The Freestyle Fellowship is legendary. Bobbito Garcia, when interviewed for the Kevin Fitzgerald documentary "Freestyle", admitted that the off-the-top rhyming technique perfected by Freestyle Fellowship forever changed the underground's understanding of what the word "freestyle" meant in terms of emceeing. Overnight, due to the improvisational skill of the four mic titans in Freestyle Fellowship, the term "freestyle" went from meaning a nontopical -- but usually written - rhyme to an impromptu display of word mastery. So, it is somewhat dismaying to see one of the most promising groups in hip-hop history struggle for focus in an urban musical world where creativity is sorely needed.See Also:
"Do you wanna know how to control/and separate your ego from your soul?" - Mikah 9, "Mary"
At least one member of the Fellowship - Mikah 9 - has publicly pledged that he will defect from the much-heralded foursome. Early into our first conversation, as I was asking about the recording method of the Fellowship, Mikah interjected a simple phrase that completely altered the course of our interview: "I'm not in Freestyle Fellowship any more," he stated directly. "I can go based on the memory of what we were doing," he continued.
That said, we went into Mikah's early memories about the group. Mikah described briefly how the group came together. "We basically grew up together. That's how I knew Ace-One and Jupiter. I didn't grow up with P.E.A.C.E., I met P.E.A.C.E. in '89, I think. [Acey, Jupiter, and myself] had relationships since we were kids, junior high school, elementary. I really started clicking with that nigga [P.E.A.C.E.] in high school when I was in 10th grade."
And they proceeded to shock the world for years thereafter. Although he didn't venture much into how the other Fellowship members crafted their material, Mikah was more than willing to explain his own recording process. "It all depends on what I'm hearing inside my head and what I'm hearing outside my body. If it's just the sounds of the street or it's a rhythm track I'm trying to be somewhat cohesive with. Or if it's the vibe I'm trying to superimpose, like if I hear a melody in my head. You know, bringing it out like that. A lot of times I'll just listen to a rhythm track, you know, people in hip-hop make rhythm tracks, beats and shit. And I listen and after a while, it's almost like looking at those pictures in the mall where you have to keep looking at them to see the picture in it. I keep listening and then I can hear my voice in it and then I start to transfer what I hear my voice saying. I'm trying to grow and better myself every day. I feel artistically like I have a whole studio in my brain."
Mikah spoke briefly on what occurred to him between the "Innercity Griots" album and the latest Fellowship album, speaking about his short-lived solo deal. "[My solo deal] was with Capitol when the Fellowship took hiatus because Jupiter was locked up, Acey and P.E.A.C.E. couldn't get along…the manager that was managing them, this cat Kedar, was managing me at the time. I did an album - or rather two albums - of material, but only three songs were approved by the A&R at Capitol. As a result, I felt as if I should leave that label and seek a label that could understand what I was doing. Yet at the same time, I was living in New York and I was estranged from my family," Mikah explained, later adding that his roommate in New York at the time was none other than Talib Kweli. "On the advice of Kedar, I decided to return to L.A. to my family and that turned into some very deep and dark personal issue that I'd rather not discuss. And basically that material that was [created then] just floats around in bootleg universe. This project ['Timeless'] is supposed to come out, which is an archive anthology that [Cav?] and some others thought would be a good idea, just to get some unexploited candid moments [released]. Put together that with a couple of new recordings of old lyrics and some shit, to catch up on lost time. I just feel if a motherfucker is timeless or the material is timeless or people feel it's timeless, then it's collector's items and shit. I'm not getting major distribution, so I don't care who gets what at this stage. When I come with a major smashola with the styloya, the whole world is gonna know."
"[T]hings got out of hand and Old Man Dan had to die/because of that eye/I can tell you them scarecrow stories a lie" - Self Jupiter "When The Sun Took A Day Off and the Moon Stood Still"
Self-Jupiter is a good-hearted brother who punctuates even serious commentary with half-laughs. He seems like the kind of brother that wants peace. And he emphatically insists that there is a bright future for Freestyle Fellowship, no matter what contemporary struggles may be underway.
Like Mikah, Jupiter has been through a lot between "Innercity Griots" and the latest Fellowship album, including a brief stint in the penitentiary. "I was off the scene for about four years," explains Jupiter regarding his incarceration. "I was young. You gotta remember, cats were only 19. Cats on the streets. Give a cat some money, he don't know how to handle it. You know? Or he's not as responsible as he's supposed to be. Being around the wrong crowd. And getting into things you probably wouldn't be into if you had your mind focused on more things. It all came as a wake up call, just like everyone else has [their own wake up calls]. I consider myself blessed too, because what if I didn't go to jail? What it is is what it is. I've graduated. I overstand the whole situation. I'm very instrumental in putting out this music though. I got my solo album out, it'll be out in another month. The ball is really getting pushed right now. Besides me being incarnated, it seems like even when I did the time, cats were standing still anyway. I didn't really see the progression (laughs) among too many cats, other than Snoop and a few other cats I grew up with, that used to rap at the Good Life blowing up. [Like] Pharcyde, on the radio, selling records and stuff. On that side [because most of my peers didn't progress], it was almost like I wasn't gone. I got out and got to mashing. Here we are. Since 97, it's been work pretty much."
Describing that work in more detail later in our conversation, Jupiter explained how the business end of Fellowship was run for their latest record. "I did this whole album practically by myself. This whole album was me and Acey[alone]. We practically run Project Blowed. We recorded it. There's no A&R person. None of that. It was telling cats to come through and they sat back and did their little [lyrics]. We got the office building and rent and bills [to pay]. Put together a corporation and all that," Jupiter explained.
Although Jupiter explained that Aceyalone and himself are behind the business of the Fellowship, Aceyalone declined to comment in regards to this article. He did say to look out for future solo material from him - as one would expect, given that Aceyalone has the most prodigious output of the four members, producing 3 solo albums in almost as many years. P.E.A.C.E. was not available for comment as of press time.
"Even if it's a creative difference, you know, those conflicts tend to resolve themselves if the overall goal and objective is to make something beautiful," Mikah says at one point during our conversation. These words may give hope to Fellowship fans worldwide that the fantastic foursome may yet may beautiful music again.
Jupiter is much more to the point. "The Freestyle Fellowship will be forever."
MTS Centre, Winnipeg - May 26, 2008
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