The Return of Black Indian
He was one of the few 1990s D.C. rappers to get national exposure and a major-label deal, but Black Indian has been relatively quiet in recent years. That trend will reverse itself in September, when he releases I Tried To Tell You, a new mixtape produced by Judah, best known for working with Wale and Tabi Bonney.
Black (aka Joshua Paul) and Judah connected at the November 2009 "DMV Day" photo shoot featuring local hip-hop artists in front of the Lincoln Theatre, and they've been making tracks since then. (The shoot was featured in a short documentary, Bridging The Gap, that Judah released.) Black also says Judah has been helping him adjust to the realities of modern-day hip-hop.
“I don’t really party. I don’t go out and kick it too much. I mean, that’s not my style no more," Black says. "So, y’know, he was having me come out, to the night life, [and see] how everything changed. Everything had changed. So workin’ with him kinda brought me to where we at right now.”
After building his profile as a teenager in the group Opus Akoben (with Kokayi and Sub Z), Black had a rush of exposure with 2000's Get 'Em Psyched!! (on MCA) and then slid through the '00s, releasing two lower-profile projects, ditching his long hair and drug habits, and attending ministry school. (That story earned its own chapter in the book Diamonds In The Raw by Sidney "DCSuperSid" Thomas.) Black says he's kept his ears open all along, but he was mostly hearing "a lot of wack stuff."
“I mean, what I’ve been hearing, people been sending me beats, I got trash bags full of tracks. It’s really sad," Black says. "There’s a lot of dudes who think they’re doin’ something, but it’s like, they don’t have that love and that passion. It’s not in their music. And I wanted somebody that had that same passion. [Judah] has passion ... he’s real anal [about his production] but I love it, because that’s how you had to be back in the day. You couldn’t just go in there and throw something down.”
Black says he calls Judah "The Cool Puppy" because of his combination of youthful energy and respect for hip-hop's past. Likewise, Judah says he's excited to introduce Black to audiences that might not have any clue about his prominence as a D.C. rapper. "I just want the young'ins to actually see a different side of music," Judah says.
The overall goal, Black says, was to make something that reflects his history without being too retrograde ("I can’t come out with like 15 chains on—that’s corny right now") or too deliberately trendy. They decided that the lyrical content had to be honest to Black's experiences and current lifestyle.
"We rap about everything. That’s why I got a lot of love for Judah. He was like, ‘Rap about everything.’ Because I don’t think nothin’ is off the table," Black says. "We have songs where we talk about about soldiers, how they come home messed up. We have a song called ‘Life Is An Impression,’ where we talk about single mothers, but not like saying, ‘She’s a whore,’ or not on a pop level, but on a real level, like the good side of a single mother that might be stuck with four or five kids. We talk about coexisting religions, we talk about the dope game, the nasty side of hustlin’, the repercussions and things that can happen when you’re out there perpetratin’."
And the beats aren't throwbacks, but they're still intended to be substantive, Black says.
“A lot of dudes aren’t givin’ you nothin’ to listen to. They’re givin’ something to bob your head to, or club music, I call it, but they not givin’ you nothin’ get in the car and ride off of. What are we ridin’ off of? Nobody’s ridin’ and listenin’ to MCs," he says. "And I don’t want to be one of those cats like, “Oh, I gotta take it back to Nas, or take it back to this guy.’ You should be able to do it on what’s hot now. Why can’t you spit regular on a Lex Luger beat and still matter?"
For now, at least one other person has heard the bulk of Black's comeback.
"I spit all the time, it’s like I can’t run away from spittin’," he says. "My wife thinks I’m probably crazy."