X-Vandals | The War of Art

Who are the X-Vandals, how did the group come to be?

N4P:X-Vandals is the terror wrists, DJ Johnny Juice on the two turntables, and yours truly, the poor mans prophet of rage, Not4Prophet brandishing the Machetero microphone.... I knew of Juice for years from his Public Enemy "Bomb Squad" days. It Takes a Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back has been my favorite and most inspirational record since for eva eva, so discovering that there was a Puerto Rican involved in the process of creating that monumental piece of work was really important to me. It's a small (Black) planet as Ricans from Uptown who make radical political art and music, so we always knew each other X-sisted, really. I do think that we were meant to work together to jump start La Revolucion.... It's our mission and madness, man...

JUICE: Like N4P said, we've always knew of each other but never got around to actually working together. It just so happened that a few years ago Not4Prophet's band Ricanstruction did a cover of Public Enemy's "Prophet's of Rage" and it was sent by somebody to SLAMjamz (Chuck's online label) and I heard it, and about that same time, N4P contacted me about maybe sending him some tracks. One thing led to another and before you know it, it was a collaborative group thang. Like N4P said, we were meant to work together to jump start La Revolucion, and the beat goes on...

How did you guys pick the name?

N4P:Back in the days (before Hip-Hop even existed as "Hip-Hop") there was a graffiti crew from New York City that called itself Ex Vandals, as in extraordinary vandals. We took on the name X-Vandals partly as an homage to them and to graffiti culture in general, but adjusted it to X to suggest possibly X as in former, or X as in nameless (like Malcolm X) or anything else one might wanna attach to the X. Also, with our musica we tag up on "private property", and drop mind bombs on the landscape of the status quo, so our music is our form of modern day "vandalism" coming from those who will remain nameless...

JUICE: There it is.

What would be the group's biggest infuences?

N4P:Speaking personally, I don't know if I so much have "influences" as much as inspirations. But i guess musical inspirations for me range from Public Enemy, of course, to the creators of hardcore Punk, Bad Brains, to el cantante de los cantantes, Hector Lavoe, to the "father of conscious soul music" Curtis Mayfield, and the Godfather of soul, James Brown, to the rebel rasta himself, Bob Marley. But really the list can go on and on and does...

JUICE: My list is very similar to N4P's. I consider them "inspirations" as well but my real inspiration comes from real-world trials, tribulations, and injustices. Many of them experienced first-hand.

The Internet has given us the tool to communicate all around the world. How do you use the Internet to maximize your promotion & sales and maybe even the production of a record?

N4P:Well, the internet was always really important for me when I was working with my last band, Ricanstruction, because we were a DIY anti-corporate "unsigned" entity so we didn't have the same avenues and outlets to reach people that other artists who chose to go with corporate labels did. So, yeah, we spent a lot of time building with people all over the planet via the internet, and put our music and videos out to the world via the net too because, obviously, commercial TV was never gonna put us on. I must admit though, that I have never spent much time considering how to "maximize promotion and sales" and have really just looked at the net as a way to build and get out a particular message or idea(ology)...

JUICE: Chuck D has always seen the web as a powerful tool to spread our message with Public Enemy, but it was never a sales angle or promotional gimmick there either. In PE we never really worried about sales. Today, with the proliferation of wackness on the radio and TV and the rise of the mega-corporate radio syndicates, the only way to be heard at all is on the guerrilla front. The internet is conducive to the guerrilla mindset. It allows us to get our message out to as many people as possible with little or no outlay of funds, and the coverage is world-wide.

Who have you worked with? And who would you like to work with?

JUICE: I have worked with many people who could be considered Legends... Chuck D, LL Cool J, DMC, Slick Rick, Mavis Staples, Mandrill... etc. and I've also enjoyed working with Pete Cosey (of Earth, Wind & Fire, Miles Davis, and Electric Mud fame) in his band "The Children of Agharta." But I've also worked with many people who have never been known, and to be honest, it doesn't really make a difference as long as they are full of fire and commitment to the project. I have recently talked to Joe Bataan and some of the other legendary Fania All Stars about doing some things in the future, and That would be great! But I don't think anything I've done thus far has come close to the intensity and raw sense of importance as the X-Vandals project. N4P is the neXt Chuck D... on steroids. Really.

N4P: I've done a few things with a few people, but I always enjoyed working with my own band most, and right about now I'm cool and content to be working with Juice, who is also a big inspiration for me.

Can you tell us about your upcoming album?

N4P:We like to say that The War of Art is a semi-autobiographical Bronx fairy tale of two city's, which means nothing or everything. But, yeah, it is a concept record about a brother (or a people) or an art form being birthed in the barrios and "coming up" in the ghettos of uptown (or america). A story is being told, if you listen carefully to the chaos, and there's a message in the music and militancy if you are willing to dig deeper.

JUICE: This album brings back memories of "It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back" mainly because of its importance and relevance to current events. The Nation album was supposed to jump start an era of consciousness, and it did. This album is meant to do the same, but unfortunately, it is a little more difficult in these brain-washed complete corporate straight jacketed times. We are trying to re-awaken the inner-visions of a people who have been subdued by eMpTy V. The music on this record is constantly-chaotic, sporadically-sick, and frequently-funky. The lyrics are instantly-inciting, really-relevant, and definitely-dangerous. "The War of Art"... ya tu sabes.

Juice, How different do you find it working on this project, then lets say the Public Enemy projects, and do you believe that work with PE and others has led up to the X-Vandals?

JUICE: Of course, one way my work with PE has led up to this is the fact that N4P became aware of my existence through PE's very important work. However, life has a way of putting people together who really need to be there. I always work with the same enthusiasm and energy on my projects, regardless of the content. That being said, this project was 3 years in the making. I was extremely busy with PE related projects and some movie scoring and N4P was doing some other things as well. But as the project started to gel, it took on an energy that was hard to contain. It moved on it's own and I followed the energy. Many of the songs were re-worked and we went from zero to sixty in about 2 seconds. It was (and still is) very fulfilling to work with my brother N4P on something as important as this. Our political and social views are very similar so it was a no-brainer to collaborate with such an incredible mind. A mind like Not4Prophet doesn't come along often. But when it does...

Not4Prophet, I kinda have the same question for you, How different would you say working on the X-Vandals project is from the Ricanstruction project?

N4P: Well, there are some differences, and then there are no differences at all. After being in actual "bands" for years, I wanted to work with just "two turntables and a microphone" to maybe get a more direct message across to the masses, so working with JUST Juice was something I was really looking forward to doing to see what we could come up with that was different, quintessentially X-Vandals, you know. But I was used to working with a band all the time using organic instruments, so it WAS different to be working with just a DJ. Thing is though, that getting into the studio and watching Juice work, I realized that for him the turntables IS yet one more organic musical instrument and he utilizes it as such. Juice creates noise collages that are every bit as "musical", spontaneous, experimental and dense as any "full" band might do. Also, Juice doesn't just "sample" shit, and in fact, besides scratching, also plays many instruments that he incorporates into the work. So in the end, it is way beyond simply being two turntables and a microphone.

Will we hear more music from Ricanstruction?

N4P:Could be. There is always a natural mystic blowing through the air. As it stands, some of the members of Ricanstruction ARE on this X-Vandals record, playing guitar, percussion, singing some back up vocals... Plus, over the years Ricanstruction has morphed into a kind of "art and agitation" collective that extends beyond simply being a band, so there are also Ricanstruction members who helped out with the art and layout for this record, and, in fact, the owner of the record label that is putting out The War of Art is a Latina sister who is also a member of the Ricanstruction collective. So in that respect, X-Vandals is ALSO very much another part of the Ricanstruction Netwerk that is just getting set to bomb the shitstem and free theMasses....

In the late 80's and early 90's a lot of conscious music dominated the Radio. Even groups like 2 Live Crew were trying to make political records back in those days, then almost overnight the political music was driven into the Underground. What would you say was a key factor that lead this to happen?

N4P: Juice can probably speak on this better than me since I wasn't yet making music in the '80s, and really just sneaking into clubs to listen to it. But, I think that by the mid to late 80s, "rap music" was becoming big business (and the corporations were in the process of totally co-opting it), and by the '90s it was just a "hustle" for a lot of people who were creating it. So eventually it became about nothing but what sells, without the politics, commentary, culture or art that fist made Hip-Hop a real counterculture and potential threat. It didn't take long for graffiti (which was the outlaw visual arts component of Hip-Hop) and breaking (which was the physical component of Hip Hop) to be pushed aside (and underground) in favor of just pushing commercial 'rap music" that caters to the lowest common contaminator as long as it proves to sell records (or fashion, cars, whatever). And these days the "bizness" pumps millions of dollars into promoting just one thing to the masses who listen to the radio and watch MTV and BET and drop their dollars on the counter.

JUICE: After PE made it "cool-to-be-conscious," in the mid '80's, there were many people jumping on the "revolutionary rap" bandwagon. Some were genuine but many were just really doing what has always been done... trying to be "down." When it was no longer cool to be conscious... many of those artists moved on. In order to be an effective leader, one has to not only believe very strongly in his/her ideology but also has to be willing to suffer for it. There are very few people who are willing to personally sacrifice or even die for their art. Also, as Hip-Hop became a corporate cash cow, those entering the fray were only entering for financial reasons. Instead of being an artist first and a RECORDING ARTIST second, they became RECORDING ARTISTS. PUNTO! The only relation to actual art being that it was a part of their "title." No longer were people expressing actual individual "thought" but instead repeating a brain-washed mantra of commercialism, sexism, and tribalism that is repeatedly saturating our air waves...Air Conditioning if you will. And that's where we are at today.

On the 23rd of September X-Vandals made it's public presence in Time Square for the March Of A Free Puerto Rico, can you guys enlighten us a little of what the Puerto Rican community is going through and what this event meant to X-Vandals?

N4P: Well, Puerto Rico has been a colony for over 500 years, first of Spain and then, for the past 109 years of the u.s. Since the beginning there has been a liberation and resistance struggle. September 23rd has been a day that is commemorated by those who advocate and struggle for Puerto Rican liberation since 1868 when Puerto Ricans launched an uprising against Spain that was quelled by the Spanish. Although the rebellion DID eventually lead to the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico, it did not gain complete independence for Puerto Rico, so in 1898 when the u.s. and Spain fought the "Spanish-American war" Puerto Rico was handed over to the u.s. by Spain. Since then, Puerto Ricans have fought a liberation struggle against the u.s. Two years ago the FBI assassinated one of Puerto Rico's freedom fighters and leaders in the liberation struggle, Filiberto Ojeda Rios on September 23d, so we "Ricanstruction" organized a march and rally in New York City to celebrate september 23d, and commemorate the assassination of Filiberto. This year, X-vandals performed at the rally. It was actually our debut performance.

JUICE: Not only was El Grito 2007 our DEBUT...it was also OUR DEBT. We OWE it to our people and ourselves to speak out on our (colonial) condition, as many people in this country (and also on la isla) are unaware of the actual conditions and reality surrounding the colonization of Puerto Rico. of course, it is ridiculous to assume that people would really know what is happening in real time considering the massive amount of "Air Conditioning" and "white outs" in today's corporate controlled media. But we must continue to lead from the FRONT (lines), as that is the only place that true leaders are found.

What is your take on the immigration issue and the wall being built between the US and Mexico?

N4P: Obviously, that wall should NOT be built and when it IS built (as it will be and is being), it should be destroyed. But, of course that brings up the whole question/issue of what really must be done in terms of immigration into the u.s., particularly by our Latino hermanos y hermanas. I've been to many demonstrations in defense of immigrants rights and I have seen many brown immigrants standing there waving american flags or carrying posters that say things like "we are not the criminals" or "we take the jobs no one else wants". From the point of view of an Afro-Rican, I am aware that it is the so called African Americans and Puerto Ricans who stock the u.s. prisons in disproportionate numbers, and i am also aware that we are hated, colonized. enslaved and downpressed by the u.s., and I would sooner burn an america flag as carry it, let alone wave it. We have spent decades, centuries, being spit on and shit on by the u.s., so I have to wonder what it says to have brown immigrants from Latin America who want to enter the u.s., waving american flags and claiming that THEY are just innocent people who want to live in "america" as "model citizens" and partake of the american dream that Malcolm X called an american nightmare. Better to be in solidarity with so called African Americans (who were brought here in chains), Puerto Ricans (who have been colonized by the u.s.), and Native American Indians (who once were the caretakers of this once free land), the real native sons and daughters of this "nation", and figure out how to do away with it, destroy it, and dismantle these manufactured borders once and for all. if there were no borders, there would be no "minute men" and no wall and no Mexicans (and other Latino Americans) dying everyday in an attempt to simply survive by crossing an illegal man-made border.

JUICE: N4P said it all. Immigration issue? That should have been taken care of before the Native Americans were displaced. The only "issue" I have with Immigration is the celebration of bullshit holidays like "Columbus Day" where a mass-murderer who introduced Slavery and genocide to the Old (new) World is deified by the sons and daughters of those same immigrants.

What are some of the things someone may find if they were to look into either Juice or Not4Prophet's iPod today?

N4P:Uh, i don't own an ipod. I just recently picked up a used walkman at the salvation army thrift shop through. I still gotta boost something to listen to on it though...

JUICE: I also do not own an iPod but I do have about 60 to 70,000 pieces of vinyl that used to be called RECORDS. I listen to EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN, but mostly TO the cries of my people.

When will the album be hitting the streets?

N4P: The War of Art is set to start on october 30th 2007.

Thank you for taking time to interview with BrownPride,com, is there anything else you guys would like to add, maybe have people check out a website or something?

N4P:Well, we've got X-Vandals.com if you wanna get more in touch with our new form of "vandalism". Ricanstruction Netwerk also has a web page and a board/forum (that I and juice might occasionally pop up on) which is Ricanstruction.net/forums, and there's a web page (and organization) where you can find out more information about the Puerto Rican liberation struggle, which is September23.org.

Interview by Danny B.

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