Few other groups epitomized the sound of the mid-late 90s underground Hip-Hop golden age better than the Juggaknots. Originally consisting of brothers Breeze Brewin and Buddy Slim (now aka Kev Fevr), they released the classic Clear Blue Skies in 1996, before later adding their sister to the line-up, Queen Herawin. In this exclusive interview, Gingerslim spoke to all three groups members about their impact on the scene, their jobs as school teachers, life since Clear Blue Skies and a lot more.
[The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity].
You’re all siblings and you all ended up making music together, so was it a very musical household you grew up in? What are your earliest memories of music?
[Buddy Slim]: Memories in music, hmmmmm. Being raised in a strict Caribbean household with both of our parents coming to New York in the 60’s from Jamaica and Trinidad respectfully, the only music you might hear is an occasional reggae or calypso classic, but what you probably didn’t hear was enough practice from our piano lessons that quickly dissipated when dad felt we were not practicing enough and shut down our lessons.
Once upon a time, I was practicing my DJ abilities, of course after finishing my homework, and one of our father’s favorite lines was, “you don’t have any extra work?” So of course I answered, “yes sir, homework and extra work has been done hence the reason I’m practicing my DJ set.” My father then proceeded to throw my whole DJ set on the floor and said; “MORE schoolwork!!!”
[Queen Herawin]: My earliest memories of music growing up were definitely Caribbean based as well, although there were certain specific songs that stuck out from other genres too. I remember dancing in the living room with my mother to Stealing Love by Carlene Davis. This song is still one of my favorites, probably because of the connection to my mother and the warm memory it possesses. My father’s sound was soca music, however, other specific artists he often played remind me of him as well…like Grover Washington Jr., Etta James, Dinah Washington or Lionel Richie.
My love of Hip-Hop happened in Elementary School. It happened living in the Bronx. It happened watching Video Music Box and when I fell in love with MC Lyte, Slick Rick, Special Ed, Jungle Brothers, De La, Queen Latifah, Boogie Down Productions and so on and so on. I matured into Hip-Hop through my brothers, listening to the Clear Blue Skies album, going to studio sessions they would take me to, seeing it become real…the process of it. The combination of this experience, fan, and voyeur, made me want to be part of it and be really good at it.
It’s been over 10 years since we last had an album from you guys. Is that the last we will hear from you as a crew? Are you ever tempted to come back for one more?
[Buddy Slim]: Yes sir, in the immortal words of KRS-ONE; “We’re not done.” After our last full-length studio album, Use Your Confusion, we decided to have all members devote time to their individual solo efforts. We dropped Queen Herawin’s solo debut, Metamorphosis, off our Matic Entertainment label in 2015, and we are now preparing for two Brewin solo efforts. One being a collection of Brewin’s scattered efforts in the form of an EP, then his full-length solo to follow. A compilation consisting of artists from the Matic camp and a reggae project from Kev Fevr aka Buddy Slim. As for the JuGgs, after we get those ideas out, we plan to start plotting the next Juggaknots offering, God spare the life!!!!
[Queen Herawin]: I certainly would love to do another album with my brothers! As Kev mentioned, we’ve been working more on solo work and collaborative projects, however, there is always a special synergy of working on a Juggaknots project that represents us as a whole. I’m curious and excited about the idea of what that would sound like. I think it could be the best one yet! The foundational album, the first, was a hands-down classic! I’m a major fan of that album, not only because they are my brothers, but because the music was amazing! Stepping away from something for an extended period of time creates an opportunity to share something truly unique when you return.
What made you guys decide to quieten down after Use Your Confusion?
[Buddy Slim]: During the recording process with UYC, things got a lil toxic. We had been trying to break that ceiling for almost 15 years and we felt as a team and as a family that it would be best for each member to follow their own individual voice. Even though we are family, any relationship demands compromise and we were not compromising but the hiatus has kept us busy and allowed time for us to heal, recharge, and refocus. Our label, Matic Entertainment, always keeps us busy, discovering and developing talent, making tracks/songs for that talent and also trying to get better as entrepreneurs to run a more efficient successful endeavor for ourselves, fans, and our roster. We also spend a significant amount of time running, tweaking, upgrading and improving our lab, BBS (BronxBullyStudios), BX, NY.
[Queen Herawin]: For me, life happened. My daughter was born that same year. Motherhood became my focus. Music was and will always be there, however, I was expanding in other ways as well, ways that needed my time, energy, love, commitment, and creativity. That experience provided creative direction and ammunition for my next project, Metamorphosis.
What have you been up to since Use Your Confusion was released? I understand you gravitated towards teaching?
[Buddy Slim]: Yes, we are all still teaching; myself and Brewin are still servicing the Bronx (ironically in the same North East Bronx neighborhood where we grew up) community and Herawin took her talents to Chicago.
I remember seeing Breeze on the Adult Rappers documentary talking about how he tried to keep his rap career secret when he started teaching, but I would have thought it would have been a good way of connecting with the kids?[Breeze Brewin]: We are educators. The first way we teach is socially. I love this art form, but I’ve been teaching children of color in neighborhoods very similar to where we grew up for 14 years. I am in no way embarrassed or regret earlier artistic work. However, my mouth was a little reckless in a good way at the time. I didn’t care; unadulterated. With that, some of the things that were said, I can’t see me saying now, especially knowing we live in a society where people can be critical utilizing specifics that serve their purpose and/or narrative.
Lines are taken out of context to sell a story and make mcs with public service livelihoods the bad guys. I saw it with Brownsville Ka. I could see it with us, as educators. So I’m a bit cautious. I haven’t even used the N-word recently. However, that only makes it more challenging. One of my idols, Rakim, rarely used any obscenities and was as hard as anyone in the game. So I have rhymed in front of the kids, but I’m careful with my word and topic choice. It was actually in an elective class on rhyming. I was trying to school them.
When you guys first formed it was an exciting time for rap and you were on the frontline of that whole underground movement. Did you have a sense at the time of how special what you were doing was, or is that something that has come with hindsight?
[Buddy Slim]: It was an interesting time, at one time ourselves and Company Flow were recording at the same studio in the city. I remember that time Co-Flo had finished up their debut effort and it was just Juggs and Flo in our own private listening party at the studio. We also performed together a lot back then. I remember our first show together was pretty crazy; we performed Clear Blue Skies wearing masks of old presidents, and Co-Flo was ill. Brewin was really the one who first connected with El-P and them, so for a lot of us in the cru it was our first exposure to the Co-Flo experience and them joints had us bent.
[Queen Herawin]: For me, I was just becoming part of that scene. Kev and Breeze were really at the forefront of the underground movement as foundational artists who helped set that wheel in motion. I became more of the experience through the Lyricist Lounge Volume One compilation on the song Weight. I didn’t realize how important and influential that song would be for my career and consequently add to my weight as a Juggaknots member, solidifying my role as part of the group and giving me needed exposure, experience and performance opportunities to enhance my craft and be better. As far as looking back, it shocks me at how many retrospective projects have been made, honoring underground Hip-Hop, yet neglecting to note Juggaknots as part of that foundational experience.
It’s always been interesting to me – maybe cos I’m a frustrated rapper at heart – that there are artists as talented as yourselves, who don’t have a constant urge to make music and put those skills to use. Was there a point when you thought the focus of your careers would always be Hip-Hop, or did you always see it coming to an end sooner than that?
[Buddy Slim]: We never stopped but life sometimes dictates direction. We had kids early and in the industry, money comes in ebbs and flows. When it’s good it’s really good but when it’s bad it’s real bad. So we had to reassess how we were going to incorporate life and the dream. Simultaneously.
[Queen Herawin]: The urge is always there. Whether it’s silently whispering in your ear for attention, or screaming at the top of its lungs to be heard. It’s in the fabric of who we are. We were artists before educators or perhaps educating through the music before we were doing it in the classroom. As Kev mentioned, so eloquently I must add, “life sometimes dictates direction” and juggling both hasn’t been easy, but our love for music has kept the flame lit, just maybe not the lights on. Teaching has provided that. We still persist to be who we are, and if and when that direction shifts, allowing us to provide for our families through the music solely, the creative balancing act may be one that we do until we no longer have to.
[Breeze Brewin]: I love this art form. I would love for this to be the only means of supporting myself and family. However, I needed to hit a certain level of income for my family to be comfortable. For a while, the music provided for that. When it didn’t, or I didn’t (who knows what drives what) I couldn’t see my family involuntarily joining the ranks of the starving artists. My son and daughter never asked for any of that. That being said, I have nothing but respect for the artists that took a chance and banked on the dream more exclusively.
I remember Pumpkinhead (RIP) was always talking about that ‘GRUSTLE’ (grind and hustle). He always had something on the burner and was able to make it work. John Robinson’s another perpetual professional creator. That dude always juggled hustles in a way that seemed effortless. I know it took a lot of effort. I can only celebrate and admire those that made it happen, as a full-time artist. When times got tough, I couldn’t. There were some other issues that made it necessary to keep a more traditional 9-5 type gig. Lucky for me, my job as an educator is very inspiring. It keeps me close enough to the young people of my community and often gives me ideas for music. The same way I wanted to make music to impact people. I impact through educating.
The balance seems to be finally tipping in terms of artists needing a major label behind them to put an album out. Do you think it will make the industry evolve for the better, or will labels always find a way to exploit new talent?
[Buddy Slim]: Labels will always exploit, that’s the nature of the beast, but times are changing. It seems that Hip-Hop is coming full circle, it’s about to be like back in the day with small independent labels like when Prism, Sleeping Bag, and Warlock were the go-tos. Hence the reason why we have been in business as a Hip-Hop label (Matic Entertainment) for the past ten years. We hope to relive those glory days and hopefully be more of a player in the independent Hip-Hop label scene.
[Queen Herawin]: The freedom that any artist has to put out music is bittersweet. It allows of course for full creative range, but it also allows, therefore…for FULL CREATIVE RANGE!!! There is so much music that is being called music, that doesn’t exactly sound like music [laughs], But it sells, it gets views, like millions and millions. Music as a craft has tipped the scales there as a result of this freedom, like giving kids a bunch of markers and saying…ok, you can do whatever you want on the wall. Some will just scribble, while others will create actual pictures and thoughtful images that represent art.
Juggaknots have been a very influential group for a lot of the artists who have come up after you. Do you pay much attention to the current generation? And if you do, do you have any favorites, anyone who you think will leave a real mark for the next generations?
[Buddy Slim]: We have a lot of favorites we feeling out here, right now we been vibing a lot to Axel Leon outta the South Bronx. He is a beast but what can we say we bias to the BX.
[Queen Herawin]: I can be stuck in my old ways of loving what I love and what inspires me, even if it is in the past or from artists who have been creating amazing music. From this generation, it’s more their energy I’m in awe of [laughs]. I would love to work like that! Non-stop. But again, quality over quantity. But quantity sparks momentum. I heard 16 Shots by Stefflon Don and thought it was dope. The beat is crazy, but it was the fusion between the Hip-Hop sound and Dancehall that got me. It kind of reminded me of Lady Saw’s 99 Ways; her tone and the tone of the song had a similar vibe to me. I liked the fusion and definitely was rockin it in the car. It must be our Jamaican roots as well, mixed with the Hip-Hop foundation.
What’s next for you all?
[Buddy Slim]: Dropping these Brewin solo efforts, a Queen Herawin EP is in the works, the Fevr compilation/Reggae project. Plus as always, discovering/signing new talent and keeping up with the craft. We are also expanding into literary works, app designs and film.
Gingerslim has been a hip-hop fan since 1994 and has written for various blogs and websites since around 2006. During that time he has contributed to style43, Think Zebra, Headsknow and Front Magazine. His main interests in rap are UK hip-hop and the underground movement in America, with a focus on Rhymesayers Entertainment and the once mighty Def Jux label. He lives in Bristol and has a beard. All other details are sketchy at best. Follow him here.