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 Jwl B. is below, while you can click to read the interview Shunda K.

I know this might be a long answer, but after South By Southwest how did you end up on Domino?

Jwl B: There were a lot of labels that started to get us up after South By Southwest. And Domino was one of those that wanted to give us time.

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

JB: I can’t determine that because I’m not British. I’m from the United States, and I’m proud to be an American.

I’m interviewing the both of you separately, so I have to ask about the level of animosity that seems to be present between you and Shunda?

JB: I don’t promote and entertain negativity, even when it comes from inside my circle. I’d rather focus on the music because I am first and foremost an entertainer. But I will say that all of the allegations put forth by my partner are just that: allegations. The reason that I haven’t been showing up to the shows is because I wasn’t in form, not because I need psychiatric help. The problem with knowing someone for years—I’ve known Shunda for eight years—is that money can get between people. I promote positivity, and that’s what I brought to Yo! Majesty. I’m the singer. I bring so much to that group. So now I guess I have to worry about myself and focus on the music.

I might be from the ghetto, but I was raised by a minister and a very intelligent woman of God. One day my grandmother told me that a woman is to be seen not heard. So ya’ll can see me more than hear from Jwl B. I don’t want to dwell on those allegations, but I had to bring up these things. If you don’t see Jwl B. at a Yo! Majesty show, it’s not a Yo! Majesty show. I’m a diamond in the rough and a jewel in the sky, you can’t hold me down.

I’m looking forward to going on this tour so my fans can see Yo! Majesty as a whole because they haven’t seen Yo! Majesty as a whole for a long time. I’m just trying to get my head out of all this polluted shit and concentrate on the fans. When they pay for a ticket, they want to see a Yo! Majesty show, not some half-assed show. It’s time for us to be strong black women and show up. I’m going to let the people know that I’ve been highjacked. Don’t tell the people that Yo! Majesty is coming to town and then not inform me. You can even block me out of the MySpace page, which she has done for eight months. She might handle the business, but I’m the one that brings the singing, the creativity, the hooks to make this shit happen. Now she thinks she has control over both because she has all the connects. She’s high on both and now she’s gone running at the mouth. But I don’t want to be punished, because everything is not what it seems.

Something the two of you stress is your sexual orientation as lesbians. Is that something you had to put out there by any means necessary?

JB: Hell motherfucking yeah. What you want me to put on some Daisy Dukes and start grinding on a car? I have to be explicit about that shit. That’s who I am. That’s my life.

Were you ever hesitant to include your religion in your music?

JB: Never. Let me clarify myself. Before I was ever with any woman, before I was a lesbian, I was with the Lord. I was raised by a Pentecostal preacher in a strict religious household. Everything in my life was controlled by religion. I was so scared of going to Hell that I couldn’t even live my life to be happy. God wanted me to be happy so I had to wake up and smell the coffee and live my life.

With all that said, are you planning on putting your differences with Shunda aside to tour for this album?

JB: We are supposed to be touring, but the mishaps and all of this has made me check myself. I saw something on the internet where Shunda made allegations that I need psychiatric help and that’s why I was not on the last tour. But that’s not true. That tour was sabotaged for me and behind my back Shunda was getting more money than me. They left me stranded in Chicago, and I had to Greyhound it to Canada while her and the DJ were taking a rental car. I slipped up in a lot of ways, but I’m a grown woman. How ‘bout being a team ‘cause I’m not your back-up singer? I’m the heart and soul of Yo! Majesty.