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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Artist Of The Week - Division X
Monday, March 14, 2011

The trio of North Star, Mad Dog and Dr. Dust have been a part of NYC’s underground hip-hop scene for quite a while now. They’ve experienced a lot more than just music, though. North Star notes “we've done enough living for ten lives.” Having that plethora of life experiences, and that amount of time spent making music, gives Division X a perspective a lot of groups don’t have. They’re veterans, and they’re more than willing to vocalize what they’ve been through and what they’ve learned from it. This week I caught up with North Star to find out more about the groups vast history, the generational split they see happening in hip-hop, and the unexpected results their work has brought them.

Adam Bernard: Hit me with some Division X history. When and how did you come together as a group?
North Star: We decided to give music a serious shot at the beginning of the century. Before that, we really were all over the place. Survival tactics were more important than creating. School, work, women, artistic squabbles with old members, all got in the way of us being the next big thing. Once we started taking things seriously we really hit our stride. Things really came together when we recorded a track called “Against All Odds.” It was included in a magazine called AWOL that came with a free CD. We toured the East Coast off of that single. Then we performed at the first anti-war rally in front of 100,000 people in DC. We then started working on an album. Before we could release it the record labels came calling. To make a long story short, we got caught up in the major label vortex. Once we left the plantation we released our music in NYC only. Since then we've shared bills with Common, Pharoahe Monch, Large Professor, Immortal Technique, Saigon and Mr. Cheeks. The global market is calling us now. It's time to graduate.

Adam Bernard: How do you describe the music of Division X?
North Star: The artistic side of (our) music is a three headed monster. You have the sonic aspect, the lyrical content, and the visual presentation. Sonically, our musical direction is based on emotion and movement. Songs are like scenes in a movie. Some scenes need that hard driving very serious DJ Premier, Just Blaze type of feel. Some scenes need the emotional soul of some 9th Wonder shit. When we are creating our beats we keep in mind that a good track can tell a story without the words. It's up to the lyricist to capture that story, by painting pictures with their words. The direction of our lyrical content has been influenced by artist like Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Guru, Chuck D, Ice Cube, KRS-One, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Nas. These are all artists whose music tells the story of their times. Who better to model your work after? Visually, we've always been into serious looking artists; Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Cypress Hill, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Pearl Jam. We're not into trends. T-shirts, jeans, sneakers, boots. Rugged men are not into fashion. Getting dressed up is for occasions. Look clean and don't stink, that's our fashion sense.

Adam Bernard: I’ve read you say you make music for the underdog. Could you break that down for everyone? What does that mean?
North Star: Our music is a reflection of our lives. We all come from a working class immigrant background. We were raised with those values. In the same way Bruce Springsteen's music has come to be synonymous with working class America, our music is a representation of the lives of the working underclass in urban America. The America where school systems fail their children. The America where Black and Latino men are constant targets of police initiatives. The America where criminal activity is a way of life, and not a TV show. The America where adults have to work multiple jobs in order to secure housing. The America where families come together to do what it takes to improve their living conditions. The America where peoples lives are so bleak, on a Friday night, anything can happen. The America that loves stories like The Godfather, Scarface, and Rocky because they know that they will probably never do anything that big, but love it when someone like themselves gets a chance to live it up. The America that they don't show in the travel brochures.
Adam Bernard: You’ve been spreading that message for quite a while now. I’ve been seeing the name Division X on show flyers for nearly a decade. Having been involved in NYC’s hip-hop scene for so long, what are some of the aspects of it you’ve enjoyed watch grow?
North Star: Well, there seems to be a bit of a renaissance in the New York City underground hip-hop scene. With very few strong independent record labels, and the cutbacks at major record label corporations, record deals are much harder to come by. With nowhere to go, folks have taken it upon themselves to make their own noise. You have two options these days, do it yourself, or quit.
Adam Bernard: Are there any aspects of the scene you wish had been stopped long ago?
North Star: We wish promoters would do a better job. They need to be more attentive to the audience and artists. You have to give people a reason to want to leave the house and come back to your next event. Getting the word out about the event is important. Starting the show on time is important. Not having ten artists on the bill is important. Having giveaways is important. Giving people drink specials is important. A few drink tickets for the artist is important. A slice of pizza for us if we're performing for free is important. We also wish DJs would take more risks. Too many DJs spin the exact same shit they play on the radio, or are stuck in the 90s. No one seems to break records anymore. We love all that ol’ school shit, and we know people want to hear what they are familiar with, but a half hour of playing good indie shit at the beginning, or end, of the night isn't going to get you fired.
Adam Bernard: Hip-hop is a youth oriented culture. What are some of the advantages to being older, i.e. not a teenager, in hip-hop?
North Star: We have to disagree with that statement. One of the biggest misconceptions is that hip-hop is still a youth oriented culture. The music industry constantly tries to sell this idea, but come 2013, hip-hop will officially be 40 years old. The more successful artists in hip-hop are closer to 40 than their 30s. Busta, Em, Jay, Talib, Mos, Nas, Luda, Rick Ross, Cam, T.I., Jim Jones, Common, Black Thought, 50, Kanye, Snoop, Puffy, Outkast & Dre haven’t been teenagers for a long time. The days of the serious teenage rapper are done. In a way, you can say that hip-hop music is going through a generational split. Teenage rappers are going to be running in the Soulja Boy lane. It makes sense. Why would a grown man or woman want to listen to teenage rappers? Soulja Boy is the hip-hop equivalent of what was Hanson and N*Sync were, and nowadays The Jonas Brothers, or whatever Disney-ready pretty boys pre-teen girls are screaming about now. Of this so-called youth movement, only Young Money's camp has broken through. The kids have their stuff, the adults have theirs. One of the advantages of not being a teenage artist is that you know who you are as an artist. You have so much more to talk about because you've experienced more. For years people have been complaining that all rappers talk about is money, cars, sex, guns, tough guy talk, and drugs. Well, that's what's important to people in their 20s. If you notice a shift lately it's because the artists are growing up. As the culture grows up, slowly but surely so will the art. You can say that it's time for an Adult Contemporary Hip-Hop section at the Grammys.    
Adam Bernard: In the end, what do you enjoy most about being an emcee?
North Star: One of the most beautiful things that has happened on this strange journey has been that our lyrical ability has been admired by many educators. Some of these educators have invited us into their classrooms to perform for their students. The look on their faces, and the questions that they ask after the performance, let us know that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing on this earth.  

Related Links

Bandcamp: divisionx.bandcamp.com
Fcebook: facebook.com/pages/Division-X
MySpace: myspace.com/divisionxrap


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:21 AM  
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