Rock City Interview
|Label:||Kemosabe Records / RCA Records|
|Next Project:||Wake Up The Neighbors|
|Twitter:||R. City on Twitter|
|Website:||R. City's Website|
Hailing from the island of St. Thomas, Rock City is in the process of altering the landscape of urban music. Unlike most artists who can easily be placed inside of the proverbial ‘box,’ brothers Theron aka “Da Spokesman” and Timothy aka “Don’t Talk Much” refuse to be categorized.
After leaving the U.S. Virgin Islands in search of a record deal, the duo traveled to Miami and then Atlanta before their journey officially began to take shape. Now, signed to a major record deal, they plan to show proof of their diverse background on their upcoming debut album, “Wake The Neighbors.”
In an exclusive interview with DJBooth’s DJ “Z,” the Rock City duo step inside the booth to talk about their voyage stateside, how they make ‘being good look cool,’ and why they’ve become Akon’s top priority at Konvict Muzik.
Listen to the Interview
R. City Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on ya’ll? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth are two representatives from the Virgin Islands’ most beautiful destination, St. Thomas. Currently residing in Atlanta, the self-proclaimed “Black Beatles” have stirred up the industry with their talented mix of songwriting, singing, and rapping. Please welcome Interscope recording artists Da Spokesman and Don’t Talk Much of Rock City – guys, how you doin’?
Rock City: What’s up, Z? What’s crackin’?
DJ Booth: What’s crackin’ is your music making waves across the industry. Two years in a row I’ve taken a western Caribbean cruise that ported in St. Thomas, not only my favorite island on both trips, but far and away the destination that I plan to look at for my retirement home. Can you guys look up some land for me?
Don’t Talk Much: Oh yeah, yeah, definitely. We could hook you up with the right people to make sure that you get a good deal on that, definitely.
DJ Booth: Beautiful. You guys left St. Thomas in 2000, you traveled to Miami in search of a career in music, but you didn’t find anything until you got to Atlanta a short time after. Describe your journey from talented local island musicians to stateside success story.
Da Spokesman: The story is crazy, because, people don’t know that we’re the number one group in the Virgin Islands. It’s weird that we were famous – we were signin’ autographs but we were poor. We lived in the projects. And we was like, “Yo, I ain’t never seen nothing like this.” We’re not rich – we were famous, but we were broke.
Don’t Talk Much: While strugglin’, we just tryin’ to do something positive.
Da Spokesman: When we came to Atlanta, it was hard because, you walk in the room and you say, “We’re from St. Thomas. Virgin Islands, and we want to rap!”
Don’t Talk Much: [And they said] “You’re kidding me, right?”
Da Spokesman: So, it took a long time – I would say, like, till 2006 – for people to accept us. When we met up with our manager now, Ray Daniels – and he’s the best manager ever, best manager in the world – and when we got with him it was like, the three of us together – dream team! Incredible!
DJ Booth: Atlanta has long been known to be a hot spring for up-and-coming artists, which is where you were able to garner label offers and eventually get inked to a deal with Akon’s Konvict Muzik label. Do you feel the successes you guys are embarking on is due in part to the city of Atlanta itself?
Da Spokesman: Yes. I told everybody, like, we go to New York, we go to LA, we go to Miami, all the major places that music exists, and there’s nothing like Atlanta. There’s no place like it. All the studios are right next to each other, the energy’s incredible, all the talented producers and writers live here, a lot of artists move here. You could be in the studio and there’ll be Jermaine Dupri, Bow Wow and Omarion, and then five minutes up the street there is Polow [da Don] and Usher – all in the same circle! And you can just jump from studio to studio and you’re in the circle with these people. So it’s a great place to start.
DJ Booth: I’ve heard from artists from all across the country, as you alluded to, who live in their home city, but when they’re about to embark on the start of an album, they’re right down in Atlanta.
Da Spokesman: It’s funny, ‘cause we actually recorded our album in Miami, but we were writing songs for everybody, and Akon called and said, “Hey! Y’all givin’ all the hits away, man! Y’all need to write songs for yourself. We signed y’all as artists; we need the album!” So we shut down. True story: we did the album in literally two weeks. And “Losing It,” is actually a record that we wrote for Trey Songz. We sent it out to A&R, and he was like, “I don’t think the hook is strong enough.” They told us they didn’t want to use it. So we was like, “Okay,” and our A&R over at Interscope, Erica Grayson – best A&R in the world, - she said, “Don’t give it to nobody! That should be y’all’s song – you need to do it!” And we did it, and “Losing It” is our first single. We ain’t gonna lie, we did not want to do that song.
DJ Booth: [laughter] That’s why you gave it to Trey…
Da Spokesman: We was like, “Yo, we don’t make songs like that! That’s soft for us! We don’t wanna sing nothing like that!” She was like, “I don’t care what you say,” and we love Erica so much – it’s like, if she tells us to try it, we’ll be like, “Okay, E; for you, we’ll at least try it.” And we tried it, and the response was incredible.
DJ Booth: You guys mentioned earlier that you’re songwriters in addition to being artists, and you’ve penned quite a few songs for the likes of Sean Kingston, Usher, Nicole Scherzinger, Mario, of course Akon – while your writing is obviously top-notch, do you feel artists, though, would be better off writing music for themselves, because then they’re able to be more expressive?
Da Spokesman: Artists that write for themselves are a double threat, but there are some artists that don’t write, that are incredible. Every writer can be an artist, but every artist can’t be a writer, if you know what I’m tryin’ to say.
DJ Booth: Certainly.
Da Spokesman: You need certain writers for certain artists, but then I think there are certain artists who don’t need help. Like Robin Thicke – he writes his own stuff. That dude is amazing! We just left LA, we was in the studio with him, and we got that opportunity to be in one of their sessions and try to help out. He is so self-contained, and so amazing; if you ever see him work, you’ll be like, “Wow!” When me and my brother write our songs, I’ll go in the studio and I’ll demo it as a reference. But if you have Usher come behind you, it’s a way better song. We did two songs with Mario, “Music For Love,” and “Skipping.” When you hear my demo, you’ll be like, “Oh, I like it.” When you hear Mario, it’s like, “That’s an incredible record!” In this business, we all work hand in hand.
DJ Booth: I couldn’t agree more. Guys, your music has brought about a large buzz on our site. Readers have e-mailed me a ton of questions, but one in particular stood out: FredeRico from Portugal wrote, “How would Rock City describe their recipe for success?” So, in other words, what goes into the creative process when you are cooking up a record, from start to finish?
Da Spokesman: A lot of people don’t know, we do every song from scratch. We go in with a producer, and he builds the beat right there, and we write the song with him in the studio.
Don’t Talk Much: And if you’ve never seen us perform before, we got mad crazy energy, and it’s the same way in the studio. For me, I’m more on the chill, and I’m humble. But Da Spokesman, my brother, he be crazy! He be in the studio, yellin’ “Heeyyy!” We be real real energetic.
Da Spokesman: And that allows us to do the kind of stuff that we do. From start to finish, every song is something personal; every song has a story. There’s a song on our album called “Rebel,” which is actually one of our personal favorites – we got a call from Jimmy Iovine himself, “I want the guys to do a song with a girl. You have to do a pop smash with a girl.” We were all like, “We don’t wanna do a song with a girl!” We got so mad! Our A&R was like, “But you guys can do anything! What’s the problem?”
DJ Booth: [laughter]
Da Spokesman: We was just really being stubborn artists. They say we’re dissin’ ‘em on the song. But everybody that hears the song is like, “Oh my God! This is one of my favorite songs on your album!” It’s us basically saying, “You know what? We’re going to do what we want; we’re not gonna do what you tell us to do.”
DJ Booth: Did you end up hooking up with a female for one of those pop smashes?
Da Spokesman: We actually did. There’s a song on our album called, “Live as One.” It’s incredible. It’s us, Akon, and right now we’re not sure about the female, so I don’t want to give out any names right now, but it’s something really special. That is the only feature on our album. Our major thing is, because we sing, because we rap, because we do reggae – we do everything – we didn’t wanna take away from what we do and put a bunch of features. One of our major pet peeves is, have you ever been to a concert where you’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna see Jay-Z!” but your favorite song with Jay-Z is featuring Mary J. Blige, and Mary J. Blige isn’t there. So you’re like, “Man, I don’t wanna hear this! Where’s Mary J.? That’s the best part of the song!” We don’t wanna do too much features and then everybody’s like, “I love that song from Rock City, but my favorite part is the Lil Wayne” But Lil Wayne ain’t gonna go on the road with us.
DJ Booth: I agree completely, guys. I’ve said that same thing myself numerous times. I’m gonna go back a second – you made a comment about your live show, just so full of energy. My next question was literally, “What’s up with all the ‘whoooaaa’s and the ‘heeeyyy’s?” I mean, how does Lil’ Jon feel about your usage of elongated words?
Da Spokesman: The ‘whoa’s and they ‘hey’s is actually straight from reggae. It’s all from reggae DJs, it’s all from Caribbean culture; that’s where it originated. If you ever have an opportunity to hang with us, we’ll take you to a dance hall, and you’ll hear the DJs goin’, [yelling] “RIGHT ABOUT NOW! MAYDAY! WHOA!” Real talk; that’s how they talk to the whole entire party.
DJ Booth: I want to talk about one of the standout tracks on your new mix tape, “The Black Beatles.” It’s entitled, “Stop Lyin’.” The song revolves around the concept that artists are full of BS when they claim to have moved drugs and killed enemies. I’m gonna play devil’s advocate with you both – I say that about ninety-nine percent of the writers who are currently walking the picketing lines in Hollywood have never in their lives sold a drug or taken a life of anything but let’s say an ant. However, for entertainment purposes, they write material that indicates otherwise? So, isn’t that what rappers are doing? They’re just doing it for entertainment purposes?
Da Spokesman: You make such a great point, but I’ll put it like this: if I write a book, I’m not necessarily the face of that book. I’m creating characters that me and you are gonna read about, and know the people don’t actually exist. But now, if I write a book about my life, and you read it, and I say I’m a murderer, I sold drugs, and I killed people, and I didn’t, then that becomes a problem. Some rappers are writing the book, but the book they’re writing is about themselves. But they’re not who they say they are. Now, if a rapper said, “My homie sold drugs and he grew up in the projects,” then that’s not a problem – he’s tellin’ a story, paintin’ a picture of things he’s seen. But when it comes from, not just something you saw, and you make it something that you’ve actually done, and you haven’t done it, that becomes the problem.
DJ Booth: So you’re saying there’s a fine line between fiction and reality.
Don’t Talk Much: Yes, definitely.
DJ Booth: When you guys decide on what you want to talk about in your music, is everything based on reality, or do you do some fiction-telling also?
Da Spokesman: We’ll do some fiction-telling if we’re bugging. And when I say fiction-telling, we’re probably talking about a car that we don’t have. We’re probably saying, “We own private jets, going to Dubai,” and we’ve never been there.
Don’t Talk Much: We grew up in the projects, and all our life we’ve been surrounded around that kind of environment. But when everybody went left, we went right, and we chose to do music. We try to do something positive. But we talk about the stuff that we saw, and we talk about different issues that are goin’ on in the world, ‘cause I feel people wanna hear real stuff. And God willing they can get real stuff through our music.
Da Spokesman: Me and my brother, our slogan is, “We make bein’ good look cool.” If you notice, gangsta rappers are the coolest thing in the music business – it’s cool to be bad! And if you try to be a nice guy, you’re looked at as a lame. We say, “Yo! We love gangsta rap!” I love all the gangstas. I buy the albums; I ride to it, because I’ve grown up around that, so I know what they’re talkin’ about. I can relate. But personally me, I haven’t done it. Am I lame, or am I not cool because I ain’t never shot nobody, or I’ve been shot, or I’ve never sold drugs? I think I’m just as cool as everybody, ‘cause real talk, there are more people on Earth that work nine to five than there are drug dealers. There are more people that can relate to me and my story, and my brother’s story, than there are people who can relate to somebody that’s shootin’ everybody!
DJ Booth: I agree completely. Is there a bit of irony though, fellas, being that you do make being good look cool, but you are signed to a label named Konvict Muzik?
Da Spokesman: Not at all! Akon turned his story into something positive.
DJ Booth: He did.
Da Spokesman: When I listen to Akon’s music, I’m not inspired to wanna go steal cars or do anything that got him in trouble; when I hear his music, I’m inspired to be better. I don’t see any problem with that. I actually think Konvict was the best decision for us because we’re personal people, and we’ve known Akon before he blew up.
Don’t Talk Much: And not only that – with us bein’ so cool, Akon gave us full creative control.
DJ Booth: Definitely. Well, that creative control is extremely important when an artist is looking for a label to sign with. Let’s talk about Konvict Muzik for a second. In addition to both of you, the label has a plethora of talented artists all waiting to release projects, including Colby O’Donis, Brick and Lace, Ray Lavender, and the Canadian-born Kardinal Offishal. Where is your project located on the label’s current list of priorities?
Da Spokesman: Top. It’s weird, because everybody on the label, we’re all good friends, we all see each other, well show each other love, but we’re a top priority, because we make ourselves a top priority. Ain’t no sleep, ain’t no chillin’, ain’t no vacations, ain’t no stoppin’. We was in LA for two weeks, we was workin’ with Enrique Iglesias, Robin Thicke, Macy Gray, Pussycat Dolls, Flipcyde – we’re workin’ on their albums, while still pushin’ our album, still doin’ shows…
DJ Booth: The project we’re talkin’ about here, guys, is your debut album, “Wake the Neighbors.” I look at a title like that, and I think two different things. You tell me which one I’m right on. “Wake the Neighbors,” because Rock City is just so energetic, and they can’t sleep because it’s so loud, or “Wake the Neighbors,” you gotta get ‘em up because there is this new group called Rock City? So, which is it?
Da Spokesman: To be honest, it’s actually both and a little more – wake up about everything. “Wake the Neighbors,” was “Wake up about everything,” it’s not just “Wake up about Rock City.” It’s the whole world. Wake up about it. Everything – the problems goin’ on in the world!
DJ Booth: I think that message is great, guys, especially in ‘08, being an election year. Get up off your ass, make sure that you make a difference in the world and be an active participant. I couldn’t think of two more talented people to get on the phone with me and join me inside the DJ Booth today. Give everybody a website or a Myspace page so they can find out more about Rock City. Of course, the single’s dropping in March, and the album soon thereafter.
Don’t Talk Much: Yo, it’s Rock City, man. You can hit us on Myspace; it’s on myspace.com/rcitylive.
Da Spokesman: When you hit us on our Myspace, we respond. We talk to everybody, and we get fifty to a hundred messages a day. I’ll sit down all day, even if I just say, “Thank you,” [or] “Hello,” we always hit people back. You are talking to Rock City.
DJ Booth: Guys, I appreciate your kindness, I appreciate your time. I thank you for joining me inside the DJ Booth, and I wish you nothing but the best of luck with the new single, “Losing It,” and the album, “Wake the Neighbors,” dropping third quarter of this year.
Da Spokesman: Thank you so much, Z. We really appreciate your time.