By Heart & Soul Staff
We were able to catch up with rising New York based Jazz/ Hip Hop Collective TREW CULTURE as individual members Unkle Nephew, FKAjazz and BD3 were kind enough to share with us what have they been up to during our current pandemic.
How is everyone and their families doing in this new reality?
BD3: New reality lol What a term and a paradox. I have always been a believer in how you cannot control the things outside of your body but you can control how you react to it. So I used this time to pour into my daughter so she doesn’t get negatively affected by quarantine and not being able to see her friends. WhatsApp calls with my mom are always funny because there is no COVID outbreak on her little island. People have been really keeping high spirits.
FKAjazz: Yeah, 2020 has been quite the year. A ton of ups & downs. I’ve been actively trying to use my platforms to talk & heal; for myself and everyone that I’m connected to. With the Black Lives Matter movement & police brutality and the 2020 presidential race it’s been a lot. It weighs heavy on my heart but sharing music gives us moments to breathe; whether just a quick IG sax video or the music that we’ve been releasing on our website and other platforms. It’s been great receiving great energy back from our friends, family & fans. It’s definitely been rough not being able to perform, getting tours, festivals and shows canceled left & right. But it hasn’t stopped the music making. Fortunately we were already recording a lot of our material remotely in our home studios. So in a way we were prepared for this.
Unkle Nephew: It’s been an interesting year. Full of serious highs and lows. The consistent theme has been “persistence and consistency”. Through all that we’ve experienced, we must be persistent and consistent in pursuing our goals.
What has changed the most for you personally and professionally?
BD3: Personally I had time to work on passion projects that are more so actualizing that I’m really a creative force. Sometimes you not wanting to ruffle feathers stunts your growth, and ive been practicing balance. In this time I realized that it is a gift and a blessing to want to share these ideas with the world even if people cannot see the vision yet. Professionally I was able to set up my home recording so I can execute things faster, and started teaching myself the new tech that I have.
FKAjazz: A lot of changes for sure! I got a dog and am soon to be married. I figured if me and my lady could survive this, then it was a done deal. The house is peaceful, I love my new dog and we are all healthy. Professionally, I’ve been focusing more energy on producing new music, mixing & recording for other artists. And also, deepening my saxophone playing. By the time we get past this Covid thing, I want to be on a new level of performance so I’m taking advantage of this time. It will hopefully never come again.
Unkle Nephew: Personally like Samir, I got two new dogs. Unfortunately, my last dog passed away the first week of quarantine. Professionally I’ve gone through a big growth period. The loss of all my gigs has been hard on me mentally but has granted me the opportunity to grow in other areas of music tremendously. Along with finishing our upcoming album “Sunnydale” I’ve taken on the role of Mix Engineer. I graduated with a degree in audio engineering in 2016 but 2020 has pushed me to fully take on that role and blossom.
Since we are a Health and Wellness Focused Magazine, how has your diet, exercise and sleep patterns changed ?
BD3: In the beginning of quarantine I did real good with my workouts but i fell off lol. Took a lot of long walks in the park by the water to make sure I exercised my soul! My sleep patterns stayed the same, doesn’t matter when I sleep I usually wake up at the same time.
FKAjazz: I’m definitely getting more sleep right now, lol! I used to go to the gym regularly but am now only exercising at home. But that’s been great. I use the Nike Training Club app (it’s free!) which is awesome, and recently started jump roping for cardio. Plus with a dog now, I frequently go on long walks everyday. Diet wise, I’ve been a pescatarian since 2018 and that hasn’t changed but recently I decided to cut out sugar from my diet almost completely. It’s a little rough because I’m a huge chocolate chip cookie fan! But it’s all good. My lady is making me a batch for my birthday (Sept. 27th) so that’ll be my reward for the rest of the year!
Unkle Nephew: Thankfully I’ve never had any sleeping problems. In all transparency my diet has been awful at times. Over the last several weeks, I’ve made a point to remove red meat from my diet and add more fish. On a more positive note, my exercise regimen has been great for me. I’ve really stuck to my morning exercise routine and continue it throughout the day.
What are you doing for your mental health?
BD3: I unplug from the socials, I go outside and link, build with my alike. I take my daughter for Ramen and Pho, and I blast SunnyDale!
FKAjazz: It’s a challenge to keep centered but I’ve been doing my best. Especially now with everything going on with Black Lives Matter and Agent Orange, it can feel heavy at times. Luckily I have great people to talk to on a regular basis including my family. And I have my Buddhist practice and music to keep my spirits up.
Unkle Nephew: Music has always been my outlet. It keeps me sane and in a positive mood. This year has been particularly rough between losing all gig work, social uprising and the incredibly frustrating political climate.
Why did you choose the name Unkle Nephew and what does it mean?
Unkle Nephew: It wasn’t really a name that I chose. It was given to me while I was on tour with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble in 2018 by a homie in the band. Since then it’s stuck and went from just one person to everyone calling me that. It’s a name that perfectly describes who I’am, not only as a musician but as a person. I’m that guy that will go from listening to Al Green to Meg thee Stallion. Frankie Lymon to Fleetwood Mac. My taste is all over the place.
Will there be an Unkle Nephew solo project ?
Unkle Nephew: Eventually there will be an Unkle Nephew project. I work on my own time. When my spirit is moved and when I have something to say.
Questions for FKAjazz:
You have released quite a bit of content in 2020, could you tell us a little about “Nothing At All” and why 3 versions of the same song? What does each version symbolize? We like all 3 but we would like you to explain for our audience.
FKAjazz: Sure thing. And thanks for checking out “Nothing At All.” Even though there are 3 parts I really view the whole thing as one extended song. And the different sections just represent the ebb & flow as the story unfolds. There are 3 causes that people make: thoughts, words and deeds. In a way, that’s what these 3 parts represent. The first part is the thought or as I called it, “The Vibe,” and it sets the mood, makes you have to use your imagination like a book without pictures. Then there’s the word, which is where Leo Coltrane takes over and we get a sort of explanation of what we’ve been thinking. And finally there’s the deed or as I call it, “The Walkout,” and this represents a feeling of exiting the scene like a hero after he or she has saved the day. I filmed and edited two music videos for this project as well which are on my YouTube Channel.
Your musical production vibe is very interesting. Who would you say are your biggest influence as producer and as a musician?
FKAjazz: Well I grew up listening to a lot of jazz music because of my upbringing as a saxophonist. I listened to a ton of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Branford Marsalis as a student. But I also grew up in the 90s hiphop era as well. Even though I grew up in Houston, I mostly preferred East Coast Hip Hop like Guru, The Roots, Digable Planets & Black Star. But all in all, I think a lot of my influences come from being an avid jazz performer for many years before I started producing music. The sensibilities of improvising and creating compositions versus just thinking of them as songs might give my music a different approach then producers that don’t share my background.
How did you meet Leo Coltrane and is he related to John or Alice Coltrane?
FKAjazz: The internet is amazing, LOL! I initially met Leo on an IG artists group chat, a friend of mine invited me on. Pre-Covid I was doing this monthly show at citizenM Hotel in Soho. He came to one and started freestyling to my grooves. And, the rest is history! And yeah, no! “Leo” & “Coltrane” are his first two names, so no relation, even though I swear this guy’s flow reminds me of a horn player the way he uses rhythm.
What is next for FKAjazz?
FKAjazz: So much and I’m excited about it all. I’m going to release one more 3-part song before the end of the year, maybe in late October, not sure. Also as a whole Trew Culture is in the process of some exciting expansion so keep tuning in to the website (www.trewculture.com). And a few other things I’m not at liberty to say yet but soon!
Questions for BD3:
“Pressure” is your most popular song so far. Why do you think this song has resonated so much? Is it that your audience is naturally growing or that ‘Pressure” is one of those songs that people can relate to? Our favorite is L.I.T.E but the message and passion on “Pressure” is undeniable.
BD3: I think it’s the amalgamation of both. In all my years doing this I haven’t had over 80,000 people listen to my music and that’s a testament to the work of our team/management. I also think that the content of pressure is something that a lot of folks can identify with. Especially that late 20’s to 40 range, that was a 100% factual song that I needed to make to release a whole lotta heaviness on my chest. I’m glad it was received well. The official video for Pressure & Sacrifice is out now!!
What took you from L.I.T.E to Life to 20/20 to Pressure and Sacrifice?
BD3: That’s a great question! Technically I wrote 20/20, Pressure and Sacrifice all at the same time but I knew that I wanted to space out the releases. 20/20 Vision was a reminder for myself to get back in my rappity rap bag but make sure to inject that passion and pain, and then I wrote Pressure and Sacrifice. It was really strategic to increase my releases this year because catalogue is so important to me. L.I.T.E. Although written years ago sadly the content of it can be still applied today. Even the scene from the video where “I Can’t Breathe” runs across the screen, that was for Eric Garner, now we have George Floyd. smh That shows that our finger is/was on the pulse of the culture but also that the world is in a real F’d up place and its been there for a while.
What is next for BD3?
BD3: SunnyDale (Oct. 9th) the new EP from myself exclusively produced by Unkle Nephew! September 18th we will be dropping 2 singles! “Why Do You Luv Me” and “For the Ancestors”! Alongside 2 animated videos! I’ve been dabbling in new colorways of my Hat/Crown collection ready to release for the Fall. Really getting into the creative bag with directing videos and collaborating on a project with FKAJAZZ and looking already into 2021
Questions for Trew Culture:
Will there be a Trew Cuture project ?
FKAjazz: Technically all of our projects are “Trew Culture” projects. But specifically, yes! We’ve decided to create a yearly compilation album called “Trewth Be Told.” The album will feature previously released songs from the year with bonus material you’ll only be able to hear on the album including live versions of some songs, commentary interludes and more. And people that purchase the album will get a “Trewth Be Told” t-shirt.
I asked each of you what is next individually? What is next for Trew Culture as a collective?
BD3: “Trewth Be Told” that’s all I have to say! Trew Culture Fashion, Trew Culture Creatives! Lookout for something that your kids can watch too!
Has this global pandemic changed your motivation for choosing a career in music, if so how ?
Unkle Nephew: Not at all. The pandemic has only intensified my motivation for a career in music, on the road, on stage and in the studio. The deaths of Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Bosman have left a lasting effect on me. It’s truly hard to believe but both men led lives of purpose. They both spoke about the importance of walking in your purpose and doing the work. I’m even more motivated to walk in my purpose.
If there is anything you would like to share with our readers at Heart & Soul, please feel free to tell us.
Go to trewculture.com
Added bonus, the 2 videos below were released after our interview with Trew Culture
Brooklyn MC BD3 is the reincarnation of classic Hip Hop. A lyricist fusing live instrumentation with the love of Afro-Beat, Reggae, Soul and Funk to rock crowds and shake stages. Coining the phrase “AfroFuturistic Funk Hop”, he is an innovator with an electrifying presence that catapults him to the forefront of stages both nationally and internationally. With his 3rd album entitled Time. Era. Period, the soundscape is sure to break the mold of where an emcee can go. As an educator and leader in the community, BD3 uses the influence of Hip Hop to promote literacy in classrooms and youth programs. In a recent interview with Buzz Music, BD3 was asked:You’re someone who likes to give back. Can you touch on your work with youth programs and literacy? Yea, well I’ve been mentoring or working with the youth especially then disenfranchised youth since I was a teenager, it was one of my first jobs. It became really important to me to be a person in those settings that not only looked like the students but were coming from those same places and could translate. Kids can’t learn nor are willing to listen if they can’t smell you, if there is something not relatable or familiar then you’re in trouble. I never had a guy like me growing up that was in my school building who just knew without me having to say anything. I feel like giving back is part of my dharma, and I need not be rich to do that.
Grammy-Nominated, Billboard & Global Radio-charting musician and music producer, FKAjazz was born & raised in Houston, Texas. FKAjazz aka Samir Zarif began performing at the age of three; first learning piano, then violin and eventually saxophone (see pics below). After high school, he moved to New Orleans, where he performed with Nicholas Payton, Jon Batiste, the Jason Marsalis Quintet and other luminaries before enrolling at the Manhattan School Of Music in New York in the early 2000s. Branching beyond jazz, he channels multiple aspects of Black-American Music into a highly personal approach as a composer, musician, producer and DJ. Following a landmark performance at Webster Hall in New York in late 2016, FKAjazz released his debut album STEREOTYPE THREAT in 2017 and performed subsequently with members of Trew Culture on BRIC TV. He has been acclaimed as “an artist who refuses to be pinned down” (Soultracks.com) and lauded for blending “a new vision and old-school precision to create an exciting new take on jazz” (TheDeliMagazine.com). More to the point, United Press International concludes, FKAjazz “fearlessly plays with precision and a passion that takes you on a musical journey like no other. There is Greatness here.” To learn more, read articles from Schatzi Haagman & Jonathan Widran.
ABOUT UNKLE NEPHEW
Unkle Nephew aka Justin Swiney, Drummer/Producer from Brooklyn, New York got his start in music at the early age of 3 years old. While studying at Susan E. Wagner High School, Justin has worked with and studied under the likes of Salim Washington, Frank Lacy, and Warren Smith. In December of 2017, Unkle Nephew (U.N.) began touring with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (2017-2019). Since then, U.N. has toured Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. In addition to performing with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, he has played several shows backing Blackstar (Mos Def & Talib Kweli) and opened for the Gorillaz. Since 2017, U.N. has been a side man with FKAjazz and Soul Science playing venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, University of New Orleans and a host of others. In 2018, Justin produced and released BD3’s “Time.Era.Period” album. Following the release of that album TrewCulture was founded by U.N., FKAJazz & BD3.