X-Clan will be on tour as part of the Hip Hop Gods Classic TourFest Revue with Public Enemy, Wise Intelligent Of Poor Righteous Teachers, DJ Johnny Juice, Davy DMX, Awesome Dre, Schoolly D, Leaders Of The New School and Monie Love!!!
X-Clan hit the scene just as the 80s were coming to an end and the thirst for powerful messages and thought provoking Hip Hop was growing significantly. However, X-Clan didn’t simply follow the blueprint of that rising movement (and in many cases, trend). They clearly set themselves apart in the way they did things with the music, the message and their overall approach.
Musically, the crew was self-produced with all of the members (Brother J, Professor X, DJ Sugar Shaft, and Paradise) getting production credit. The crew pulled heavily from recognizable Funk and other Hip Hop staple samples and breaks, but the enlightening content, strong voice of Brother J, and the unforgettable charismatic and authoritative narratives from Professor X breathed new life into the familiar sounds.
X-Clan’s physical presence made a strong a statement of its own to compliment their music. The crew could be seen in traditional African gear and the colors of the Red, Black, and Green. This was strongly accessorized with beads, ankhs, and wooden staffs. X-Clan was also a group within a larger organization called the Blackwatch Movement, which was active in working in the community. In essence, they didn’t just rhyme about it, they reacted on their beliefs and sought to bring forth the changes they believed in. The Blackwatch Movement was also the umbrella organization that promoted solo albums by Professor X, plus projects by Unique and Dashan, Isis, and the criminally under-appreciated Queen Mother Rage album, “Vanglorious Law”.
In terms of content, X-Clan’s approach was based on the concept of Black Nationalism, bringing together the people, no matter their religion, in an effort to improve conditions. This was at a time when the most frequently heard voices in thought-provoking Hip Hop were coming from various sects of Islam, particularly the 5% Nation Of Islam. At the same time, there developing sub-genres such as Christian Rap, groups with ethnic specific target audiences and so-called Gangsta Rap, both which, in some degree, also spoke on issues of community, religion, culture, and faith.
Their debut album, “To The East, Blackwards” was easily among the most impactful and most influential Hip Hop records to spark off the 90s. The influence of X-Clan wasn’t only felt in the inner city and/or Black communities. Similar to Public Enemy, as well as Ice T and Poor Righteous Teachers, the bold and insightful statements of X-Clan had a profound effect on kids in the suburbs. This was further confirmed in the late 90s and early 00s when a new breed of Black and Non-Black artists were using Brother J’s lyrics as a sample source and reinterpreting Professor X’s classic quotes. X-Clan source material can be found in everything from Ice Cube to Buck 65, a wide scope of influence indeed.
On the album, Brother J speaks confidently and unapologetically on a variety of issues, challenging people outside of, as well as inside the Black Community. Particularly in the 90s X-Clan era, Brother J was among the few MCs that stayed focused on his thought provoking subject matter, while most other MCs that are considered conscious either strayed away to talk about partying, girls, fashion, sucker MCs, etc… An X-Clan song was virtually guaranteed to be discussing some sort of critical issue.
The album opens with “Funkin’ Lesson” and right away Brother J clearly defines his position on things, “Mortals label me as illogical…mythological/They couldn’t comprehend when I brought the word/A stick called verb, a black steel nerve/Teaching those actors and actresses who write a couple lines on what Black is/Really?? Then they label me a sin/When a Brother just speaks what’s within/I guess I’m blacker than a shadow on the darkest alley that they’re always scared to go in…” It’s so easy to focus on his points and overlook the subtle, but effective rhyme styles that he employs through out the album..
The slowed pace of “Grand Verbalizer, What Time Is It?” allows Brother J to flaunt more of his style, personality, and precise delivery, “…When will they realize the body needs head/It’s more than what’s said when a leader lies dead/Come into the darkness, path is light/Death meaning life as the Pharaohs take flight/Too much degrees for a silly pale thief/You can’t define what’s direct from the East!/god’s protect me, he selects me/God makes a path so the world respects me/Zero to Nine, Grand is creator/I pray for those on both sides of equator…”
Two of the songs best songs in terms of creative production and pure lyricism are “Tribal Jam” and “Verbs Of Power”. On “Tribal Jam” Brother J begins, “We are evolutionist for justice/People try to front and call us prejudice/I know they know the truth, they call us battlers/The great warriors, systematic radicals/Who put the hand in the candy dish to pull a mint/GOVERNMENT, taste a thieves dissent!” Later in the track he reveals himself as the “Earthquake President”, a striking image. The album closes with “Verbs Of Power” and is arguably the best example of Brother J’s writing skills. Along with the ongoing messages, there are an array of impressive rhyme schemes and vivid imagery.
“Heed The Word Of The Brother” was the group’s first single, complete with some assistance by the great DJ Mark The 45 King. Brother J’s style is overflowing with elegance. Within the lyrics are two moments that always strongly resonated with me, “A man getting stronger till he’s man no longer/Unearthly state makes the time seem shorter” and “Forever tangled web we weave/Always trying to attain, no attempt to achieve/Descendents of Kings and Queens act like jesters/Never potential, a quarter of the measure.” Reflecting the perfect balance of logic and style.
The flipside of the single was “Raise The Flag” where Brother J expresses the dire need for music like X-Clan, “While society gets stronger and stronger, my race gets weaker and weaker/maybe I can make a difference through a mic and a speaker/So my lyrics flow different from a Hip Hop Be Bop/mic controller, who turns out to be the flop…” and encourages a return, “…back to our mathematic Blackness.” He also challenges the education system and offers the best counter solution, “Education brings false words, why do they teach?/Everything that I learned I had to self-reach.”
Through out Brother J’s lyrical career you would note sprinkled mentions of interplanetary sciences and things of the sort. He touches on this in the lyrics of “Verbal Milk” with, “I speak a language universal, check out how I use it/Dwellers of this planet labeled it as music.”
Another thing that might get overlooked on this album are the turntable skills of Sugar Shaft The Rhythm Provider. They are only present on a few tracks, but in each of those moments he makes sure to make it count. His abilities are best showcased on “Heed The Word Of The Brother”, unassumingly but skillfully on “Funkin’ Lesson” and most effectively on his theme song, “Shaft’s Big Score”.
In 1992 X-Clan released their second album, “Xodus”*, which continued the same formulas and messages as its predecessor, but also showcases some growth in their skill sets, particularly with Brother J. A few years after "Xodus" Brother J formed a new crew called Dark Sun Riders and released one album. Unfortunately, two of the key members of X-Clan have since passed away; founding member Sugar Shaft and Professor X. Several years ago Brother J assembled a new crew to carry on the X-Clan name and message and released two albums; “Return From Mecca (2007) and “Mainstream Outlawz” (2009). The Cosmic Ark is still in motion…
Written By Kevin Beacham, “A Heeder Of The Word…”
*You can expect a separate review at some point to dig deeper into the “Xodus” album.
THE 2000s X-Clan: