that sphere.
TSS: So who exactly are you aiming to, or think you can reach with this project? Are you going for more of the older crowd that grew up with stuff like Public Enemy or do you think you can reach out to the younger crowd? The ones who expect nothing more than something to dance to.
Styliztik Jones: Personally, I think we can reach the dude on the street, the ones who doesn’t listen to Talib Kweli or dead prez because they might be too political. We can reach the dudes who don’t listen to the “positive” rappers like Public Enemy or Boogie Down Productions from back in the day. We’re that bridge. It’s for the younger fans that only know the Top 100 acts on the radio, as well as the older cats that have disassociated themselves from the music of today. We’re just ‘80s babies, so we’re young ourselves.
We just had the honor of growing up listening to cats like the ‘Liks who know about Hip-Hop. So now we’re just putting our own twist on it. It’s also for those who want to play some Rap music around their kids. Our message isn’t shooting a bunch of people in our bars. It’s just good music that should appeal to a wide audience.
KB iMean: I just want to add one point. I call it BBQ music. Like when you go to a family reunion, there’s a spectrum of ages there. I feel like you can this at a family and let it roll without anyone having an issue with it. The older folks will groove to it, while the younger cats can pick up a message from it.