Yo! Majesty
Hip-Hop’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Kevin J. Elliott

If you’ve yet to see Yo! Majesty in a live setting, you should do so before things completely fall apart—at least in regard to the model of Yo! Majesty you’ll hear on the Tampa duo’s debut Futuristically Speaking? Never Be Afraid, an album seven years in the making. In many ways Yo! Majesty are the most controversial group hip-hop has seen since Public Enemy. They constantly preach a life of religious devotion and lesbianism, mixing those touchy subjects with a stage show that includes a wealth of booty beats, frequent nudity, and sharp rhymes. Add some frequent in-fighting and a cache that includes international interest, and Yo! Majesty is bound for a volatile reception.

Scraping by for years on the streets of Tampa, Shunda K, the brains and wit of the two, and Jwl B, the brawn and hype, worked stages around the country, including some successful stints at SXSW, before finding a label in Domino Records that was interested enough to hook them up with a laundry list of super-producers. Most notably is Basement Jaxx, who can be heard on “Booty Clap,” adding a modern mash of electro-pop and Miami bass to the duo’s ghetto fabulous clowning or the hyper-neon flash of “Knight Riders,” that details the girls’ past lives as hustlers. As can be heard on Futuristically Speaking though, with two decidedly different heads competing for airspace, it was only a matter of time before the duo began to clash. And in speaking with both sides it’s in doubt exactly how Yo! Majesty will exist in the immediate future. Let’s hope they let bygones be bygones, because the wild ride they’ve produced so far could have only been done with synergy of both parties involved. The interview with Shunda K. is below, while you can click to read the interview with Jwl B.

I first saw you play almost three years ago at South By Southwest, in a tiny club in daylight. You ended up playing “Club Action” twice and the response was overwhelming. What’s happened between then and where you are now? I know that’s probably a long answer, but what got you to a deal with Domino?

Shunda K: They were recruiting us at the time when we were talking to Lex Records, out of the UK as well, and then they came in competing money wise and Lex got bought out. I don’t really know how they caught on to who Yo! Majesty was. Our producers are from the UK so I think that was a blessing. We went over there when we did our first EP and they (Hard Feelings) started shopping it around on our behalf. It’s a blessing ‘cause I’ve been doing this for 10 years and my dreams are finally coming to fruition.

What do you think about being on a primarily British indie-rock label?

SK: I don’t even think about that. As long as they’re doing what they need to do for Yo! Majesty I’m satisfied.

I’ve read a lot recently about Jwl B. and yourself not getting along. I had to interview her first and she had a lot to say about the situation.

SK: I’m sure she did. Basically what it boils down to is she needs some help, a doctor’s help, some professional mental health. All the drama that she brings because she doesn’t have that help is something that I refuse to deal with. I was the one who first initiated separate everything. I was not going to interview with her. I’m tired of her walking off the stage in the middle of a show, half-assing everything. She left the last U.S. tour and I had to finish it by myself with 13 shows to go.

It’s all good though. I was the one who started Yo! Majesty. I created it two years before I met her. I shared the name with her, and we built this thing up together. So now you want to half-ass do your job? I don’t think so. And you think I’m about to take up the slack? The devil is a liar. I’d much rather put it all out on the table. I’d rather tell the truth about the whole situation and physically have God remove you out of my life completely, however he got to do it. Just know that no matter what Yo! Majesty will live on. I’d rather do this by myself than have Jwl B. stringing along.

Was there a hip-hop scene in Tampa that influenced you or were you more into what was going on in southern Florida during the ‘80s?

SK: Not really. Not in the timeframe of my life.

Then what was it that brought you to this sound?

SK: I started just writing about things that were going on in my life. Then we got this certain type of production that we were introduced to, and we just piled it together and that’s how we got Yo! Majesty as far as the sound we have today. Maybe next year it will be a whole new sound. I’m always looking for producers. I’ve been working with people all over the world for my solo stuff. I just started a weekly night in New York and that’s been going very well. I’m going to be there the entire week of CMJ hosting other artists and giving them the chance that someone gave me to stand on a stage and rock the mic. I’m just trying to stay busy and avoid the negative bullshit that I’ve got going on within my team.

That does sound busy. So how do you balance all of this with the negativity that is happening right around the release of your first album?

SK: I have to do stuff constantly to keep myself occupied ‘cause I get bored quick. Just like yesterday, my mom and my grandma have a hood store. I’m in Plant City—that’s where I’m from and I moved here from Tampa. Yesterday at this corner store we got called the Moon, we started serving food. This shit is blowing up, and everyone’s coming to get some chicken and wings. And this Sunday we are going to start serving platters, like chitlins and collard greens. It’s crazy. So, I’m successful. I’m destined for greatness. Greatness runs through my blood. I’m not going let anyone hold me back. I’m taking over the world like a jheri curl, all in the name of love.

There are some wild songs on the album, and since you say these are songs written about your life, can you explain what “Night Riders” is all about?

SK: I wrote that song about when I was 19, 20, 21. That was when I was in the streets. I was selling drugs, going to strip clubs, fucking eating all the pussy I could. It was a road to nowhere. What sticks with me is what my grandparents always told me. They said, “Shunda K, who these people you hanging out with? They’re not your friends. What you ripping and running down the streets for? That’s just a road to nowhere.” At the time I thought that was life. I was up until six or seven o’clock in the morning, snorting powder, smoking weed, ecstasy. I never got a chance to see the sun rise, and you know the early bird gets the worm. So I finally realized, when I was looking around wondering how I didn’t have no money, that there was a better way.

I know that expressing your sexuality is very important to the music and that promoting your spirituality is also very important. But a lot of people in hip-hop would charge that those two worlds are contradictory. How do you respond to that?

SK: It’s not even about that. It’s all about being who I am. I’m not going to go through on a mini-skirt and some heels just to sell a record, just because that’s what the industry stereotype tells me what to do. I’m going to create my own path. If you don’t want to give it to me, I’m going to take it, even if by force. Each and every day people all over the world want to know about what exactly Yo! Majesty is all about. When people ask me why we preach about religion I tell them that I’m not religious. I can’t even stand for someone to refer to me as a Christian even though I believe in Jesus Christ because the name has been slandered. Christians are out there poking little boys in the booty and molesting little girls. I don’t want to be associated with that. Just call me a believer. Yo! Majesty sets the people free.