General Steele, Power to the People
As one-half of Smif-N-Wessun, alongside partner in rhyme Tek, General Steele has always been one to speak his mind about bigger issues. That hasn’t changed with his recently released solo disc, AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare, Pt. 2: Children of War. The politically charged disc is Steele’s personal manifesto to wake people up and to make them aware of the bigger world around them. XXLMag.com caught up with the Brooklyn MC to hear his thoughts on President Obama’s first year in office, getting inspiration from Ice Cube and a heads up on Smif-N-Wessun’s next LP, produced entirely by Pete Rock.
XXLMag.com: Why did you decide to take such a political undertone with AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare, Pt. 2?
Steele: This album came because the times required it. If it didn’t come out now, having a new president and [everything going on globally], there would be no platform for me to have the conversations that are going on this album. If I put it out later in the year, it probably would’ve been a good conspiracy theory album.
XXLMag.com: How so?
Steele: This album is reflective of a modern day Vietnam type feel. If you think about [what] the youth was going though in the ’60s, [they witnessed] their brothers come home in caskets. Now, Obama has these young brothers and sisters going out to fight these wars. Nobody even understands what’s going on. Where’s the dialogue? The people want to know. I think the album reflects that, starts getting into those questions and starts getting into what we have to do as people. This album is a responsible album. It’s more informative, musically jazzed up, very theatrical. I’m dealing with a lot of politics on there.
XXLMag.com: Speaking of Obama, one of your tracks is called “State of the Union.” What did you think about the president’s address and his first year in office?
Steele: I think he got it rough because he’s Black. Every move he makes is going to be judged under a hundred-centimeter microscope. I think he got it tougher than Bush and we put crazy weight on him. He always has to seem to have that charismatic way of speaking. It’s almost like game… Let’s remember who we’re listening to. We’re listening to the president of the United States, not a Black guy, White guy, orange guy, blue guy, but the man who runs our country.
XXLMag.com: On your blog, Steele.BuckTownUSA.com, you had a post that talked about unity in the community. How important is that message to you?
Steele: I think unity is very important. Unfortunately, people wait until there’s tragedy to unite. I think we need all kind of models. We united [to get Obama elected]. We united when tragedy happened in Haiti. We united somewhat when it happened [in New Orleans]…
XXLMag.com: On that same blog post, you talked about “[exposing] those in power who have preyed on the innocence and ignorance of the people making it a one-sided fight.” Who are those in power? How can people expose them?
Steele: We’re going to start with our blocks. We’re going to start with the crooked police. Then, we’re going to go to the teachers who teach our children wrong. Then, we’re going to go to these counselors who play games with our children’s minds. Then, we’re going to go to our councilmen we go behind these doors and make rules and regulations in the name of the people. We’re going to talk to our state representatives.
XXLMag.com: Back in the day, Spice 1 dropped AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare and Ice Cube had AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Did either of those albums influence the title of your current project?
Steele: Absolutely, I love both of those cats. I grew up listening to [both of them]. I tried to get in contact with Spice 1 via Twitter and his main site… We wanted to get him involved with this project. But, I had put out a mixed CD in 2004 titled AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare. At the time, I was going through some personal shit and I was looking at the game a bit little different. With the mixed CD, I took beats from DMX, The Lox and I did a political carry if you will with those tracks. I took the questions [they asked on their tracks] and made it into a question of what’s going on in their environment.
AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare, Pt. 2 is the progression. I needed to make it an album as oppose to a mixed CD. I figured Children of War is where we’re at right now. I think it’s important to sell more information as oppose to trying to make another album or mixed CD. To open up the dialogue, Children of War has to play the part. I put part two on there so you know that it came from somewhere.
XXLMag.com: On a separate note, there were reports that the next Smif-N-Wessun album is going to be produced entirely by Pete Rock. Where do things stand with that?
Steele: It’s going to be called Monumental. We got some awesome features on there, but I’m not able to tell you about them [right now].
XXLMag.com: What direction are y’all going in with one?
Steele: This is our fifth album. The times [have] changed, it’s a little funny for us. It came to a point where it’s like, “Yo, what are we doing?” We’re making something of strength, of integrity, of endurance.
We’re two cats that made it through so much. We’re still alive, people still dig us and respect us. That itself is monumental. To have Pete Rock on your whole album, what? Of course! When people hear that combination, it’s going to be bananas. It’s real exciting working with these cats. The album is coming along really well. Of course we got our Boot Camp family on there. [Buckshot] and Rock stopped through and laced us with [great] verses. It’s going to be a dope album. This is one year when I’m looking ahead and I’m like, “Wow, it’s looking really interesting.”
XXLMag.com: What else is on the horizon for you?
Steele: I’m doing a lot of community work. I’m offering my services to anybody out there [who] needs serious rappers to talk to [the] youth. I’m working on films with my partner. We have a company called Bucktown USA Ent. I’m working on two books—one is going to be about Boot Camp—and AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare is out, baby. When you hear it, you’re going to be like what the hell is wrong with this guy. The energy is very inspiring. I hope it wakes some cats up. I think it will. —Danny Tejada