Photo Credit: Lara Forté
There is so much that falls under the umbrella of hip hop from the music itself to the social issues that have found a home within some of the genre’s biggest tracks over the years. We sat down with John Forté to talk about all of that and then some, including his October 2021 release, ‘Vessels, Angels & Ancestors,’ in this back and forth exchange.
Kendra: When it comes to hip hop, many will agree that the ‘90s set a lot of standards that artists today I still pull regularly. Having played a huge role then, and still today, why do you think many hold ‘90s hip hop in such high regard?
John Forté: Bless their hearts and spirits, the pioneers of the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s paved the way and laid a solid foundation, proving that hip hop was a relevant and legitimate industry. By the time we reached the ‘90s, or the so-called “Golden Era,” the novelty of an emerging art form had all but worn off. It was an exciting time to create. As participation increased, so too did the levels of lyrical and production talent that buoyed the genre to the highest heights of popular culture.
Furthermore, the art of sampling cannot be overlooked. Technology emerged that allowed us to take greater control of the worlds we constructed. By looking into the past, the producers and lyricists among us were able to tap into a broad swath of sonic ideas that inspired us to collectively push the artform forward.
Finally, a huge influence on the development of the sound that emerged from that time period was our ability to gather in large numbers in order to bear witness to the effects of the profundity of the music together. Hits were validated by the masses. For example, in 1996 when Funkmaster Flex played Mobb Deep’s ‘Shook Ones Part II’ in NYC’s Tunnel with 5,000 partygoers in attendance…WHOA! You just had to be there.
Kendra: Which trends in hip hop do you think have aided the genre since then, and which have not?
John Forté: I am encouraged by hip hop’s inclusive nature, as collaboration is critical to the sustainability and evolution of any great movement. Sadly, the nature of the music business remains largely exploitative and creators who continue to make enormous contributions to the culture still own too little to show for it.
Kendra: Now, hip hop has always been the loudest voice in the room when it comes to highlighting the concerns of the people. So in regards to activism and hip hop, do you think the connection between the two has grown more in recent years due to the rise of police brutality?
John Forté: Back in 1999, I participated on a collaborative song called “Hip Hop for Respect” following the fatal shooting of 23-year old Amadou Diallo by four New York City policemen. I had hopes that the need for such a song would cease in the wake of our protests. Nevertheless, more than two decades later, we continue to witness the state-sanctioned theft of liberty and life.
Despite its commercial successes, hip hop remains an authentic voice of the people. It is not only a place to party, it is a forum where issues of consequence are discussed. The connection between the music and the message is strong.
Kendra: Your activism has centered a lot around criminal justice reform. Do you work with any organizations you can shout out that readers can look into and get involved with?
John Forté: My cause-related work around criminal justice reform is a direct result of my lived experience. Recently, I have had the honor and privilege to serve on the advisory board for The Transformational Prison Project (TPP). TPP is an organization operated by system-impacted individuals, focused on restorative justice practices and techniques to address, mitigate and heal the harmful effects of trauma.
Kendra: Speaking of, it’s hard to deny that the past couple of years have been anything but chaotic for most of us. From the pandemic to again, police brutality, to a joke of a presidency. How much did all of that impact your headspace when it came to writing and recording ‘Vessels, Angels & Ancestors?’
John Forté: In short, I am a sensitive being who utilizes song form to process the world around me and in turn express myself — an artist. Events of the past year significantly influenced the creation of ‘Vessels, Angels & Ancestors.’ The album is a testament and a time capsule.
Kendra: What I love about this record is that you brought in so much talent and featured so many amazing artists like Spills, Five, and Miss Brittany Reese on “Ready on the One.” Were these all old friends or did you make some new ones during the recording process?
John Forté: Most of the collaborative efforts on the new album were managed remotely due to the pandemic. Notwithstanding our collective experience of social distancing, it was paramount to embrace a spirit of community and togetherness.
And even though the music addresses the aforementioned madness, the album is rooted in mindful, loving awareness. In fact, cogent words from Ram Dass bookend and underscore the experience. Additionally, I partnered with Ram Dass’ Love, Serve, Remember Foundation, and Soul Land Records was created to market and distribute ‘Vessels, Angels & Ancestors.’
Kendra: The album drops on October 22, but what’s to come after that? Are you going to be performing this fall? Anything like that?
John Forté: I have every intention and desire to support this project. There are a number of dates on the calendar and I look forward to sharing the music with its audience. Check out my website and social channels for upcoming tour dates and special appearances.