Featured Rock the Vote Artist
|1. Breaking of a Man||John Forté||SytleFREE the EP||Hip-Hop/Rap||4:33|
|2. Play My Cards for Me||John Forté||StyleFREE the EP||Hip-Hop/Rap||3:18|
|3. There We Are||John Forté||StyleFree the EP||Hip-Hop/Rap||2:52|
by Suzy Geers
John Forté is a unique individual and artist. It seems like he has lived nine lives, and with each "passing" life he gets stronger. I whole heartedly admire him for admitting his wrongdoing and taking control of his life and actions. I chatted with John regarding his new ep as well as life before, and after prison.
Suzy Geers for Rock the Vote: Okay, let's chat about health care.
John Forté: I'm for health care for EVERYONE. Old, young, black, white, straight or gay. Every human should be entitled to health care. It is a human right. I'm all for that.
Have you or any member of your family, friends fallen victim to some of these health care horrors?
JF: My immediate family which consists of my mom and sister, thankfully, no. In my extended family, sure. My cousin just passed away from breast cancer.
I am so sorry to hear that.
JF: From the time she found out until the time she passed away was a SIX months time period… it was devastating.
Was this because they caught it late?
JF: Yeah, it was primarily because of a late detection. Something like a primary health physician in urban areas… that is a huge, HUGE issue. People are not going to the doctor until, in most cases it's too late. We can't afford three or six month check ups. They are suffering. REAL SUFFERING.
How old was she?
Awful. I am terribly sorry.
What's your thought… when you were incarcerated you had FULL medical and dental?
JF: In one word. Ironic.
I loved the statement you made on Rock the Vote online tv about how the U.S. needs to REPRIORITIZE. Less military more health care. Take care of the American family and less taking care of the world. What are we just not getting about health care?
JF: I think there is a chasm between the policy and accurate information concerning the policy, and how that information is received to the general public. Unfortunately, I think the general public is misinformed for a number of reasons. There is apathy and there is a fear of not being able to comprehend. You become reactive and resent the info- you shun it, or its just ignorance. Its an overwhelming chasm… facts, the policy and how that policy is received, What ends up happening … you have 100 people in a room with 100 different opinions and this unwillingness to define that common ground- find the truth.
Being informed IS key and that is what we pride ourselves at doing at Rock The Vote! Tell me how we can keep the youth vote momentum going and going and going?!
JF: We HAVE to continue this dialogue- especially that it is NOT an (national) election year. That is why I think Rock the Vote is SO important. Continuing the dialogue of issues whether we agree or disagree- we're keeping informed.
I really enjoyed StyleFREE (John's seven song ep). Your voice is stunning! There is such substance behind it… haunting in a way.
Does every song represent each year you were in prison??
JF: Wow, I actually never even thought of that. I totally didn't. Seven songs - seven plus years. I didn't really think about that! The number seven is very, very important to me hence the name of the record label, Serious Seven. Maybe subconsciously I did. Overtly I did not have every song represent each year but I will be happy to revisit that and to listen to it in that context. I think it's very, very interesting.
StyleFREE is just incredibly diverse. I was keen on guessing what style your next song would be. The super melodic, dancing in my seat and title song, StyleFREE to ballads ("More Beautiful Now" and "Breaking of a Man") to the funky and FIERCE "Nervous"-- I love it! Would you have created this same style ep, nine years ago? Is this an evolution?
JF: I would definitely say it's an evolution… although some might say for the worse- which would be devolution. For me, it felt like the natural order of things… unforced, and organic, if you will. I think I knew I had to give the public something and I wanted TO give them something more than a single but I wasn't ready to put on an album necessarily. So, when we came up with the ep I knew it had to be lengthier than not… just because the songs were SO diverse I didn't want to mislead anyone into thinking, "ok, this IS his style or this IS his sound." The style and sound is so diverse.
(I agree FULLY and tell him so)… maybe with more material people might be apt to see that- it's more complex than not. There is an underlying connection to it all and I think that is the theme of the songs and I was the voice threading it through. So, on the surface, people might be tempted to say, "Well, it's too all over the place..." and I really don't think so. (Yes, I chime in again agreeing because it is true- he does have a style- a signature style that IS diverse but it is cohesive). In this day and age we listened to more different styles of music ever so… if an artist feels inspired by THOSE styles then he or she should embrace it and not worry about being categorized or NOT being categorized.
Regardless of the last nine years, BEFORE that you had a very interesting life… growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and then schooled in New Hampshire during your high school years… what the heck was that like?!
JF: Culture shock.
It was very, very strange… I was a fourteen year old kid going into an environment with people I had never seen or met before who were friendly and speaking to me. I was coming in with this city defensiveness that I had to learn to put that to bed while I was there, and that in itself was a revelation.
What is the first single off of the EP?
JF: "Play My Cards for Me."
Your voice is amazing on this track… like all of your songs your vocals are just heartfelt. Tell me what was the inspiration for this?
JF: It's relationship-based. It was basically me, relinquishing my trust and making myself vulnerable to my significant other telling her, "If I fall, if I am somehow not here, please pick up where we are, or where I left off on YOUR behalf…because I am more than just your significant other, I am your companion-we're everything together."
It's definitely conversational… when you're at your most vulnerable point- giving up control at the wheel to that person you love because you know you might not be able to drive that distance… there is no one I trust more than you… to continue on this journey.
Was this from a relationship before you went it?
JF: She stuck with me through the first couple of years. When things didn't look on the up and up- it looked like I was going to go the distance ( fourteen years) we made a mutual decision for her to continue on with her life- just because I was in prison did NOT mean she had to be.
Do you talk anymore?
JF: Actually, we don't. I communicated with her when I came home and I received kind of a short answer, but we do have the same circle of friends, so we're destined to run into each other but we don't speak.
I am just so sorry to hear that.
JF: Everything happens for a reason.
The profound, earnest song, "Breaking of a Man," I ached just by reading the song's title knowing your story, and listening to the song… I was beyond moved.
How did it come about?
JF: Thank you so much.
I probably wrote that song six months before I found out that President Bush had commuted my sentence. To me, it is a very, very important "telling" song because it could NOT have been written nine years ago. In it, there is an awakening if you will, a consciousness as well as a forgiveness- me finally forgiving myself, being grateful for being forgiven, and all of this sort-of happened at the same time. It might have been the last song I wrote while I was away. It also tells the story of my time PRIOR to going away and the awakening that happened INSIDE – its like that one line, "If change is right you can say the judge killed me then I came to life." With every ending there is a beginning and that's what it felt like for me. It was a rebirth, this overwhelming sense of newness- a second time around.
I appreciated this quote you said, "I am grateful and humbled by President Bush's forgiveness of my stupid and reckless behavior."
You have taken responsibility, and then my second thought was, "WOW, who would've thought former President George W. Bush would grant your pardon?!
What did you feel after you were told about your sentence being commuted?!
JF: It felt like a dream-state. Even to this day, waking up at home I still have to pinch myself- its been seven months but it still feels very, very new and refreshing, and inspiring. I would say the past seven and a half to eight years have been very similar in the sense that I have been pleasantly surprised. When you do not have expectations then everything becomes more of a blessing rather than a feeling of entitlement OR feeling owed something. When you rid yourself of that, you receive acts of generosity and kindness that each and every one are just flooring and awesome. So, yeah, the kindness, the compassion, support, love has come from what might deem some unlikely places. I will remain grateful, thankful, and I will remain humble and smile.
You're certainly putting your "second chance" into good use from your incredible music to your inspirational work with In Arms Reach, ( a Harlem-based initiative for children of incarcerated parents) I don't want to keep brining up your prison time because you are more than that, and I feel that people who visit RocktheVote.com would appreciate your story, and also soak it in- you accepted your mistake… you're turning your life around DRAMATICALLY… and well, I hate to say you may be the poster child of… what's wrong and what's right but, I think people will learn from your tumultuous experiences.
JF: A larger lesson is, when we encounter adversity or when we make mistakes- there is room for forgiveness. Repay the debt yes, but to try and live as honestly as possible.
What do your students (ranging from12-17 years) feel about this country? Do they feel they have a future given their unchosen circumstance?
JF: I'm not quite sure about that. I think there is a sort of phenomenon… Professor Cornel West refers to it as this "pervasive state of walking nihilism" that we find in the inner city neighborhoods where kids are just going through the motions. They don't FEEL entitled- they don't feel like their voice counts- they don't feel significant in the larger scheme of things. The one thing I try do is encourage them to get more involved with global issues or issues that extend beyond their immediate neighborhood. Learn to connect the dots- that what's happening in China is somehow directly effecting them, whether it's a case of morality or consumerism or ideals… but to look for the bridges that connect us rather then to exist on the islands that separate us.
Let's head back to your ep (StyleFREE) for a minute and chat about the song "Nervous," you're PISSED in this! I like it! The lyrics are so hard core, so frank, "I saw my best friend become the enemy."
JF: (deep sigh) Oh GOD. I could say to you its metaphoric and that just my poetic license.
JF: BUT there is nothing metaphoric about it… for me it was a very poignant statement, and it came from a place of more acknowledgement than anger. Even when Carly (Simon) heard the song she taken aback, "Wow, you're really aggressive on that!"
And I guess that's how I came off- - but I didn't want that to have THE dominant mood- I want people to realize I recited that song with my eyes wide open and there was NO delusional state. No misconception- its cut and dry. This is what I am seeing at this point and these are the facts. That is how I tried to hit it- point after point.
Every time I perform that, I tell the crowd, "I think it's good to have a little paranoia because when you're too complacent you're susceptible around anything to happen TO you. An air of looking over ones shoulder would be more beneficial than not. I'm not talking abut being uber paranoid- just QUESTION EVERYTHING!
Absolutely! I love the line, "Lock my body can't trap my mind."
JF: That actually came from Jay-Z. That is me nodding my hat to him. He said that line on his first solo album, Reasonable Doubt.
That line is kind of your mantra in a way…
JF: Interestingly enough when Reasonable Doubt came out in '96, I heard that line and it was so powerful to me, and as fate would have it I would LIVE that line.
Do you want to always have the "prison and drugs" incident always attached to your name?
JF: I don't think I will be able to shake that as a moniker. I don't think it is necessary to have to shake it. I also feel that I don't have the luxury of turning my back on my experience.
Do you mind that "he was in prison for drugs and pardoned" will always be added after your name is said or written?
JF: I don't mind it at all. It's a part of me. I think that in order for me to remember how beautiful this life is I have to remember the life in total. The beautiful pockets. In order to appreciate beauty, you have to compare it to something.
It's like your song, "There We Are" with the lyrics, "Keep our dreams right side up!"
JF: Exactly- write that up!
One last question… how many people out there—do you think, are misrepresented in our legal system?
JF: Oh GOD! ( laughs) I would not dare to jump off THAT cliff!
The one thing I can say is… in that system whether you're on the outside, periphery or knee deep inside of it, so much existing depends on what you can do for yourself. Inform yourself. Learn about the laws, the rules and regulations, the inner workings… do it as much as you can rather that waiting for someone to do it for you.
Is that what you did?
JF: I did.
…and it made all the difference?!
JF: It made the difference as far as what I studied… I did learn about the laws, and cases.
I helped with my appellate proceedings as much as possible and to reintroduce myself to critical thinking. It was what I did on a day to day basis to get through… I was asking myself significant questions….. I digress…
JF: Please tell them how much I appreciate the support thus far and I will do what I can to keep the music honest.
Well, you're doing a good job. Kudos!
- Check out John Forté's seven song ep, StyleFREE at johnforte.com and http://www.myspace.com/
- Check out John on RTV Radio from SXSW talk about health care
- Check out an exclusive acoustic performance from John when he stopped by the RTV office in DC