CLASSIC STATUS, PART III: DON’T SHOOT THA MESSENGER

A track-by-track breakdown with the creators behind the new classic


“It’s a lot of wisdom that’s going on with this project.” — G’sta

To mark the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, two New Orleans legends and longtime friends teamed up to release an incredibly concise and cerebral mixtape: Don’t Shoot Tha Messenger, a twelve-track project from Sean Self (a.k.a. “G’sta”), Thomas Williams (a.k.a. Blaknificent) and distributed by So Stimulus Entertainment.

The concept, sparse guest list, sonic landscape and very length of the project create a necessary listening experience for all students of hip-hop and activism alike. With topics ranging from racial inequality to police brutality, Don’t Shoot Tha Messenger has a throwback sound and style combined with an urgent and necessary vision.

The Classic Status interview series is in four parts:

Part III of the interview series — a Don’t Shoot Tha Messenger track-by-track breakdown discussion, with both artists providing insight and details of the process — begins below.


DON’T SHOOT THA MESSENGER

  • 01. Intro
  • 02. Just!!!
  • 03. Right Message, Wrong Messenger
  • 04. Don’t Shoot Tha Messenger (a poem by Copious Green)
  • 05. Don’t Shoot Tha Messenger
  • 06. Martial Law
  • 07. La, La, La f/ Copious Green
  • 08. Luv U 2 Life f/ Fleet DJ’s
  • 09. Power & Glory f/ Countrified
  • 10. Blaknificent
  • 11. We Know!
  • 12. Just!!! (reprise)
  • Message given by: G’sta
  • Produced by: Blaknificent
  • Art Direction by: Travis Snow

01. INTRO

“Lyrical visionary / scary to many / loved by plenty”

Nif: I basically told Sean, “Take somebody’s head off. I want it hard, I want it loud, I want to make a statement as soon as the album comes. This is what I want you to do.” And he went for it.

G: Nif sent me a big old batch of tracks. And I went to New Orleans, I put them on for the first time. And when I put that track on? Man, I was jumping up and down in my car. So I kept rolling through the city and when I got to the hotel room and everything, I listened to it again.

When I got back (to Houston) I jumped on it, bruh. I kind of composed and arranged it in my head on the topic of what I was going to say — the direction I was going to go. But it all didn’t spew out until I actually got in front of the mic and started rhyming.


02. JUST!!!

“Just over-stand / that I run a business, man / and I got a business plan / and I do it every day / got to make everything count / give it every ounce”

Nif: The year before Katrina hit, I had lost my dad. Me and my dad was frick-and-frack: you saw one, you was going to see the other. Also, that March I had my first child. So Katrina basically uprooted everything for me and it took some adjustment. Now, the one thing Katrina did for me: as I sat up in a hotel room — watching my child and my wife and her sisters sleep — I did the track for “Just!!!” in the hotel room.

There’s some emotions in that song. All kinds of emotion: musically, stuff that Sean brought out. But that memory… that’s there for me. And after that, that’s when I went into that big-ass block that I had, because I couldn’t feel anything. That was like the last bit of emotion that I had — then I went numb all of a sudden.

G: It was important because first of all, I got reunited with my brother Nif. And we got a lot of support at home: a lot of people see us — and Nif got his side of the hood and I got my side of the hood — and when we come together it’s all family. But the fact that we was able to come together and put something special like this together?

It’s something that’s very, very profound and very important to release it on the ten-year anniversary. Even just to get the body of work out. I felt like it was personal to me — personally — to put another body of work out there. Saying what I’m saying at this particular time ten years later and get it out there.

And what other way to do it than with somebody like Nif? I started out with, that I learned the game from since day one. It was special and urgent in so many areas, in a lot of different ways.


03. RIGHT MESSAGE, WRONG MESSENGER

“And all you want to do is speak your truth / inspire everybody that they all can make it through”

G: I still think that’s one of my favorites. That’s really personal to me because I did three verses on there, first of all. I was able to get everything out on that record that I wanted to say. Everything. It’s like being caught up in this moment … being ridiculed, being looked down on because you’re really rapping about the state of hip-hop and how they view a message. And when I speak about this, I’m not talking about from the fan’s point-of-view — I’m talking about from the politics point-of-view.

When I rap, I’m rapping against the politics of the business. Because I done moved around them and I done see how grimy they are, trying to dictate what’s hot and what’s not. That’s what that song’s pretty much about for me. I got it all the way out. I think I put my foot on their neck with that one.

That song is very, very personal to me. Actually, it defines the whole album to me.


04. DON’T SHOOT THA MESSENGER (A POEM BY COPIOUS GREEN)

“When you lose sight, child / look up for hope / never look down / and if the truth shall make you free / then that explains why many of us are bound”

Copious Green: My role was and is to inform and instruct via the mother of music which is poetry! Most tracks are listened to before they are HEAR’d. Which is sometimes unfortunate depending on the lyrics, because what we accept both consciously and unconsciously affects us internally.

Poetry positions an individual to HEAR what’s being said which then causes the brain to think. The mind then decides whether or not it will believe and receive what’s being said and that’s the moment when freedom of choice is able to manifest. Now I have a made a conscious decision to accept or reject someone else’s research as my truth.

G: That’s my little step-daughter. She’s incredible. She kind of pulled it out of me on the cool; she kind of inspired me to do this mixtape all over again. I already had it going, but I wanted to try to fit it in. I had never actually done anything with spoken word before — like collaborating with spoken word artists. I had worked with them, but never with mine. Nif came up with that nice beautiful piece, and I just kind of gave her the concept.

She was very inspired. That track was just on it; that track was beautiful. And it worked: she came up with it, she came to the studio and laid it down. I think what she brought to it was a sense of elegance.

Nif: She also softens it up a little bit, too. We all hood like, “Rah, rah” — her voice just comes in like milk over everything. Just like, “Ahhh… relax.


05. DON’T SHOOT THA MESSENGER

“What must we do to take a stand / and be righteous / and spark a revolution right now?”

Nif: I sat there listening. I called Sean one day listening to it and I’m like, “Dude, are you paying attention to the stuff that you’re saying on here? Are you really paying attention to what you say? Because you’re saying a mouthful, bruh.

It’s some stuff that really needs to be heard and I can’t stress that enough.


06. MARTIAL LAW

“This is my mission / Pirus and Crips and / Vice Lords and GD’s / link up and make peace / and take back what’s our streets / and stand and fight the beast”

Nif: That track pulled me out of that writer’s block. I was sitting on it, and when Sean heard it and he told me how he felt about it? He’s like, “That’s almost like a Cypress Hill-type thing. I want to address some things with it.” I’m like, “Go ahead!” When I got the vocals back on it I’m like, “That’s dope!

We started combing for sounds: these different pieces from the different riots and stuff. I heard that “…no justice, no peace…” and it’s a certain way that it sounds — the inflections of the voices. And I’m like — that’ll work a certain way; there’s a certain texture to it. The way we laid them sounds in… It was definitely a collaborative effort when it came down to it.

G: Lyrically, I just wanted to be a rapping CNN on it. But spreading the truth on the subject, on that whole matter. From the point of view from how we view it from being oppressed; how we dealing with it every day. Out here dealing with racism and police brutality and just the whole injustice in the society that’s going on right now. And really just shining a light on we’re going backwards as a nation.

Nif: The way it came out in the end — I’m very proud of. Production-wise as a whole? Lyrically, musically, sonically itself — I’m in awe of that song. I’m like, “Damn, we did this? Word?” I was a very proud papa when that came out.


07. LA, LA, LA F/ COPIOUS GREEN

“This is a dedication catered to the stoners only / ‘cause it’s a celebration / when I smoke out with my homies”

G: Well, after all that going on we need to smoke a joint!

Nif: I did that purposely: the top of (the album) I made it real, real message-heavy. It’s a lot of teaching going on. After that, you need a break; you need your Flavor Flav moment, basically. I wanted to put “La, La” and “Luv U 2 Life” together — I put them right there in the middle like, “Ok, we can take a breath now.

G: I was knocking the other ones out and I was like, “I’m gonna save those two. ‘La, La’ and ‘Luv U 2 Life’ is gonna be some very important records.” Because first of all, I sang on the record! Like, holding notes. So these are two very important records — because if I don’t deliver on these two, it’s gonna throw the whole disc off. It’s a beautiful record, man.

I could’ve easily put another rapper on it. But I said, “You know what? I’ma put a spoken word on it.” Because that track just feels so good, feels so soothing. That track is a groove. Everybody likes that song, man. Everybody hears that song, they really, really like that song.

(Copious Green) just blended in right with it; she just did her thing on it. She came by, she laid it down and it just went perfectly. And the thing is, I see a future with that. Because you don’t hear artists putting spoken word into their rhymes, into their songs. You don’t really hear that in modern-day hip-hop right now. So we just wanted to go all the way out, go left-field with it and do something different. And it worked!

Nif: I DJ at places where if people don’t know a song, they get that mean mug real quick. But whenever I put that on, people groove to it like they’ve known it forever. It’s just been there, you know? And I’m like, “Yeah. This is a winner. This is dope.

Musically, it’s special. It’s real special for me.


08. LUV U 2 LIFE F/ FLEET DJ’S

“It’s hard for some to realize / the game is only meant to be sold / and not told / and loving is like gold / it could console my soul”

Nif: The struggle that we went through with that song…. man. I’m talking we mixed, we re-mixed, we mixed. We mixed again! All the way up to a few days before the release, we were still working on that one song, man. That was a work of love; that was painstaking love there.

I remember the day I did the track for that song. I did that track July 3rd, 1996. I remember the day fondly. So that track meant a lot to me, and I wasn’t gonna let it go half-ass. The same thing with Sean: he was like, “That right there, it’s not clicking.” We were at a constant struggle, but it was a good struggle to get it there. When it came down to the track I was like, “I’m gonna focus on making sure this track is just superb; it sounds superb.” I really, really wanted that to be one of the highlights on this project.

G: It’s a beautiful record, man. I wanted to spread the message of love with that song.


09. POWER & GLORY F/ COUNTRIFIED

“Making moves / trying to maintain / and be persistent / you hustle with ambition / that’s the only way to get it”

G: I reached out to him because I like the Countrified voice; I liked the texture of his voice. He just blended right in with it. I heard that track and said, “Countrified would sound good on this track, man.” I told Nif about it, sent Country the track and dude was pumped, boy. Dude was real business about it: he sent me the lyrics wrote out, he sent me the verse, he sent everything. I took the vocals, I put it in the mix and I put mine around it. It sounds like we were in the same studio recording together.

Nif: It was dope when I was mixing that. I’m listening to the acapella of it — I’m a nerd-out right quick — but I like the inflections of voices and stuff. It’s the little-bitty things that the average person’s not going to really catch. But I’m listening to it like, “Dog, if I could do this acapella, I really would.” That song came together and if I had a chance, I would do a Part Two. Because there is a lot of ‘power and struggle’, there is a lot of things that evoke the feelings… The feelings that it evoked in me when I listened to them two together?

I can recall me and my boys — we trying to scrape up money. We get like a dollar-worth of lunch meat, a loaf of bread and maybe a one-liter of drink so the four of us could eat. Just going through the course of a day, you know? That’s struggle; that’s them dudes you struggle with. That’s life-long friends that remember that type of thing.

G: That song brought me to a safe place when I recorded that verse. I looked at where I come from, how hard it is. Even to this day, we still deal with these same issues. It put me in a real safe place because I reflected on where I came from, where I stand at that particular moment recording that record and where we going. And also had the inspiration of Tupac when I did the chorus. Because you know what that song remind me of? It remind me of “Out On Bail” — the chorus. The beat don’t sound like that, but the whole vibe of it.

Nif: Believe it or not, most of these tracks came from my archives. That’s another track that’s like a twenty-year old track and it just stands. I really haven’t touched it — I didn’t touch anything really with it other than mixing it. So that’s what you got when I did it in ‘95 — that’s what it is.


10. BLAKNIFICENT

“I’m here to pay homage / especially while you’re here / so you can hear me / and feel me / respect / salute / DJ Blaknificent”

G: That was the first record me and him reconnected on and did. That was before the mixtape even came about. We was talking one night and I told him, “Yo man, send me some tracks. Let me get some of your flavor from over there.” And he sent me that one. I was going to rap about a girl that was lost and turned-out; just had it real bad. I was sitting in my whip listening to the instrumental. Next thing you know, something hit me — I said, “I’ma rap about this man!

I went in the studio, got in front the mic and just let it go. I didn’t write none of it — it just came out the way it came out. I was feeling the track so much, it wasn’t really nothing to say what I was going to say about it. I just kind of closed my eyes and … Everything I said from the first words: “Back in the day / back in the back with that one amp / and the EPS-16 sitting across the ramp” — from that point on, it was it. I knew exactly where it was going.

Nif: It brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in it. It’s a personal song for me. I’ve accepted it: that’s my superhero theme right now. I heard that one and I cried like a baby, I ain’t gonna lie.


11. WE KNOW!

“There’s lessons learned by levels / take heed / knowledge is the main key / if you gain that / you can succeed / be what you be”

Nif: It was the last one recorded and it happened to descend everything. That’s something else, as well.


12. JUST!!! (REPRISE)

“Let ’em know they not alone / be strong / just have faith / hold on / it won’t last that long / just do you / if you gotta do / what you gotta do”

G: When I first did it, I had to push myself back away from the table and listen to it. I never rapped on a track like that before. That track sound like it’s swinging side-to-side.

Nif: Nobody heard the interludes before I snuck ’em in there. It’s one of those things: you want to teach, and you want to entertain. I had to do it. It just had to be done. Let’s put these little pieces in here, let’s bring this project together. Let’s make it all make sense. And that’s what I tried to do.

That’s still one of my favorites; there’s nothing really like it, you know?


Nif: I want you to be entertained, because it’s a musical project. But I also want people to say, “Damn, I didn’t know that.” Or, “Damn, that makes sense. He hit that on the head.” The egomaniac in me wants you to say, “Damn, those beats are hitting. I nodded from beginning to end; that shit knocked.” I really want people to say that as far as production.

G: What I want them to get from it — my previous fans who followed my music for years — I want them to see the growth. And for my newer fans, I want them to see vision. This album is full of wisdom: from the production on down to the lyrics to everything. It’s a lot of wisdom that’s going on with this project.