Curtis “Bugzy−Nite” Taylor and Wesley “GSlim” Brockenberry are the musicians behind Queens Connex, an urban duo with a collaborative hip−hop sound that touches on genres of music ranging from jazz to rock. Beneath the layers of melody and beats, however, lie some powerful messages about social consciousness and the progressive optimism that fuels the duo’s musical ambitions.
Their latest album, “Endangered Species: Planet of the Tapes,” is a collection of songs co−written by Taylor and Brockenberry that directly and aggressively address corruption, racism and greed in the United States.
“Me and G, we are like peanut butter and jelly. We just have these personalities that mesh well when we create music,” Taylor said.
There is a defining difference between the young musicians. Brockenberry sees himself as the visionary, while Taylor is the vessel that carries out the ideas. A perfect example of their creative workflow is in their album’s artwork — which features a sketched image of an ape’s face, surrounded by tapes and a hovering planet Earth. Brockenberry threw out the idea, and Taylor, also a professional graphic designer (and free−lance designer for TimesLedger Newspapers), brought it to life.
They also have different perspectives about what defines them as individual musicians.
“Bugzy’s style is completely different. I’m a conscious rapper, and he is a feel−good rapper,” Brockenberry said.
Despite these differences, Queens Connex manages to blend their skills together to create a tempest of conscientious lyrics and innovative beats.
While their lyrics center on subjects often confined to a serious debate or pundit television, Queens Connex weaves their opinions with a tapestry of energetic hip hop beats and rhymes that beg you to hear them out.
The album starts with “Grizzy,” which offers a window to their roots. The hook leaves no doubt of their affinity for their home borough of Queens: “Harlem keeps on makin’ it and Brooklyn keeps on takin’ it, and we originators cuz Queens ain’t never fakin’ it.” The album transitions from there to “Job,” a softer, somber song questioning the status quo, 9−to−5 lifestyle and what they consider to be an unequal distribution of wealth.
Title track “Endangered Species” shines as the high point of the album. With conscious lyrics that reveal their primordial, prehistoric impression of the modern African−American plight in society. The track is punctuated by the voice of a young woman repeating the phrase, “I am not a typical teenager. My skin is black.” “Endangered Species” has hints of Talib Kweli and Kanye West influences.
The two young men find solidarity in their upbringing in St. Albans. Their wish is to inspire a similar kind of solidarity within the national African−American community. “Species” is the duo’s ode to the African−American struggle to barrel through the glass ceiling and tear down certain racism that still exists in the United States.
“As a black man, it’s easy to feel like you’re an endangered species,” Brockenberry said. “The homicide rate, 45 percent are blacks. But we only make up 13 percent of the country. It’s devastating to see the effects of HIV, incarcerations, kids who don’t have proper family upbringing. Many people our age are not aware. I try to stay awake.”
With lyrics like “Everybody’s got their eyes on the prize, but they can’t see the light cuz the money’s in their eyes,” the track “One Man” criticizes the blinding power of the mighty buck. The song also points out statistics of crime and poverty in the black community and refers to the power of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and “Roots” ancestor Kunta Kinte to ignite progress.
But Brockenberry and Taylor do little to hide their animosity towards another authority — a corrupt one — in “Pigs.” It’s an aggressive track about police brutality, funneling the rage of the street and its prevalent violence. Taylor and Brockenberry cite a lifetime of witnessing unjust authority, seeing people frisked at random and racial profiling from officers. But what cuts them deeper is a fear of police brutality as they recall the 2006 killing of the unarmed Sean Bell in Jamaica, which sparked fierce criticism of the NYPD.
“When the Sean Bell murder happened, we experienced it. As long as I remember, that type of thing has happened. It could have easily been us,” Brockenberry said.
But often belying the serious undertones of their music, there is Queens Connex’s sound, which is defined by what Taylor calls a loyalty to “real hip−hop.”
“We bring in a new sound that reminisces on past times of hip−hop, when it used to be about music ,” he said. As the track “Bull−−−−” exclaims, “This be love, and this be real, and this be that hip−hop you got to feel.”
“Y.B.E.,” which the lyrics reveal stands for Young Black Entrepreneurs, jives with high−energy beats and all−too−edgy lyrics, but it works. “Fresh 2 Def,” less heavy, closes the album. Overall, “Species” is a steadily balanced collection of music, touching on soft and hard throughout.
These two are like brothers, having met in the fourth grade in St. Albans. Brockenberry now lives in Corona, while Taylor lives in Jamaica. Their art comes easy to them, as they both agree their thinking is on the same wavelength.
Taylor says he wakes up in the morning, hears or feels something that inspires him, then passes it on to Brockenberry, and vice versa, as they are always in contact.
Queens Connex started about five years ago, when the group used to include Taylor and four others. “Then we threw Slim on the track and he shined. Me and G started vibing. Eventually the original group fell apart,” Taylor said. That’s when they starting making their connections, and building their album.
As for their vision of the future, Queens Connex hopes to establish themselves as more than a music duo, and branch out in many directions, including a record label.
“We are trying to have a 360−degree brand. Our music, our style of clothing and art that we do,” Brockenberry said.
©2008 Community News Group
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