So, as I sat down with these humble young men, I started my questions with Joshua. I wondered why, of all the music that had been released, did he settle on this cut from Solange’s A Seat At The Table. “I don’t listen to a lot of people,” he explained. “This is one of the few albums I can listen to in its entirety. Honestly, it fed my soul.” Who could disagree with him? The Grammy Award winning artist took us on a journey with her album that was unapologetic in it’s love for self and culture. But now, we have Joshua along-side her professions. Starting his verse with a strong and relevant statement, “Black women, I love ya.” What seemed obvious to me had to be addressed. Why start with this? His response was simple,“I love black women. I think they are the greatest thing God put on earth.” I didn’t interrupt his appreciation, but had to add an “Amen.” Sitting in his black and white KLUB Monsta sweatshirt, he continued, “I felt like doing an ode to the black women who raised me… my mom, aunts, sisters, play sisters…” But he didn’t leave out black men. He explained that after having watched the documentary 13th, he felt inclined to add the line “you can lock up the body, but can’t shackle the spirit.” A line he describes as a reminder to those behind walls, that though they may be incarcerated, man can only lock up so much.
In a similar vein, Kel.’s now popular line from Dusty Rhodes 79 “Need cash money like Baby, but slim right”, is more than about financial stability. So I turned my attention to Kel. Ricks who was sitting on a much different sofa than that described in this old school reminiscent track. He explained that “it’s a metaphor on Cash Money [records], but it’s about stability. Being stable isn’t just financial, it’s mental as well.” Kel. went on to say that, though the lyrics may be interpreted different ways, the group doesn’t focus it’s music on trying to “razzle and dazzle people with shiny things”, but instead tries to be a source of motivation. With a history of creatively developed pictures using metaphorical lyrics, no one can argue that they accomplish that goal with no problems.
But apparently, secret songs are common for the group. Joshua explained that as a result of growth, they have a feeling of what to share with each other and what not to. Anything group related gets to be bounced around, but solo songs, not necessarily. Kel. feels that if he isn’t satisfied with the song, he doesn’t feel a need to share it with the group. But as we all anticipate a group album, we can rest assured that time and effort are going into the process.
So, sitting on the table in front of the laid back trio, I inquired what the process of this heavily anticipated album looks like? Pre-written verses brought into a creative collective space is the way it was explained to me. Sometimes those verses survive the process, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are met with creative ideas and adjustments. Maybe... just maybe, sometimes they are met with Joshua’s devil’s advocate approach that forces the group to evaluate just how good what they have created really is.
So many people love Canvas and it was well received in many places. So, there has to be some level of pressure. But how do they handle the pressure? Their responses...“I’ve always been myself. If they continue to accept me for me, the pressure goes away” J. Dotta explained. Joshua feels that the pressure comes from the growth of the brand. “When people support your, are pushing for you, and championing you, you want to put that same effort into growing the brand. … we want to put that energy into something they can be proud of”, he says.
So we wait. But I asked them to give us something. So, I asked of the plans for release of this new album. Based on a history of releasing music, the group can only hope to partake of solid marketing using the lessons learned throughout the years. J. Dotta says that as independent artists, “we say we will do a lot, but we don’t always do it.” Kel. agrees. “People give up on their project. They put it out and stop. They feel like if people don’t respond, it’s time to get back into the studio. But there are 3 million other people who have never heard it… it never gets old. You have to keep pushing it.”
Before we ended, I had to ask my signature question for indie artists based in Birmingham. Now standing against a wall of windows with the heart of Downtown Birmingham as a backdrop, I asked “what do you think of the music industry and hip-hop scene in the city?” J. Dotta thinks, like many, that there are a lot of dope artists. He mentioned that he likes that “they are taking their artistry to the next level. Like that G.I. video. He took it back to the old days. I love House Party. So to see him take it there, with dancers and everything, it was dope. But that’s what I mean. Everyone is trying to take it to the next level.” Joshua enjoys watching the scene develop for the newer and younger artists. “It’s great seeing them take what they want to do, their sound, and make it what they want on the scene. “ Kel. feels that the scene has grown. “People seem more involved. I never thought it would be that way a couple of years ago.”
Leaning on music as their therapy and each others as brothers, this Birmingham based collective is pushing themselves to continue after the dream. They lift each other up. They have grown their friendship into a brotherhood. As Kel. said with confidence and conviction, “you can’t give up on your brother.” Standing there with them, hearing them laugh at each other’s critique style about the other group members, I can’t help but smile at how some of the city’s most humble artists, are also some of the city’s most talented. Like the weather we soon had to face on the other side of glass we stood against, they are strong enough to make people pay attention, yet calm enough to enjoy.
If you're smart, you will keep up with this trio. Find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Be sure to also visit their website for additional info on upcoming releases.