Treson Scipio and Charles Peters are ready to come clean. Better known as Tre and Easy, the MCs of Mojoe have matured and evolved their sound since 2003’s classic.ghetto.soul. With their new album, Dirty Genes, they hope to offer something unheard of in hip-hop music — emotional honesty.
“Before digging into this project we talked about what’s missing from hip-hop, and we agreed there’s a lack of vulnerability in the music and lyrics,” explains Easy. “So we decided to be open and honest in our writing. This album is most definitely a confessional.”
What exactly does Mojoe want to confess? The Current caught up with these young artists in San Antonio to hear them spill. (Tre now lives in Dallas, Easy in Atlanta, but the boys who met at Clark High School return home regularly and talk shop with each other daily.)
These days lately my mama seem to hate me / I remind her of my ol man I never really knew … See I was born with dirty genes … Washed them in bleach trying to get ’em clean / Then I hung ’em up high for the world to see …
Immediately, the album’s first words deliver on Mojoe’s promise to lay their souls bare, making the listener feel as if he’s reading someone’s journal on the sly. Yet the stories and substance shared are, in essence, about common struggles.
“This is where we come from, being raised in a single-parent home, trying to make our lives greater, but still facing the same demons as our grandfathers and fathers before us,” says Tre, who reveals himself right away as the open heart of the group. He answers off the cuff every time, his voice often teeming with emotion and his face twisting in expression.
Tre’s full-out style is the same onstage. He engages his audience with smiling banter, and his voice soars with a style that has drawn comparisons to Al Green and D’Angelo. Although the original formula for Mojoe was supposed to be rap and poetry, Tre says he “fell into the singing thing” because they had no one else to do their hooks. Listeners lucked out in the end: Tre’s voice, all butter and twang, sings the South with remarkable versatility, and his soulful renditions are one of the key elements that make Mojoe a standout group.
Ten years ago, when Tre approached his old classmate with the idea of forming a group, Easy was already a formidable presence on the poetry slam scene. A prolific and ambitious writer, he had by then published two of his three chapbooks and was experimenting with musicians to back up his spoken word onstage. Tre brought in Mingo Fishtrap’s Roger Blevins to help with the music production, and thus the first Mojoe Family Band came to be.
On another level, “dirty genes” refers to the mixed bag of musical influences that make up Mojoe’s sound. Raised on the city’s East Side, Tre imbibed the blues and gospel along with the sounds of Texas artists DJ Screw and UGK. Easy spent his first 15 years in New Orleans where he grew up on live bounce, jazz, and rap. “So when you talk about Mojoe, you talk about all that,” says Easy, “It’s the genetics of Mojoe. And somebody might call that dirty.”
Is it rock? Is it blues? Is it jazz? Is it pop? / Is it country? Is it hip-hop? / Is it mainstream? Is it underground? / Is it fresh? Is it new? Is it right now?
Mojoe has never quite fit in or been easily defined. They’ve performed with a live band from the start, before it became the fashionable thing to do in
hip-hop. While their staple songs evoke the old-school spirits of soul, blues, and Motown, they can still serve straight-up rap and club grooves. This unique blend is credited not only to their diverse musical tastes, but also to their San Antonio roots.
“Coming from a city like this, you have to be able to make music that appeals to a wide range of people. We found that if the music is truthful and soulful, everybody will jam with you. We wouldn’t have figured that out if we came from a city where all you had to do was get on a beat and rap to it,” says Easy.
If Tre represents the heart of Mojoe, Easy is definitely the head. Though equally candid in his responses, Easy chooses his words carefully and sometimes slips into the cadences of poetry. He seems to keep the group in focus when it comes to business matters and takes an almost scholarly approach when defining their sound and its place in the musical spectrum.
Initially hesitant to label Mojoe as hip-hop, and after launching into a brief history of the form, in the end Easy agrees, “it’s hip-hop because of what hip-hop means to us … ” “Freedom,” finishes Tre. They often refine each others sentences in a way only the tightest of partners can.
She figures I’m selfish cuz I’m so focused on this / prolifically classic, honest and purposeful disc … But if I can’t make you happy then why we draggin’ this on? / Oh so tragic when the magic in a marriage is gone …
According to Tre, success in the music business “has its treats but it’s got its poisons, too.” Both men point to their maturity when it came to recognizing the industry for the “machine” that it is. But on the subject of the women and sinnin’ that comes with the territory, the boys fall back upon their youth.
“We had made commitments in our words to other people, but in our youthfulness, you couldn’t tell us shit. It was a party every night,” says Easy about their time touring for classic.ghetto.soul. Tre adds, “We didn’t go to college, so that was our dorm-room experience.” Soon enough, though, their focus on music and its excesses made them stray too far from home and led to regrettable rifts in family life.
Their ensuing “blue period” is referenced in some of the more poignant and well-written songs in the collection. When creating their new material, Easy says, “We kept peeling layers off the verses to where Dirty Genes is just raw. It’s crazy, ’cause, when you think of blues, you picture this old man sitting on a stool, playing guitar. But with this album, we made some real blues for our generation.”
Hard times are yours and mine / Keep doing for yourself and you’ll find / there’s a silver line in your sky…
Mojoe is no stranger to hard times or tough decisions. Not many acts would walk away from Mathew Knowles (aka Beyonce’s daddy, head of the Music World label), but Mojoe did just that after being asked to add a Fergie-type figure to the band.
Now signed to Straightline Entertainment, Mojoe exercised complete creative control over Dirty Genes, which was finished last April but won’t see a release until May. Tre and Easy initially expressed frustration about their album’s continual setbacks. `Both the album release and this article were originally slated for last November.` But these days they seem optimistic about a new distribution deal they’ve inked with Warner Music Group. They’re using this extra time to “trim fat” from Dirty Genes and even add some fresh tracks.
“Right now, we’re in a good place, so it’s more pop going on with us,” says Easy, adding that fans can expect more fun, organic music on their next project. Meanwhile, Tre claims the next album will be the last time he raps. When pressed to define what new genres Mojoe might explore, they threw out everything from spoken word to electric funk.
With their musical throwbacks, experimentation, and continual shape-shifting, these artists are sure to keep fans and industry execs struggling to answer the question, What exactly is Mojoe?
A close listen reveals some answers: It is real music. It is live poetry. It’s a blue soul and a Sunday morning. It’s all that. •
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