An Interview With Three Time Grammy Nominee, Raheem DeVaughn and Longtime Collaborator, Wes Felton, Known Together As THE CROSSRHODES!
Posted On 08 Nov 2017
It’s the year 2017, forty three years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, twenty one years since the San Jose Mercury news first published their story about the funneling of illegal drugs into the black community by the CIA during the 80’s, fueling the “crack” cocaine epidemic in Urban America, and 13 years since the release of “Limited Budget Unlimited Quality” the seminal debut by The CrossRhodes. In these times which AllHipHop.com characterizes as the current state of “social unrest” Wes Felton and Raheem DeVaughn flip the script as griots challenging the status quo in Hop Hop, returning after a 13 year silence with their sterling follow-up “Footprints On The Moon.”
Claiming a revolution back in 2004 on songs like “Dreamin'” and “I Woke Up” from their socio-politically themed debut – the duo deftly blends the gifts of soulful crooner Raheem DeVaughn and the multi-hyphenate Wes Felton (poet, rapper, actor, film-maker). The CrossRhodes’ independent release was soon to be eclipsed by the commercial success of DeVaughn’s Jive Records solo debut, The Love Experience (2005). In the decade plus which has passed, Raheem would go on to cultivate an image as an R&B “love master”, selling hundreds of thousands of records, become nominated for two Grammy awards, and to win two BET awards for his solo work. Wes Felton continued his ascent as a wordsmith, developing his reputation as the “future funk-soul hero” collaborating with Eric Roberson, Sy Smith and Prince Paul among others, acting in political theatrical works at hallowed venues like the Kennedy Center and the Nyorican Poets Cafe, all the while performing and publishing two books of poetry.
In this current climate of overt racism and blatant police brutality, aligned with radical political shifts in focus and power, DeVaughn and Felton were empowered by the burgeoning passion fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement to break their silence and reactivate The CrossRhodes.
Raheem, for whom it has been 12 years since his solo debut shares, “CrossRhodes for me, It’s the ghetto gospel. This moment is necessary because it’s going to save somebody’s life…it’s necessary because it’s saving my life.” Offering this sage insight he continues, “Everything has it’s own time and reason. I’m in the perfect headspace and Wes is, too. it is actually ideally the perfect time. I just started my next decade of music. In the first decade – with The CrossRhodes and Urban Ave 31- it molded and shaped who I was as a person – as an artist, so I could never really stray away from from that. As artists, we soul search and you go back to finding yourself, so actually it’s perfect.”
Wes Felton, the son of a jazz pianist deftly reveals The CrossRhodes origins in a typically lyrical fashion while explaining in a recent interview “This collaboration started in in 1999. Raheem and I were artists part of the U-street renaissance era. We crossed paths and connected and I drew him into the soul and poetry world where people create art based on their feelings. Rather than us being competitors, we learned we had the ability to incorporate from one another. That’s what The CrossRhodes is…instead of coming to the crossroads and choose between good and bad – it’s coming to the crossroads and choosing the same route.”
Hip-Soul-Hop as created by The CrossRhodes is both musically and lyrically dense. Felton’s skills as a intelligent wordsmith are full display as are the same emotionally wrenching pleas which make DeVaughn’s R&B offerings so popular with the ladies. Yet within this context, DeVaughn’s tenor is transformed into a siren call for consciousness through encouragement.
The title track “Footprints on The Moon,” boasts a wholesale re-appropriation of the ‘n-word” – by recasting the all too typical “nigga” with “Negus.” As the debate rages on black twitter about the need to retire the word, The CrossRhodes hook you with an swaggering chorus which upon closer inspection reveals that “my nigga’ is in fact “my Negus”. While Felton rhymes about untold dysfunction in the black community, DeVaughn inspires with “You deserve the world my negus, see the world is yours my negus, though it’s never to soon for footprints on the moon” For the uninformed, which turns out to be most of us, “Negus” is ancient Amharic for King or Ruler giving the lyric a subtle potency deflating the criticisms, for in the end, we should all aspire to be Negus shouldn’t we?
“Praying Prayers” might best be described as a 21st century exploration of contemporary urban issues, ironically many of the same conditions described in Marvin Gaye’s seminal “What’s Going On.” Ironically, Gaye’s song was released in May of 1971 underscoring the glacial progress made by blacks in America over the last forty-six years. For the legion of Raheem DeVaughn’s fans who have come to know him through the filter of his “love master” persona, “Look At You” suspends the socio-political rhetoric for a spoken word exploration of female beauty. While DeVaughn croons “Look at you… beautiful like the words in a poem written by Maya Angelou” Felton guides the listener forward with a lyrical description of the ultimate in love-making with a barrage of metaphors which reveal a tenderness and depth not often associated with the male of the species. Yet, even in the boudoir Felton manages to slip in a fitting socially conscious metaphor when he speaks “in darkness don’t let me go.” Not merely a plea to weather turbulent times in their relationship, Felton acknowledges that in these turbulent times, change can only be accomplished together. Black men and women together.
“Footprints On The Moon” serves as sixteen track call to action for black America wrapped in caramel choruses and chocolate themes. Stark observations and admonishments are balanced by uplifting song slogans ripe for implanting in today’s young minds bewildered by the current state of affairs in America and communities of color around the world.
Watch Videos from The Crossrhodes Here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwa70bRB-emboUzNccypBuQ
Learn more about The Crossrhodes in the following All Access interview:
The CrossRhodes are in NY at satellite radio.
How does 2017 so far compare to last year? How differently did you all approach this year then you did 2016? What all are you most excited about for 2018?
In comparison, 2016 was about prepping and 2017 is all action. We focused on the release and developing new relationships along with reconnecting with established contacts. We are most excited for the New album, Footprints on the Moon to be released.
Can you recall the moment you realized that you could really make music together? How did you all first meet each other?
It was during an event called Groove Gumbo over 17 years ago that we performed our first song together. We first met on stage at a DC showcase event that Wes hosted and Raheem appeared (tardy) but rocked it.
Why do you think your name truly represents this group and the music that you create?
Cross —exchange of two artists, symbol of faith.
Rhodes – scholar and music instrument.
The CrossRhodes speaks and represents the music, message, and mission to make the world better through the arts.
I always like to ask artists how their hometown has been an influence on the kind of music they make and really what kind of a band they are today. So how do you think your hometown has affected you and the music that you create?
Directly effects the lyrics, socio political message, and even the range of music production. Though not heavily influenced, GO-GO music plays a part in all Washingtonians lives and culture.
It’s been 13 years since you two got together to make music so I am curious what finally got you both in the studio together? Why did it take so long to collaborate on music again?
The Freddie Gray incident and the challenges in modern America. Between children, record deals, and just life in general it took a while to formerly release this project. Yet throughout the years The CrossRhodes has collaborated in music, videos, concepts, etc.
Let’s talk about your most recent album, “Footprints On The Moon.” How do you think this collection reflects the growth that you have all experienced since your debut album, “Limited Budget Unlimited Quality” was put out 13 years ago?
Grown Tremendously!!! We are always been conscious and now we are POWERFUL AND POLITICAL ACTIVISTS beyond just the music.
How does this new album depict the current state of “social unrest”? What was the inspiration for the album’s lead single, “Footprints On The Moon”? How do you think this song prepares listeners for the rest of the collection?
This album is the soundtrack to the movement!!! We were inspired by the Freddie Gray incident and Baltimore uprisings. This song sets the socio-political tone of the project and begins the message to the people about the movement.
How was your “The Great Debate” tour this past summer?
Fantastic experience and inspiring to see the country engaged and interested in music with substance. People are trapped out and eager for leadership from PDs, Music Execs, Bookers to fully invest in quality sounds and art activists.
Do you two have plans to tour much this fall and winter in support of this new music?
We will TOUR as much as possible in US and abroad.
With the summer over now, what was your favorite part about it? What was something fun that you did or tried for the first time?
Favorite part were after the show meet and greets with fans. They encouraged us and confirmed that we are doing the right now and not sacrificing anything.
This summer, we also got to meet Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congressman John Lewis. They are two iconic black leaders that we support and that came out to support us and our new project too. That was sensational.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being in this band gives you the most joy in life today? Do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these hard times?
Our music and band directly reflects these hard times, Trump times, and the current issues of the world. Joy, yes but power and focus are better words when describing what the band gives today. We are totally concentrating on our times and making a difference in our communities.
Who are some of your favorite artists? Is there anyone that you would still love to work with in the future? What would be a dream collaboration for this band?
Marvin Gaye, Gil Scot-Heron, Hilton Felton, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and those who made music for the people and about the people’s situations. We would like to work with the Marleys, Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Janelle Monae, Busta, DJ Khaled, and The Roots. Dreams are realities so any of the above..
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
Take action after hearing the music, message, and commitment. I hope you realize we must take care of us and resist oppression & fight racism/classicism.
What advice would you give to a band just getting started? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
Be ready and willing to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow. Get you a team in place that you trust and they will work unsupervised.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about this band or your music?
The CROSSRHODES are the group you have been waiting and asking for in the industry and especially during these times.